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Frogs in heated recliners

Glenn L Schwanke

I wake with a start, and it takes a few moments for me to realize it was only a dream.

The dream?

I’m sitting at the supper table with my family. I look over in the living room, and there’s my dad, Loyal, sitting in one of our recliners! (That’s no small feat, since my father passed away suddenly in 1972.)

Eagerly, I jump up from the kitchen table and rush over to my dad to give him a hug. Then I sit down in the other recliner as I pour out my life story. “I have so much to tell you, Dad! I went to Northwestern College, then to seminary. While at Sem, I met a very special young lady. We got married. After Sem, I was assigned to serve a congregation in Fort Wayne. There our daughter was born . . . yes, Dad, you’re a grandpa! Since 1996, we’ve lived here in Houghton.”

While I’m catching up with my dad, I notice he’s getting distracted. He keeps glancing at our television. So I shift the conversation. “Dad, you won’t believe the technology we have today! Those anchor-weight CRT TVs are a thing of the past! Now we have flat-screen TVs, light as a feather. And cable! No more rabbit-ear antennas wrapped with aluminum foil.”

But it’s not the technology that has grabbed my dad’s attention. As a dark cloud settles over his face, he asks, “What’s that show on TV?”

“That? That’s a rerun of Friends, an old sitcom from almost 20 years ago.”

“And you allow that kind of program to be viewed in your home?” Dad responds sternly.

“Well, Dad, it’s mostly just background noise during supper. And it’s just Friends—that’s pretty tame by modern standards.”

“But they were just talking about sex and no marriage, as if it was okay! Joking about it! You let your daughter watch that? You watch that? I thought I trained you to know better.”

“But Dad . . .”

That’s when I wake up and realize I’ve become a frog in a heated recliner. How so? Well, there’s an old tale that says if you put a live frog in a kettle of hot water, it will jump out. But if you put the same frog in a kettle of cooler water and heat it slowly, the frog won’t notice the danger, and it will be cooked to death.

In my dream, my dad came back from the dead after 47 years, so what he saw on the television shocked him. After all, he was used to watching Gunsmoke. And Sheriff Dillon didn’t curse. Nor did he joke about going to bed with Kitty.

I’ve been immersed in our country’s culture through all those same years. So little by little, my conscience has been dulled to entertainment that would have shocked me back in 1972. Entertainment that should still shock me (Ephesians 5:12).

Has the same happened to you?

Then how comforting it is to have a Savior who cried out from his cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He said that for soldiers gambling at his feet, religious leaders circling like vultures, and gawking crowds. He also said it for all of us frogs in our heated recliners—Christians with dulled consciences who may spend too much time watching garbage entertainment and too little time pondering the truth that Jesus bore the full heat of God’s hellish punishment for all our sins.


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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An easy question?

Earle D. Treptow 

The same question may be easy or complex, depending on the person you ask. For example: What are the factors of 2xy – 10x2y + 4x2y2? A sixth-grade student would consider that complex. Even some who have completed college may find it difficult. For the mathematician, however, the question is easy. In the end, you’d hope, if you found the question complex, that those who considered it simple wouldn’t look down on you because you couldn’t answer correctly and quickly. 

Here’s another question that one person may find easy, another complex: What is your gender? You may think of that as the easiest question. Some, on the other hand, consider the two possibilities most often presented as inadequate. Neither “male” nor “female” accurately capture the way they view themselves, so they look for some other word to communicate their gender.  

When it comes to math, we expect that those in the know will be patient with those who have not been taught or who struggle to grasp the concept. Above all, we expect that they will not regard with contempt those who can’t give the proper answer. Do those same expectations apply when it comes to questions of gender identity? Do we expect it of ourselves as we interact with those who struggle with an issue that is so clear to us? 

Christians know the answer because God has taught us in his Word. In the opening pages of Scripture, he says, “God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The Lord formed human beings as male and female. That was his perfect design in his perfect world. Adam and Eve accepted God’s design as a gift of God’s goodness.  

When our first parents decided that God had unfairly forbidden them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, things changed for the worse. Adam and Eve experienced serious confusion. They were so confused that they tried the impossible—to hide from the Lord in the garden. Their confusion led them to doubt God’s mercy, so they deemed it necessary to blame God and others for their sin. The Lord, by his promise of a Savior, cleared up their confusion about his mercy, but their sinfulness meant that confusion would regularly persist. Unfortunately, Adam and Eve passed along their sin to their descendants and, in so doing, passed along their confusion too.  

We ought not be surprised, then, that people are confused about gender identity. Sin has corrupted us all, so that God’s clear and beautiful design seems unclear. Don’t we know that from painful personal experience? Must I not say about each sin I commit that it’s a rebellion against God’s design? Every sin arises from the confused idea that God’s design doesn’t fit our current circumstance or our view of how things ought to operate.  

God graciously calls us to repentance day after day and then patiently teaches us the truth yet again. He invites us to deal in the same way with others who do not grasp his clear design. With the strength the Lord provides, we don’t dismiss people who are confused about gender issues as hopelessly in rebellion against God. Instead, we serve them, as one wretched sinner to another. In humility, we proclaim God’s love for them in Christ. 

We teach God’s design. And then we pray that the Holy Spirit would enlighten confused hearts and minds, just as he has done with all us undeserving sinners.  


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 106, Number 2
Issue: February 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Drowning in a sea of bad news

Andrew C. Schroer 

The news can be overwhelming. It doesn’t matter whether you watch CNN, Fox, or MSNBC. I don’t see a difference whether you catch the local news on TV, glean it off the Internet, or read the newspaper. The sheer volume of news can be overwhelming, especially when it’s bad news. 

Terrorists. Crime. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Politics. Protests.  

It seems that the more time we spend watching the news, the more it feels like the world is falling apart around us. The more we watch the news, the more helpless we feel. 

We have no control over most of the events we read about and see on the news. I have little influence over what the president does. I can’t stop hurricanes or earthquakes. I can’t stop the shootings, and I couldn’t even stop our local Walmart from closing. The more informed I become, the more painfully obvious it becomes that I can do little about the chaotic events happening in the world around me. 

Thankfully, God can. 

Just look at the history behind the Bible. Great empires—the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans—rose and fell as God’s hand worked all of history to bring his Son Jesus into the world. Floods, earthquakes, and famines raged as God’s loving plans and purposes came about through them. 

Sometimes we are like Peter when he was walking on the water toward Jesus in the middle of the storm (Matthew 14:22-36). He was doing fine until he started staring at the storm raging around him. He saw the whitecaps and waves. He looked down at his feet and thought, I can’t do this. 

And he was right.  

On his own, Peter couldn’t walk on water. He couldn’t stand in the middle of the storm. He began to sink. Thankfully, Jesus lovingly and powerfully reached down his hand and pulled Peter up. 

When we focus all our attention on the bad news cycling across the screen, we can easily become overwhelmed. We are forced to face our own impotence. We begin to feel like we are drowning in a sea of chaos, violence, and tragedy. 

There comes a point when we need to turn it off. 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying you should completely stop watching the news. 

A Christian should be well-informed of what is happening in our world. We need to know what is going on so we can do our best to influence, help, and heal the ills of our world. 

But there comes a point when we need to turn the news off. If you find yourself obsessing and stressing about the state of affairs in our country or the world, if you are constantly worried about our president or the border or the Middle East or any of the countless other news stories flashing across the screen, it’s probably time to take a break. 

Take your eyes off the storm for a while and take a long look at your Savior God. 

Open up your Bible and read the good news of his promises. He is in control. He is working all of time and history for our good. Even if this world goes to hell in a handbasket, you are going to heaven in the care of his angels because Jesus lived and died as your Savior. 

When you feel like you are drowning in a sea of bad news, the good news of God’s promises will keep you afloat. 


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas. 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 106, Number 1
Issue: January 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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What if your Christmas isn’t so silent?

Glenn T. Schwanke 

We had just finished our Christmas Eve service, and the familiar words of the closing hymn, “Silent Night,” were still echoing in my mind. “Silent night, holy night, all is calm.” As I glanced out our chapel’s window, I smiled as I saw the light fluffy snow falling idyllically, as if our Lord was laying a thick, white blanket over the Copper Country and hushing nature itself. Moved by the moment, I stood to make the final announcements.  

“Isn’t Christmas here amazing? If snow is what makes your Christmas special, we have plenty of that! And with Michigan Tech on Christmas break and so many of our businesses closed for the holiday, those of us still in town can concentrate on the real meaning of Christmas—the Son born of the virgin Mary and laid in the manger. All because it’s so qui . . .” 

I never got to finish that last word, for just then our chapel was flooded by ear-piercing blasts from our fire alarm! It went off because a young boy was fascinated by the big, red fire alarm handle located in the back of our chapel. It said, “Pull Down.” So he did.  

What followed was chaos. As the siren blared, the members looked to the pastor, expecting him to know how to silence it. But they soon learned their pastor must have snoozed through the Practical Theology class at the seminary that was devoted to fire alarms. So the siren continued its assault. Thankfully, one of the worshipers, the county sheriff, had called the fire department to report a false alarm. Finally, after everyone’s eardrums were on the edge of bleeding, we found the alarm manual and silenced the system. 

So much for a silent night. 

What will your Christmas celebration be like this year? Maybe not so silent because there are alarms thundering deep inside you that cause you to toss and turn every night. Maybe an alarm pulled by the fear that your marriage seems to be heading toward the rocks? A parent-child relationship stretched to the breaking point? A faltering business or a career careening into the ditch?  

Maybe your inner alarm can’t be silenced because this Christmas seems far too quiet, especially late in the evening when your home feels so empty and cavernous. All because your lifelong spouse went home to heaven this year.  

Maybe your inner alarm has been pulled by worry over a loved one serving in the Armed Forces, far away from home this Christmas season. Some 450,000 US troops serve oversees, and some are stationed in hot spots like Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. 

I claim no expertise in silencing fire alarm systems in our chapel at Peace. So I defer to the experts. What about when it comes to silencing the inner alarms? I humbly defer to the Child. Isaiah gives us this unforgettable guarantee: “Every boot that marched in battle and the garments rolled in blood will be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born. To us a son is given. The authority to rule will rest on his shoulders. He will be named: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no limit to his authority and no end to the peace he brings” (Isaiah 9:5-7 Evangelical Heritage Version). 

I pray you and yours are blessed with a calm, silent night this Christmas, one marked by the true peace the Child came to bring.  


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 12
Issue: December 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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Drives me crazy!

Earle D. Treptow 

“Drives me crazy!” he said, after recounting his technology woes to a friend. Maybe you’ve uttered those same words, whether about technology or something else.  

So, what’s on your list of frustrations? What drives you crazy?  

Imagine posing that question to a thousand people. A handful might likely take the high road and say that nothing really bothers them. Most, however, would be able to rattle off a list, ranging from pet peeves to more serious matters.  

Sometimes it’s situations and events. Sentences that begin with “Traffic that makes a 15-minute trip take an hour,” or “The critter that thinks my garden is its café,” or “A cell phone battery that constantly needs be recharged” all end with “drives me crazy.”  

Popular ideas and attitudes may also drive us crazy. Perhaps it’s some political news or even some popular ideas about the Bible. When articles and books simply assume that the world evolved over billions of years, those who believe that God created the world might be annoyed. The Christian may also experience frustration at the idea that gender identity is only a social construct and not something God has designed.  

Often, it’s people who drive us crazy. Some act as if the rules don’t apply to them. The sign says, “Clean the microwave after you use it,” but you have to clean it before you can use it. Sometimes it’s what people say. They know all the answers and won’t listen to anything else. For example, when they assert that homosexual relationships are perfectly normal then charge us with being intolerant when we try to offer a different view. They won’t allow us to explain that homosexuality isn’t an unforgivable sin and that the Bible’s primary message is that Jesus died for all sinners. We may well find ourselves saying, “Drives me crazy!” They drive us crazy because they defy what God has to say in his Word. They imagine that they know better than God.  

Do you know the real reason people drive me crazy? It’s because I’ve forgotten what God says people are like by nature because of the sinfulness they inherited from their parents. It’s hardly shocking that those who do not know God’s Word would hold a position contrary to it and speak passionately against it. I ought to expect that people might lash out against any who would speak against their views, because by nature they think God’s Word is foolish. 

In the final analysis, people drive me crazy because I’ve forgotten who I am. If I knew myself the way the apostle Paul knew himself—as the worst of sinners and an unworthy recipient of God’s love—I wouldn’t be so easily frustrated with others. I would recognize that, were it not for the grace of God in giving me faith, I would be thinking, speaking, and acting the very same way they do.  

When the Spirit helps me remember God’s extraordinary patience with me, I strive to be patient with others. I confess God’s truth to those who do not know Jesus as their Savior and trust him to work through it in his time. I seek to bear with my fellow Christians in love, realizing that maybe, just maybe, I drive people crazy too. And then I thank God anew for covering me with Christ and choosing not to say of me, “He drives me crazy!”  


Contributing editor, Earle Treptow is professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, and a member at Christ Alone, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 11
Issue: November 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Tradition

Andrew C. Schroer 

I recently read that the standard U.S. railroad track is 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide. That’s a rather odd measurement, don’t you think? Why build railroad tracks that width? 

The answer is simple. Immigrants from England designed our railroads, and that’s the width they used in England. 

But why did they use that width in England? It turns out that the people who built the railroads in England were also the ones who earlier had built the tramways. That’s the width they used. 

Why did the tramway builders use that width? Because the people who built the tramways were also the ones who built the wagons and that is the width they used. 

Why did the wagon builders use that width? Because that was the width of the wagon ruts already worn into the roadways of England. 

And why were the wagon ruts that width? The ruts in the roads were first made by Roman chariots when Rome ruled England more than 1,500 years ago. The distance between wheels on an ancient Roman chariot was exactly 4 feet, 8.5 inches. 

So why are our railroad tracks 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide? Blame it on the Romans. 

Why do you do what you do at your church? Sometimes it is because God clearly says in his Word that is the way it should be done. When God reveals his will, we comply. Period.  

But like the width of our railroad tracks, we often don’t even know why we do what we do in our churches. We’ve just always done it that way. It’s tradition. 

Don’t get me wrong. Tradition can be a good thing. Often it is based on centuries of wisdom and experience. Traditions have stood the test of time for a reason. They should not be changed lightly. 

Yet we often treat traditions as divine directives. We cling to them. We cherish them. We get angry when anyone suggests we change them. 

Change can be scary. 

Sometimes, though, change is necessary. “We’ve always done it that way” is never a good argument to keep doing something. The way we’ve always done things may not be the best or wisest way. 

As time passes, the opportunities, gifts, and challenges God gives each church change. The way your church operates today may have been the best way to serve God 50 years ago, but it may not be today. 

Churches often get stuck in ruts exactly 4 feet, 8.5 inches wide when they don’t take the time to periodically ask: Why are we doing what we are doing? Should we adjust what we are doing to serve God and others better and more efficiently? 

The answers to those questions aren’t always easy. Wisdom and love dictate that we don’t fall into the ditch on either side of the road. On one side of the road, we despise tradition and changing things simply for the sake of change. We shouldn’t quickly cast aside the wisdom of time-tested traditions and the feelings of those who cherish them. But on the other side, the ditch is just as dangerous—blindly clinging to traditions and refusing to evaluate honestly what we are doing and to consider new ideas. 

It is healthy for Christians to evaluate the ministry of their churches periodically so they can serve God and others to the best of their ability and to his glory. Every Christian congregation needs voices that lovingly and humbly ask, “Why are we doing what we are doing?”  

Could you be that voice in your church? 


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas. 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 10
Issue: October 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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There’s a change in the seasons

Glenn L. Schwanke 

There’s a change in the seasons. You can feel it in the crispness of the morning air and see it in your breath. Fall is almost here. That’s why intrepid Yooper gardeners like me are scrambling to stretch the growing season by using sheets to cover some of our prized vegetables before a cold night. We lavish special care on our most precious plants: the tomatoes. The goal of a “master” gardener in the Keweenaw Peninsula is to harvest at least one red, ripe tomato before the first frost! I think this year, I may actually do that. 

But I wouldn’t have even had the chance for a ripe tomato if I hadn’t planted a garden. This year, many wondered if I would. Why? On May 14, my wife, Terry, was carried safely home to heaven after a long struggle with the devil’s concoction, cancer. In the weeks following her memorial service, I kept getting asked, “Pastor, will you plant your garden this year?” “Certainly!” I said. Then I added, “Remember Dr. Luther? Some claim that he once said, ‘Even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I’d still plant an apple tree today.’ ”  

Whether Luther actually said that or not is hotly debated. It really makes no difference. I agree with the sentiment. It’s a biblical principle written by the wisest man who ever lived. King Solomon wrote, “For everything there is an appointed time. There is an appropriate time for every activity under heaven: a time to give birth and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot plants” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,2). As Solomon observed, our heavenly Father guides all our “appointed” times: the seasons of the year and the seasons of our life. Planting the garden in spring, then harvesting and pulling it out in fall. Giving birth and dying.  

As I ponder Solomon’s words, I sometimes think of the inspired words of his father, King David. “As for man, his days are like grass. Like a wildflower he blossoms. Then the wind blows over it, and it is gone, and its place recognizes it no more” (Psalm 103:15,16). Life flies by so quickly. Death comes to us all. Yet we don’t despair, because we know the second of our death is an “appointed” time planned by the One to whom David could confess, “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15).  

Yes, I miss my wife. But we were blessed to have almost 39 years together as husband and wife. And now she is forever safe, wrapped in the loving arms of our heavenly Father who “appointed” the time for her to die at just the right second! There is comfort and profound peace in knowing that.  

So I planted a garden this year as a confession of faith. Spring, summer, fall, winter, seedtime and harvest: All will continue till the end of time as ordained by the Lord’s unwavering guarantee.  

So also, our life: spring, summer, fall, winter. If I were to judge by the calendar, I’m in the fall of my life. But I’m at peace with that, because my Lord is guiding every turn of my life, just as he guided my wife, Terry, safely through the last season of her life into the changelessness of eternity.  

May you find this same peace in Jesus.  


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University. 


All Bible verses are from the Evangelical Heritage Version. 


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 9
Issue: September 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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Free, but expensive

Earle D. Treptow 

“I’ll keep that in my prayers,” a Christian says upon hearing about the challenges an individual is facing. Occasionally, the words come as a reflex, uttered without much thought. It feels like the perfect thing for a Christian to say, and not only because the words roll easily off the tongue and encourage the person who’s hurting. In addition, since a Christian may offer a prayer anywhere at any time at no charge, it seems like an easy promise both to make and to keep.  

But this needs to be said: Prayer is free, but expensive.  

A Christian doesn’t have to pay for an audience with the Lord. She’s not required to show herself deserving of God’s ear. But strangely, the cost of prayer may be a problem. Some have suggested that people tend to take for granted that which is free. If that’s the case, we need to look at prayer a little more closely. Prayer is expensive. In fact, “expensive” doesn’t begin to express the reality. The highest price was paid to secure the privilege of prayer for the children of God: God himself took on flesh to shed his blood for sinners so they might pray freely and often.  

That’s not the only reason to consider prayer expensive. While the Christian doesn’t pay anything to pray, the Christian does incur significant cost by praying. The Christian who prays gives up the cherished illusion that he can solve the problems in his life all by himself. In approaching the Lord in prayer, he acknowledges what his sinful flesh has no interest in confessing: “I’m powerless to solve this problem. I’m not the one directing all things. God is, and he alone.” Given the pride of the sinful nature that clings to Christians, prayer is expensive—an admission that we are powerless.  

A Christian who has listened to God’s Word knows the way God chooses to operate. He typically works indirectly, through ordinary means, rather than through miracles. Instead of dropping food from the sky, for example, he gives people the ability to work and earn the money needed to purchase the food they need. The Lord who generally answers the prayers of his people indirectly may decide to use the Christian herself as the answer to her own prayer.  

The Christian who prays that the Lord would encourage her friend who lost her job may see the Lord do so through her ears and mouth, as she listens intently to her friend and speaks God’s promises to her. The Christian who asks God to have mercy on those whose homes were destroyed by a tornado may find the Lord answering his prayer through the money currently in his savings account. The Christian who prays for godly people to serve in government might see the Lord grant that request by leading her to run for office. Prayer is indeed free, but it may prove expensive.  

Might that be a reason we’re sometimes slow to pray? We’ve observed how the Lord answers prayers, and we’re not convinced we can afford the answer. We see under-supplied bank accounts and overflowing calendars, with scarcely an ounce of emotional energy remaining. Rather than looking for more people and situations for whom to pray, we withdraw into our own lives. But we need not withdraw. The Lord promises to strengthen his people and to meet all their needs in Christ, freeing them up to serve others.  

So go ahead and pray for others. Then watch the Lord use you as an answer to prayer and marvel at the way he empowers you to serve.   


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon. 


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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The center of the universe

Andrew C. Schroer

In his book, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams states the obvious: “Space is big.” But have you ever wondered how big space really is? A friend of mine recently shared with me the following analogy.

If the ballpoint of the pen on my desk was the earth, the sun would be the size of a ping pong ball about 15 feet away. The nearest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, would then be another ping pong ball located in the city of Toronto, Canada. I live in Edna, Texas, by the way.

There are more than one hundred billion stars in our galaxy, all of which are trillions of miles farther away. And that’s just our galaxy. Scientists estimate that there are more than two hundred billion galaxies in the known universe, each containing between one hundred billion and one trillion stars.

Douglas Adams was right. Space is big.

From the perspective of the moon, the earth appears to be the size of a marble. From the perspective of other galaxies, the earth is imperceivable. It is invisible. It is nothing.

So what does that make us? We aren’t even a microscopic speck in God’s universe. King David once wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3,4).

If you have a chance this week, read Psalm 8. It gives us a proper perspective of our relative size and place in God’s universe. We are insignificant microscopic specks. Yet God knows and loves each of us personally.

We need that perspective because so often our perception is skewed. Like the warped images in a fun house mirror, our sinful mind distorts how we look at ourselves. We see ourselves as bigger than we really are. We make ourselves the center of our universe.

My life, my goals, and my happiness become the purpose of my existence here on earth.

God made us tiny specks to be the crown of his creation. And what do we do? We treat him as insignificant. Instead of our lives revolving around him, he becomes a small satellite that enters our orbit only when we think we need him.

The amazing thing is that God loved us rebellious specks so much, he didn’t want us to suffer the punishment we deserve for our distorted views. The God who created and fills the vastness of the universe became an insignificant microscopic speck just like you and me to take our place and die our death.

And because he did, we are forgiven for all the times we have made ourselves the center of our own universe. We are forgiven for all the times we have relegated God to being simply a small satellite that revolves around our world.

The God who created and fills the vastness of space does not treat us as we deserve. He loves us. He forgives us. He gives us heaven.

Keep that perspective. Remember your place in God’s universe. Remember who you are and what he has done for you. Don’t make him simply a satellite that enters the orbit of your life every so often. Don’t relegate him to being just a part of your life. He is your whole life. Everything you have and everything you are is because of him.

May God always be the center of your universe.


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 7
Issue: July 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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“I do.” “He did.”

Glenn L. Schwanke

Statisticians inform us that 2.3 million couples wed each year in the United States. That works out to some 6,301 weddings per day. June is the most popular month for weddings. About $72 billion is spent on weddings each year. The average number of guests invited to a wedding is 178. The average wedding cost is $20,000.

That last piece of information brings a tear to my eye. Why? Lord willing, our daughter is getting married this summer.

The date the wedding is scheduled is June 9, thirty-nine years to the day after my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows on June 9, 1979, at St. John’s, Clinton Avenue, Milwaukee. (The congregation is now called Loving Shepherd.)

I wish I could tell you what the pastor’s wedding address was about all those years ago. But I was far too nervous to take it in. Nervous because of the vows that my wife, Teresa, and I sealed with the simple promise, “I do.”

And this June 9? I will be nervous again, but not because I haven’t performed weddings before. I’ve had that privilege countless times over the years. Yet this marriage will be unique in my ministry. It’s for our only child.

I’ve had folks ask, “Does a pastor walk his own daughter down the aisle?” My response, “I plan to.” When we reach the front of the church, I’ll lift her veil, give her a hug and a kiss, hand her to her fiancé, and give him a firm handshake. Then I’ll step up to the altar, turn, and begin the service in my role as pastor.”

“Will you get emotional? Will you cry?” “More than likely, but I trust God’s Spirit will help me get through the service.”

Don’t miss the point. The service revolves around a man and a woman standing before their families and friends in God’s house. There they publicly declare their commitment to each other with the solemn pledge, “In the presence of God and these witnesses, I take you to be my wife/husband. I promise to be faithful to you, as long as we both shall live.” The service is about the simple promise, “I do.”

Yet the wedding ceremony is about far more than that! Think of all the family and friends who come to the wedding. Some of them rarely, if ever, go to church otherwise. Maybe they’ve never cracked open a Bible. What do they need to hear on the wedding day? What do we all need to hear? “He did.”

Jesus did what no sinner, no husband, no wife, can ever do. As Paul explains, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. . . He did this so that he could present her to himself as a glorious church, having no stain or wrinkle or any such thing, but so that she would be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27 Evangelical Heritage Version). Because of what Jesus did, our Lord will shower his grace into our hearts and homes in this life and then wrap his arms around us in the life to come in heaven above! Knowing this, I’ll make sure all the worshippers at this wedding hear, “He did.”

And for the bride and groom? I’ll print copies of the address, just in case, they’re too nervous to listen closely during the ceremony.


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Optimist or pessimist?

Earle D. Treptow

Do you belong to the “pessimist party” or the “optimist club”? Your answer may depend on the day you’re asked. For instance, if asked whether your favorite team will win a championship, you may be a pessimist, conditioned by years of futility. But two months later, when the team is exceeding expectations, you may be an optimist.

On a more serious level, would you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist on the possibility of eliminating, or reducing, the mass shootings that plague us? Do you think steps can be taken to preserve life? Or do you feel that attempts to address the situation won’t make any substantial difference? How does your Christian faith influence your view?

Christians have learned, by the Father’s grace and the Spirit’s work, to tune their ears to God’s Word when they’re bothered by horrific events. What Christians hear is God speaking the truth about all people, including us: “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). We can’t be overly surprised by these senseless shootings. Sinners sin. The law that God has written on human hearts curbs sin, but it doesn’t stop all sin from occurring, as we know from our own personal struggles.

Christians also hear what Jesus said about the final days of this world: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). People will become increasingly self-centered. They will do what their corrupt hearts want to do, with little thought to the impact of their actions on others.

Christians who believe what God says about sinners don’t expect an end of senseless violence in this world. Laws may well be enacted to make it more difficult to get the kinds of weapons used in these shootings. Yet laws do not change hearts. Sinful hearts will remain loveless. Christians see the glass half empty.

But Christians whose ears are tuned to God’s Word also hear promises that fill their hearts with confidence. The Lord Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father, promises to direct all things for the benefit of his people. The Lord is ruling over everything, even if rampant wickedness makes it appear that the devil has gained the upper hand.

When we reflect on senseless violence, we often focus only on the hard-heartedness of sinners and forget about God’s grace and power. The One who desires all to be saved promises to work through his powerful gospel to call people to repentance and faith.

What’s more, he promises to empower his people to speak the gospel through which the Holy Spirit miraculously transforms hearts and lives. Believing the Lord’s promise that he can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), we take up the task of speaking God’s Word to the world. We need not feel helpless in the face of rampant violence. Jesus gave us the task to proclaim his heart-changing gospel to everyone, and he gave us his promise that the Spirit will accompany the Word we speak. Christians see the glass half full.

When Christians focus on sinful human beings, they’re pessimistic—sinners will continue to sin. When Christians focus on the grace and power of God, they’re optimistic—the Lord can change hearts. We know and confess the sinner’s natural depravity, which makes every sin possible. But we also know and confess the grace and power of our Savior-God, for whom nothing is impossible, not even transforming hearts and altering lives.


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 5
Issue: May 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Fools

Andrew C. Schroer

It all began with an edict by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The Julian calendar used by most of the Western world had some problems. Among other things, seasons and solstices did not always line up because the calendar did not accurately calculate leap years.

The new calendar, called the Gregorian calendar, established a more accurate number of leap years as well as other innovations. Pope Gregory’s calendar also established Jan. 1 as the official beginning of the year.

Though Jan. 1 had traditionally been the first day of the year on the Julian calendar, by the Middle Ages many Western European countries celebrated the new year on different days. In some countries, New Year’s was celebrated at the end of March and the beginning of April.

When Pope Gregory published his new calendar, there was no Facebook and no CNN. There wasn’t even radio. News about the changes spread slowly. Many continued to celebrate New Year’s on their traditional dates decades, and even centuries, later.

Those who continued to celebrate the New Year at the end of March and the beginning of April, either due to ignorance or just plain obstinance, were soon mocked by their fellow countrymen. They were called fools, and practical jokes were played on them.

According to some historians, thus began the celebration of April Fools’ Day.

Much has been made in the media about the fact that Easter this year falls on April Fools’ Day. It’s ironic. As Christians we often play the role of the fool for believing the Easter message.

For those who don’t believe in Jesus, what we believe seems ridiculous. We believe that because God was born as a man, nailed to a piece of wood, died, and came back to life, we are now free from any guilt or punishment for every bad thing we do. We believe we will live forever with him one day in a perfect place of happiness called heaven somewhere beyond our existence here on earth.

Many of the greatest scientists and scholars of our age mock us and call us dumb for believing the Bible. Even the apostle Paul was laughed off by the educated elite of his day (Acts 17:32). As Christians we are fools. To be more accurate, though, we are sophomores. You see, the word sophomore literally means “a wise fool.”

But even though the world considers us foolish, we have true wisdom. To the world, what we believe as Christians is weak and foolish. The apostle Paul reminds us of that but concludes, “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

How can anyone believe in what so many think is for fools? Only through faith can a person see its true wisdom and power.

Through Jesus’ humble death and glorious resurrection, we have become heirs of heaven. We are now sons and daughters of the King of all creation. Through faith, we have true understanding, but we can’t prove any of it. The world cannot see it. It seems foolish to them.

But instead of getting upset when the world calls us fools, instead of getting embarrassed, instead of feeling like you have to defend or prove what you believe, embrace the foolishness of the cross. Accept the fact that the world does not and will never understand. Jesus told us it would be that way. Some will mock us. Some will point and call us fools.

Don’t worry about it. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t back down. One day, God will reveal who the true fools really are.


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 4
Issue: April 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Seeing with the eyes of the heart

Glenn L. Schwanke

Before the opening hymn, I wondered, “What happened to our hymn boards? The white hymn numbers shimmer against the black backgrounds. Did one of the electrical engineering students in our Campus Ministry figure out a way to backlight the numbers?”

A split second after those thoughts flitted through my mind, I knew the hymn boards hadn’t changed. My eyesight had. After cataract surgery, my vision was no longer clouded over by the yellowed-haze that had developed on my 60+ year-old lenses, almost like fog and grime on a windshield. Instead, with new lens implants in each eye, I was finally seeing white again. Colors jumped out at me in a way I hadn’t experienced since I was in the third grade.

That was when I couldn’t read the blackboard in our classroom. I always had my nose in the book, not because I was exceptionally studious, but because I struggled to read the print. But after getting my first pair of glasses, I walked out from the optometrist’s office onto the sidewalk to bask in the brilliant sunshine that flooded South 8th Street in downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin. There I stood. Looking one way. Then the other. The colors took my breath away! Reds, blues, and yes, whites leaped at me like never before—almost as if I could reach out and touch them.

Cataract surgery for us older folks, or a pair of glasses or contacts for the younger generations, can make a night-to-day difference to our eyesight!

But there’s another type of clear vision that’s far more important. The apostle Paul tells us about it in his letter to the Ephesians: “I keep praying that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, will give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing Christ fully. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know the hope to which he has called you, just how rich his glorious inheritance among the saints is, and just how surpassingly great his power is for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19 Evangelical Heritage Version [EHV]).

Paul prayed that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” because he knew how life’s struggles can fog our spiritual sight. Endless chemo or radiation therapy, a stroke that leaves us debilitated just as we were taking our first steps into retirement—all these things and more can jaundice our outlook on life. A failed marriage or the sudden, unexpected death of a child can so darken the mirror of our soul that we may even lash out in anger against our God.

How can our spiritual cataracts be removed? Only by God’s Spirit who performs surgery deep inside us with his sharp, double-edged sword, “the word of God” (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17). Through that Word, the Spirit brightens our outlook on life by riveting our attention on Jesus and enlightening us with the trust to see Jesus for who he really is. Jesus is the one who made you and me brighter than the white numbers on the hymn board.

Well, that’s the way I see it, and I think the prophet Isaiah would agree with me, although he used a different picture for purity. He wrote, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Because of the crimson blood Jesus shed on his cross, our sins are buried. When our Father looks at us, he sees nothing but shimmering, blinding white.

For you see, everything looks different when viewed through the lens that is Christ.


Contributing editor Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, also serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.


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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Men are pigs

Earle D. Treptow 

One big name after another showed up in the headlines accused of sexual impropriety, from harassment and groping to assault and rape. Included on the list were famous comedians, actors, and film producers, as well as leading politicians and journalists—men who took advantage of their positions and exploited others.  

The first story of a famous man abusing his authority and assaulting a woman might not have registered for many. It was the second, seventh, and tenth stories, following hard on the heels of the first, that sounded the alarm. Those who took the time to reflect on what had been alleged—and sometimes confessed—experienced a range of emotions, from anger toward the men who had perpetrated such crimes, to frustration with a society that enables abuse with its celebrity worship, to disappointment with a sex-crazed culture that suggests a woman’s body exists for the gratification of men. Exploit women and you show yourself to be despicable. Some men are pigs. Unfortunate, but true.  

The stories reported on national news emboldened other women to speak about the sexual abuse they had experienced at the hands of men from all different walks of life, many of whom had no fame or wealth to speak of. There’s one obvious link between the famous men and the rank-and-file men who have acted inappropriately toward women. They’re men. It’s not just some men who are pigs, but many.  

I’d rather not say that, of course, but I’m comfortable with it. I’m comfortable saying that many men are pigs, because it allows me to establish a safe distance between the pigs and me. The argument seems foolproof: Because I haven’t done what they’ve done, or haven’t been publicly accused of it, I’m different than the pigs. And better.  

Maybe I haven’t sinned in the same way other men have, but I do have something in common with the many pigs out there. I’m a man too. Worse, I’m a sinful man. I have the same sinful nature, capable of all sorts of disgusting thoughts and behaviors, even if I’ve been spared from committing the sins that make headlines.  

I must ask myself some questions that make me squirm: What have I done to contribute to the situation in which we find ourselves today? Where have I lived selfishly and self-centeredly, seeing women as existing for my benefit and purposes? How have I failed to be the salt of the earth Jesus designed me to be, to slow the decay in the world around me? When have I been silent when I should have spoken up about the continuing debt men owe to women, to love and serve and protect them?  

As it turns out, I’m part of those harassment stories, though my name hasn’t appeared in the articles.  

There’s only one thing for us men to do when we recognize our depravity and complicity: repent. We humble ourselves before the Lord each day, confessing that we are unclean pigs, thoroughly sinful by nature. And then we listen anew, with astounded hearts, to his word of full forgiveness in Christ. He absolves us of our failures and declares us righteous in his sight.  

Rejoicing in his steadfast love and continual forgiveness, we commit ourselves to being real men, men as God designed us to be. We take up with joy the task the Lord has assigned to us and for which he will equip us—to respect women and serve them, considering them better than ourselves.  


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Christ Alone, Mequon. 


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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The heart of the issue

Andrew C. Schroer 

For nearly three years now, I have had the privilege of serving on the ethics board of one of our local newspapers. The ethics board consists of various personnel from the newspaper, including the publisher and editors, together with three at-large members of our community. We meet monthly to discuss controversial articles, concerns readers have voiced, and the overall ethics of journalism. 

Recently the newspaper published an exposé on a local politician who is now embroiled in controversy. Almost immediately people began accusing the newspaper of having a political agenda that was clearly biased. The complaints were that the editors were getting revenge for previous wrongs or just didn’t like the politician. 

Having been allowed to peek behind the curtain and listen to the discussions beforehand, I am fascinated by how painstakingly the editors sought to be objective and evaluated the ethical ramifications of what they printed. 

Are they always perfectly objective? No. Do personal feelings at times affect decisions? I’m sure they do. But overall, I’ve learned that they truly do seek to be honest and objective. 

The comments I read from various sources this last week remind me of something God once said to the prophet Samuel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

Only God knows what thoughts and feelings fill our hearts and minds. 

Yet, so often, we fall into the delusion that we are God. We fancy ourselves mind readers. We presume to know other people’s reasons and motivations. 

When your husband suddenly doesn’t answer you, he must be mad at you because of what you said to him in the morning. When your coworker doesn’t respond right away to your text, she must be ignoring you because she is a jerk. When the newspaper runs an article that says something negative about a certain politician, it must have a political agenda and is therefore biased. 

That could be true. Or maybe your husband simply didn’t hear you. Maybe he was distracted. Maybe your coworker’s phone died. Maybe the newspaper is simply trying to report the facts its journalists found in their investigations. 

One of my favorite phrases from Martin Luther comes from his explanation to the Eighth Commandment. As he expounded what it means to not give false testimony against our neighbor, Luther encourages us to “take [their] words and actions in the kindest possible way.” 

In other words, don’t assume the worst. You cannot read minds. Only God can do that. You don’t know why they did what they did or said what they said unless they tell you. 

Remember that, especially when you and your spouse are having an argument. You can’t say, “You said this or did that because. . ..” You can’t see into your spouse’s heart. Don’t assume you know why. Talk about the behavior. Ask why. Tell your spouse the impression it gives you, but don’t assume you know. Only God can see into people’s hearts. 

Are people, politicians, and news organizations at times driven by selfish and nefarious motives? Of course. In this sinful world, all of us at times are moved by misguided motivations. But be careful. As sinful human beings, we tend to assume the worst about people—particularly those who have hurt us or with whom we disagree, and especially in our politically charged world. 

May God forgive us our sinful assumptions and give us generous hearts that take other people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way.  


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas. 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 105, Number 1
Issue: January 2018

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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“God” is not enough

Jeffrey L. Samelson 

“Dad, I don’t understand why you’re so bothered by my boyfriend not going to church or being a Christian like us. He believes in God, and that’s enough for me.” 

“People keep complaining that this isn’t a Christian nation anymore, but if you check the polls, it’s clear an overwhelming majority still believe in God.” 

What do those two comments have in common? They equate believing in “God” with being Christian. While it is true that belief in a deity separates the religious from the nonreligious, believing that there is a “god”—even one who bears quite a resemblance to the God of Scripture—is not the same as having faith in the one true God and in his Son, Jesus Christ. 

Which means not only that a person with such a limited faith is not a brother or sister in Christ but also that that person is not saved, not a child of God, and not someone we will see in heaven. James gives a rather sharp reminder to anyone comfortable equating monotheism with true Christian faith: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder!” (James 2:19). 

Yet still many people who call themselves Christians and attend Christian churches—even some of our own—will echo the opinions of our compromising culture and say, “All that matters is that you believe in God.” This kind of “faith” not only conveniently does away with the differences between denominations but even unites Christians with cults, Judaism, Islam, and countless other religions. Perhaps even more conveniently, this “lowest common denominator” approach to belief also does away with about 99 percent of the Bible: everything that reveals the Lord as the one, true, triune God; everything that expresses his particular will for the world; everything that records his unique dealings with humanity; and, most important, the exclusive truth that heaven is gained only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, without any role for one’s works or merit. 

But it is only in the Scriptures—the Word of God—that the Lord has revealed himself and his salvation to the world. Denying those truths is far from a neutral thing. We do no one any good by considering a “god enough” belief “good enough,” because that kind of “faith” dismisses most of the Bible and makes God a liar. Ironically, some may think love means not judging that anyone’s faith is insufficient, but God’s judgment on an insufficient faith is an eternity apart from his love. 

This season is an ideal time both to remember and to act on this. Even though much has been done in our society to take Christ out of Christmas, it is still an effective occasion to introduce or reintroduce others to what exactly we celebrate: the particular and personal intervention of the one true God in the life of the world as not just a vague or fill-in-the-blanks deity, but as “the LORD [who] saves.” That’s what “Jesus” means (Matthew 1:21). He became flesh and blood just like us, was born in Bethlehem, and is Christ the Lord. That is good news of great joy for all people.  

That there is a god is not news, and mere belief in “god” will never be good enough. Let’s instead profess and promote a rich, deep, and complete faith in the One in whom all the fullness of God dwells, who came to earth “to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:20). 


Contributing editor Jeff Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland. 


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 12
Issue: December 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Needed

Earle D. Treptow 

I’m needed. 

Maybe that sounds a bit arrogant, but I have it on good authority. The American Red Cross regularly tells me so—by personalized e-mail. I know what you’re thinking: “I hate to burst your bubble, but all the Red Cross really needs is your blood.” True enough. However, since they need something from me, they still need me. I’m needed.  

You are too—and not merely by the Red Cross.  

Even if no one has expressed that thought to you directly, it’s true. People all around you need you—and that’s exactly the way God designed it to be. In each of the callings the Lord has chosen specifically for you, be that as friend, neighbor, congregation member, sibling, employee, spouse, parent, or child, he has surrounded you with needs. The needs vary dramatically. Your employer needs an honest day’s work. Your child needs a ride to her piano lesson and your insistence that she practice. Your grieving friend needs your support and a sympathetic ear. Each of those needs is a God-given opportunity to glorify him and bless others. While God doesn’t need your good works—“[God] is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything” (Acts 17:25)— your neighbor definitely does.  

Sometimes the needs of others overwhelm us, because the opportunities far outstrip our time and abilities. We want to be needed, but on a more modest scale, with needs that are more easily met. We desire opportunities to serve, but would prefer to schedule them at more convenient times. As the needs of others pile up around us, the sinful flesh proposes the logical solution. “Withdraw,” the sinful nature suggests. “Let others deal with those needs.”  

The one who masquerades as an angel of light chimes in: “You need to step back from the needs of others and focus on your relationship with God. Those stressful interactions demand energy that really should be spent on prayer and meditation.” The devil is oh-so-sneaky, offering what appears to be a pious reason to disengage from the needs of the people around us. But the devil is an inveterate liar.   

While God invites us to spend time with him in his Word each day so that he might bless us with his love, he never describes it as an “either-or” proposition. Allow God to serve you through his Word, absolutely, just as Mary did while sitting at Jesus’ feet. But then, because you have been served by the One who loves unconditionally, you are eminently qualified to demonstrate that unconditional love to others. The people God has placed around you need you and the unconditional love you have experienced in Christ. Desperately.  

You are needed even by people who think they don’t need you; they may have told you so in no uncertain terms. You’re needed by the coworker who belittles Christianity because he had a bad experience with the church in the past. He needs your patient, persistent love. The friend who stridently speaks against the Bible’s “outdated teaching on morality” to justify his sin needs you. He needs your gentle instruction in the Word of the God who loves him in Christ. The neighbor who insists that Christianity provides nothing more valuable than any other religion needs you and your positive witness to Christ her Savior, who died that she might live.   

Disengaging from people in their need, even when they plead with us to do so, is simply not an option. Christ stopped to serve us in our need, though by nature we wanted nothing of the sort. We who bear Christ’s name can’t help but do the same for others.   


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.  


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Semper reformanda

Andrew C. Schroer 

Let me tell you a little parable: 

An elderly man sat as his kitchen table with his pastor. He had invited his pastor to celebrate with him. 

“Raise a glass with me,” the elderly man, who was obviously inebriated, said to his pastor. He had been an alcoholic for as long as the pastor had known him. 

“I’m celebrating,” the old man continued. “Fifty years ago today, I gave up alcohol completely. I was sober for over 25 years of my life. That’s something to celebrate!” he exclaimed, as he sloppily sipped his beer. He did not mention the other 25 years he was not so sober. 

Right now, Lutheran and Reformed churches around the world are raising their glasses to celebrate. They are singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” They are remembering Martin Luther. Some are traveling to Germany to see the Reformation sites.  

Five hundred years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in an attempt to reform the church. 

The Christian church had strayed from the truth of God’s Word. Corruption and error abounded. The good news of forgiveness and heaven that Jesus won for all people had been muddied by rules, rites, and regulations that were supposed to earn the gifts God freely gave. 

Martin Luther and other reformers sought to bring the church back to God’s Word, back to the gospel, back to Jesus.  

We are also celebrating the Reformation. We are raising our glasses and celebrating our heritage as Lutherans. But we need to be careful. Many of those who are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation are like the elderly alcoholic celebrating his past sobriety with slurred speech and unsteady legs. A number of Lutheran and Reformed churches today are mired in the false teaching and legalism that Luther and the other reformers so strongly opposed. Already in the generation directly following Luther’s death, some of the great reformers began to stray from God’s Word. 

Throughout the history of the Lutheran church—and really the Christian church as a whole—there has been a constant need of reform. False teaching and legalism continually rear their ugly heads. 

Reformed churches today love to use the Latin phrase “Ecclesia semper reformanda est” (“the church is always being reformed”). What they mean is that the Christian church is in constant need of reformation. 

Some misuse that phrase to say that the church constantly needs to change its teaching to be relevant to its times. As heirs of the Reformation, we reject that idea and stand firmly on God’s never-changing Word and its eternal truths. 

Yet, we can understand the phrase correctly. The church is in constant need of reformation lest it falls back into the addiction Luther opposed. As sinful human beings, we need to continually repent of our sins and reform our sinful ways. 

In the same way, as a church body, we need to be humble and vigilant. Just because our ancestors were sober 500 years ago, don’t think that false teaching and legalism can’t worm their way into our churches and pulpits. 

Go ahead and raise your glass to celebrate. Thank God for our great heritage. But then stay vigilant. Stay humble. Go back to God’s Word. Keep the focus on Jesus. Give God the glory. 

That’s what reformation is all about. 


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.  


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Not caring is not an option

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Imagine that in the news today you hear newly released numbers of casualties from a civil war being fought in a foreign nation. You are shocked to learn that more than 900,000 people were killed in just the last year—almost one out of every five people. Since the war began, almost 60 million lost their lives. How would you respond?

With a “little war” killing only hundreds or thousands, you might easily say, “Well, that’s their business, not ours.” But with numbers like these—even if it were only about 100,000 in the last year—you would likely say, “Something must be done! This can’t continue!” You and other citizens might pressure your government to intervene—to do whatever it takes—and to do it quickly to stop the senseless deaths. As a Christian, you would pray earnestly for an end to the killing, recognizing that God’s heart is broken by that evil even more than yours. You would seek other ways that you could help. You might even get your church involved, sharing God’s love and concern together as his family.

Another option might be just to say, “Hey, that’s just life and death in this messed-up world. I’ve got plenty on my mind as it is, and I’m sure that if God cares he doesn’t need me telling him what to do.”

What if those deaths were all happening in your own country?

They are! About 900,000 innocent human lives were snuffed out by abortion in the United States last year—roughly one out of every five pregnancies. And yet many leaders within the Christian church treat it as something that “just is”—a reality to which we simply have to adjust. Some suggest that there is nothing more we can do, and the deaths continue to mount.

Perhaps you too simply conclude there is nothing you can do. Maybe the reason is that you don’t know anyone who’s ever had an abortion, so it’s not really worth your attention. Or perhaps you do know someone close to you who has had an abortion, and so you don’t feel comfortable being “judgy” about it. Or maybe you just don’t want to think about abortion.

Yet what breaks God’s heart should break the hearts of his people. We, as Lutherans, strongly affirm that infants need Baptism because they are sinners. We should understand the tragedy of abortion as well as anyone: It is taking the life of another person. That murder also eliminates that child’s opportunity to gain salvation through Baptism or hearing the gospel. Thank God, then, that Jesus won for us forgiveness on the cross—forgiveness for those who get, perform, or just encourage abortions as well as for those who have become complacent about the mass murder going on around them every day.

With the remission of those sins in Christ and the reminder of what abortion really is, we, as God’s people, find that not caring is not an option. You can get active politically or just speak up among friends. What you choose to do as a citizen is up to you. As Christians, though, we are all compelled to pray and to give witness to the truth with our teaching. We also can take some additional steps. We can volunteer at pregnancy centers, help unwed mothers, and do many other things to try to influence others and to stop the killing. We are God’s salt and light in a sin-darkened world.


Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


Christian Life Resources is a WELS-related ministry devoted to educating and mobilizing Christians on beginning- and end-of-life issues according to God’s Word. Learn more at christianliferesources.net.


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Proud to be Lutheran?

Earle D. Treptow

“Raise your hand, if you’re proud to be Lutheran.” Hoping to avoid embarrassment, you take a quick peek around the room to see what others are doing. Raise your hand and risk being viewed as proud and arrogant or embarrassed. Lower your hand and risk hiding your faith and failing to confess before others.

Before you decide whether to raise your hand or not, reflect on the answer revealed by your daily life. What do your attitudes and actions say about how you view being Lutheran?

I cannot speak for you, so let me mention what I’ve observed in myself. As I read about church bodies that exchange the truth of God’s Word for the “prize” of cultural relevance, I’m proud to be Lutheran. When I argue with a friend whose church views Baptism as nothing more than an act of obedience, I’m proud to be Lutheran. I proud to confess God’s truth about Baptism.

I’m proud that I haven’t fallen for the false teachings so many others have because they haven’t faithfully searched the Scriptures. I’m proud that I still hold to what God says in his Word, unlike those who have essentially rewritten it to suit their fancy. All of that is to say that I’m proud to be Lutheran . . . but I shouldn’t be. In the end, my celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation becomes this: “I’m proud of me and my orthodoxy.”

Sometimes my attitudes and actions send a different message regarding what I think about being Lutheran. When I tire of hearing that I can do nothing to contribute to having life with God or when I want the preacher to fast forward through the message of forgiveness in Christ and get on to how I should live to please God, I’m not exactly proud to be Lutheran. When I won’t invite people to worship because I feel that close Communion seems unloving, I show myself embarrassed to be Lutheran. All of that is to say that I’m not proud to be Lutheran . . . but I ought to be.

Whether it’s misplaced pride or inappropriate embarrassment, the problem is the same on both sides. I’m entirely too concerned with self, either in thinking that God must be impressed with my commitment to the truth or in wanting to minimize teachings that I feel stand in the way of the church’s growth.

To be Lutheran is to put aside everything you’ve done for God and to hold instead to Christ’s perfect righteousness in your place. Being Lutheran means clinging to Christ alone for the forgiveness of all your sins and finding your value in God’s unconditional love for you in Christ. It means finding your joy not in how you’re feeling about the Lord, but in his promises. We do not wish to boast in Luther or in a body of doctrine, but in Christ. Boasting in Christ is good, proper, and God-pleasing, because the Lord himself works it in us. “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

So, go ahead and raise your hand!


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: Augsut 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Mocking millennials

Andrew C. Schroer

Man buns and skinny jeans. Shaggy beards and yoga pants. Starbucks and selfies. That’s how other generations tend to see millennials.

They live in their parents’ basement. They march in protests. They are constantly on their phones. They are dreamers. They can’t handle criticism.

That’s how many of us from other generations tend to view millennials. So we mock them on Facebook. We make sarcastic remarks about how they were all given trophies in Little League. We share posts about how they are scared to eat at Chick-fil-A and how they don’t even know what they are protesting. We call them lazy. We call them crybabies. We call them narcissists.

We wring our hands and worry about a future with them in control.

Like any generalization, some truth can be found in the stereotypes. Millennials are a product of the world in which they were raised—a world where truth is relative and all opinions are given the megaphone of social media. In the end, they are sinners, just like you and me.

Generalizations and stereotypes, however, are never the whole story. Stereotypes can warp how we treat and view millennials. Not all millennials wear skinny jeans and yoga pants. Not all millennials march in protests and live in their parent’s basement. Not all millennials are selfie-taking crybabies.

And even if some of them are, mocking them doesn’t help. One of the age-old responses toward those we consider weak or thin-skinned is to tear them down. We think we need to toughen them up, so we make fun of them. We mock them. They need to learn not to be so sensitive.

Though that is an age-old response, it is not God’s response. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encourages us to build each other by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Should we confront the weaknesses and sins of the millennial generation? Of course, just as we need to confront other generations’ weaknesses and sins. But we should do so in love. We should do so remembering that not all millennials are the same. We should do so with grace and forgiveness flavoring our words and attitudes.

We should do so, understanding that for many millennials, the greatest sin of all is bullying. Millennials tend to view truth as relative. They value tolerance above all else.

If you mock them or tear them down, they won’t hear what you are saying. They will simply look at you just as another intolerant bully.

As a pastor, I am constantly being bombarded by articles and posts on social media all saying the same thing: Millennials are leaving Christian churches in droves. The reasons for this seeming mass exodus are diverse. Sometimes it is because of their sinful attitudes which flow from a warped worldview. Other times it is because they view Christian churches as intolerant and unloving.

So what should we do? How should we respond to this generation that sees the world so differently than we do? Love them as our Savior God loves them. Speak to them honestly and openly about the dangers of moral relativism. Confront the sins and failings that have permeated this generation’s thoughts and attitudes. Let God’s love and forgiveness shine in what you say and do.

Be firm. Be real. Be loving.

But more than anything else, please stop mocking millennials. That’s definitely not helping.


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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Chopped liver syndrome

Jeffrey L. Samelson

At the company picnic, the time comes for awards and recognitions, and the boss asks for everyone’s attention. He begins a small speech, lauding the work done by a 20-something new hire who over the last six months managed to bring in $5,000 in new revenue. The boss then asks everyone to applaud. All the employees clap except one—a middle-aged loyal worker who brought in over $200,000 in sales each of the last four years. She says, under her breath, “What am I, chopped liver?”

You might be familiar with the expression. It signals frustration or resentment when others are praised and you are overlooked or your contributions are ignored. And while we might want to think that such feelings have no place in believers’ hearts or among Christians, being slighted is all-too-often real. Might you be experiencing—or contributing to—“Chopped Liver Syndrome”?

Perhaps it has to do with members who have moved away from your congregation, and you lament that your church no longer has their talents in art or music or their friendly way of greeting visitors. Sadly, you don’t realize that every time you express those feelings you make the remaining faithful members feel like their skills with crafts or choir or their every-Sunday efforts to welcome guests are unrecognized and unappreciated.

We also might find the syndrome in our synod when the treasures of our Lutheran heritage are undervalued or ignored while the latest and greatest new ideas and practices from evangelicalism are hailed by fellow members of WELS as signs of churches that truly love and God and care about reaching the lost. Confessional Lutherans worldwide in this Reformation anniversary year will be frustrated at the attention paid to the observations of those who are Lutherans in name only or whose teachings and practices are as opposed to the gospel and scriptural truth as they were in the 16th century, all while we, who celebrate as Christians and churches who actually believe and teach what the Bible teaches as Luther did, are dismissed as too small or backward to be of interest. When we see the heterodox and heretical praised for their devotion while the orthodox are ignored, should we say, “What are we, chopped liver?”

It’s not a new thing in the church. The apostle Paul, in his letters, ends up having to remind the members of churches he founded, like the one in Corinth, that the honor they were giving to some of the “latest and greatest” teachers that came to them was honor that belonged properly to those faithful to the Word. We even see something like “Chopped Liver Syndrome” in God himself. Through the Old Testament prophets God points out how his people faithlessly go chasing after other gods, giving them praise, offering them sacrifices, and looking to them for blessings and prosperity—all the while ignoring him, the faithful Lord who guided, loved, and made them his own; brought them out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land; and blessed them abundantly.

“What am I, chopped liver?” might sound a little self-centered. But in the church we shouldn’t consider it self-centered. The gifts and service of every member of Christ’s body need to be appreciated, and the whole body suffers if they are not. And when Lutheran teachings and traditions are undervalued, truth is lost and faith is weakened. Do your church a favor. Don’t treat its treasures—its people or heritage—as chopped liver.


Contributing editor Jeffrey Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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A more beautiful world

Earle D. Treptow

For the tidy sum of $5 million, Airbnb purchased 30 seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl. In the commercial, the founders of Airbnb concisely stated their position: “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”

I considered it a thinly-veiled accusation: “If you speak up for marriage as God designed it or confess that Jesus Christ is the world’s only Savior, you make this an ugly world.” The commercial struck me as a not-so-subtle request to shut my Christian mouth. I quickly dismissed the commercial as anti-Christian. I don’t need to listen to people like that.

But I thought of my own bias and the way I treat others. About two minutes into an honest examination, I could identify a host of unaccepting words, unloving attitudes, and unkind actions. I realized that we regularly operate with a double standard. We forgive our own foibles readily, yet quickly give demerits to others.

Practiced in this skill, we have no problem rushing to judge strangers, especially those who show themselves strange and different to our way of thinking. In effect, we claim ourselves superior. We declare them unworthy of our respect and undeserving of the hard work involved in seeking to understand or serve them.

Jesus could have played the superior card with everyone he met. Successfully! But Jesus didn’t distance himself from those whose lives and thinking were a mess. Instead, he had compassion on them. He spent time with them and listened to them. And then he was judged: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). He welcomed sinners eagerly, wanting to serve them in love. Love moved him to speak to them privately about their sin, not to show himself superior but to call them to repentance. He invited them to confess their sin, to find in him their righteousness, and to change the direction of their lives.

Let’s not bother playing the superior card. The people around us don’t need our “I would never do such a thing” arrogance. They don’t benefit in the least when we speak dismissively about the way they think or live. Neither do we, for that matter! People around us need Christ and his love, not our handy labels or our disdain. If you insist on labeling people, then use this one instead: an individual for whom Jesus shed his blood.

Jesus offered himself as the atoning sacrifice for those whose lives are a mess and whose thinking doesn’t line up with what God teaches in his Word. That means he died for individuals actively engaging in homosexual relationships, for people who mock Christians as out-of-touch, and for those who dismiss the idea of Christ being the only way to eternal life. That means he died even for, of all people, us.

It turns out that we’re no better than anyone else. We’re beggars who live only by the righteousness of Another. We humbly speak God’s Word to others. We do so, not primarily to make this world more beautiful, but so that many might enjoy life in the far more beautiful world God has prepared for all who trust in Christ.


Contributing editor Earle Treptow, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin, is a member at Calvary, Thiensville, Wisconsin.


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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

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Homophobic?

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means” (Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride).

Andrew C. Schroer

It happened again recently. Another Christian celebrity was accused by the media of making “homophobic” remarks. We hear that adjective tossed around regularly in our world today. Any negative comment or sentiment expressed toward the LGBT community or about homosexuality is labeled “homophobic.”

The term “homophobia” was coined by psychologist George Weinberg in the 1960s to describe “a fear of homosexuals which seemed to be associated with a fear of contagion, a fear of reducing the things one fought for—home and family.”

Homophobia is an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals based on the fear that you or someone you love might somehow be infected by their homosexuality or that others may think you are homosexual if you associate with them. That fear often manifests itself in cruelty or violence toward homosexuals.

Homophobia is real. Men especially are susceptible to such feelings of anger or hatred as they deal with their own insecurities. Many homosexuals around the world have suffered discrimination, abuse, and even violence due to homophobia.

But I am not homophobic. My church is not homophobic. My God is not homophobic.

The fact that the Bible calls homosexuality a sin does not make the Bible homophobic. The fact that my church rightly teaches it is a sin and the fact that I openly espouse the teaching does not make us homophobic. Neither God, my church, nor I have an irrational fear or hatred toward homosexuals.

We love them. We want them to be with us forever in heaven. Just because I say something is wrong or sinful does not mean I hate the person who commits the sin.

When I, for example, confront my young son with his stubbornness, I am not being obstinaphobic. I am not acting out of an irrational fear or hatred of my son’s stubbornness. I love him. I know God does not want him to act that way. I know his sin, like every sin, deserves God’s punishment in hell. I know my son needs to repent and find forgiveness in his Savior Jesus. So I openly confront him with his stubbornness.

God calls us as Christians to lovingly and firmly confront others with their sins so that they repent and find in Jesus the forgiveness they so desperately need. He gave us the Ten Commandments to help us identify what sin is. When a church, pastor, or individual Christian challenge behavior contrary to God’s will, that doesn’t make them homophobic or any other “phobic” we might imagine.

Do some Christians fall into the trap of homophobia and act out of irrational fear and hatred? Of course. Such behavior is just as sinful in God’s eyes as the sin of homosexuality, and whoever is guilty of it needs to be called to repentance. As Christians we need to be careful not to let fear or hatred taint our conversations about homosexuality.

If you are not a Christian, however, or do not agree with what God says in the Bible about homosexuality, the one thing I ask is that you be fair. Stop accusing all those who disagree with you of being hateful, ignorant, or irrational.

And please, stop calling us homophobic. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.


Contributing editor Andrew Schroer is pastor at Redeemer, Edna, Texas.


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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It’s not hate but love

Jeffrey L. Samelson

“I’m confused,” we might say. “You accuse me of being hateful, unloving, and unworthy of the name ‘Christian’ when I say God has much to say about sexual relationships. But at the same time you say you are not hateful or unloving when you say with strong language that I am wrong. What principle are you following? Have you actually thought any of this through, or are you just more comfortable accusing me of hate than actually considering what God has to say and that you might, in fact, be wrong?”

If you are at all like me, saying something like that is the way you would like to bring many a conversation or confrontation to a conclusion—or, perhaps, add to the beginning of an actually productive exchange of ideas. It’s a sad fact of life that many in our culture have decided both that any criticism of others’ values and behaviors (theirs in particular) is hateful and that their own criticism of Christian standards and teachings cannot possibly be hateful.

What is even more tragic is that such thinking is not limited to those outside our churches. Many Christians seem to operate as though they have been personally authorized (by what or whom is unclear) to redefine and redirect the teachings of Christ’s church to make them more acceptable to our culture, simultaneously labeling the faithful as “backward” and “unloving.” They see no contradictions or irony in affirming on the one hand that they love Jesus and believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but on the other hand claiming that Scripture’s condemnations of presently popular sins and calls for repentance are “not what Jesus would say” or “things real Christians don’t believe anymore.”

Our first instinct in responding might be anger or resentment at the idea that holding faithfully to God’s own definitions of what is loving and Christian makes us unloving and unchristian. We might also want to complain about the hypocrisy of those who sanctimoniously judge us as evil for making judgments. Yet such reactions will do little to correct the underlying error of these accusations and judgments.

With non-spiritual criticisms we seek to restore a foundation of logic and mutual respect in our discussions of hot-button issues that put us at odds with the culture’s prevailing worldview. Gently pointing out their contradictions and appealing to fairness might open the door to explaining that our criticisms are not, as they suppose, about lifting ourselves up over others as righteous judges but about pointing others to truths they need and will be blessed to understand.

With misguided Christians we must stress that when we say what God himself says about sin, we are not only speaking the truth but we also are speaking it in love. To refuse to call sinners to repentance is unloving because it leaves them condemned to an eternity in hell. Christlike love desires sinners to repent of their sins and to find salvation in Jesus. There is no other way to heaven.

These are not mere academic or abstract disputes; real lives and real relationships hang in the balance—not just with “those people” but with friends and family members. We cannot let our own discomfort or fear stand in the way of what needs to be believed and spoken. It is not only possible to love someone dearly and still call him or her “wrong,” but where sin is concerned, it’s also absolutely necessary.


Contributing editor Jeff Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.


 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
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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