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One in Christ: One in service: Part 4

So many issues can divide us, but the Word of truth unites us as we arm ourselves with God’s armor.

James R. Huebner

The apostle Paul was unafraid to broach touchy subjects and to press the hot buttons of his day. Those buttons are still hot in our world, in our American culture, and in our synod. These subjects bring to light differences of opinions or differences in the way we approach issues, problems, and concerns. They can divide us. But they are also opportunities for us to demonstrate our common commitment to God’s truth. In other words, every generation needs to recapture the truths and principles of Holy Scripture for itself in order to be one in service to God and to each other.

THREATS TO UNITY

Paul addresses a very real threat to the spiritual unity in the Ephesian congregation, namely, Satan’s tool of sexual impurity. If you are unaware of the assault on biblical morals and values created by the efforts of the LBGT crowd to shift homosexuality from a moral issue to a political issue in the minds of Americans, you better pinch yourself to see if you’re still breathing. Has the availability of pornography through the Internet become a plague on our society and also affected our church members and called workers? Yes.

But people who fall prey to homosexual or heterosexual sin are not the enemy. They are victims of the enemy. They need to hear what God has to say about their sin and their Savior in an honest, compassionate, and winsome way. We help heal them and draw them to Christ and then their fellow believers as we speak the Word of truth in love. We do the same things in our discussions on the biblical principles of God-pleasing gender interaction and application of those principles.

When the apostle addressed the issue of parent-child relationships and as we observe the break-up of the family in our society, we value all the more the precious privilege of enhancing through Lutheran schools what children learn about Jesus in God-fearing homes. But how can we also make every effort to shift the purpose for a congregation’s early childhood center, preschool, and Lutheran elementary school from primarily “taking care of our own” to “reaching out to the lost”? How do we work together as one in Christ? We do that by speaking the truth in love.

How can we learn to care more about others than ourselves so that not only employers and employees interact in God-pleasing ways, but we also ask everyone we know, “How are you doing today” and mean it? We do that by speaking the truth in love.

In these areas, we may long for perfect unity and oneness, but that will not happen on this side of heaven. Yet, we can demonstrate oneness in service to God and each other in our approach, in our attitude, and in the way we interact with each other, submitting “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). So we put ourselves in a position to catch the blessings God wants to pour out to us, and we are “completely humble and gentle . . . patient, bearing with one another in love” (4:2). We do that by speaking the truth in love and waiting for the Lord’s blessings on our efforts.

STAND FIRM. WEAR GOD’S ARMOR.

Can you see Paul, sitting at his writing desk, quill in hand, writing this letter? Out of the corner of his eye he sees the Roman soldier assigned to guard him that day, all fitted out and geared up for duty.

Ephesians, like all Christians, are locked in a battle with evil. Paul describes the armor God gives his warriors for the fight. “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (6:13). There’s the enemy. Here’s the armory!

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (6:14). You can see that Roman soldier with his belt holding his tunic in place and housing his weapons. A faulty belt won’t hold in place what it’s supposed to hold. So it is with the belt of truth. Mix in some error, and you’ll be in danger of having God’s truth slip off your hips and roll away. Strap on the belt of God’s truth.

Stand firm “with the breastplate of righteousness” (6:14). The Roman soldier’s shining metal plate protected his chest and midsection. In a similar way, Jesus’ rightness protects our spiritual heart and lungs. We are declared right by God even though Satan loves to accuse us. Put on Jesus’ rightness as a breastplate.

Stand firm “with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (6:15). That Roman soldier is ready to move forward and carry out his duty. The good news of peace with God through Jesus keeps us balanced and able to dodge temptations but also keeps us light on our feet, ready to take the first step in kindness for the needy, in comfort for the hurting, in forgiveness for the guilty.

“Take up the shield of faith” (6:16). The Roman shield isn’t just to display the emblem of the soldier’s legion. He can maneuver it for protection. Your trust in Jesus does the same. Your faith shields you when the flaming arrows of temptation come sizzling in.

“Take the helmet of salvation” (6:17). Any head injury knocks you out of the fight. You must keep your wits about you. What better way to do that than to have the assurance of God’s promise of salvation! We wrap our thoughts in his love so that we can make wise decisions when challenged by a fork in the road or the enemy before us.

Take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17). Every Roman soldier needs an offensive weapon from the armory. It’s the sword. The Word of God is yours. And it works. Use it. You can slice and dice the devil and send him running. Wield the Word of God.

But God is not done. He has one more weapon in the armory for you to use so that we can be one in Christ. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me” (6:18,19). Pray for your family. Pray for your pastors, teachers, and staff members. Pray for your district and synodical leaders. Pray for your synod. Pray for the lost, which means praying that God will unite us as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod in this glorious task to save lost souls.

No matter how old or young you are, no matter how tall or short you are, no matter what the amounts and distribution of melanin pigment in your skin, no matter where you live, we are one in service to God and each other. That’s what it means to be one in Christ.

James Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the first vice president of WELS.

This is the final article in a four-part series based on the 2015 synod convention essay entitled “One in Christ.”

 

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Author: James R. Huebner
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

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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One in Christ: one purpose Part: 3

Paul reminded the Ephesians that they are saved by grace alone, but he also reminded them—and us—that God puts us here for a purpose.

James R. Huebner

If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” you might be hard pressed to come up with an answer on the spot. But a little review of Ephe-sians chapter 3 will help. In this chapter, Paul zeroes in on three purposes for our life on earth.

GROW CLOSER TO HIM

The apostle experienced the warm and welcoming power of God’s undeserved mercy, his grace. The Lord God had forgiven Paul fully and freely for his bad past and for his future failures. That happened in only one way. Jesus had paid for his failures and covered him with full and complete forgiveness.

God has done that for sinners like us too. He does not count our past or future sins against us. Because Jesus is our substitute we are free from the burden of the consequences of our sin. “In [Christ Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). God desires us to draw close to him. That only happens as we use the Holy Spirit’s power tool, the words and promises of Holy Scripture. As we study the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit strengthens us and comforts us. Our faith grows!

The synod’s 2014 Statistical Report indicates that 15 percent of WELS communicants participated in Bible class. Can we do better? Of course. It’s obvious that pastors and congregational leaders will always be striving to encourage more members to participate in some form of Bible study. On this we agree: One purpose for our life on earth is to grow in faith, and that happens only when the Spirit is using his means of grace on our hearts.

If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” one part of your response will be, “God wants me to grow closer to him, and that happens when I dig into and ponder his Holy Word.” That purpose in life is true for all of us.

SHARE THE LOVE OF JESUS

If you are lost in the woods but finally see a path with a few fresh footprints, you will be thinking, Whew! At least there’s someone nearby who can help me. If you follow those tracks and come across all kinds of footprints that go in every direction, you will jump out of your skin with excitement because now you are near civilization and all kinds of people. You are safe!

God’s love for us works like that. There’s so much to chew on, to celebrate, to revel in. When we ponder one aspect of his love, it connects us to another and another, and we can hardly contain ourselves.

That’s what Paul means with the words “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8 ESV). He had been given God’s love in Christ and was bursting with joy at the depth, width, height, and length of Christ’s love. That love filled him with a powerful desire to give it to others. Good thing God put him to work in ministry. Paul might have exploded if he didn’t have an outlet to share God’s love with others.

The joy of Christ’s love fills all of us with a desire to share it with others. You don’t have to leave your career, sell your worldly goods, and set out on a trek through the barrios of Barcelona or the alleys of Atlanta or the jungles near Jakarta. God has placed us where we are, and there we can share his love. What we do individually as witnesses for Christ is multiplied exponentially when we pool our resources and work together with fellow Christians. Our mission efforts depend on us working together. Christians working together serve as a beacon to cut through the fog of spiritual uncertainty and to guide many more who are headed toward shipwrecking their lives on the reef of unbelief to the safe haven and harbor of God’s own heart. Reports from WELS World Missions always open our eyes to the global opportunities for proclaiming Jesus to the millions who don’t know him and don’t believe in him.

There are other opportunities closer to home. The 2014 Statistical Report indicates that 531 of our 1,269 WELS congregations had zero adult confirmands and another 173 had only one. That’s 55.5 percent of our congregations. Can we get better at our personal witnessing and congregation evangelism efforts? Of course. While it’s obvious that some congregations are located in small towns or rural areas with a population density far less than a city, I believe that in every WELS congregation someone has to know someone (a spouse, a relative, a neighbor, a friend) who needs to hear about Jesus. So, we flee to the cross for forgiveness for our lack of good-news-proclaiming zeal and for encouragement and strength to share the love of Jesus.

If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” one part of your response will be, “God wants me to share his love with you so you can be with him now and forever.” That purpose in life is true for all of us.

WORSHIP AND HONOR OUR SAVIOR

We know that there is no biblical prescription as to when Christians are to gather for worship and what they are to do when they gather. However, over time and many centuries, Christians have developed patterns and language in which God comes to us in Word and sacrament and we go to him with praise, prayers, and gifts. What I find instructive about those patterns is that even the “God comes to us” parts reflect the praise, hymns, and prayers of Scripture. They are not merely acclamations of God’s greatness, majesty, and power but also proclamations of what God did for us. Even those psalms that are considered “praise psalms” (e.g. Psalms 145–150) include language that proclaims why we praise God. Whatever the form or pattern, one thing is clear: Worship is not optional.

The day and time of day are not what makes worship God-pleasing. The style of music and instruments enhances the message but is not what makes worship God-pleasing. Worship is not primarily about what we do. Instead, it is a review and retelling of what God has done for us.

If someone walks up to you on the street and asks, “What’s your purpose in life?” one part of your response will be, “God wants me to worship and honor him every moment of every day and especially when I gather with fellow Christians.” That purpose in life is true for all of us.

No matter how old or young you are, no matter how tall or short you are, no matter the amounts and distribution of melanin pigment in your skin, no matter where you live, we are one in purpose as we grow in faith, proclaim the good news of Jesus’ love, and privately and publicly worship him. No disagreements or dividers here. That’s what it means to be one in Christ.

James Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the first vice president of WELS.

This is the third article in a four-part series based on the 2015 synod convention essay entitled “One in Christ.”

 

 

 

 

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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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Author: James R. Huebner
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

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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One in Christ: Together as one church Part: 2

Paul reminds us that, although we are all different, God draws us together in faith to work as one.

James R. Huebner

It is important to remember that God did not single us out to be his own because we are so wonderful or because we have such great qualities. No! He chose us by grace. He redeemed us to be his own dear children.

For the apostle Paul, redemption was not an abstract theological term dug out of an old, dusty doctrine book. Redemption is the only way out for people in prison because it involves two things: a payment is made, and then captives are set free. At the time he wrote to the Ephesians, Paul was under house arrest and had no idea whether someone would be able to make a ransom payment so that he could go free. But he did know that whether he was under house arrest or just walking the streets of Rome or Corinth or Ephesus, Jesus had already made the ransom payment for all the sins of all sinners. Jesus paid the ransom with his own blood. With that payment we sinners were set free from the prison of sin and the chains of guilt and declared to be one with God.

We are no longer corpses, nor are we scratching and clawing to get away from God like a trapped raccoon. We are God’s dear children, grateful for his love, wanting to do what he wants because all of what God did for us in Christ becomes ours personally through faith.

Faith is trust that what God says about us is true. Faith is passive. It is the empty bowl which God created in us by his powerful words of promise and love. It catches all the good things God pours into our hearts. It is not the reason he loves us. It is the result of his love for us.

But faith is also active. It is alive and produces the fruits of faith like an apple tree produces apples. “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

BUILT ON ONE FOUNDATION

One way to track the history of your congregation is to note the building projects. But you don’t want to overlook another building project that has been going on in your church, the building of the holy Christian church. And when we talk about the holy Christian church, we can’t help speaking about its chief architect, designer, and engineer, Jesus Christ. He is the foundation for our faith and the cornerstone of our faith. Jesus unites us in faith.

You don’t have to be an expert builder to know that a firm foundation is essential for any building. But what about your congregation? What about our synod? If our church body were built on human qualities and capabilities, it would have collapsed long ago. We make mistakes. We sin. Some days we do what God wants, and some days we don’t. It’s a good thing that God doesn’t build his church on sinners like you or me. Instead it is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).

Martin Luther couldn’t sleep at night. In fact, he nearly killed himself trying to beat sin out of his body. He knew that “God is holy, and I’m not, and I have to be as holy as God is if he’s going to open heaven’s gates for me.” His superiors were afraid he’d go nuts. So, to keep him busy, they had him study to be a parish priest and also got him a job as a university professor. Of all things, they asked him to teach the Bible. For the first time in his life, he dug into Holy Scripture. What he found there astounded him.

What he found is what a young man in our Bible information class found. He said, “Pastor, the thought of judgment day scares me. I’ve tried to be as good as possible at home, at work, and with friends, but sometimes I can’t sleep at night because I’m going to be at the pearly gates one day, and St. Peter might not let me in.” Ever have a thought like that pass through your brain? I told him what I’m going to tell you. If we think we have to get in by being good, we’ll never make it because we can’t be good enough on our own. That’s why God sent Jesus to be perfect in our place. And here’s the incredible news of the Bible. God credits what Jesus did to your account and mine. He treats us as though we never sinned even though we do all the time, because we are covered by the rightness of Jesus. The young man looked at me and said, “Now I can sleep tonight. I’ve got the golden ticket.” That good news of Jesus’ rightness draped over us is the foundation for our faith.

PART OF GOD’S DWELLING

Buildings often have a cornerstone to mark the date of construction. In ancient times the cornerstone not only held up and supported the building, but it also aligned the walls so that they’d fit together just so. The Christians in the congregation of Ephesus weren’t fitting together. They had a hard time finding common ground and working together. My grandma used to say, “Es gibt allerlei Menschen in Gottes Menagerie” (“There are all kinds of people in God’s zoo”). She was actually saying what the apostle Paul taught: “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of God’s household” (2:19). When the diverse people of Ephesus were filled with the good news of Jesus’ mercy, it didn’t matter whether they were Jews or Romans, Greeks or Egyptians. There could be harmony and oneness among sinners of all shapes, ages, and colors.

Are we any different than the Ephesians? Have there been disagreements among WELS Christians in the past 165 years? Of course. We have disagreed on building projects, mission efforts, where to build schools, whether or not to close schools. The list is long. How in all the world can a synod with people who have differing opinions work together?

The answer is that we are all parts of one spiritual building. Some of us are the bricks, some the mortar, some the light bulbs, some the doors. But we are all joined together to form one functioning building. The apostle looks at you and me today and says: “In [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

No matter how old or young we are, no matter how tall or short we are, no matter what the amounts and distribution of melanin pigment in our epidermis, no matter where we live, we are one in faith, trusting in Jesus Christ. No disagreements or dividers here. That’s what it means to be one in Christ.

James Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the first vice president of WELS.

This is the second article in a four-part series based on the 2015 synod convention essay entitled “One in Christ.”

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: James R. Huebner
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

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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One in Christ: Part 1: One with God

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he encourages them to treasure their unity in Christ. First, he reminds them how they became one with God.

James R. Huebner

The apostle Paul was in Rome under house arrest, “a prisoner for the Lord.” While there, word came to him that the members of the church in Ephesus, a congregation he had founded and spent three years building, were at each other’s throats. So, he wrote a letter urging oneness and unity.

How could oneness ever happen in Ephesus? The congregation was made up primarily of two culture groups. Some Christians in that congregation had come from an Israelite background. Others had come from a Greek or non-Israelite background. And they didn’t get along. The Greek Christians brought ham and bacon to the Easter brunch, and the Jewish Christians became nauseous. The Jewish Christians were asking, “How can Greeks be in God’s family? They aren’t descendants of Abraham.” The Greek Christians were wondering, “Are we good enough to be members of God’s family?”

The same tensions exist among us. We come from different homes, different congregations, different districts. We have different views on what areas of ministry should get priority, different opinions about which translation of the Bible to use, different opinions on how to carry out our worship. In light of those differences, some might think “one in Christ” is wishful thinking at best or a white-washing of reality at worst. Based on what Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians and us, I believe it is a statement of fact.

One in Christ means first that we are one with God.

NATURALLY WE ARE NOT ONE WITH GOD

What most people in our world don’t know—but need to know—is that we were born with a death notice hanging over us. Spiritually, we were stillborn. That’s the shocker the apostle dropped on the Ephesians: “We were dead in transgressions” (2:5).

It is normal and natural for people to believe that every newborn is innocent, that if your heart and lungs are functioning, you have a spark of good in you. But if you want to know the truth about what it takes to be one with God, then you have to come to grips with the fact that there is no such thing as an innocent baby. No human has potential to be as good as God demands. “All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3). The sinful nature we have from birth is rightly classified as our biggest fault and the root of all our faults.

What we desperately need in order to be one with God is a miracle of forgiveness from God. Jesus made that happen! This is the best news anyone could ever hear. God works in ways unexpected and undeserved primarily in raising people from spiritual death to spiritual life. Think about how God teaches us about grace. Israelites, what did you do to be cured and healed of venomous snake bites? “Nothing! God did it with his promise of healing.” Nicodemus, what did you do to be born? “Nothing!” My friends, what did you or I do to be one with God? Nothing! The phrases are piled up, excluding all human activity. “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works” (Ephesians 2:8,9).

WE BECOME ONE WITH GOD THROUGH HIS GRACE

If you wanted to write a letter encouraging people toward unity, how would you start? Pointing out their errors and weaknesses? Offering a step-by-step “how to”? Cajoling them? The apostle begins in a most unexpected way, with a hymn of praise! He starts, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). But he doesn’t stop there. In fact, he bubbles over with so much excitement that verses three to ten of chapter one are one, long, run-on sentence. In Christ, everything we could ever hope for or imagine when it comes to our relationship with God is already ours.

That news fills our hearts with so much joy that we spring out of bed each day with a smile on our face, lift our eyes heavenward, and call out, “Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful day!” Right? Or would it be more accurate to say that more often than not, instead of having eyes lifted heavenward, our noses are earth-bound, buried in the drudgery and doldrums of dredging for daily bread?

And then what? We complain. Has complaining become a national pastime? We complain about the weather. It’s either too hot or too cold, too humid or too dry. If not the weather, then it’s our health: the allergies, the arthritis, the feet, the back. If not health, then it’s the government. If not the government, then it’s the sermon, the ushers the organist, or the noisy kids. We always seem to find some reason to complain.

How can we break the pattern of grumbling and complaining? That happens when we are absolutely clear on how we became one with God. Paul points to the reason in his opening hymn of praise. We are God’s children because of his glorious grace (1:6). Even before God set the moon and stars and planets in their places, God looked down through the corridors of time and singled us out to be his own. “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4,5).

What prompted God to single us out to be his children? It is his love “in Christ.” That phrase “in Christ” (or “in him” or “through Jesus Christ”) occurs 150 times in Ephesians and 10 times in the opening 14 verses. God did not choose us in the way that children choose players when they pick sides for a ball game. The captains try to pick the best players first. But when God chose us, it was not because of some potential in us but only because of Jesus.

Do you want joy and hope in a world that can drag you down? Then lift your eyes to the cross of Jesus and see the price paid for your oneness with God. In a world of confusion where things do not always add up, Christ Jesus makes sense of it all. Life is no mystery when God has revealed to us the mystery of his mercy. “God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ . . . to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:9,10).

No matter how different we all are, we are one with God because of what Jesus did. No disagreements or dividers here. That’s what it means to be one in Christ.

James Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is the first vice president of WELS.

This is the first article in a four-part series based on the 2015 synod convention essay entitled “One in Christ.”

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: James R. Huebner
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016

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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