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Real People: Real Savior: Josiah: Part 4

Josiah

Matthew chapter 1 lists the ancestors of Jesus. You will learn more about your Savior as we trace through segments of his family tree.

Our physical blessings pale in comparison to the eternal blessings that Jesus won for us.

Thomas D. Kock

“King Josiah is dead!” That would have been the sad announcement to the nation of Judah about the year 609 B.C. I wonder how the people responded.

Fast forward 2,600-plus years. We have so much for which to be thankful, don’t we? We enjoy a standard of living that is amazing. Although the culture of America is decaying, we still freely worship God and can study and share his Word. Most important, we have full and free salvation! How will we respond? I trust that we will respond with humble thanks to God.

But I’m guessing that some who are reading this are thinking, “I don’t feel like giving thanks. I don’t see much for which to give thanks.” Perhaps many of the Israelites felt like that when Josiah died.

JOSIAH’S STORY

Josiah was one of the more remarkable kings. He ascended the throne at age eight—yes, that’s right—after his father, Amon, had been assassinated. Amon had been a wicked, short-lived king. Josiah’s grandfather had for the most part been wicked too. Perhaps we would have expected that Josiah would continue in their ways.

But he didn’t. In fact, the Bible makes this dramatic statement: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did” (2 Kings 23:25). Wow! High praise!

Josiah put his faith into action. He made major efforts to get rid of the pagan altars. He even went into Samaria and destroyed the altar that Jeroboam had built at Bethel. He traveled throughout Samaria destroying high places (cf. 2 Kings 23:15-20).

When Josiah was 26, he launched a project to repair the temple in Jerusalem. As they worked on the reparations, the workers found a book—the book of the Law! (Most likely it was the book of Deuteronomy.) Can you imagine how evil the land had become that they could lose the Bible, or at least part of it!

When Josiah heard the words of the book, he mourned. How they’d sinned against God! He urged the people to repent. They celebrated the Passover with dramatic zeal (cf. 2 Chronicles 35:1-19). It seemed as if the Israelites finally had a king who would lead them faithfully back to spiritual truth.

And then he died; he was only 39.

Pharoah Neco was marching through Israel to fight the Babylonians; Josiah went out to try to prevent Neco’s advance. Neco said, “I have no quarrel with you.”

Josiah fought anyway. He was mortally wounded. How the people of Judah mourned (2 Chronicles 35:25). Did any of them give thanks?

I’m fairly positive that Josiah gave thanks. He went to heaven! There before the God of grace, I’m guessing he gave thanks more fervently than ever before.

OUR ETERNAL STORY

At Thanksgiving we rightly give thanks to God for his rich physical blessings. That’s appropriate.

But those physical blessings pale in comparison to the eternal blessings that Jesus won for us. You have the forgiveness of sins! You have the sure promise of heaven! You have God’s promise that all things will work for your good! None of those things would have been yours if Jesus hadn’t come.

So as you read the genealogy of Jesus, read it with thanks. Through those real people, God brought our very real Savior to this earth, your Savior, the one who conquered death for Josiah, for you, for us all. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good!” (Psalm 118:1).

Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.

This is the fourth article in a nine-part series on people in Jesus’ family tree.

 

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Author: Thomas D. Kock
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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We believe as all believers have: Part 13

“We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Joel D. Otto

In the early centuries of the Christian church, it was common for Christians to gather regularly where their dead were entombed. The purpose was to remember those fellow Christians who had died in the Lord—especially martyrs who died for their faith—and rejoice in the hope of the resurrection. In fact, during one severe bout of persecution, Christians were banned from visiting their cemeteries. The hope of the resurrection was very real for the early church.

Our 21st-century world does its best to put off death. It’s obsessed with diet and exercise, medication, surgery, therapy. All of this can serve to mask the reality of death. Death is unnatural. It is ugly and nasty. It is what sinful humanity has earned and deserves (Romans 5:12; 6:23). No amount of embalming, make-up, or well-manicured cemetery lawns can change that fact. Everyone faces the death of loved ones. Everyone will face his or her own death. Death is an emotionally-charged subject, even if most people don’t want to think or talk about its reality. No one escapes it.

As Christians, we have to face death’s harshness. We also do our best to prolong our lives. Many Christians strive to care for the bodies God has given us by eating healthy, exercising regularly, and making use of the blessings of medicines. Yet we recognize the ultimate futility of these measures. No matter what we might do to live longer, we will all eventually face death—unless Jesus returns first. And our journey will also include dealing with the loss of loved ones.

But we react differently. The death of a Christian, while a sad time because we lose the companionship of a loved one, becomes a victory celebration. Our own death, while scary and unpleasant because of possible pain and an uncertain process, is the way God brings us to the heaven he was won for us and prepared for us (John 14:1-3). He gave his Son into death that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus is “the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in [him] will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). Jesus “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).

That is why we “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We are confident that when we Christians die and are buried, our bodies will be raised and glorified when Jesus returns in glory (1 Corinthians 15:51-54; Philippians 3:20,21). Because our Redeemer lives, we will enjoy a new eternal, heavenly home where we see God face to face and enjoy life without suffering or sadness (Job 19:25-27; Revelation 21:1-4). With Christians down through the centuries, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”


EXPLORING THE WORD

1. How might the promise of the resurrection give you comfort as you face difficulties in life?

We have God’s promise that these present sufferings we endure are temporary and fleeting. The glory Jesus has won for us is forever (Romans 8:18). At the resurrection, all of the problems and difficulties of this life will be gone because sin will no longer be present. God has promised us a final and full deliverance. We will be rescued from this world of troubles (Revelation 21:4; Revelation 7:14-17). Many of our difficulties involve our physical bodies. At the resurrection, God will give us glorified bodies that cannot suffer pain or die (1 Corinthians 15:42-50; Philippians 3:20,21). Perhaps most important, we will see our Savior face to face and worship him for all eternity (Job 19:23-27; Revelation 21:1-3).

2. Explain how you would find comfort in the promise of the resurrection as you face the death of Christian loved ones.

There are a lot of different places in Scripture to go for this comfort. But focusing on the promises God gives in his Word in connection with Jesus’ resurrection gives the most comfort. Jesus’ conversation with Martha at the grave of Lazarus assures us that those who have been brought to faith in Jesus have spiritual life now and eternal life because Jesus has conquered death. He is life itself (John 11:17-27). Jesus promised that he has prepared a place in his heavenly home for those who believe that he is the way, truth, and life (John 14:1-6). Death does not have the last word for those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. Jesus will raise and glorify his believers (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). As we face the death of a Christian loved one, there will usually be sadness and grief because we are losing someone we love. We will not see them or talk to them again this side of heaven. But for Christians, death is a precious and blessed event because it is the way God brings his believers into their eternal rest, away from the troubles and hardships of this life (Psalm 116:15; Revelation 14:13).

In some ways, the exact comfort of Scripture that will serve us best will depend on the nature of the situation. Was this someone who endured a prolonged and painful battle with cancer? Was this an aged Christian who was taken peacefully? Was the death sudden and unexpected? A young person? A child? Different promises will provide specific comfort in different situations. But the one common factor will be the resurrection of Christ. Christians are buried with him and raised with him at our baptism (Romans 6:4,5). The Jesus who conquered death by leaving a sealed tomb alive now lives and reigns over all things for the good of his believers, including his believers who are facing death or facing life after the death of a loved one. And he will most certainly break open our tombs on the Last Day and give us the full and final victory over death forever.

3. Explain how you can comfort a friend at the loss of a loved one.

If the loved one of the friend was a Christian, see the answer to the previous question. If the loved one was not a Christian—or you’re not as certain as you might be if the person was a regular attender in worship and confessed his or her faith—then there isn’t a lot of comfort that can be given. You can assure your friend of God’s love for him/her in Christ, a love that will not be taken away, even if a loved one has died. You can remind them that finally only the Lord knows those who are his believers (2 Timothy 2:19). We can’t see faith in someone’s heart. But any death should remind us how fleeting life can be and the reality that our times are in the Lord’s hands (Psalm 31:15). Therefore, we need to be ready at all times by devoting ourselves to hearing the Word and receiving the Lord’s Supper. At such moments, Christians need to express compassion and tender support for those left behind. That compassion is a fruit of our faith and provides us an opportunity to share our faith.

Death is also a reminder of the urgency to share the good news of Jesus with our unbelieving family and friends. The following prayer conveys the kinds of thoughts one could share with a friend who has lost an unbelieving loved one. “We ask that you would give them the strength they need in this time of grief, and comfort them with the precious assurance of your love for them in Christ Jesus. May this death remind us all of how quickly our lives here on earth come to an end. Lead us all to use the time you have given us to grow in our knowledge of you and your Word. When you summon us, may we be found in sincere repentance and steadfast faith, prepared to stand before your judgment seat” (Christian Worship: Pastor’s Companion, p. 302).


Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This is the final article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed. Find this study and answers online after Nov. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

 

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Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Real People, Real Savior: Solomon

Matthew chapter 1 lists the ancestors of Jesus. You will learn more about your Savior as we trace through segments of his family tree.


Solomon

Like Solomon we find ourselves chasing after great projects, pleasure, or wealth instead of pursuing God’s kingdom first.

Thomas D. Kock

There are a lot of smart people in the world, aren’t there? I think of the people who built the first rocket to the moon. Wow! What a collection of brains that must have been! Or how smart does one need to be in order to invent a computer or a cell phone?

There have always been really smart people. The Great Pyramids in Egypt are just one of many testimonies to that fact.

SOLOMON’S UNWISE DECISIONS

One of those really smart people was Solomon. He was a builder; he constructed God’s temple, a magnificent palace, and other buildings. He wrote songs and proverbs. He described plant life—so we could say he was a scientist—and he was a teacher. In Ecclesiastes he’s called “the Teacher.” In fact he was so smart that God makes this amazing statement: “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart” (1 Kings 10:23,24). Wow! What a statement!

But we also read this tragic statement: “King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women. . . . He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines. . . . As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. . . . So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (1 Kings 11:1-6). He was so smart, and yet at the same time he was, well, so dumb. He rebelled against the One who had given him his great wisdom and even turned his back—at least partially—on that wonderful God. Dumb!

And what a price he paid! In Ecclesiastes Solomon describes life apart from God. He says he pursued great wisdom, attempted great projects, poured himself into pleasure, amassed great wealth! The result? “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

GOD’S PERFECT PLAN

Is Solomon different from you or me? The all-wise, all-knowing God says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Wouldn’t it be smart to listen to the all-wise, all-knowing God? Sure! And yet like Solomon we find ourselves chasing first and foremost after great projects, pleasure, or wealth. The pursuit of God’s kingdom gets pushed to the background. We find ourselves stressed and struggling. And yet like hamsters on a wheel, we continue to chase after those earthly things. Sounds like we’re a lot like Solomon!

But Jesus doesn’t abandon us. Instead, he chose to enter our oh-so-foolish world, so that he, in whom all wisdom resides (cf. Colossians 2:3), could look oh-so-foolish as he died a criminal’s death, all in order to win life eternal for us humans. Yes, he chose to enter our world as a descendant of Solomon. He put our needs before his, pursuing God’s kingdom first so that we who so often fail to put the kingdom of God first will someday inherit the kingdom.

That doesn’t seem wise to us, but it was wise to God.

And God is much wiser than anyone, even Solomon!

Contributing editor Thomas Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Atonement, Milwaukee.

This is the second article in a nine-part series on people in Jesus’ family tree.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Thomas D. Kock
Volume 102, Number 9
Issue: September 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

We believe as all believers have: Part 11

“We believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”

Joel D. Otto

Catholics. Baptists. Methodists. Presbyterians. Pentecostals. Several flavors of Lutheran. With all of these different church bodies, how can we believe that there is “one holy Christian and apostolic Church”?

There have always been divisions in the church on earth. It is a reality because of false teachers, as Jesus warned (Matthew 7:15) and the apostles wrote (Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 John 4:1-6). When the Council of Nicaea met in A.D. 325, there were Arians who taught that Jesus was not equal to the Father and Donatists who believed that the validity of the sacraments hinged on the moral character of the clergy.

Yet, down through the centuries the church has confessed: “We believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” So what is meant by these words?

We first need to understand what the word church means. It is translated from a Greek word that means “called out.” Those who belong to the church have been called out of the darkness of unbelief to the light of faith in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the gospel (1 Peter 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14). Believers in Jesus are the only true members of the one holy Christian and apostolic church.

That’s why we believe that there is only one true church. This one church isn’t equal to a visible organization. We cannot point to a church body or congregation and say, “There is the one true church.” But members of the one church will be found in church bodies and congregations where the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command.

We believe that there is only one church because the only way to be a member is to believe in Jesus as the only Savior. He is the only way, truth, and life (John 14:6). Jesus himself said, “There shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). So Christ is the only foundation and cornerstone of the church (1 Corinthians 3:11).

The church is also described as “apostolic” because the only way to learn about Jesus is through the Word of God, the writings of the apostles and prophets. God’s Word—the inspired words God gave to the apostles and prophets—tells us of Christ and is the only source of truth in the church.

Since the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith in Christ, we are a “holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21). By faith in Jesus, we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). We have an incredible status because the Spirit has brought us into the one church.

Even though false teachers continue to divide the visible church, the one true church will not be overcome because the gospel will continue to be proclaimed (Matthew 16:18; 24:14). And so we continue to confess with confidence as all believers have: “We believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church.”

 


Exploring the Word

1. What are the differences between the invisible church and visible churches?

The invisible church consists of all people who believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior, no matter when or where they have lived, no matter what visible church they have belonged to (see Ephesians 5:25-27; 1 Corinthians 1:2). Visible churches, on the other hand, consist of people who have claimed membership in those churches. They may believe in Jesus, or they may not. They may be hypocrites. It is not up to us to determine who is or who is not hypocrites or true members of the invisible church. That is the Lord’s work on the Last Day (see 2 Timothy 2:19; Matthew 13:24-30,36-43). There will be members of the invisible church in visible churches where the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered (Isaiah 55:10,11).

2. Describe the importance of the apostolic nature of the church.

The content of the faith of the invisible church is apostolic, that is, it is the written Word of God which the Spirit inspired the apostles and prophets to write. Likewise, that same prophetic and apostolic Word is the tool of the Spirit to create and sustain true faith in Christ. That’s why Paul speak of the apostles and prophets as the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:19-22). It is also why Paul can speak of the unity of the church (Ephesians 4:3-6). There is only one faith revealed in the one divinely inspired Word of God worked by the Spirit through that same Word of God. Finally, since the Word does not change, the faith of the church does not change. Believers of the first century are saved and members of the church the same way believers of the 21st century are: through the apostolic Word. “Thus the faith of the church is not fickle, changing from year to year or generation to generation. The faith is firm and changeless in the deposit of faith handed down to us by Christ through his apostolic Word. It is fidelity to that changeless Word that makes the church apostolic” (Deutschlander, Grace Abounds, p. 451).

3. In the original Greek of the Nicene Creed, the word translated “Christian” is actually “catholic.” Literally, the word catholic means “universal.” In what ways does the Roman Catholic Church misuse this word? Why is a proper understanding of this word a comforting concept?

By using the word catholic in its name, the Roman Catholic Church has historically claimed for itself the one universal church or the one “saving church.” While the Roman Catholic Church has changed its stance on this in recent decades, the statements of the Council of Trent still stand that no one outside of the Roman Catholic Church can hope to be saved. The Roman Catholic Church thus equates itself with the holy Christian Church. It equates a visible church with the invisible church. It ignores Jesus’ words in Luke 17:20,21 and John 18:36,37. Even worse, the Roman Catholic Church condemns salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, which is what makes someone a member of the holy Christian Church.

The word catholic is properly understood as referring to the holy Christian Church, the invisible church. This is the one true church consisting of all people who have been called out of the darkness of unbelief to faith in Jesus (see 1 Peter 2:9). This is a comforting concept because my membership in Christ’s church does not depend on my family background, church membership, gender, race, or social standing. It only depends on the Spirit-given faith in Jesus as my Savior, faith given and strengthened through the Word and sacraments. Therefore, I also can be comforted by the fact that there are believers all over the world wherever the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered. I have an invisible, yet real, unity with all who believe in Christ.

Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee.

This is the eleventh article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed. Find this study and answers online after Sept. 5 at www.wels.net.

 

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Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 102, Number 9
Issue: September 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

We believe as all believers have: Part 2

“We believe in . . . the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen”

Joel D. Otto

For the fourth-century writers and confessors of the Nicene Creed, this statement was not very controversial. There was no dispute among Christians that God was the almighty Creator of the universe. Even heathen unbelievers accepted that some divine being or force was the cause or “prime mover” of the universe.

Yet, those early century Christians thought it was important enough to clearly confess that God created all things. They were blessed with foresight because today this is an extremely controversial issue both inside and outside of the church.

Public education has long accepted the theory of evolution as the “scientific” explanation for the origins of the universe. But many Christian churches, in an attempt to appear intellectually acceptable to the secular culture, have compromised the creation account in Genesis. Some claim that God got things started and used the evolutionary process to bring the different species into existence. Others dismiss Genesis chapters 1–2 as myth. They say it was simply the way primitive believers tried to explain the origin of the world. Since scientific discoveries, they claim, have progressed so much, we have to get away from such myths.

The problem is that every attempt to diminish or compromise the Genesis creation account diminishes and compromises the power of the one true God. If he is truly “the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” as the church has been confessing for centuries, then by all means he has the power to call into existence this entire universe by his spoken word in six 24-hour days. Consider the intricacies of the human body, the orderliness of the orbit of the planets, the fact that our planet is the right distance from the sun and rotates at the right angle and at the right speed.

Finally, however, it is a matter of faith. We can study God’s creation and marvel at it. We can attempt to debunk evolutionary theories. In the end, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe what the Bible says: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Believing that our heavenly Father has created this universe gives us additional confidence that he has the power to help us. Even when the world appears to be falling apart, even when our lives might seem to be unraveling, we remember that by faith in Jesus we are children of the heavenly Father who in love and power called all the heavens and earth into existence, “seen and unseen.” He lives and rules all things for the good of his children.

So we can echo the confession of the psalmist: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).


 

EXPLORING THE WORD

1. We often marvel at what we can see of God’s creation. Describe as many of the “unseen” things of God’s creation as you can.

There are many answers. Here are just a few: air (consider how it contains just the right amount of oxygen), gravity (consider that the earth rotates at the right speed, on the right axis, at the right distance from the sun and moon), sound waves, heat/light/energy (we can’t usually see this, but we often see its source or feel the results), angels. One might also consider the way God makes the crops grow. We observe it happen, but it happens in such a way that it is hard for us to see. One might also think about the internal workings of the human body. These things are unseen unless we get an X-ray, MRI, or have surgery or some traumatic injury.

2. Read Psalm 139:13-16. How does an understanding about God’s creative activity help us view our bodies, intellect, and abilities?

It is true that sin has marred God’s perfect creation. That is why, for example, there are genetic defects. However, because we are knit together in our mother’s womb by the almighty God, the different look of our bodies, the different skills and abilities we have, and the different levels of intellect and understanding we possess, all are used by God to make us the unique people that we are. And God uses the uniqueness of each one of us for his good purposes and for our spiritual and eternal good. So we can view our bodies, intellect, and abilities as gifts of God’s power and grace, knit together to make each of us a unique blessing in his world and in his church to serve him and others, even if sometimes we might see what we consider to be defects and deficiencies.

3. Read Genesis 1:2,26; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17. While we usually confess that the Father is Creator, how do these passages inform a complete picture of creation? What does this tell us about the Trinity?

Both the Son and the Holy Spirit were also involved in the work of creation and continue to be involved in the work of preserving creation. The Bible does ascribe specific tasks to a particular person of God. For example, only the Son became flesh and was crucified. And we will often delineate certain titles for the persons of God based on the tasks typically ascribed to them (for example, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier). However, when it comes to creation, all three persons were active. The three persons of the one God take counsel together and work together to care for us and save us.

4. In what way does your view of the origin of the universe affect your worldview and purpose in life?

If you hold an evolutionary view of the world where the world’s existence is a result of change, accident, or survival of the fittest, then your worldview is focused on yourself, and your purpose in life becomes personal survival and advancement in life and/or a pursuit of personal pleasure. There is no accountability toward something or someone higher than yourself. There is no Creator to honor and glorify, so you end of glorifying humanity and humanity’s achievements. Or people might turn creation itself or created things into “god.” Consider the way some people refer to “Mother Earth” or the way different civilizations have worshiped the sun, planets, or animals (cf. Romans 1:18-32).

On the other hand, if you believe that God created the universe, gave us life, and provides all that we need, then you also recognize that you are accountable to that Creator. Adam and Eve recognized that they were accountable to God for their disobedience, even though they tried to hide from him (see Genesis 3). Your worldview is focused on your Creator, and your purpose in life becomes obeying his commands; glorifying and honoring him in attitude, word, and action; and serving others (1 Corinthians 10:31; Deuteronomy 10:12). There is an accountability and responsibility to the God who gives and sustains life. Luther brings this thought out in his explanation to the First Article. After reviewing all that God has done to create us, provide for us, and protect us, he writes, “All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him.” While ultimately we worship, honor, and obey God in gratitude for his saving works, his creating work also elicits our praise and forms our worldview as one where we strive to glorify our Almighty Maker in all that we do.

Contributing editor Joel Otto, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Salem, Milwaukee.

This is the second article in a 13-part series on the Nicene Creed.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Joel D. Otto
Volume 101, Number 12
Issue: December 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

John 3:16: Part 12

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

Grandpas carry them in pockets. Restaurants stock them next to the cash register. A peppermint candy swirl is one of the most mouth-refreshing candies. Yet it poses a problem. It’s too easy to chomp down. Instead of lasting 10 minutes, you devour it in 30 seconds. Soon you wish you had a new piece of candy so you could savor its sweetness again.

John 3:16 is one of the sweetest pieces of gospel candy. Because of its familiarity, it’s easy to chomp this verse down without considering its meaning. Slow down. Let it sit in your heart and steadily send sweet sensations to your head and life. Savor the sweetness each layer of this verse offers.

GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD THAT HE GAVE HIS ONE AND ONLY SON

The first sweet taste comes in the key word love. The original language of the Bible employs numerous terms for love. Agape, the term used here, is the sweetest and richest. Agape is a special kind of selfless love. It’s an attitude that results in action. Look at the action love prompted our Father to do—he gave his one and only Son.

Savor that sweet truth. God gave his Son. Relationships are strengthened by shared experiences. Think about the experiences the Father shared with his Son. Sitting in the heavens, they could recall the day of creation when they said, “Let’s make man in our image.” They could reminisce about their rescue effort of Noah or how they led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had an eternity of experiences together, and yet God gave his one and only Son for you.

THAT WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM

The Bible clearly teaches that no one can believe on his or her own. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Savor the sweetness of this verse that subtly points to the miracle of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. Also, savor the sweetness of the seemingly insignificant word whoever. Whoever assures us that we don’t need a special pedigree to be part of God’s family. We don’t have to live in a certain era or location. The gospel spans cultures and classes. Savor the sweetness of the unity the Spirit brings to “whoever believes.” And you can’t earn the status God freely gives to “whoever believes.”

But it’s not just belief in anything. It says, “Whoever believes in him,” which brings us to the core of this piece of gospel candy:

SHALL NOT PERISH BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE

To savor the full flavor of this sweet message, we need to grasp that hell is real. Hell is suffering. Hell is anger. Hell is pain. Hell is separation from God. Hell is where we were headed. But just as hell is real, so is heaven. Heaven is joy. Heaven is peace. Heaven is contentment. Heaven is seeing God face-to-face. Heaven is ours because Jesus rescued us by living a perfect life and dying an innocent death in our place. Through Jesus, God places the sweet taste of eternal life on our tongues. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Savor the sweetness.


 

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. What was the most difficult “good-bye” you ever had?

Answers will vary. Usually, the longer you are with someone, the more difficult it is to say good-bye. I think of my grandparents. Having been married for 68 years, my grandfather touched every pillow in the funeral home because he wanted the softest pillow for his now departed bride. Having lost the one who shared his life’s experiences threw him into a tailspin so that he died of a broken heart. The fact that we can witness such closeness in imperfect, human relationships makes us marvel at the love of the Father that he was willing to give his Son for us, the Son with whom he had a perfect relationship.

2. Describe a time when you most appreciated your unity with other believers.

Answers will vary. Examples may include a time when you were traveling. When Christians find one another in a heathen-dominant country or area, there is great joy in the bond of faith. Cherish the miracle that the Holy Spirit can make many “whoevers” believe.

3. Why do we often fail to celebrate the miracle of faith in our hearts?

We all are born with an attitude that I can do something to earn salvation. Or, we believe and live in a culture that promotes we are inherently good. Until we realize with the apostle Paul that each of us ranks as the “chief of sinners,” we will fail to fully celebrate the miracle of faith.

4. How does a declining belief in the reality of hell impact the sweetness of this verse?

Readers may want to check out this USA Today article: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-08-01-hell-damnation_N.htm. Five years ago, only 59 percent of Americans believed in hell. If hell is nothing to worry about, the need for a Savior diminishes. On the contrary, when we realize hell is where we were headed, our appreciation for the Son is magnified.

 

Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the final article in a series on the 12 most popular Bible passages accessed in 2012 through Bible Gateway, an online Bible resource.

Scripture references in this study are taken from the New International Version 1984.

 

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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Philippians 4:13: Part: 10

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

“I think I can . . . I think I can . . . I think I can.” Author Watty Piper geared the book The Little Engine That Could for children. First released for publication in the United States in 1930, the classic’s optimistic message has climbed its way into a mountain of self-help books, motivational speeches, and personal mission statements.

Similarly, so has the Philippians passage. PHIL 4:13 appears on the eye-strips of athletes, and it’s inked on arms, engraved in rings, and printed on posters to motivate people. The reference is a visible reminder to never give up and to aim for success. To many, Piper and the apostle Paul were working with the same concept: “I think I can” = “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

But what happens when cancer isn’t beaten, even though Philippians 4:13 was the patient’s mantra? What happens when the PHIL 4:13 quarterback throws a game-ending interception instead of the game-winning touchdown? What happens when “I think I can” is traded for “I see I can’t”? It’s then, when the mountainous challenges in front of us seem impassable, that we need the intended comfort of Philippians 4:13.

Context is crucial when it comes to understanding this popular passage. Paul was in prison when he penned these words. With chains around his wrists, the likelihood of throwing any missionary touchdowns was slim. Yet he could confidently write, “I can do everything.” What did he mean? Back up a few verses, and we see that Paul is not screaming out a vein-bulging, locker-room pep talk in this verse. Rather, he is whispering the secret of contentment. “No matter the situation, whether it’s bleak or bright, you can face it. You can endure it because you are living in Christ. He will provide the strength. Even if you’re running on empty, the Holy Spirit has poured Christ into your tank. You’ll have all the fuel you will need for the journey ahead—the journey to our destination with the Lord.”

Paul’s final words (2 Timothy chapter 4) assure us that he applied Philippians 4:13 to his life. Facing his death, he looked back and was thankful that the Lord stood by his side as he fought his fight and ran his race. He knew that the goal of life was not about climbing the mountain of earthly success. It was to ascend the throne of the Lord. And he knew the strength to make that climb didn’t rest in himself. If it did, he’d only be able to chant, “I think I can.” Rather, Paul knew his climb to heaven’s mountain depended on Jesus. Because of Jesus, Paul lived with an I know I can confidence. So can you, because of Jesus.


QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

1. Context. Context. Context. List ways you have seen or heard this passage applied. How does the context of the original passage compare to the way it is often applied?

Example of Philippians 4:13 is often used by athletes, politicians or in the medical field. Philippians 4:10-12 shows that this is more about contentment and strength to endure all situations and not the ability to do all things.

2. What do you consider to be the top three things that rob us of the secret of being content?

Answers may vary. Examples include commercials, instant gratification/information, lottery/gambling, the de-Christianization of the world which places self at the center.

3. Instead of thinking of negative situations, why is it important to remember that even positive situations are possible through the strength that God gives?

It helps us to be humble and not rely on ourselves.

4. “Who gives me strength.” While not always translated as such, this concept appears seven times in the New Testament. After comparing Philippians 4:13 with the following passages, explain what it means to have strength from God: Acts 9:22; Romans 4:20; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Timothy 4:17.

To be strong in the Lord emphasizes a reliance on him and a zeal to do his will no matter the cost.

Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the tenth article in a series on the 12 most popular Bible passages accessed in 2012 through Bible Gateway, an online Bible resource.

Scripture references in this study are taken from the New International Version 1984.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 8
Issue: August 2014

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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