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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 © 2017
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

 

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 © 2017
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

 

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

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

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 © 2017
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

 

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 © 2017
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

 

Exercise your freedom of speech

Earle D. Treptow

In the days following November’s presidential election, people across the United States exercised their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Some expressed their disappointment through derogatory Facebook posts and scathing tweets or took to the streets in protest. Others celebrated the results.

According to the First Amendment, Americans are free to speak what’s

on their minds. With some limitations, we have the right to voice our opinions about elected leaders. That’s not, however, the way God would have his people think about freedom of speech.

Those who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit have a freedom of speech far surpassing the freedom protected by the First Amendment.

We are free, first, to speak to God directly in prayer. Though our sin makes us unworthy of that privilege, “in [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12). We have the right to bring our concerns to the One who spoke this world into existence, knowing that he is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

If you’re concerned about the future of the country in which you live, exercise that freedom of speech. Speak to the One who rules over everything everywhere for the benefit of his church. Ask him to grant wisdom to those who serve in the government so that they recognize their solemn responsibility as his representatives. Pray that the Lord would lead the citizens of this country to live in accord with the law he wrote on their hearts.

Because the sinful nature clings to us in this life, we sometimes use our words to tear people down, including those God has placed over us in the state. We put others down to elevate ourselves, to assure ourselves that, while we may not be perfect, we are at least better than “those people.” Sadly, we’re often more interested in what we feel about ourselves than what God himself has said about us in Christ. He has declared us innocent and the delight of his heart. Since we have perfect security in Christ, we need not seek it in tearing others down.

Secure in God’s declaration of us, we are free to speak about others in a respectful way. The apostle Paul encourages us, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). We who have experienced grace in what God says about us are free to show grace to others in what we say about them.

Exercise your freedom of speech! Speak about others with respect, including those whom God has placed over you in the government, whether you feel they’ve earned it or not.

We have one more freedom of speech

in Christ: We are free to speak the good news of Jesus to everyone. The Lord has commissioned us to be a blessing to others as we testify to God’s love for all. Real change happens when the Spirit of God changes hearts, and he does that through the message of Christ. So, speak up. Proclaim the extraordinary grace of God in Christ.

Exercise your freedom of speech as a Christian. Speak, in prayer, to the One who rules over all for the benefit of his church. Speak respectfully about God’s representatives in the government. And speak the Word of Christ, by which the Lord changes hearts and lives.

God will bless your speaking.

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 2
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

God bless Donald Trump

Andrew C. Schroer

On Jan. 20, Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States of America. After a long, contentious, circus-like presidential election, the eccentric real estate tycoon came out on top. The American electorate has spoken.

So I say, “God bless Donald Trump!” though my prayer for President Trump has nothing to do with my political preferences.

I pray for President Trump because my Savior God wants me to pray for my leaders. Paul wrote, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1,2).

Do you struggle to say those words—“God bless Donald Trump”? Maybe you didn’t vote for him. Maybe you consider him insincere or misogynistic. Maybe you differ with him ideologically over foreign policy or the economy. I hope and pray you disagree with the crude and rude way he sometimes speaks of other people.

Yet God wants you to pray for him—to pray that God blesses our new president, to pray that our Lord will help him to govern wisely, to pray that his time in office be a blessing to us and others. God wants you to pray for President Trump.

And he wants you to mean it.

God wants you to love Donald Trump as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39). He wants you to honor and obey him as the person he has placed in authority over you (Romans 13:1,2).

That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything he says and does. That doesn’t mean you should sit idly by if you believe he is leading our country poorly or immorally. God has given us the unique privilege of living in a country where we are free to speak out with our voice and vote.

But do so respectfully. Do so out of love for God who has redeemed you and given you a role as a citizen in this country. Sadly, our modern world has lost the ability to disagree respectfully.

After such a contentious election, filled with vitriol and venom, you may still be angry with our new president. Just look at how you speak about him in private conversations or on Facebook. Do you find yourself referring to him as “Trump” with disdain? Do you add a derogatory adjective before his name? As Christians, we do not refer to our leaders in such a way. Even when we disagree with him—even if he does something of which God does not approve—he is still President Trump, the authority which God has established.

God does not hate President Trump, nor should you. Forgive him, respect him, pray for him, just as Jesus forgives and intercedes for you. Accept God’s will that President Trump be our president.

Yes, the American voters chose him, but it was God who made him our president. God placed President Trump over us for our good (Romans 13:4). So trust God. Trust that he has a plan for us and our country. Trust that he is working all things for our good.

Trust that no matter who sits in the Oval Office, our God still reigns supreme.

That is why I will continue to pray for President Trump. That is why you should as well.

God bless President Donald Trump, and God bless America.

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

 


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Too much Christmas?

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Little Abby was puzzled. “Daddy, when Aunt Emily had baby William and we went to see them at the hospital that night, didn’t we go again the next day?”

“Yes, we did. Why do you ask?”

“Well,” she said, “why didn’t we stay home since we’d already gone just the night before? Hadn’t we had enough?”

“Of course not! You know how long everyone, and especially Aunt Emily and Uncle Sean, had waited for a baby, and we were all so excited to see William. It was a really big deal and a very happy thing. I don’t think anyone could have ‘had enough’ of that!”

“Oh. Then what did you mean when you said we wouldn’t be going to church on Christmas Day because by Sunday morning we would have ‘had enough’ of Christmas? Isn’t the birth of Jesus a really big, very happy thing for us?”

Even if you’ve never missed a Christmas morning service in your life, chances are you at least have some understanding of how someone could feel he had “had enough” of Christmas. Maybe it’s that one radio station that starts 24-7 Christmas music even before Thanksgiving. Perhaps you’ve worked retail during the holiday season, and you just can’t take any more of the crass commercialism. Maybe it’s just the fact that the Christmas displays and catalogs keep showing up earlier in the fall every year, or perhaps too much Christmas is more about overindulging in holiday treats or being overwhelmed by family and social obligations.

We might call it “sugar shock.” The complaint that you’ve had or experienced too much Christmas is usually all about being overdosed with the saccharine sentimentality and the froth and frosting our culture applies to its idea of the holiday. After the zillionth repeat of “Rudolph” and the umpteenth holiday special that extols the “Christmas spirit” but never mentions Christ, it’s easily understandable that a Christian might say, “Enough!”

So go ahead and sequester yourself from the Santas and mute “Rudolph” if it’s all too much for you, but don’t miss the once-a-year opportunity to focus on the great and mighty wonder that is the birth of Jesus. There’s no better antidote to the emptiness of Christless commercialism and seasonal platitudes than the full and nourishing telling— and retelling—of how God promised the world a child who would rescue us from sin and death and then delivered that Son into our human story that night in Bethlehem. God came to be with us—Immanuel—and save us.

So yes, we go to church! We ponder and prepare through the season and services of Advent, focusing on the promises of the Lord to come. And when Christmas itself comes, we sing the songs that actually tell what a really big deal this holy day is. We rejoice to hear the accounts of angels’ visits and manger-cribs because Jesus’ birth is a very happy thing, and we eagerly come together in worship and fellowship as the people who have peace because of this newborn King.

There’s no such thing as too much grace, good news, or glory to God in the highest. Even when we get to heaven, we will never have “had enough” of Christmas.

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


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

#ShoutYourSin

Earle D. Treptow

In the fall of 2015, a few women decided to mount an offensive against the pro-life movement. Turning to social media, they settled on a provocative hashtag still in use a year later: #ShoutYourAbortion. “The era of compulsory silence is ending,” says their website. “Abortion is normal. Our stories are ours to tell. This is not a debate.”

Shocking, right? Disobeying God’s clear command is one thing; shouting it out for all the world to hear is entirely another. To declare it courageous for a woman to end an unwanted child’s life is to rebel against the law God has written on human hearts.

Why do they speak so brazenly about their sin? It’s not that they want to get into a debate about the propriety of their actions. Nor does their brazenness arise primarily from a desire to help the unenlightened see the need for abortion. The issue is far more personal than that. Stated or not, realized or not, they’re trying to evade their consciences. Desperately. Like a child yelling, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” they shout: “Abortion is normal. Abortion is necessary. Abortion is courageous.” Shouting out their sin solves the vexing problem of conscience. Their consciences can’t be heard over the racket, and they can continue on a path away from God’s grace.

Pro-abortion advocates aren’t the only ones seeking to evade their consciences. Like dogs instinctively shaking off water after a bath, we sinners desperately want to shake off shame and guilt. Some try to convince themselves that since their actions make them happy, and since God wants them to be happy, their consciences must be mistaken.

Others deal with an accusing conscience by burying their sin out of conscience’s sight. In shame, they go silent. They refuse to talk to anyone about their sin, not even a Christian friend, because they know that Christian friend would look at them differently. They try to wipe what they’ve done from their memory as if, magician-like, they could snap their fingers and make sin and guilt disappear.

We think we’re so clever, devising ways to deal with accusing consciences. But they don’t actually work. There’s only one solution for an accusing conscience, and it’s one we natural-born sinners never could have imagined. The Lord invites you to #ShoutYourSin. Not in defiance or rebellion, standing up for your right to sin. He bids you to #ShoutYourSin to him in confession, even though your conscience will suggest that you’d be a fool to do so. Your conscience, however, doesn’t know God. Not as he truly is. The apostle John tells us what happens when we confess our sins to the holy God: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So #ShoutYourSin to him, as counterintuitive as that may be. That’s the God-approved way of dealing with an accusing conscience. Get used to the fact that you are a real sinner and then rejoice to know that you have a real Savior. In Jesus’ blood, the Lord takes away your guilt and, in so doing, cleanses your conscience. In peace and joy, you are then free to #ShoutYourSavior for all the world to hear!

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 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Happy anniversary

Andrew C. Schroer

This month we celebrate the 499th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. On All Hallow’s Eve (Oct. 31) 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed a document to the door of his local parish. The document consisted of 95 theses he wished to publicly debate concerning abuses he saw in the Roman Catholic Church.

The nailing of the Ninety-five Theses changed the world. Most historians include it in their top ten list of history’s defining moments. Every non-Roman Catholic Christian church, except for the Eastern Orthodox churches, can trace its roots back to the moment Luther’s hammer struck that nail.

Next year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be celebrated, not only in Lutheran churches, but by numerous church bodies around the world. A major PBS documentary will be released. The History Channel will highlight Martin Luther. Historians and scholars will wax poetic as they give their unique insights as to who Martin Luther was and what the Reformation means. Our synod is already making plans to celebrate the historic event and maximize the publicity surrounding it.

This year, though, there will be no PBS documentary. The History Channel will most likely focus its attention on Halloween, as it does every year at this time. Few non-Lutheran churches will notice. Even our celebrations will be much more subdued. Sure, some communities will have joint Reformation services. But even then, all the conversations and excitement will be about what we are going to do next year for the 500th anniversary.

But why? Why is the 500th anniversary so much more important than the 499th? Why is our world so fascinated with round numbers? We celebrate our parent’s 50th wedding anniversary with big parties, fabulous trips, and wonderful family reunions. But what about their 47th anniversary or their 52nd? Why don’t we celebrate those with as much fanfare?

Why mark the 100th day in office for the president and not his 123rd? Why celebrate a baseball player’s 500th homerun and not his 484th? Because we as a society consider round numbers implicitly better and more important. One author calls it “the mathematical tyranny of round numbers.”

In the end, they’re just numbers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for celebrating the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the Ninety-five Theses. I am excited about the publicity it will bring and the opportunities it will give us to share the good news of the gospel with a world that so desperately needs it. Pastors and local congregations should already be planning their celebrations and looking for ways to take advantage of the opportunities it will provide in their local communities to talk about what it means to be a Lutheran.

But don’t forget to celebrate the Festival of the Reformation this year. It is just as important and meaningful this year as it will be next year. In the end, the Festival of the Reformation isn’t about Martin Luther, being Lutheran, or being WELS. It’s about how God has preserved his gospel throughout history. It’s about how he has used flawed human beings like Martin Luther, you, and me to stand up for and speak out the truth.

It’s about the free gift of heaven and forgiveness Jesus won for us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

That’s something to celebrate every year.

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


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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Organs or guitars?

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Organs or guitars?

Actually, it’s not about the instruments. Maybe it was for Great Aunt Tilly, way back, the first time someone played a guitar in church and all she could say was, “I just don’t like it!”

Or maybe you want it to be about the instruments, because that makes the arguments easier. But that’s not what it’s about.

Perhaps you have escaped the discussions and disputations so far, but for years now there’s been a lot of talk—some of it heated—about how we worship in WELS. Too often it’s summed up as something like: “Those people like organ music” and “Those other people like drums and guitars.” That’s a mischaracterization because it places the disagreement in the category of personal preference, when in fact the differences go much deeper—into questions of theology and our identity as Lutheran Christians.

Just what is “Lutheran”? The limited changes in the church that Martin Luther and his true followers advocated for made the Reformation conservative. Our Lutheran forefathers were not radical reformers as some of their contemporaries were. Their goal was to remove false doctrine and unscriptural practices from the church, but they were careful not to change anything that didn’t need changing. Much that had been passed down through the centuries was worth preserving for their own and future generations.

A big part of that heritage was the liturgy and other traditions connected with worship, like observing the church seasons and festivals. Luther and the others re-centered the service on the gospel and gave back to the laity what had been restricted to the clergy. Along with these corrections, they developed a theology of worship that informed their decisions, instructed the church at large, and inspired generations to follow. Think of the magnificent music of Johann Sebastian Bach or the deep devotional hymns of Paul Gerhardt!

As the centuries passed, however, it became easy for Lutherans to neglect the theology of their worship and just stick with what was comfortable and familiar for them. It all became a matter of personal preference. That meant that when suddenly, new worship “styles,” practices, and, yes, instruments, were being introduced, many were unprepared to explain why these new things were theologically good, bad, or indifferent, and how exactly what belonged to our Lutheran heritage was better and wiser or worn and outdated.

We’ve learned since then. Worship is just too important to the life of the church and to the faith of the Christian for any of us to be comfortable with ignorance and insistence on one’s personal opinion. It’s not by any means a neutral thing whether we have a praise band up front playing the latest Christian hits or a robed minister presiding over an ordered liturgy of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. If we argue for one or the other based on what we like, we can’t assume that the person arguing the opposite has a different set of likes. Confessional Lutherans take these matters seriously because the gospel itself is at stake—for us and future generations. These are not just matters of practicality or personal preference.

Oh, now you want to know what exactly a confessional Lutheran theology of worship is and what it means for you and your congregation? Good. That’s exactly the conversation we need to be having.

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


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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Are you a people-pleaser?

Earle D. Treptow

People-pleasers, as we commonly use the term, are individuals who do whatever is asked of them to ensure the happiness of others. Though they probably belted out the word no with gusto as two-year-olds, they find it exceedingly difficult to use that word with their bosses, their friends, and some members of their family. Even when they lack the time or the ability to do what is asked, they can’t say no.

Why can’t people-pleasers say no? Perhaps some worry that others will perceive them as selfish or self-absorbed. Others can’t say no because, by their way of thinking, dealing with the stress of another item on their lengthy to-do list is easier than dealing with the feelings of guilt sure to wash over them later. Perhaps, whether they realize it or not, they’re actually hoping to get something from others. They want to feel loved and needed; they’re seeking validation.

There’s a far better place for us to find validation. Through faith in Jesus, we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. God declares that he is well pleased with us, because Jesus accepted our guilt and endured our punishment. Gone, in Christ, therefore, is the pressure of having to perform to get God to be pleased with us. Secure in the Lord’s unwavering love, we need not live by the approval of others. We don’t have to be people-pleasers. How freeing!

At the same time, however, God wants us to please the people he has placed in our lives. St. Paul writes, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’ ” (Romans 15:2,3). Rather than saying, “I don’t really care about my neighbors since God rejoices over me,” the child of God says, “I want to serve the people in my life. Since the Lord committed himself to me in Baptism, promising to bless me and care for me throughout life, I am free to commit myself to others.”

The apostle Paul points us to our Savior as both model and motive. Jesus, the delight of his Father, never used his power to guarantee a life of ease. Instead, he tirelessly loved and blessed those whom most people despised—the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners—and found himself despised as a result. The leaders of the Jews were none too pleased with him. Yet, for them too, Jesus willingly sacrificed himself. He was pleased to do what was in the best interest even of those who didn’t appreciate him at all.

Because Jesus was a people-pleaser, that is, because he did what was good for sinners, including us, we are free to be people-pleasers too—not so that we can get something from them, but because we want to give something to them. We can be people-pleasers, eager to do what will be in their best interests. We can say yes to putting the needs of others before our own, to bless them because God has so richly blessed us. We can serve even those who don’t appropriately appreciate our efforts, because the Lord has served us first.

With that kind of people-pleasing, God is most pleased!

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 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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

 

Our God reigns

Andrew C. Schroer

The field has been narrowed down. After a dizzying primary season, full of surreal debates, crazy comments, and canned soundbites, the Republican and Democratic parties will finally nominate their candidates at their party conventions.

Many Christians are anxiously wringing their hands wondering who the next president will be. Some are filled with frustration about who is left standing after the debates. Others are excited. Still others are filled with dread. I’m here to tell you: Don’t worry about it.

Don’t get me wrong. As a Christian, you should be concerned about the upcoming election. God has called you to be a light to the world. He has called you to speak the truth in love. As Christians, we should participate in the political process. We should let our voices be heard. We should vote our consciences.

We should be concerned about who becomes the next president. It should sadden us when government officials don’t live up to their high calling. Injustices should anger us and lead us to act.

We don’t need to worry, however. Again and again, our God tells us in his Word not to worry about the future. He lovingly whispers, “Do not be afraid.” Why? Because no matter who is running our country—no matter what is happening at home or abroad—our God reigns.

God is in control. If you have a chance today, read Psalm chapter 2 in your Bible. See how God reacts when leaders and governments contend against his will. He laughs. They can’t win. In the end, Jesus wins, and because he wins, we too will win.

Kingdoms will rise and fall. Presidents will come and go, but our God reigns. He will control all of time and history for the good of his children. If he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also make everything else work for our good (cf. Romans 8:32)?

Now, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Look at history. Tyrants can quickly steal our freedoms. They have come in other places and other times. The power and prosperity we enjoy can disappear in less than one generation. That has happened even in our own national history. Our nation’s future as a world power is by no means guaranteed.

In the end, though, we need not fear. God’s Word still will be preached. No ruler or government throughout history has been able to silence it. They have tried more than once, but God provided for and protected his children. No matter what happens here, we are citizens of God’s heavenly kingdom because of Jesus.

Yet, many Christians in our country worry. They fret and fuss about our government. Some think that if we can just get the right candidate or right party in power, all our problems will disappear. They fear that if the wrong people get elected, we are doomed. The government, however, cannot solve our problems. Only God can. He has demonstrated his love for us by giving us his one and only Son.

So this November as the candidates vie for your vote, let your light shine. Participate in the process. Let your voice be heard.

In the end, though, even if your candidate is not elected—no matter who becomes the next president of the United States—don’t worry.

Our God reigns.

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

 

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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Enemies, allies, and agendas

Jeffrey L. Samelson

The 2016 American presidential campaign has revealed a challenge. You find yourself defending a particular party or candidate merely because they have been attacked by someone whose views or policies you oppose, or you end up attacking some others merely because they appear to be aligned with someone you oppose. You end up wondering, “How did I get here?” when you realize that you are now supporting someone you really don’t agree with or arguing against someone who thinks as you do.

There are two old sayings: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and “The enemy of my friend is my enemy.” Those may offer useful guidance on the battlefield or to resolve some major conflict for the short term, but as Christians whose first loyalty is always to our Lord, they can be problematic in politics, in our personal lives, and in the church.

We are often encouraged to form alliances based on false dilemmas, as in, “Candidate X is for this good thing; if you don’t support him, then you’re opposed to the good things she stands for.” In fact, Candidate X may also be for bad things we cannot support. In reality, other candidates may be worthier of our support. We may find the same thing happening in the workplace, in some groups we belong to, or even in our families as sides or factions are formed around some issue or personality. Tragically, we see it also in the church, when “for” or “against” on some single issue—finances, furnishings, or something else—is used to divide everyone into “us” and “them.”

Christians, however, don’t let common enmities or agreeable alliances stand in for faithfulness to God and his will. Sometimes that requires abandoning what is convenient or comfortable for careful consideration and hard choices. This goes with the “deny yourself” part of Christ’s call to “take up [your] cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We learn to discern (Philippians 1:9-11).

So we do well to remember that there are deep ditches on either side of the narrow, scriptural, Lutheran middle road. “At least it’s not Catholic” doesn’t excuse aligning yourself with a Protestant church full of its own errors. Saying “We’re on the same side on this important social issue” does not condone ignoring false doctrine. You may properly disapprove of Aunt Agnes’ lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong about Grandma’s health care. Pastor Smith may truly have handled yesterday’s discipline case poorly, but that’s no reason to oppose him today or avoid his Bible class.

Many people will try to get us to sign on to their agendas, but our ultimate agenda has to be the Lord’s, and that means asking hard questions: What witness to Christ am I giving with my support? Will this opposition burn bridges for the gospel? By being loyal to my friend, am I being disloyal to my Savior?

Sometimes God’s will coincides clearly with some person, party, or politics we favor, and then we can confidently give our full support. But this doesn’t happen as often as we want. Too often going “all in” means compromising Christ. So we study his Word, pray for wisdom, act in love, and seek his will in all things, rejoicing in the alliance God made with us by sending his Son to be our Savior.

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

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Safety in numbers

Earle D. Treptow

Does it bother you that many consider sexual relations outside of marriage natural and appropriate? You’re not alone. There are people around the world convinced that sexual promiscuity does irreparable harm to family and society. Does your blood begin to boil when television commercials portray a homosexual family as normal? You’re not the only one. Others agree that marriage has always been, and always should be, the union of one man and one woman. Do you find yourself disturbed by the cavalier way people speak about a child in the womb as “only a fetus” and nothing more? You’re far from alone. Others share your perspective, contending that abortion is legalized murder.

When the media equates an idea you espouse with the once-firmly-held belief that the world is flat, you may feel all alone. You may feel like you’ve been cast in Elijah’s role in the 21st century—“I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10). But the fact of the matter is that you’re not alone in what you believe about marriage and the sanctity of life.

You’re not alone. Call it “safety in numbers.” In fact, one could say that the Lord gave us brothers and sisters in Christian faith for that very purpose. Through them he encourages us to continue to believe what he says in his Word, even if “everybody” supposedly thinks otherwise. The writer to the Hebrews directs us to gather regularly with our fellow believers, not only to be fed with Word and sacrament but also for the sake of encouraging one another to cling to what we believe on the basis of Scripture: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24,25).

There is safety in numbers

The devil knows that maxim too. He understands how much human beings value the safety found in numbers. That’s why he commissions opinion polls and incites people to favor what God clearly rejects. The enemy of human beings campaigns untiringly for positions contrary to the truths of Scripture. He cloaks lies with respect and liars with the appearance of wisdom so that the world can find safety in numbers: “There are others who think what I think; I’m not alone.”

We need to be careful about where we find safety and security. Don’t look for safety in numbers, in the millions of people who agree with you. Our certainty doesn’t come from the number of people who believe what we do, but from the One who chose to become obedient unto death for us sinners. We find our security in the One who delights to call us brothers and sisters and gladly speaks to the Father in our defense. Our safety comes exclusively from the One who speaks to us through his holy Word. He’s the One who does not, and cannot, lie. What he says is true, even if 65 percent of those surveyed believe the opposite. What he says is spirit and life, even if 84 percent scoff at it.

Find your safety in the One who has taken his seat at the right hand of the Father. He’s the only One that matters!

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 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Time to think

Andrew C. Schroer

My mom texted me the other day. For most people, this statement is neither shocking nor extraordinary. Millions of mothers text their children every day.

I, however, was shocked. Let’s just say my parents have never been at the vanguard of technology. In fact, I still remember when my father was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of e-mail 20 years ago.

“It allows people to respond too quickly,” he complained.

My father made a rule for himself. If he received an emotionally charged e-mail, he would write a response but not send it for 24 hours. Sometimes, after thinking about it, he would edit what he wrote. Other times, he wouldn’t even send the e-mail. His rule was not to respond for 24 hours.

“They can wait,” he told me as I rolled my eyes.

I recently read an article by Alan Jacobs, a professor at Wheaton College, about the demands of social media. In the article he referenced the old Jack Benny radio show. One of Jack Benny’s classic routines featured him being robbed by a mugger. Now, you need to understand that Jack Benny’s character was infamous for his stinginess. In the skit, the mugger pulls out a gun. “Your money or your life,” he demands. Jack Benny stands frozen in silence. “I said, ‘Your money or your life,’” the mugger growls impatiently. “I’m thinking it over,” Jack Benny whines, as the audience roars with laughter.

Jacobs equates the Internet to the mugger. But instead of demanding money, it demands our attention and reaction . . . and it wants them right now. “I’m thinking it over” is not an acceptable answer.

Our world wants, expects, and demands an instantaneous response. The responses are often unmeasured, emotional, or uninformed. I have counseled numerous couples whose problems and arguments have escalated through the heated exchange of text messages.

I recently participated in a Facebook thread in which people immediately disparaged a new church because, in the posted pictures, the sanctuary had no altar or cross. It was later discovered that the pictures were taken before the cross and altar were installed.

The problem is that once words are said, once a post is shared, once you hit send, the damage is done. A wise man once told me that words are like toothpaste. Once it’s out of the tube, you can’t put it back in.

So what’s the answer? Should we never text? Should we never tweet? Should we never post or respond on Facebook? I don’t think that’s the answer. Social media is a part of the world in which we live. It can be a wonderful tool to share and communicate.

In the end, however, my father was right. Wisdom says wait. James put it this way, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

If you are texting with someone and the conversation turns emotional or confrontational, type your response, but then wait five minutes, a half hour, or even an hour to hit send. Or better yet, wait until you can speak with the person face to face.

If you have something controversial or provocative you feel you need to share on Facebook or Twitter, make sure you have all the facts first. It won’t hurt to wait a day or two. After some time thinking about it, you may decide it’s not even worth sharing.

As we seek to speak the truth in love, wisdom says wait. It’s okay to say, “I’m thinking it over.” Measure your words. Get all the facts. Take your time.

They can wait.

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

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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Throwing God’s money after good

Jeffrey L. Samelson

If I had $10 million, I wouldn’t give it to start a new mission overseas or even a new congregation here at home, endow a new program, or start a new scholarship program.

Why not? It’s not that any of those ideas are unwise or unworthy; it’s that I have become convinced that in many cases “new” money could actually do much more for the kingdom supporting “old” concerns that struggle for funding than by following what is fresh and exciting.

I would start by talking to our district presidents, mission boards, circuit pastors, and maybe even the WELS Church Extension Fund to identify congregations that are doing everything they can to keep their mission and ministry moving forward but who have mortgage or other payments due every month that are so large they have little or nothing left over to spend on actual mission work. Then I would take my $10 million and use it to help pay down the debts of the congregations where I thought it would make the biggest difference. I wouldn’t pay them off entirely. Knocking $400,000 off a $1.5 million debt here or $250,000 off of $900,000 there would free up thousands of dollars in those congregations—money that is already being given by their members—for new, fresh, and exciting efforts where they are already established and have connections. I think their hearts would thrill to see the gospel on the move where they are. No, $10 million wouldn’t take care of every church’s debt, and yes, some congregations’ bad decision-making would make them poor candidates for such debt relief. But I love to imagine the difference that such a gift could make.

“Throwing good money after bad” is an old expression that some might use to counsel against helping pay down someone else’s debts, and I can even think of some examples of churches that don’t seem to make outreach or excellence any kind of priority. Yet as a general rule, things like keeping the church doors open so that the Word of God can be preached and heard; freeing up funds for outreach and excellence; and, yes, paying church workers the wages they deserve, are good things that God approves of, even commands. Remember also who that money in our bank accounts really belongs to: not us, but God. He’s just entrusted that money to our care.

Now, I don’t have $10 million, and I doubt I ever will, so don’t bother hitting me up for donations. But I hope this exercise reminds us that we shouldn’t assume that what’s new and exciting is automatically more worthy of our gifts than what is familiar or long-standing. I don’t want us to forget that something as “boring” as paying down a mortgage can have church-growing implications of the greatest kind.

Chances are that you don’t have $10 million either, but what do you have? And what are you doing with it? Too many people hold back from giving to their churches because budgets and bill-paying don’t excite them. Don’t let that be you. You can still give to missions, new church starts, and ministries that you feel a passionate connection to, but don’t forget the “old” opportunities around you, and don’t dismiss less-than-thrilling giving. It’s throwing God’s money after good.

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

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Statistical contemplation

Earle D. Treptow

During January, WELS congregations participate in an annual census. Through their pastors and elected leaders, congregations submit statistics for inclusion in the WELS Statistical Report. The report includes items like baptized and communicant membership, average worship attendance, and number of confirmations (both children and adult) during the year.

The WELS Statistical Report will never climb to the top of the New York Times’ best sellers list; no one will turn its pages as if it were a novel filled with interesting characters and compelling plot twists. Yet statistical reports are worth reading. More important, the statistics are worth contemplating.

The Lord had contemplation in mind when he directed Moses to prepare a statistical report of the people of Israel after they left Egypt. Specifically, the Lord wanted Moses and the leaders of Israel to count the men 20 or older who were fit for military service (Numbers chapter 1). They identified 603,550 men fitting that bill, suggesting an overall population in the neighborhood of 2 million.

As they contemplated the statistics, the people of Israel couldn’t help but draw some conclusions. First, God had richly blessed them. Only a small group of 70 had moved with Jacob to Egypt 430 years earlier. In spite of the Egyptians’ brutal oppression, the people of Israel had multiplied. Second, God always keeps his promises, even when it seems impossible. He had, as promised, made childless Abram into a great nation.

That’s the way to contemplate congregational statistics. We note with thanksgiving the blessings God grants in the year past, giving him all the credit. We do so even if the blessings aren’t the specific ones we wanted to see. We thank God for those he led to be in worship each week and for the people he added to our number. We give him thanks for keeping his promise to strengthen his people in faith through Word and sacrament.

Contemplation of congregational statistics also can be helpful when it leads people to assess the ministry being carried out. Please don’t misunderstand. Statistics are only statistics. God doesn’t call his people to specific results when they proclaim his Word. He doesn’t insist, for example, that they must increase congregational membership or Bible study attendance by 10 percent or face his judgment. The Lord does, however, call for faithfulness. He desires activity. He asks for effort. He wants his people to offer their very best. Sometimes statistics move leaders to ask important questions about activity: “What are we doing to reach the people in our community without a church home? What are we doing to serve those on the membership rolls who have wandered away?”

Ask those questions seriously and there will likely be reason to repent. We may need to confess laziness, because we’ve done only the bare minimum. We may have to acknowledge to God and our fellow believers that we filled our schedules with busywork instead of focusing on the important work of reaching people with the good news. We may have to admit that we haven’t given much thought to improving the ways we serve people with God’s Word.

Our value does not rise or fall on the basis of our accomplishments or our shortcomings. Thank God! God has declared us valuable because of what he has done for us in Christ, not because of what we have done for him. Knowing the Lord’s unconditional love for us and his unbreakable promise to bless our labors in his name, we can make aggressive ministry plans, focused on activity and improvement. We can use his gifts faithfully and then watch him do what he always does—bless!

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

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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What would you have done?

Andrew C. Schroer

I have played the various scenarios over and over again in my head. We do that, don’t we? When we hear about tragic events like the shootings that occurred at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, last October, we imagine what we would have done had we been there.

Would I have run and hid? Or would I have responded like Chris Mintz, the U.S. Army veteran who rushed into the building and tried to block the shooter from moving into Classroom 15 where he eventually killed nine people? Chris was shot three times while standing and another four while on the floor. By God’s power and grace he survived.

What would I have done had I been in Classroom 15? Witnesses report that the shooter, Christopher Harper-Mercer, asked his victims if they were Christians. According to witnesses, if the person said he or she was a Christian, Harper-Mercer would shoot that person in the head. If they said they weren’t or if they didn’t respond, they were shot in the leg.

I recently heard someone remark, “The bravest person in the world is the second person who said she was a Christian.”

What would I have done? I like to think I would have said without fear or equivocation, “I am a Christian.” But I don’t know. Would my thoughts have turned to my wife and children? In the end, would it have been a denial of faith to lie to this madman?

What would you have done?

Whatever your answer, I think we can all agree that those who died have given the world a wonderful witness of the courage Christ gives. Their faith was severely tested, and it passed the test.

I’ll be honest, though. I think many, if not most, Christians would have passed that test. Though it is impossible to say for sure until you are in that situation, I think with the help of the Holy Spirit I would not deny my Savior.

A number of years ago, my father fell on the ice. He banged his head. His brain began to bleed. When the bleeding was finally discovered, the doctors told him if it had gone undetected any longer, he would have died.

As he dealt with his life-threatening injuries, my father told me he was at peace. He knew the heaven Jesus won for him. But then he poignantly pointed out something I had never really thought about. “As Christians,” he told me, “we usually do pretty well with the big tests. It’s the little tests we struggle with.”

I once had a doctor basically tell me I was dying. Thankfully, further tests showed I wasn’t, but I remember reacting to the diagnosis with the peace that only Jesus can give. Ironically, though, I often find myself getting sick to my stomach stressing about our family finances.

As Christians, we often face the trials of death and persecution with courage and then worry and fret over credit card bills.

God’s profound promises of forgiveness and heaven, of providence and his presence in our lives, give us the courage to face the bullets of a madman. Those same promises give us the peace and courage to face marital stress, a demeaning boss, or financial downturns.

So, as you wonder what you would do if you had been in Classroom 15, take a moment to consider what you do as you face the more mundane tests God places in your life every day.

Then turn to the promises of his Word. They will give you the peace and courage you need to face whatever test God may send.

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

 

 

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Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 103, Number 1
Issue: January 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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The failure of utopias

Jeffrey L. Samelson

Do you remember how socialism as a theory was totally discredited by the collapse of hard-core socialism in practice when the Soviet Union fell? A lot of our fellow citizens apparently do not. Many believers also seem to need to be reminded of the fundamental problem with so many once-and-again popular political and economic theories, something that we as Christians should be able to identify and understand better than anyone.

Whenever pure democracy, small-scale communes, and even anarchism have been attempted, they have failed. Inevitably the individuals involved insist at some point on what they want instead of what’s good for everyone. Systems that place all power in the person or people at the top—socialism, fascism, monarchies, oligarchies, even representative democracies—unavoidably find at least some leaders looking out first for themselves, no matter how much they claim to be looking out for their fellow citizens.

Though we can cite various political and economic reasons why theorists and politicians have never produced the utopias they promised, there is one reason they will always fail. We confess it with David: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).

Any system, promise, plan, or appeal is doomed to fail when it is based on the idea that if we just remove obstacles a, b, and c and make changes x, y, and z, then everyone will do the right thing and we will have peace, equality, an end to discrimination, universal prosperity, a healthy environment, and a lot of other benefits. All those ideas depend on human beings to perfect them, and human beings are universally imperfect.

So there can be no perfect system of government, and the best systems, then, are those that take the negatives of human nature—greed, bias, envy, among other faults—into account rather than ignoring them or assuming they can be educated out of us. A truly Christian approach to politics will therefore value checks and balances, accept that violence sometimes must answer evil, and recognize that military and police forces will be necessary for even the most enlightened of nations. So if and when we are privileged to choose those who govern us, we choose the wisest, ablest, and the most trustworthy and least self-centered we can, and we try to weed out those with weak character, selfish ambition, and promises that rely too much on the right people doing the right things at all the right times.

Still, even we Christians often put much more trust in people’s perfectibility than we should. We speak, act, and vote as though once our party or candidate gets into power everything’s going to be fixed. Too often we display a complacent confidence that the people of our society will simply do the right thing even if we keep quiet.

So remember that Scripture tells us that the purpose of government is primarily the protection of the people and the restraint of evil. Pray, and then pay close attention to candidates’ and parties’ promises and principles, whether from the left or right or middle. Ask yourself: Are they pretending that people can be perfected, that given the right conditions; laws; or funding, schooling, or programs that everyone will do the right thing and peace and prosperity will be just around the corner? If so, then beware. We’ve seen that before. That will never work, and we always have known why.

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

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Living in the “mission trip era”

Earle D. Treptow

Mission work used to be limited to a select few. That’s no longer so. Thanks to the proliferation of Christian mission organizations, hundreds of thousands participate in mission work each year, in places around the world.

These mission organizations arrange both short-term mission trips, lasting from a week to a month for those who will use vacation time to participate, and long-term mission trips for those who do not have obligations tying them to their home. Some of the mission trips focus on demonstrating Christ’s love by helping people in need. Other mission trips center specifically on proclaiming Christ’s love to those who don’t yet know him as their Savior.

Ask those who have participated in mission trips about their experiences and you better pull up a chair, because they will have much to share. They will talk about the privilege of serving the Savior as they carried out important work, whether that was drilling a bore hole to provide water for residents of a third-world country or having Bible studies in a country in which Christianity is illegal. Though they will grant that the days were long and the travel difficult, most wouldn’t trade their mission experience for anything.

Thank the Lord for providing opportunities to serve him in places across the world, to participate in important work, and to have an impact on others!

The challenge of living in this “mission trip era” is that we may unwittingly begin to believe that the best service to offer the Lord is to travel to some distant locale to proclaim the gospel there and assist people in desperate need. Other service, while useful, pales in comparison. That’s not at all how the Lord views it. The Savior doesn’t set up grades and ranks of service, from spectacular to adequate. Instead, he gives us opportunities every day to thank him for his mercy and to make a positive impact on others. In fact, he wants us to consider everything we do as part of our service to him: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

In his Small Catechism, Dr. Luther includes a Table of Duties. He applies passages of Scripture to the different positions in which the Lord places people, providing instruction about serving the Lord in those various offices. If you haven’t recently reflected on the Table of Duties, pick up the catechism and read that section through prayerfully. The Lord has important work for you to carry out in each of the callings he has given you: employee (or employer), citizen, congregational member, child, parent, or spouse. The Lord intends to make an impact on others through you. He will do so in the midst of what may feel to you like the humdrum monotony of day-to-day life. You may not recognize the impact of your service, but God promises to bless others through you. Serving the people around you day after day has God’s stamp of approval. He delights in your service, because he delights in you.

Does that say something about how the Lord would have you view your life? As a child of God, your whole life is about serving your Savior and making an impact on others. Day after day, in ordinary life, you have opportunities to demonstrate Christ’s love and to proclaim Christ’s love. Your whole life is a mission trip!

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, president of the Nebraska District, is pastor at Zion, Denver, Colorado.

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Many methods to share the message

Kenneth L. Brokmeier

“Hark! The voice of Jesus crying, ‘Who will go and work today? Fields are ripe and harvest waiting; Who will bear the sheaves away?’ ”

For nine years of my ministry that hymn, Christian Worship 573, was almost always sung when I was guest preaching as a recruitment director. The last line of the first stanza raises the question, “Who will answer, gladly saying, ‘Here am I—send me, send me?’ ”

Centuries before Daniel March penned those words, God asked that same question of his Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Having just seen the King, the Lord Almighty, Isaiah rightly lamented, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” But an angel touched Isaiah’s lips with a live coal, and the prophet heard the sweet gospel pronouncement that his sin had been taken away. And then God asks, “Who will go for us?” (cf. Isaiah 6:1-8).

God is still asking with that hymn, “Who will go and work today?” Technology has opened many new ways for the child of God to answer with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me,” even in our own circles.

In July, I attended the WELSTech Conference 2015. Dozens of individuals attended to both share with some and learn from others. The theme “Where Technology Meets Ministry” appropriately captured the purpose of the conference.

Those who know me verify that I’m not on the cutting edge of technology. In short I had little to share. Instead, I was hopeful my attendance would provide me with some pointers and tools for sharing Jesus by using technology. It certainly did. Statistics like each minute about three hundred hours of video is being uploaded to YouTube or the average person spends about 2.5 hours per day on social media screamed to me opportunities to share Jesus. With so many bytes of information shared, I left the conference almost with the feeling that the hard drive of my brain had reached capacity. The sheer volume of information available and distributed on the Internet is staggering. With millions connected to the World Wide Web, individual Christians and our congregations can use resources to share Jesus—often without ever leaving their homes.

We return to that hymn and sing, “If you cannot speak like angels, If you cannot preach like Paul, You can tell the love of Jesus; You can say he died for all.” The message remains Christ-crucified; however, the methods to proclaim it are numerous.

During my eight-hour drive home from the conference, my head was spinning much like a hard drive—in a good way. As I tried processing information shared by the presenters, I was forced to ask, “Where does technology meet ministry for me? Where do I start?” I suspect the first disciples had similar feelings when Jesus told them to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). The whole world? But how? The disciples began with what was familiar with them—Jerusalem.

In our world we can do the same. Technology, especially social media, can afford those who use it, including those who may not be gifted at public speaking, the opportunity to boldly and confidently proclaim Christ. With all the resources available today not only can you say, “Christ lived and died and rose for you,” but you can also text it, like it, broadcast it, and forward it.

“Let none hear you idly saying, ‘There is nothing I can do.’ ”

Contributing editor Ken Brokmeier is pastor at Our Savior, Brookings, South Dakota.

 

 

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Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 102, Number 10
Issue: October 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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They have had too much wine

Maybe it’s only a spelling error, but I think it’s much more than that.

Jeffrey L. Samelson

You see, as the beneficiaries of Christ’s redemption and resurrection, we believers are supposed to see ourselves as victors over everyone and everything that opposes our Savior and his church. Yet it seems more and more Christians in our society present themselves as victims. “You can’t treat us this way!” they cry. “This isn’t fair!” they complain. “Feel sorry for me!” they plead.

These “Why me?” moments come in response not to real persecution or martyrdom, but to changes in the law and society. Respect that our faith used to command decreases as Christianity’s influence decreases and others increasingly deem us irrelevant, or worse. Things believers took for granted—the recognition of Christian holidays, a favored relationship with the state, a shared and stable understanding of what is moral—have slipped away and left many saying, “Stop! You can’t do that—we’re Christians!” When that doesn’t work, “Waah! Everybody hates us. Everything is going wrong. There’s no hope left, society is doomed, and the sun will never shine on us again.” (Okay, I exaggerate—a bit.)

But what examples do we have in Scripture? Did the first martyr Stephen, who felt the stones of his enemies, say, “Stop! You can’t do this to me; I follow Jesus!” When the apostle Paul listed all the times he had been attacked, abused, and imprisoned, did he say, “If things don’t improve soon, I’m quitting!”?

That’s not the way you remember it, right? Let’s remember instead the truth of what we’re experiencing now in our society. Jesus, who was “stricken, smitten, and afflicted” and who before his oppressors “did not open his mouth,” remained silent “as a sheep before her shearers” (Isaiah 53:4,7). He tells us to expect crosses, not comfort, as we follow him. He reminds us that his kingdom is not of this world, so we should not expect this world to bow to the beliefs he gave to his disciples. And Paul, who suffered untold abuse as an apostle in hostile environments, seems to be speaking directly to our situation today when he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).

We shouldn’t expect the Christian perspective to be at the top of our society, culture, or government. We are not entitled to special treatment because we follow Jesus, unless you count being “handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and . . . hated by all nations” as special. As we see wickedness increase around us, Jesus does not tell us that it’s time for Christians to rise up and reclaim their lost advantages. Instead he tells us that “the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:9,12).

This should not lead to despair, but to a renewed focus. The gospel of salvation by grace through trust in Jesus Christ is needed all the more by everyone, us included, as the world gets increasingly unfriendly to our faith. The last thing we want to present to unbelievers around us is a woe-is-me, whining witness. Let’s show them something better: that rather than victims, we are victors in Christ—and they can be too.

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

 

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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 102, Number 9
Issue: September 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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How to make your church irresistible

How to make your church irresistible

Earle D. Treptow

Did it work? Did the title grab your attention and compel you to read?

If you’re feeling like you’ve been hooked by a title, allow this confession. I got hooked by that title once myself. It was the subject line in an e-mail. With a double click, the e-mail came up advertising a workshop that would “forever change the way you think about church.” In “just three hours,” it promised, “your ministry will be more effective than ever at reaching people with God’s love.”

This is the way advertisers operate. They wave something so useful and desirable before our eyes that we can’t help but reach out and grab hold. Who wouldn’t want an irresistible church? What Christian doesn’t want to have more people come through the doors of the church who actually want to come back the next week?

The devil is always eager to “help” us. The Liar points out what we need to do to make the church more attractive. He directs our attention to the latest, greatest program that almost guarantees growth. “If you practice these four principles,” he promises, “you will change the culture of your congregation, and you will have a steady stream of new people coming through your doors.” He highlights ways to soften some of the teachings that offend people, suggesting that the growth of the church rests at least in part on our ability to craft a message that appeals to the masses. Soon he has us thinking that the noble goal of reaching people validates almost any approach.

You can see through the lies, can’t you? First, the church’s future does not depend on us and what we do to engage the people around us. The One who never lies says that “the gates of Hades will not overcome” the church (Matthew 16:18). Though the devil may win some skirmishes along the way, the battle belongs to the Lord. The Lord will preserve his little flock even when it appears to us that the church has gone the way of the dinosaur.

A second lie is that the primary goal of the gathered people of God is the numerical growth of the visible church. The ascended Lord commissioned us, not as his salespeople charged with “getting people to say yes,” but as his witnesses. We simply speak the good news Jesus has given us to proclaim. The results of that preaching belong to the Lord. The Spirit creates faith when and where it pleases him. He may bring thousands to faith, as he did on Pentecost; he may also use the Word we proclaim to harden the hearts of those who reject it.

The apostle Paul teaches us, “Faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). He doesn’t say, “Faith comes from innovative programs,” or “Faith comes from outside-of-the-box thinking,” or “Faith comes from an upbeat worship style.” When we focus more on methodology than the message, a lie has begun to take root in our hearts. The Spirit is in the Word, not the methodology.

At the same time, while it is true that the Lord will gather his people only through his gospel in Word and sacrament, we need to bear in mind that the devil often twists that truth too. He argues that if we look for better ways to reach people, we are responsible for their conversion. The truth is that our ascended Lord has chosen to work through us to gather his people. He does the work of converting sinners; we simply carry out our task as his witnesses. We do it with joy and gratitude for the privilege.

Contributing editor Earle Treptow, president of the Nebraska District, is pastor at Zion, Denver, Colorado.

 

 

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Author: Earle D. Treptow
Volume 102, Number 08
Issue: August 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
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Religious Freedom

Kenneth L. Brokmeier

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” I recall reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in eighth grade each Friday following our afternoon devotion. The pledge concludes “with liberty and justice for all.” As we celebrate the Fourth of July, we are truly grateful for our many freedoms as citizens of the United States. But recent legislation, and often the litigation that goes with it, may have some Christians contemplating how long we might enjoy such freedoms.

This past spring while the city of Indianapolis was putting on its final touches to host the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball championship, Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence was putting his signature on a piece of legislation called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Both events drew national attention, but it seems more ink was spilt over the latter.

Opposition to RFRA sprang up immediately, including public demonstrations. In protest, some states withdrew funding for their officials to travel to the Hoosier State for business purposes, including to attend the Final Four. National businesses threatened to leave the state or withdraw proposed plans for future expansion unless the law was repealed or modified.

Let me be clear by stating that I do not claim to know all the legal issues surrounding this hotbed topic. But viewpoints, including legal ones, appear to be all over the map.

Some supporters of the original bill fervently contend that a person who owns a private business should have the right to refuse services to individuals or organizations for religious reasons. Others will passionately argue that permitting such behavior constitutes a blatant act of discrimination.

For example, should a bakery or florist be forced by law to make a wedding cake or floral arrangements for a couple whose marriage they feel is not in keeping with the owner’s religious beliefs? In recent years in several states there have been cases in which business owners were sued for refusing to provide such services. On more than one occasion, those owners lost their court case, and in at least one instance, the business was forced to close.

Where exactly does that leave the Christian business owner? This question becomes even more pressing if judges and courts can seemingly dictate with whom a company must do business. Will the day come when local congregations or national church bodies may lose their tax exempt status because they refuse to follow certain laws that violate not only their consciences but also the truths of God’s Word?

The Bible reminds us, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). God’s children, including those who operate businesses, have always had to struggle with the viewpoints and, at times, even mandates from the ungodly world. In some cases it may mean suffering loss for refusing to violate one’s own conscience. Other circumstances might afford the opportunity not only to fulfill a service but also, by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), to keep a doorway open for further witnessing to the truth of God’s Word.

As we celebrate the Fourth of July and the freedoms we enjoy, remember that God’s Word clearly speaks that Christ did not practice discrimination when it came to saving the world. His perfect life and innocent death paid for the sins of all people. His atoning sacrifice is all inclusive.

But with the Bible we can properly state that heaven is exclusive. “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

In his freedom, that is still God’s way of conducting “business.”

Contributing editor Ken Brokmeier is pastor at Our Savior, Brookings, South Dakota.

 

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Author: Kenneth L. Brokmeier
Volume 102, Number 7
Issue: July 2015

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