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Great stories of the Bible: The flood

The Flood

Joel S. Heckendorf

Many estimate it took more than 50 years to build the 450 x 75 x 45 ft. box we know as the ark. I wonder if Noah ever thought, God, did you forget about me? When his neighbors had Friday night fires, do you think it got old for Noah to hear them ask again and again, “Hey Noah, got any firewood?” Each jab may have caused him to think God had forgotten him.

How about when Noah was in the ark? The Bible says, “The LORD shut him in” (Genesis 7:16). No excursions. No escapes. Just 370 days shut in with 7 other humans, 2 rhinoceroses, 2 zebras, 2 elephants, 2 pigs, and 16,000 other animals and birds. The noise and the smell would have led me to ask, “God, have you forgotten about me?”

Noah could have and might have asked that. “But God remembered Noah” (Genesis 8:1). Highlight that verse in your Bible. The same powerful God who could focus his power to exercise universal wrath on a world of people who had so blatantly turned their backs on him—that same powerful God—remembered Noah.

But does God remember me? I’m no Noah. I doubt I would have the patience to swing a hammer for 50-plus years to build a boat so far from the water. I get it that God remembers his people, but how do I know that includes me? Does God remember me?

Simple answer: yes. Not because you’re as good or blameless or righteous as Noah. God remembers his people because God remembers his promises.

Jump ahead to the end of the flood account. With the smell of Noah’s burnt offerings in the air, God promised, “Never again. Even though every inclination of a man’s heart will continue to evil from childhood, never again will I destroy all living creatures. Whenever the rainbow appears in the sky, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (see Genesis chapters 8 and 9). God has remembered that promise.

That isn’t the only covenant God has ever made with you. With the scent of his Son’s sacrifice—his sweat and drying blood—God promises forgiveness, life, and salvation. God remembers his promises. Yes, God remembers you.

The flood is the most popular children’s story. But don’t let it just be about a boat and some animals or universal destruction. See the deliverance. Because God in his grace saved Noah, he preserved the line of the One who would save the universe. Even though God destroyed every living thing, he also preserved the path for life everlasting. He remembered a blessing and a promise for you. That’s the ultimate comfort of this popular story.


Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is the most popular story included in children’s Bibles?

Answers will vary. Boats and animals are common themes in children’s books, thus it’s fitting to have the flood be the most popular children’s story. Even the deliverance of Noah and his family will be important to many.

3. Look up the following passages—Genesis 19:29, Genesis 30:22, Exodus 2:24, Leviticus 26:42, 1 Samuel 1:19, Judges 16:28, Luke 23:42. What comfort does each provide?

All these passage speak of God remembering people.

● Genesis 19: God remembers Abraham by rescuing Lot.

● Genesis 30: God remembers Rachel and her inability to have children.

● Exodus 2: God remembers his promises to Israel as they are groaning in Egypt.

● Leviticus 26: God will remember his promises to Abraham even when people disobey.

● Judges 16: God remembers Samson.

● 1 Samuel 1: God remembers Hannah and her prayer for a son.

● Luke 23: Jesus remembers the thief on the cross.

The various situations remind us that no matter our situation, God’s grace leads him to remember us.

4. List other “covenants” that God made with people. What is your takeaway?

● Abraham (Genesis 15 & 17): covenant of land, to be the father of a great nation, and the promise of a Savior.

● Sinai (Exodus 19–24): God would be the God of Israel, and they would be his people.

● David (2 Samuel 7): everlasting kingdom, promise of a Savior.

● New Covenant (Jeremiah 31): promise of forgiveness.

There are many takeaways, not the least of which is that God is serious about keeping his Word. He has promised us salvation through faith in Jesus and will keep that promise.

 


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

This is the last article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Sept. 5.


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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: Baby Moses

Baby Moses

Joel Heckendorf

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Even though no child has ever believed those words, parents know the grim truth: Sometimes it hurts to love.

Moses’ mother knew this all too well. Baby number three was on the way. If it was a girl, she would have three mouths to feed. If it was a boy, by government decree she’d have to feed that child to the Nile River. And then he was born. She loved the child. And that’s what made it hurt. It hurt to think what might happen to this child. It hurts to love.

But it’s also that “love-’til-it-hurts” attitude that leads people to act in extraordinary ways. The love of the mother of Moses drove her to great lengths. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to give birth and not tell anyone? Parents today can’t go 24 hours without posting about their child: “Johnny smiled today,” “Faith rolled over,” “Timmy likes carrots.” Out of love, Moses’ mother muffled her infant’s cries for three months. Imagine the energy and determination that took. Every knock at the door she’d have to hide not only her son but also every evidence of his existence.

When hiding his existence no longer seemed viable, love drove Moses’ mother to take another risk. She was willing to give him up, hoping and praying that someone else might take him. By the grace of God, that’s exactly what happened. The Egyptian princess adopted Moses, trained him to be a leader, and even found his very own mother as the nanny. Read the amazing story in Exodus 2:1-10. God’s providence is usually the focal point of this familiar story, but don’t miss the display of love. The love-’til-it-hurts display from Moses’ mother is tremendous.

How could she do it? She knew another’s love. She knew the love of her God. If there is ever a parent who knows that love hurts, it’s our heavenly Father. As children of his creative hand, he has a deep bond with each and every one of us. Imagine how it hurt him to know that because of sin we weren’t just headed for the river, we were heading to the lake of fire. Thankfully, he wasn’t content to just say, “Oh well.” His love drove him to great lengths. His love drove him to offer up his Son to rescue us. Like Father, like Son. Jesus loved ’til it hurt as well. He loved us to hell and back so that he could say, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”

Because he loved ’til it hurt, we can love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19)..

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

Many children’s books end with, “Happily ever after.” The account of baby Moses is such a story. Perhaps it is a popular children’s story because it has a baby in the story.

3. Trace the many displays of God’s providence in this account.

Answers will vary. Examples include:

● The miracle of a healthy child being born.

● Moses’ mother being able to keep him safely hidden for three months.

● The basket being able to hold Moses safely.

● Moses being kept safe from the dangers of the Nile River.

● The princess finding him.

● The princess being willing to adopt Moses.

● The Pharaoh permitting a Hebrew baby to be raised in the palace.

● Moses’ mom being able to raise Moses as a maid.

4. List times when it has “hurt” to show love to someone.

Answers will vary. Examples include:

● Telling grown children they are living contrary to God’s will.

● Sacrificing your free time or money for the sake of someone else.

● Watching parents slowly die. It hurts to see them suffer because you love them so much.

● Seeing your children being picked on at school. Your love for them makes you hurt for and with them.

In every situation, God’s will is clear: love. We continue to love even when it tears our heart out. We love because God loves us.


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

This is the ninth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Aug. 5.

 

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Author: Joel Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: Joseph

Joseph

Joel S. Heckendorf

“What God ordains is always good.” Try saying that to a preschool mother who just found out that her husband has stage-four cancer. “What God ordains is always good.” Try saying that to a congregation president whose pastor resigned because his lifestyle is no longer above reproach. “What God ordains is always good.” Try saying that to a dad whose teenage daughter died in a rollover accident. Then duck, because you never know what they might throw at you.

As Christians, we know that bad things happen because of sin. But when bad things happen to us, our voices quickly harmonize with the skeptics, “How can a good God let bad things happen?”

Welcome to Joseph’s world (Genesis chapters 37–50). Early on, life was good. Yes, his mother died when he was a young boy, but Joseph still had big dreams. He had a loving father and 11 brothers who helped put food on the table. He dressed well, sporting a multicolored robe you’d expect to see modeled on a red carpet. But what once was a promising life, as vibrant as the coat that he donned while skipping his way to the fields, soon turned gray. Hated. Framed. Forgotten. At one point, all could have served as the title of his autobiography. But thankfully, those titles were merely chapter headings. None of them were the final chapter.

The final chapter of the Bible’s first book (Genesis 50) shares one of the great biblical lessons when it comes to dealing with difficult times. The lesson is simple: Wait. Why doesn’t God show his power over this disease? Wait. Why did God allow a congregation to endure that struggle? Wait. Why did he call that person out of this world? Wait. In other words, don’t be too quick to close the book on your autobiography. Leave room for a final chapter. In the end, you’ll see God’s providence. In the end, you’ll see that “God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

We may not always appreciate or understand how God exercises his authoritative hand. But when we look at his leading hand, the conclusion is clear: God is good, no matter the present circumstances. God is so good that he sent his Son to this world to live and die for us so that he could lead us to eternal life. If he is leading us to life, you can bet he will lead us through life. With that perspective, we no longer view things of this world as “good things” or “bad things.” They’re “God” things—things that God is using to bring us through this life to himself in heaven.

Therefore, we can say with confidence, “What God ordains is always good.”


Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s bibles?

Many children’s books end with “happily ever after.” The account of Joseph is such a story.

3. What were once difficult times in your life that you now see how God intended them for your good?

Answers will vary. After considering how God worked out difficult things in the past, consider the difficulties you are presently facing. Read Romans 8:28.

4. Read all of Genesis chapters 37–50. Trace how God used each difficulty in Joseph’s life for a blessing.

Answers will vary. Examples include:

● If Joseph’s mother hadn’t died, his father may not have spoiled him as much.

● If Joseph wouldn’t have been spoiled, his brothers wouldn’t have hated him.

● If Joseph’s brothers hadn’t hated him, they wouldn’t have sold him into slavery.

● If Joseph hadn’t been a slave, he never would have made it to Egypt, the country that would supply food for thousands of people in the whole region.

● If Joseph hadn’t been framed for a crime, he never would have met Pharaoh’s butler.

● If Pharaoh’s butler hadn’t forgotten about Joseph for two years, Joseph would have been long gone before Pharaoh needs a dream interpreter.

● If all this wouldn’t have happened, the lineage of Jesus could have been cut off, and we wouldn’t have a Savior.


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

This is the eighth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after July 5.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: Creation

Creation

Joel S. Heckendorf

I’m not looking to gain a Twitter following from Forward in Christ readers with this next statement: I don’t care for the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” Ever since my eight-year-old ears heard it played with too much vibrato on my grandmother’s in-home Hammond organ, I’ve not cared for it. When a grieving family requests it for a funeral, I say, “Wonderful,” and my face smiles, but my ears cringe.

But maybe the problem is not with the hymn. Maybe it’s me. We get so comfortable with our surroundings that unless God bedazzles the sky with some magnificent sunset, we easily take creation for granted. We don’t always see the depth of God’s wisdom, love, power, and care in creation or in the creation account of Genesis chapter 1.

The Bible clearly says its focal point is Jesus. “These [words] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31 ESV). Absolutely true. Our comfort in God’s love, power and care is wrapped up in Jesus. But there would be no words written to believe in Jesus if there wasn’t an “in the beginning.” Genesis may not clearly portray the power of the cross or the comfort of any empty tomb, but it’s the beginning of a love story . . . a relationship between God and people . . . a relationship between God and me.

On six consecutive, 24-hour days, God said and it was so. That gives us certainty concerning other things God said.

● Because God said, “Let there be there light,” and there was, I can trust Jesus when he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” (John 8:12).

● Because God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters,” and there was, I can trust God when he says Christ made us holy by “the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

● Because God said, “Let there be stars in the sky,” and it was so, I can trust God when he says you will shine like stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:3).

● Because God said, “Let birds fly above the earth,” and it was so, I can trust God when he says he will renew our strength and we will soar on wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31).

● Because God said, “Let us make mankind in our image,” and it was so, I can trust God when I stand in front of a coffin knowing that God said about my loved one, “You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

“Then sings my soul, my Savior-God to thee, ‘How great thou art! How great thou art!’ ” (Christian Worship 256).


Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story of creation in your own words. Then read the account (Genesis chapters 1–2). Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

The world is something tangible to which children relate. To learn how it all started is a natural question.

3. Which day of creation amazes you the most and why?

Answers will vary. Take time to marvel at the miracles of each day. For example, study the phenomenon of light as it travels 186,000 miles/second through the universe. Consider the different kinds or rays: ultraviolet, infrared, etc.

4. List as many things as possible that we learn about humankind in Genesis chapters 1–2.

Answers will vary. Examples include: made in the image of God, God blessed humans, ability to pro-create, ruler of creation, Eve was God’s gift to Adam, establishment of marriage, etc. In the end, might a study of creation lead us all to glorify God and say, “God loved me enough to give me this.”


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

This is the seventh article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after June 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

 

 

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

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: Ruth: Part 6

Ruth

Joel S. Heckendorf

It’s fun to dream about the future. Where will you live ten years from now? Where will your kids live? Will you be a grandparent?

Perhaps Naomi’s dreams reflected the meaning of her name—“pleasant.” She’d fall in love. Get married. Have sons to take care of her in her old age. Her sons would find some nice Jewish spouses. She’d be a grandma, and they’d live happily ever after.

What was reality? The book of Ruth tells us. Naomi falls in love and marries. She’s blessed with two sons. But then famine forces the family to move to a foreign land. Her husband dies. Her sons marry foreign women. Tragedy strikes again. Both sons die. Naomi is stuck in a foreign country with no husband, no legal heirs, and two daughters-in-law that are not bound to her. She laments, “Don’t call me ‘Pleasant’ anymore. Call me ‘Bitter’ ” (cf. Ruth 1:20).

Fast-forward and you soon learn that our God is not a God of percentages. Against all odds, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, accompanies her to Bethlehem and becomes a believer in the true God. Against all odds, a God-fearing Israelite, Boaz, buys Naomi’s land for a generous price. Against all odds, Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a son who would be the legal heir of Naomi’s late husband, assuring that she’d be taken care of in her old age.

When the local ladies saw Naomi bouncing her grandbaby on her lap, they preached a wonderful sermon, “Praise the Lord, Naomi. The Lord has not left you” (cf. Ruth 4:14). When famine drove Naomi to a foreign land, God didn’t say, “I stop at the border.” When Naomi’s husband and sons died, God did not forget her.

That boy on Naomi’s lap was God’s testimony that the Lord never stopped working. That boy would also be God’s promise that he wouldn’t stop working in the future. Twenty-eight generations later, that boy would have a descendant named Jesus.

Naomi’s life is not unique. Look back on your life. We’ve had our famines and our funerals. But God was working, wasn’t he? He worked to help you trust his promises in every setback and tragedy. You may even remember how God seemingly miraculously provided you with a month’s mortgage or next month’s tuition.

So where will you live ten years from now? Where will your kids live? Will you be a grandparent? Whether the picture you imagine ever fully develops, I can’t tell you.

But this I can say with certainty, “The Lord never stops working.”


 

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

This story has so many emotional “hooks.” Three widows, a faithful daughter-in-law, a love story, a happy ending. All play into this account’s popularity.

3. Work through the mental exercise described in the article. Think of situations where God never stopped working and turned you from “bitter” to “blessed.”

Answers will vary. Relating our story to Naomi’s story helps us appreciate and trust God’s providence.

4. List as many passages as you can that demonstrate how God continues to work in our lives.

Answers will vary. Examples include Romans 8:28; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 50:15; and 1 Corinthians 10:13.


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

This is the sixth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after May 5.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: Part 5: Daniel and the lions’ den

Joel S. Heckendorf

“God bless our native land. Firm may she ever stand.”

A Massachusetts native penned those words in 1835. But the words are a free translation of an 1815 German song. Apparently, the tune was first sung in England in 1740. In between, it was used for political songs in Denmark, France, Austria, and Russia. So which “native land” is God supposed to bless?

When we hear Daniel, a word association game may follow up with the words lions or prayer. Certainly those are major themes of this popular story (Daniel chapter 6). But don’t miss how Daniel was a blessing for the governments—yes, governments—he served.

Showing leadership potential at a young age, Daniel was ripped away from his country to serve a king hundreds of miles away. Instead of kicking and screaming, he served the king and was a blessing for a government that threw his God-fearing friends into a fiery furnace and that consulted sorcerers and astrologers.

When that Babylonian government was overthrown by the Persians 60 years later, Daniel didn’t protest, “I’m too old to help.” He didn’t grumble, “I don’t have enough energy to learn this new Medes and Persians system.” No. He served. He served so exceptionally that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.

This month, we have an obligation to pay taxes to our government. While grateful for our government, our gratitude is often challenged. It’s especially challenging when a government makes decisions and implements laws that don’t always reflect God’s will for our lives. What should we do when some laws make it more difficult to be honest about what God’s Word says? God gives us an option, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7). In other words, as you live in “Babylon,” continue to be faithful to your God and show your love for “Babylon.”

That’s what Daniel did. “He was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Daniel 6:4). He was a blessing to those around him. He let his light shine. His light was faithful, diligent service to his adopted country. He made enemies; they tried to destroy him in the lion’s den. But his light also caused some to notice his faith and his God. Darius even issued a decree saying that “in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel” (Daniel 6:26).

Perhaps it’s not the main point of the story. But as you pay your taxes this month, may the story of Daniel lead you to wrestle with these thoughts: How can I be a blessing to those in authority? How can my deeds lead others to glorify God?


 

EXPLORING THE WORD

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

As with many popular stories, the “good guy” lives and the “bad guys” die. In addition, the miracle of surviving an overnight stay in the lions’ den would seem to be a remarkable feat for children.

 

3. Agree or disagree: We encourage too much time to be spent with fellow Christians instead of letting our light shine for others.

Your personal situation will differ. Point is, we will want a balance. God warns, “Bad company corrupts good character,” but also encourages us to be light to the world. Looking at how Daniel was able to positively influence the king is a model for us to be a shining light in society.

4. Name at least three lessons you can learn about prayer from Daniel’s example?

Answers may vary. Perhaps most amazing is the content of Daniel’s prayer. He “gave thanks, just as he had done before.” Through Jesus, we have reason to give thanks in all circumstances. Other lessons to learn from Daniel include his humility (kneeled) and his regular prayer life (three times a day).


 

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

This is the fifth article in a ten-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after April 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: David and Goliath: Part: 4

Great stories of the Bible: David & Goliath

Joel S. Heckendorf

Rudy. Hoosiers. Moneyball. Miracle. Karate Kid. Cool Runnings. Rocky. What do all these sport movies have in common? Against all odds, the underdog wins.

We love such movies. But we don’t just love the big-screen stories; we also cheer for the underdog in life. We cheer for the “Cinderella” team in the NCAA basketball tournament. Underdog victories are heartwarming and motivational.

David and Goliath is the ultimate underdog story (1 Samuel chapter 17). Standing at six cubits and a span (about 9’6”), Goliath towered over David by about four feet. The giant’s 126-pound armor weighed almost the same as his opponent. The iron tip of his spear was as heavy as a bowling ball. David had five smooth stones from a stream. To say the Vegas odds were against this sling-shooting shepherd is quite the understatement. And Goliath knew it. Shaking his massive head in disbelief at the boy coming to meet him in the valley, the Philistine’s pride pumped his armored chest out just a bit more.

But you know what happened next. Pride goes before the fall. One stone. That’s all it took. One stone to the head, and the giant fell.

David vs. Goliath isn’t just a clash between a boy with a peach-fuzzed face and a man’s man. It wasn’t just a battle between a sling and a sword. The battle didn’t belong to David. “The battle is the LORD’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). Goliath’s sarcasm was true . . . he was a dog in this battle. Against the Lord, Goliath was the underdog.

We often go through life with an underdog mentality. With chips on our shoulders we are out to prove something. We want to “be a David.” Self-help books encourage us to “be a David” as we face our giants. But this popular story is not about being the hero. If David walked into the valley alone, he would have died there. Don’t try to be a David; rather see David’s greater Son. See Jesus, the Son of David.

Although he didn’t look like much, Jesus, the Son of David, has taken down bigger giants than Goliath. When the devil tempted him in the desert, Jesus slung the smooth stone of his Word at this mighty foe. When sin towered over Jesus and pinned him to the cross, what did Jesus do? With his words, “It is finished,” he hurled a stone and struck sin in the head, knocking it to the ground. Three days later, when death thought it had Jesus defeated, Jesus burst through the stone of the tomb and cut off death’s head.

The big giants have been defeated. Therefore, little giants in our life don’t stand a chance. No matter what you are facing, you are always the favorite because “the battle is the LORD’s.”

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

We are inspired by David because we often see ourselves as the underdog. But hopefully we now see that with the Lord we are never the underdog.

3. What can we learn from David when Saul told him he couldn’t fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:33)?

David looked at victories he had in the past. So, too, as we look at the challenges of our future, may we remember how the Lord has provided in the past.


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

This is the fourth article in a 10-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after March 5.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: The birth of Jesus: Part 3

The birth of Jesus

Joel S. Heckendorf

Crystal-like snowflakes gently cascading over a world filled with celebrations and camaraderie. A snow-globe world where everything stays in place as the music gently plays. Our view of the world at Christmas is often fantasized. Even now, you can remember the smell of the chestnuts roasting and the notes of yuletide carols.

JESUS’ LOVE

The details of Luke chapter 2 remind us that Jesus came to a real world. “In those days, Caesar Augustus . . .” “Those days” were peppered with political scandals, assassination plots, war schemes, military drafts, taxation, and more. Would you want to come to a world like that?

Our real world isn’t much better. Jockeying for position in politics, family, or business. Misguided spirituality. Pride. Anger. Living in the past. Taxes. War. Money. All of these make for a messy world. But if all we concluded this past Christmas is that Jesus came to a messy world and our world is messy, we missed the full beauty of Christmas.

It’s not just the world that is “messed up.” It’s us. I don’t mean that generically, as if to say, “We’re all sinners.” I mean it personally. I admit that pride, anger, greed, jealousy, and envy mess me up—and you too. Even when we do something nice like signing and sending a thoughtful card or paying it forward at Starbucks, what was going on in our minds? “That was nice of me.” How quickly we get self-absorbed.

And yet, as messed up as the world is and as messed up as we are, God came. Why? There’s only one answer: love. That’s what blows me away about Christmas. Not the angels. Not the shepherds. Not the virgin birth. That Jesus came to this world shows us his incomparable, inexhaustible love.

It doesn’t have to be December 25 to marvel at that expression of love. Write on your mirror, “God came to earth for me.” Corrupt-hearted me. When we see how desperate we are, we see what a Deliverer he is. That Jesus came to this world shows us his love.

JESUS’ COMMITMENT

“While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born” (Luke 2:6). I’ve yet to hear a mascot cheer, “We’re the mighty, mighty Infants!” But that’s how God came—as an infant. The God who holds the world in his hands had to be held by a teenage girl. What kind of weak God is this? Soon you’ll marvel at the strength and determination of Jesus as you watch him walk to Calvary. Those steps were only possible because God came into our world as a baby. God said, “I’m all in.” There was no turning back. How God came to this world shows his commitment.

That commitment doesn’t stop. That Jesus had a human hand shows he is committed to always hold yours. That he had human hair shows he’s committed to care for you, right down to the hairs on your head. His human feet shows he’s committed to walk with you wherever you go. That God came as a lowly human and was laid in a manger in our world shows just how committed he is to take us to his mansions where he made room for us.


 

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

The sentimentality of Christmas. Seeing “baby” Jesus it seems fitting and relatable for a children’s Bible.

3. “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4). Why was this a “good” time for Jesus to enter the world?

Readers are encouraged to read up on their history of the time. While we can never fully understand God’s timing, the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) when Jesus was born would allow for the faster spread of the gospel. It also may have contributed to a longing for a Messiah, even though the people were looking more for an earthly Messiah than a spiritual one.

4. God came to earth in other ways. List them. Why is this one different?

God revealed himself in many different ways: a voice, visions, dreams, pillar of fire/cloud, a human body, whirlwind, whisper, casting of lots, etc. By becoming human, not only was it a permanent revelation (as Jesus still is true God and true man), it was the fullest revelation of who God is. See John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

 

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

This is the third article in a 10-part series on the top ten stories included in children’s Bibles and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Feb. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 02
Issue: February 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: The Battle of Jericho: Part 2

The Battle of Jericho

Joel S. Heckendorf

The stadium sound system played the familiar trumpet prelude. Then the stadium roared, “CHARGE!” as the slugger stepped to the plate.

The boys were ready. They shouted, “Da-da-da-dah-da-dah! CHARGE!” Running forward, they raided their fellow neighbors’ snow fort.

If only ballfield and backyard “battles” were our only worries.

Joshua knew significant battles awaited God’s people as they approached the Promised Land. What was Joshua thinking as he peered at the mighty walls of Jericho, the first city God’s people would have to conquer? Perhaps he was drawing up battle plans. Perhaps he was dreaming up his “da-da-da-dah-da-dah” speech to inspire the soldiers to charge. Whatever was going on in his mind, Joshua’s thoughts were soon halted as the real “commander of the army of the Lord” stood before him (Joshua 5:13, 14).

Joshua initiated the conversation, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither.”

At first, this seems to be an unsettling answer. But as the battle of Jericho plays out, the commander’s answer provides a tremendous lesson for any battle we face.

Read Joshua 5:13–6:27.

Remember who’s in charge

In his mercy, God has tremendously blessed us with gifts and abilities. He encourages us to utilize those gifts as we plan for the future. Our plans are influenced by God’s Word and the wisdom of Christian advisors. We often ask God to bless our plans. But in the midst of these God-pleasing actions, it’s easy to forget that our plans are just that—our plans.

Which is why God’s reminder to Joshua is so timely. Joshua was a faithful follower of the Lord. Four decades earlier, he was confident that God would give them victory in the land of the giants (Numbers chapter 14). That was as a spy; now he’s the leader. Even though his position was God-appointed, he could have felt the pressure: It’s up to you, Joshua, to lead the people to victory! No, it wasn’t. God was in charge, not Joshua.

As we face “battles” or new endeavors, the question is not, “God, are you with us? God, will you bless our plans?”

The real question comes from God, “Are you with me?”

God’s in charge. By nature that is not an easy thing to say. That’s not a natural way to live. But it’s the truth, and it brings us so much comfort to know he’s in charge

Remember God’s victory is assured

The old spiritual says the walls of Jericho came tumbling down because Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. Unfortunately, the lyrics don’t match the lesson. Before outlining the strategy for Joshua, before Joshua relayed the strategy to the soldiers, before the soldiers laced up their boots or the priests readied their trumpets, the Lord said, “See, I have given Jericho into your hands, with its king and its fighting men” (Joshua 6:2). Not “will give,” but “have given.” God speaks. His action follows. God declared victory, and the walls fell. Singlehandedly, the Lord achieved victory. Joshua and his troops simply received victory.

God’s victories aren’t limited to Joshua. He also won a battle for you. On the cross, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.” Not “will be” but “is.” With his last breath, the strife was over and the battle was won. Singlehandedly, the Lord achieved victory, and the just judge of heaven and earth declared us “not guilty.” Because of Jesus, the wall of sin that separated us from eternal life with him came tumbling down.

As a result, when that last trumpet sounds, “Da-da-da-dah-da-daaah,” we can joyously shout, “CHARGE!” as we enter into our Promised Land.


 

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. Typically, people may not mention Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s army.

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

Answers will vary. Anything that includes a miracle is fascinating story-telling. Likewise, children’s books lean toward stories where the “good guy” wins.

3. Give other examples of “God speaks. His action follows.” What comfort does this provide?

From the very beginning, we see the power of God’s Word. At creation, “God said,” and it was. God told Noah there would be a flood, and there was. God also told Noah there would never be such a flood again. To this day, his Word holds true. Or consider the many prophecies concerning the coming Savior. God said it would happen and it did. Apply God’s 100 percent fulfillment of his Word, and we have tremendous comfort as we look at all his promises to us (e.g., “Never will I leave you,” “I will give you hope and a future,” etc.)

4. Explain what it means to say we fight from victory instead for victory.

There is a tremendous difference if the tune we sing for this story is “I’m in the Lord’s Army” instead of “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” Being in the Lord’s army is fighting from victory. To realize that we have the Commander who defeated death gives us confidence, no matter the battles we face on a daily basis. If the emphasis is fighting for victory, we will likely overemphasize our role or we will needlessly worry.

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

This is the second article in a 10-part series on the top ten stories include in children’s Bible and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Jan. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 103, Number 01
Issue: January 2016

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

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Great stories of the Bible: Crossing the Red Sea: Part 1

Crossing of the Red Sea

Joel S. Heckendorf

To the east . . . the Red Sea. To the west . . . the powerful Egyptian army breathing down their necks. How did the people of Israel get themselves between this rock and hard place? More important, what would they do now?

Read Exodus 13:17–15:21.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Culminating in the Passover, God sent a series of amazing plagues that loosened Pharaoh’s grip, allowing Israel to escape Egypt. With eye-popping excitement, an Israelite could divulge details of how they arrived at the banks of the Red Sea. The frogs. The locusts. The darkness.

But the plagues were in preparation for the trip. God’s pillar of cloud did not follow the GPS-recommended route from Egypt to the Promised Land. In fact, the most natural, straight-line route didn’t require the crossing of any water. God went out of his way to lead them to the Red Sea. God knew his people. He knew what he wanted for them. And God knew he needed to guide his people to a point where they had no choice but to depend on him.

God knows you. God knows what he wants for you. And God knows the easiest path is not always the best path to get you there. The Christian life is not lived in straight lines. At times God deals us detours. Sometimes those detours lead us right between a rock and a hard place.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

When the Israelites looked up and saw the Egyptians marching after them, they wanted to go back. They thought being slaves in Egypt was better than the situation that God had presented. Wisely, their God-appointed leader, Moses, encouraged, “Wait.”

God’s delays are not denials. He knows what he’s doing even when it appears that we are hemmed in or pinned down. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm. . . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13,14).

Easier said than done. Like Israel, it’s so easy for us to blame God for leading us to difficult situations. It’s easy to think, “If only I hadn’t followed the Lord.” Fellow Christian, do not be afraid. “Stand firm. . . . The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

For the Israelites, God split the sea in front of them. The situation that once spelled doom now spelled deliverance. But notice where God was. He led them to the difficult situation. But then the angel of God and pillar of cloud went behind them (Exodus 14:19) to protect them.

You can have that same confidence. When God leads you to a difficult situation and you’re too afraid to put your toes in the water, know that the Lord who brought you there will move your forward and protect you. No matter what enemies pursue or what walls stand in front, know that the Lord already stretched out his hands to bring you to the real Promised Land.

Exploring the Word

1. Tell the story in your own words. Then read the account. Which details did you omit or mistakenly add?

Answers will vary. If studying in a group, split up into smaller groups and see how many different details are included in the exercise. Why do you think some details made every list and other details didn’t make any lists?

2. Why do you think this story is one of the most popular stories included in children’s Bibles?

It’s action-packed and dramatic. Miracles are popular stories to include in children’s Bibles as they help gain attention.

3. What does this account teach about the difference between fear and faith?

Fear is when we can’t see God through our circumstances. Faith is when we see our circumstances through God. When we know that our God loves us and is powerful, wise, and trustworthy, we will be better prepared to handle rock-and-hard place situations.

4. Read Psalm 27:14. Relate any biblical or personal examples when you’ve “wait[ed] for the Lord”?

Psalm 27:14—“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart.” Biblical examples may include Joseph in Egypt, Job, David while being pursued by Saul, Noah and the flood, Ruth, etc.

5. “Move. Pray. Move.” Apply God’s directive in Exodus 14:15 to your life.

God invites us to pray, but he also encourages us to move forward with the opportunities he presents in life. For example, if we’re praying for a job and he gives us the opportunity to develop skills for a particular job, God doesn’t want us to simply pray. He also wants us to utilize the gifts that he has given us. Even in a perfect world, God gave Adam and Eve activities to carry out (Genesis 1:28). At the same time, we humbly go forward with a “God-willing” attitude and seek to glorify him in whatever we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).

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

This is the first article in a 12-part series on the popular children’s Bible stories and how they apply to our lives today. Find answers online after Dec. 5 at wels.net/forwardinchrist.


 

Next month: The battle of Jericho

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

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

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