Portraits of a Mature Christian: Unconditional Love in All Relationships

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Portraits of a Mature Christian

Unconditional Love in All Relationships

“What makes a Christian home different than a worldly one?” I once posed that question to a small group Bible study. One woman said that in a Christian home people respect each other more than in a worldly one. But I know some pagan homes where they respect each other quite well. Another said, “In a Christian home the people follow the Ten Commandments.” That’s true but many worldly people try to follow the Ten Commandments too. One person said that Christians have faith and worldly people don’t. Yes, but lots of people in the world have faith, even though it is the wrong faith. Finally, one mature woman said, “In the Christian home people have God’s unconditional love to share with one another.” She was right. Unconditional love is a defining mark of a Christian’s life. Scripture shares several examples of people who showed unconditional love toward others, including Jesus, the apostle Paul, and David and Jonathan. But one of the most revealing examples of unconditional love appears in the life of Joseph in the last few chapters of Genesis. Joseph had been deeply hurt by many people. His brothers tried to kill him and then sold him into slavery. That would be enough to catapult anyone into lifelong bitterness. Then, Potiphar’s wife framed Joseph for doing the right thing. Add the story of how Pharaoh’s cupbearer forgot Joseph in prison. Talk about traumatic stress! Joseph’s life could have been defined by deep sorrow and bitterness over, betrayal and neglect. But it wasn’t. Ultimately, Joseph forgave everyone who hurt him. After his rise to power he showed his true colors. True character shines through in how we handle our successes as much as failures.  Study Joseph’s words below when he revealed himself to his brothers after being away for over 20 years. Joseph shows what unconditional love looks like. God enables us to have that same kind of love for those who hurt us. But first, if you do not know Joseph’s story well, read Genesis 37, 39–44. Then, focus your attention on Genesis 45:115 and answer the following questions. 
 
Genesis 45:5-7
“Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”  
 
POINTS TO PONDER 1. Name at least three good reasons Joseph had for nursing a grudge against his brothers? 1. His brothers had robbed him of precious years with family that he could never get back. 2. His brothers had sold him even though he begged them for mercy as their dear brother. 3. Joseph had dreams from God that confirmed that Joseph was supposed to rise to power so he could mistakenly justify a grudge because God was on his side. 4. Joseph’s brothers were still rascals and that fact alone could make him hate them. 
 
2. On whose anger did Joseph focus in verse 5? Why is this odd to human ears? He focused on their anger at themselves for having made such a mess of his life and that of their whole family. This is odd because usually the one who has been hurt spends most of his time focusing on his own pain and anger. 
 
3. Single out Joseph’s words to his brothers in verses 1-15. How did Joseph know God loved him unconditionally?  Verse 5: … do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.   
 
Verse 7: God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 
 
Verse 8: So then, it was not you who sent me here but God. He made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 
 
Joseph knew God loved him unconditionally because God had guided his whole life through many troubles even though Joseph was a sinner like other sinners. Joseph saw God’s gracious hand using his life for the good of others. 
 
4. What recurring theme in Joseph’s words shows how he received power to forgive his brothers long before they made any apology? God sent me ahead of you.  
 
 Joseph knew he could let go of control of his life and emotions because his whole life’s story was not his own but God’s. God was behind the evil acts of his brothers to make something much bigger out it all. How could Joseph be angry about his little dreams now that he saw God’s dream unfolding? 
 
5. What is the secret of forgiveness for a Christian?  The secret of forgiveness is to realize that God forgiven you completely in Christ. When you live out your life at the foot of the cross beholding Jesus who died to give you his forgiveness, then you live to share that forgiveness with others. Then you are also free to consider how the hurts others cause you work into God’s plan to make your life a blessing to them and others. The bigger picture provided by the loving God empowers you to forgive them.   FRUIT TO BEAR 1. Jesus has given each of us the same power to forgive as he gave Joseph. How has he done that? In the gospel and the sacraments (Baptism and Lord’s Supper) we have received, Jesus has shown us unconditional love, and we were the ones who hurt him. Once we realize that his forgiveness is totally free and that is comes to us in spite of our selfishness (Romans 5:8) then you get it—that forgiveness is something we give others because the forgiving Lord Jesus lives in our hearts and not because we think they deserve it. 
 
2. Who has hurt you the deepest in life? Type that person an e-mail that sounds like Joseph’s words here. Include how God’s love and direction in your life have enabled you to forgive. Have someone you trust check your e-mail for true forgiveness. By writing this e-mail you will be able to rethink how God has taken the hurt this person has caused you and made good things come out of it for you and others. And if you actually send it, you will help this other person get a tangible example of God’s love in Christ is at work in the world around him or her.   
 
3. Share at least three ways forgiveness reveals itself in a Christian home. 1. The people in the home are tender and loving toward each other even after many years of living together. 2. In their ongoing relationship they do not bring up past hurts in order to punish, manipulate, or guilt each other into doing things they want them to do.  3. They look forward to spending time together and provide support and encouragement for each other throughout life. 4. They are good at resolving any conflicts they may have. 
 
4. Explain this statement: Forgiveness is a posture before it is an event. Forgiveness is an attitude that we as Christians have in our hearts because of Jesus Christ. It exists there in our hearts before anyone would dare to hurt us. So, when they happen to hurt us, we share the love and forgiveness that are already there. The event is preceded by the power of God’s love that is already there. You can see this in the life of Joseph. He had been filled with love and forgiveness long before his brothers showed up. 
 
Related Scripture verses Matthew 6:14,15
John 13:35 Romans 12:14-21 1 Corinthians 13 Ephesians 4:32 Colossians 3:13
 
Contributing editor Donald Patterson is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas. 
 
This is the fourth article in a 12-part series on Christian maturity.  
 Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © February 2010 reprinted with permission. 

Portraits of a Mature Christian: A Sense of Mission for Christ 

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Portraits of a Mature Christian

A Sense of Mission for Christ

A 50-year-old woman sat weeping in her pastor’s study. “Pastor, I just feel so worthless,” she said. “I centered my whole life around my three children, and now that they are married and have their own lives, they don’t seem to need me at all. What am I going to do?”  What happened to this dear mother? Feeling that you have no purpose happens all the time to all kinds of people. But God has given each of us a purpose that transcends every change in our lives. Our purpose is to help make disciples for Jesus until we take our final breath.  There is a neat little story at the end of John’s gospel in which Jesus took the time to remind Peter and his friends of their true purpose in life. It comes after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter was in Galilee, and he said to his friends, “I’m going fishing.” They replied. “We’ll go with you.” It all seemed innocent enough, just some guys going fishing, right? Only God could see their hearts. They were floundering a bit. So, Jesus made sure they caught nothing that night. Just like when they were first called to fish for men, they fished all night and caught nothing. Then Jesus appeared and told them to cast the nets on the other side of the boat. Not much of a fishing tip, but as they pulled in the bursting nets they knew it was the risen Lord Jesus on the shore. What followed was a wonderful conversation where Jesus called Peter back to his life purpose—feeding God’s sheep and lambs.  God wants every Christian to live with mission and purpose. He left us to bring the gospel to this lost world. Maturing Christians understand that there is no greater purpose for which to live.  Before you go any further, get your Bible and read the story in John 21:1-19. After reading it, answer the questions below.  
 
John 21:15: When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”    Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 
1. Why do you think Jesus made sure the disciples did not catch any fish that night?  Just like when he first called them in Luke 5, Jesus wanted his disciples to come to the end of themselves and to realize that they were totally dependant on him for everything. So, they could not control their own success at fishing, nor were they supposed to get their significance in life from their fishing prowess. Instead he was re-calling them to be fishers of men. His forgiveness covered their past failures, and he still had work for them to do. 
 
2. Why do you think Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him? It is hard to overlook that Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times. It may have been to help Peter see that he was forgiven. It may also have been to emphasize for Peter and the others that if they truly loved Jesus who had saved them so selflessly then the way they could show that love was by being totally committed to the care and salvation of souls the way that Jesus was. 
 
3. What do you think the “these” are in the question, “Do you love me more than these”? It could be the other disciples because Peter had said that even if all the others would run away that he would never leave Jesus and then he denied knowing him. Or the “these” could also mean the nets, the boats, and fishing. This second example seems to fit the context better. 
 
4. What purpose did Jesus give Peter that superseded his job and his hobbies? Answer: Jesus was giving Peter the purpose in life to care for the souls of Jesus’ people both in outreach and nurture. Jesus was reinstating Peter and re-commissioning his life to the spiritual care of others. 
 
 
FRUITS TO BEAR  1. Name three pursuits that tempt you to make them the number one purpose in your life.  1. Often the desire to be entertained in our affluent society tempts us away from serving Jesus (i.e. movies, television, video games, hunting, golf, tennis, fishing, skateboarding, etc.) 2. Sometimes it is the constant clamor inside to make more money so we can keep up with the materialism around us. 3. Sometimes it is the pursuit of prominence and power at work or among friends that distracts us from serving them with God’s Word. 4. Peer pressure. 
 
2. Not all people are gifted to teach and lead like Peter, but how does this story still apply to you no matter who you are?  
I can draw from this story that Jesus wants me to support the work of his church to care for souls by using whatever gifts, talents, time, abilities, and influences I can to advance his Word in the lives of people. It may be that by supporting a teacher more gifted than me that I help reach others for Christ.  
 
3. List at least five ways any Christian can fulfill his or her life purpose no matter what stage in life. 1. By praying for others. 2. By sharing God’s Word in cards and e-mails. 3. By inviting people to church. 4. By sharing Bibles, books, DVDs, CDs, and other Christian media with people who need it. 5. By encouraging and supporting others who preach and teach God’s Word. 6. By witnessing from our sick bed or any other place God puts us.   4. Try to think of the person in your life who seems to live consistently with a sense of mission for Christ. Write that person a letter sharing how much his or her missionmindedness has helped you. By writing this letter you will help yourself to see how the mission-mindedness of others affects you. You will also help this person continue on in his mission to reach the world for Christ.   
 
Other verses about mission-minded living ● 1 Corinthians 15:58 ● Matthew 28:19,20 ● Philippians 1:19-26
 
Contributing editor Donald Patterson is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas. 
 
This is the third article in a 12-part series on Christian maturity. 
 Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © January 2010 reprinted with permission.  
 

Portraits of a Mature Christian: Knowing He is at Peace With God

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Portraits of a Mature Christian

A mature Christian knows that he is at peace with God. 

In the corner of the fitness room stood a life-size cardboard picture of a man with the perfect body. I stared at it a few seconds and thought, “I’ll never look like that.” I’m a realist. On the bright side, at least I was in the gym. I might not ever be the poster boy for fitness, but I can improve my health. That’s my goal: to improve, not be perfect.  When some Christians think about growing into spiritual maturity, they feel the same way. They see Jesus in the gospels and think, “I could never be like that.” They’re right. They can never be perfect. Only Jesus is perfect. That’s why we trust in him.  But we can grow and mature. What else would we want to do? Growing in Christian maturity honors the One who saved us. With this Bible study we begin a 12-part series on the portraits of a mature Christian. In each study we’ll look at a distinguishing mark of a mature Christian and consider what it takes to become a portrait of maturity ourselves.  
 
Peace with God through Christ The first mark of a mature Christian is that he knows that he is at peace with God. Jesus’ life mission was to make peace for us with God. Those who listened carefully to him understood this. Do you remember the story about the woman who barged into a Pharisee’s home where Jesus was eating dinner and washed his feet with tears and expensive perfume? The Pharisee was so religious that he hadn’t heard Jesus when he promised peace with God. But this woman heard him. She had longed for peace in her troubled conscience. Up until she met Jesus, nothing settled her troubled soul. Once she realized that Jesus himself was her peace, she had to show him her appreciation. So many men had come to her to take. No man had ever come into her life to give so much. The irony to the story is that to most people it was the Pharisee who looked mature. After all, he was so religious. No one would have thought that the sinful woman was more mature than he was, but she was.  Before you go any further, pick up your Bible and read the story in Luke 7:36-50. Pay careful attention to verses 48-50. The questions that follow are a personal spiritual workout to help you live in peace. 
 
Luke 7:48-50: 48Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  49The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  50Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  
 
POINTS TO PONDER 1. Why did Simon criticize Jesus for allowing this woman to gush over him? In verse 39 Simon says that if Jesus were a prophet he would not let her touch him because she was so sinful. He felt Jesus was not concerned over true righteousness. For Simon true righteousness was keeping oneself ceremonially clean and avoiding people who lived sinful lives. He thought he was earning God’s favor for trying so hard to be “clean.” He failed to see that Jesus had cleansed him and this woman by being their Savior. 
 
2. What reason did Jesus give Simon for her actions? He told Simon that she was gushing over him because she knew how much Jesus had forgiven her and she was honoring Jesus for the peace he brought to her.  
 
3. Why do you think Jesus said, “Go in peace,” and not “Now, go and sin no more”? She was remorseful for her sins. She needed to be told at that moment that she was forgiven. The fact that she had just spent expensive perfume on Jesus showed that she was ready to go and live a changed life to glorify God, empowered by God’s love.  
 
4. How would this moment with Jesus help this woman live free from her past? No doubt she would often reflect on the sins of her past and have regrets but instead of swimming in them she would remember the day that Jesus himself had told her that she was forgiven. 
 
FRUIT TO BEAR 1. Describe how a person filled with Christ’s peace lives and acts. Here are just a few things. Someone who is freed from guilt before God will learn not to use guilt to motivate others. He also will not hang his head in shame all the time. That person is confident that life has been given back to him and that he will have good works that God has prepared in advance for him to do. When that person hears the name of Jesus, he will smile, knowing that he is forgiven by Jesus himself.  
 
2. What are some things we Christians do that sometimes make us lose the peace we have in Christ? Sometimes Christians forget that the forgiveness we have is the most important gift from God. Then we can get so caught up in trying to be good and religious that we become judgmental of ourselves and others. Also, we can get so busy with the good things God has given us to do for him that we become like Martha in Luke 10 and get angry over the hard work it takes to serve. We can also fall into sinful habits that increase our guilt and shame. Without a clear view of the good news, our sins, after coming to faith, can still bury us. 
 
3. Explain this statement to someone: “No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace!” If we do not have Jesus in our lives, we will not have the peace he brings. No other religion or philosophy can take away sins and the guilt they produce. Once you truly know Jesus as your Savior you know by experience what peace really is.  
 
4. Think of someone you know who tends to beat himself or herself up over sins. How will you use the story in Luke 7 to free that loved one from the chains of guilt? You could get your friend to read this story with you and then ask him what he thinks his sins were. Then ask how many times he thinks he committed them. Then ask him to close his eyes and picture Jesus sitting right there with him. Have him tell Jesus how sorry he is, and then, while he listens, you tell him what Jesus told this woman: “Your sins are forgiven. . . .  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Tell him to remember your moment together each time he gets caught up in berating himself. 
 
Contributing editor Don Patterson is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas. 
 
This is the first article in a 12-part series on Christian maturity.  
 
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © November 2009 reprinted with permission.  

Portraits of a Mature Christian: An aptitude for using the Scriptures properly

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Portraits of a Mature Christian

An aptitude for using the Scriptures properly

When I was about 19 years old I ran across this passage, 1 Corinthians 11:21: “For as
you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry,
another gets drunk.” Shortly after reading that passage, I proudly announced to a
group of friends, “Did you know that the Bible teaches that you should wait for
everyone else to get their food before eating?” They stared at me curiously since I had
made such a grand statement about such a small matter. But none of them knew the
Bible any better than I did so it was difficult for them to critique my unsolicited
knowledge. Later that evening I went back to find the passage I had quoted, and I
checked the context. The passage isn’t really about table manners as much as it is about
manners regarding the Lord’s Supper. I had highjacked the verse and made it say what
I thought it should say. I was embarrassed.


This “highjacking” of God’s Word happens a lot. People look in the Bible to see if they
can make it say what they want it to say instead of what God wants it to say. The result
is confusion and false teaching. God doesn’t want to be misunderstood or have his
words taken out of context any more than we do. In his Word, he says exactly what he
wants us to know. When we change that, we misrepresent him to ourselves and others.
There is too much at stake. Many have lost their eternal salvation because they followed
teachers who used the Bible but who were not really telling what it says. Mature
Christians work hard at handling God’s Word correctly.


The apostle Paul told his young pastor friend Timothy this very same thing. Timothy
was responsible for teaching a lot of people in and around Ephesus. If he misused God’s
Word it would affect many souls. So Paul impressed on Timothy that before teaching he
had to slow down and study God’s Word well, so that he would not misrepresent God
and later become ashamed of it. Look at how Paul said it:
2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be
ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

POINTS TO PONDER

1. Why do you think Paul said that when Timothy was teaching he was presenting
himself to God?
God is everywhere and is watching all of us. Imagine if you were teaching American
history about the Civil War and Abe Lincoln were sitting in the room. How would that
change the way you prepared to teach your class? You’d be more careful to speak the
truth and not your own imagination, wouldn’t you? Every Christian who is witnessing for
God is doing so with him in the room. We need to get it right. We are presenting
ourselves to him as his representatives. So, we need to handle his Word the way he
wishes. We will also teach in a more Christlike fashion when we remember that God is
with us while we are teaching.


2. Why is it so important for a Bible teacher to make sure that everything he or she
teaches is truly biblical teaching?
It is important to make sure our teaching is truly biblical because we represent God and
the souls of our listeners are at stake. If we teach them something false it will have tragic
results in their lives. They will miss out on everything God wants for them, and they could
even miss out on salvation if we don’t teach God’s plan of salvation correctly.


3. What exactly does it mean to “correctly handle the word of truth”?
It means to study every passage in its context to see what it was actually saying to the
original readers. It means to properly apply the truth of that passage to our modern
listeners without saying more or less than it was saying to the original readers. It means
keeping in mind the time and place of the passage so we don’t take Old Testament laws
for Israel and make them apply to the church. It means proclaiming the law to convict
sinners and to direct their spiritual life of faith. It means showing the beautiful gospel as
the final solution to all spiritual dilemmas instead of man’s effort and work. It means
keeping law and gospel in their proper places and not mixing them and distorting God’s
truth. It means teaching the stories of the Bible as real stories instead of myths or
allegories. It means letting the supernatural God be who he says he is without trying to
make all that he says and does fit our reason. It means first figuring out what the Bible is
truly saying and then truly saying it the way it was intended.


4. When the truth is handled correctly, what happens for the hearers?
When the Bible is handled correctly it saves souls. It changes lives. It purifies evil and
guilt from their souls. It corrects, rebukes, and trains in righteousness. It makes them into
the people God wants them to be.

TREASURES TO SHARE


1. What are some simple guidelines we can follow to help ourselves understand
God’s Word correctly?
First of all, read an introduction to the book in which you are reading to get the
historical background to the book. Then read the chapter before and after the chapter in
which you are working. Then read the passages right before and after the passage. Then
write out what the passage is saying in your own words and compare it to the passage
itself. Then look for other related passages in Scripture to see if they help you better
understand your passage. Then write down all the modern situations that this passage
could speak to. Finally, ask yourself, “What does this passage teach regarding our Lord
Jesus Christ and the salvation he has won for us?”


2. How does the context before and after a passage help us properly understand the
passage itself?
The context will give you background to your passage. It will help you see the major
subject being treated. You will learn more about the train of thought and the genre of
Scripture in which you are reading. It will help you see what the author was saying
rather than what you want him to be saying. The context will show you the bigger picture
instead of the small idea in the one passage. It will help you avoid saying your own
thoughts instead of God’s.


3. List as many passages that you can think of that have been taken out of their
context.
This is a personal journal of your own experiences. Think back over all the discussions
you have had with friends and family over Scripture. What passages have been misused?
Lots of times people inappropriately apply Old Testament Jewish laws to modern
Christians when some of those laws were meant to become obsolete when Jesus came.
Others will try to find license to sin by twisting a passage or by teaching from the silence
of Scripture. Still others make the Word more of a rulebook than a testimony to God’s
grace in Christ. If you discuss your list with others, it will be a fruitful conversation.


4. Take a passage of Scripture and study it well in its context. Then write a devotion
about that passage and send it in an e-mail to your friends and family. Ask them to
respond by telling what they learned from it.

If you study the context around a passage and then the passage itself you will get to know
what it is saying. Then you can apply it to others. In your devotion make sure you
introduce the passage by giving its background first and then by presenting its truth and
then by applying its truth to our lives. Follow that order, and people will be able to see
your train of thought coming out of God’s Word, and they will grow in faith because of
your efforts.


Related Scripture passages
Isaiah 8:20
Hebrews 4:12
John 8:31-32
1 Peter 4:11
2 Corinthians 4:2
2 Peter 1:19
2 Peter 3:16


Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © April 2010 reprinted with permission.

Portraits of a Mature Christian

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Portraits of a Mature Christian

A mature Christian has a deep trust in the power of Jesus’ gospel.
Donald W. Patterson


An elderly gentleman took his grandson into the workshop to make a birdhouse. After
measuring the boards Grandpa put one in the vice, started a half inch cut at the place he
had marked, and handed the saw to his little subcontractor. The boy bit his lip and
began sawing back and forth with all his might. Suddenly, his wild strokes made the
saw bind up and bend sharply to one side. Grandpa smiled, wrapped his hands around
the boy’s, and said, “You don’t need to work so hard. Trust the saw to do the work for
you.” Together they sawed slowly and gently. Then Grandpa let go, and the boy kept
cutting as the saw sailed right through the wood. “Trust the saw to do the work,” he
kept telling himself.


Often we Christians are like that little boy. Making rules and New Year’s resolutions
for ourselves often produces quick changes, but they lack the power to help us
persevere. We end up feeling guiltier than before. “How to” programs often fail to
propel us after the newness has worn off. Instead we must learn to trust the Lord’s
“saw” to do the work it was designed to do. His saw is the gospel of Jesus’ love for us.
Once learned, it becomes a strong force that works through us to make us capable of
doing great things.


Many of Paul’s letters are sprinkled with insights into how the gospel enlightens us
and fills us with the power to conquer sinful habits, overcome the chains of guilt, and
free us to love the unlovable. Mature Christians learn to trust the gospel of Jesus to
work through them instead of pushing so hard with human strength. The passage from
Titus can help us discover how the gospel of Jesus is a power we can trust to transform
us and make us eager to do good works for God.


Titus 2:11-14:
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope –the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to what is good.

POINTS TO PONDER


1. What does Paul say the gospel teaches us? How does it do that?
The gospel teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. It does this by freeing
not only from the guilt of our sins but the desire to sin. When we come to faith in God who loved us so much that he gave us his Son to cleanse us from our sins, we actually don’t want to sin like we used to. Instead we want to remain clean because we like it. We also love him so much we want to do what makes him happy. It is not a fear of breaking rules and reaping the consequences that motivates us. Instead it is the power of love for God that works within us.
2. According to verse 14, what did Jesus redeem us from? What did he redeem us
for? He redeemed us from all wickedness that held us like slaves. He redeemed us for living a pure life for him as we are eager to do what is good.
3. What picture in the verb “redeem” helps us understand that being saved includes
having our status as a weak sinner changed into a powerful free saint?
In this passage, to be redeemed means to be purchased from a slave master by someone who
pays a ransom for you. God is saying that Jesus spent his own blood to win our release from sins and the guilt and death they earn for us. Once he has purchased us, he takes us to himself and makes us his children. We are no longer slaves but real family members. As family members and heirs of his estate on earth and in heaven we have a new status. We do not have to be ruled by sin any longer. We are free to live for God.
4. Compare Romans 6:1-14 to this passage. What role does our baptism play in our
ability to do good works for God? When we were baptized the power of our old Adam died and the resurrected Lord Jesus came to live in our hearts. Because he is in our lives we can ask him at any moment to help us say “No” to a temptation, and he will give us the strength to resist it. He also empowers us to do good things for God by the power of his love working in our lives. If we ever feel weak and doubt that he is there for us, we need only to remember that we have been baptized, which assures us that the Spirit of Christ is in us.
5. Explain how the gospel makes us eager to good works. Before we learn the good news that God loved us so much that he died for us, we see God as a stern judge who will some day condemn us in our sins. But when we realize that although he could have judged us that he instead took that very judgment upon himself, we fall in love with him. Then we want to give back to him our love and devotion. He gives us direction through his Word as to the ways he wants us to show that devotion. We eagerly do our best to fulfill his wishes from a heart that wants to and does not feel compelled by guilt or shame.


FRUIT TO BEAR


1. Verse 14 says Jesus made us his very own. Explain to a close friend what it
means to you to be Jesus’ very own. To be his very own is to be owned by Jesus in his very heart. It means to be very special to him and to be watched over, guided, and improved by him. Jesus calls us brothers and children in his home. When we meditate on this one thought, we will feel secure and significant no matter what is happening to us our little corner of the world.
2. List eight people from the Bible who were eager to do good for God without
pressure from rules? Here are some: Abraham, Joseph with Potiphar’s wife, Joshua, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Joseph and Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, the apostles John and Paul.
3. How does dwelling on God’s love help you to love someone who makes it hard
for you to love him or her? The power to love the unlovable never depends on them to earn our love through good behavior, although that’s what seems logical. The power to love is the power to love unconditionally because of who we are not because of who others are. When we realize this about God that he loved us even though we are so evil and selfish by nature we touch a love that is supernatural and that overcomes our natural instincts to love conditionally. As we focus on Jesus’ free and faithful love from the cross we will be Christ centered, and from
that center we will draw the strength to be like him and love others the way he does. He
will love others through us much like the grandfather in my opening story. His words and
hands became the wisdom and strength of the little grandson’s ability to saw the board

Other Scriptures verses on this topic
● Mark 5:18-20
● Luke 19:8
● Galatians 2:20–5:26
● Ephesians 2:10
● Romans 6–8.


Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © December 2009 reprinted with permission.

The life of a believer gives us an example of noble Christian character.

The life of a believer gives us an example of noble Christian character.

I love the little verse 1 Corinthians 1:26: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” Paul was bringing the Corinthians down a notch because they were becoming conceited in their newfound faith in Christ.

But I like the verse for a different reason. It makes me think of the “not many” Christians I have met who actually are noble and wise in God’s eyes, even though they weren’t in the eyes of the world.

Elaine Poldrack is one of those “not many noble” Christians. Elaine grew up in a modest Texas town called Taylor, just a short distance northeast of Austin. Her family had enough means to hire household help—think of the movie “The Help.” Elaine married early, and God blessed her with a wonderful marriage to a church leader, Nelson, for 60 plus years. She taught high school biology for many years. She and Nelson reared two wonderful children. Elaine had a rich, beautiful Southern accent. She was the first person to answer the phone when I was assigned as her pastor 25 years ago. What a breath of fresh air for my Southern ears!

But frankly, it wasn’t really any of those blessings, great as they are, that makes me classify Elaine as one of the “not many noble” Christians about whom Paul was talking about. Three things make me see Elaine as a noble Christian.

First, she treated every person she met as an aristocrat worthy of her utmost respect, even those people cut from roughhewn lumber. Anyone who interacted with Elaine felt their own worth increase just by the gentle and respectful way she treated them.

Second, Elaine made Christ the center of her heart and life. She prayerfully attended worship and Bible class and made thoughtful comments about the Word of God she was hearing. She had a personal devotional life.

When I had my first call to another congregation, Elaine called me up and carefully told me how Jesus had used me to bless her life. Then she prayed with me over the phone, asking God to give me wisdom and freedom to make the right choice. Later when we moved out of our old sanctuary, Elaine humbly asked if she could have one of the old hymn boards. She proudly hung it in her kitchen. She would put signs in the slots to match the seasons of the church year. This way she preached Christ to family and guests. At Easter, the words “He is risen!” graced the hymn board. Every Valentine’s Day she would hand write about 25 to 30 greeting cards with Jesus’ love or words laced into her messages and send them to friends.

Elaine deeply respected our church leadership; she wanted to help the men of our church as they led the flock. In the last five years of her life she sent all the elders a weekly e-mail that told them which church members were ailing or needing visits. She reminded them of member’s birthdays and anniversaries. She even bought the elders cards so they could send them to members.

In my 25 years as her pastor, Elaine took on two other big projects at church. She wrote a history of the congregation for both the 25th and 40th anniversaries, and she also wrote a manual for people to use when making arrangements for their own funeral. She constantly was busy making encouraging phone calls and sending e-mails and handwritten notes. I can’t remember how many times I would find an interesting religious article lying on my desk that Elaine had cut from the paper. What a noble Christian!

However, the final and most telling reason Elaine is among the “not many noble” Christians, in my mind, has to do with the way she handled a major cross in her life. For more than 44 years, she suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. All of that ministry I described above sprang from a heart healed by Jesus and a body left to suffer terrible pain. All those handwritten letters and notes were etched in beautiful script by hands that ached and burned. The hours sitting and listening to the Word of God were accompanied by terrible back pain. Pain was her constant chaperone, but Jesus was her constant help.

As the years passed, her hands, feet, legs, and back gave in to the pain. She could have flooded our lives with litanies about her trials. But instead, she chose to focus on us and not herself. In her mind, God was always good because he had given his Son for her, and she wanted others to know him. Near the end, I timidly asked her if she doubted God’s love because of her suffering. In a respectful but low, serious, voice, she said, “Never.”

Elaine was able to stay in her home with her family until the very last few months of her life. But even while she was in the retirement home, she found a way to proclaim Christ. She helped arrange for a small Bible study group from our church. They were invited to come to the retirement center and meet with her and a few of her new friends. She wanted them to hear about Jesus too. Her location had changed but not her mission.

At the end, her skin was paper thin. Just being moved from bed to chair inflicted terrible flesh wounds that had to be dressed daily. On one of my last visits, I sat with her as her wound specialist gently dressed her arms and legs. As he was working, she kept pulling us together in conversation because she was worried about his soul. Previously, he had confessed to her that he had fallen out of faith in Christ. Each day that he came she dressed his heart while he dressed her body. “Not many noble!”

Elaine is now one of the great cloud of witnesses talked about in Hebrews: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (12:1). When I think of her, I picture Elaine sitting in the grandstands watching the rest of us run the race. I think of her endurance, her respect for others, and her faith in our Savior who has given her a place in those stands.

Just thinking of her, I want to respect others more completely, encourage friends and family more purely, and ignore my troubles more bravely. I want to throw off the sin that so easily entangles me and run my race in honor of our Creator and Redeemer just as she did.

I will never see myself as one of the “not many noble” Christians. But thanks to Elaine, I know what one looks like, and I will aspire to be like her to the glory of God and the good of his church. I think others she touched will too!

 

Donald Patterson, pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas, is president of the South Central District. Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © January 2017 reprinted with permission.

Believers in Christ have a deep peace, but living as a Christian in this world is a struggle.

When Paul and Barnabas passed back through Asia Minor where they had spread the gospel in their first missionary journey, they reminded the new Christians, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Surely becoming a Christian is a great joy. For the first time in your life you feel loved, forgiven, and right with God through the grace of your Savior. Nothing can compare with the freedom of faith! But the apostles were telling these new Christians that becoming a Christian in a world led by Satan puts us at war with him on several fronts.

When I think of this truth it reminds me of a dear Christian friend, Denise Hunt. She is a beautiful Jamaican woman whom the Lord moved to the neighborhood next to our church. Denise is extremely extraverted, energetic, infectious, and downright charming. On the island of Jamaica, she is a celebrity. You can google her name and read all about her. But before she visited our church, she did not have the peace of Christ that passes understanding. For her, all faith—even the Christian faith—was a work of her own heart. She struggled; she wanted to be worthy. She had been taught a lot of good Christian moralism, but very little grace.

But she came to church, and she listened. She studied, prayed, and strained to understand. Hours of discussion with our pastoral team eventually paid off. One day, when she was praying, she realized deep in her soul that Jesus really did love her, that he alone died for her, and that there was nothing she could do to earn such love or deserve it. She trusted God’s promises in the gospel. It has changed her life for an eternity.

Now this ambassador of Jamaican fitness and entertainment is also an ambassador of the gospel. She wants everyone to know the peace of Christ right here and right now. She began to take territory from Satan as she shared Jesus with family and friends. That’s when life got a little tougher. Her struggle to believe morphed into a struggle to share the faith.

We’ve all been there. We live on the island of faith where Jesus feeds and waters our soul in his oasis of love and truth. And we see restless souls passing our island like dark, pirate ships filled with people trying to pillage the world for treasure that cannot satisfy the soul’s craving. So, we beg them to come and taste the gospel with us. Not everyone takes us up on it. Instead, they even might argue with us, reject us, or insult our sincere trust in a God who both confronts and forgives at the same time. Denise has religious friends who challenge her about the idea that Baptism saves or that Christ’s body and blood for forgiveness are really present in the Lord’s Supper. For her, Baptism seals her identity as a forgiven child of God. She knows all of her sins are washed away. She won’t let the devil guilt her. When she goes to the Lord’s Supper she knows she touches Jesus in a miraculous way. She attributes her overall wellness to the Lord’s Supper as much as to her exercise and diet. She has unbelieving friends who snicker at her vehement testimony about Christ and his sacraments. They are people she cares about, and it hurts that they reject the love of Christ. In addition, she faces the daily attraction to return to the world where she was very good at getting attention, praise, and admiration. Sound familiar? Her struggle is our struggle.

Recently, Denise joined us at the WELS South Central District Grow Conference, a conference that brings together pastors, teachers, and lay leaders to grow in God’s Word and in their various roles within the church. There she had more epiphanies. She gained new spiritual ammo to defend herself against the temptation to envy others and their lot in life. She still talks about how Jesus has custom-made her cross to bear for his name. As Denise will tell you, the cross every Christian has is unique to them. While our crosses are all different, they come from our faith in what Christ has done on his cross. By his sacrifice we are freed from guilt and fear; we have forgiveness, life, and salvation. Trusting in his cross we take up our own crosses and endure ridicule and hardship.

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Denise is not just defending herself with the gospel. She is using it to claim territory that Satan once ruled. Through the Holy Spirit, her mother, Angela, and her sister Sasha have come to faith in Christ, trusting God’s pure grace. It’s fun to watch Jesus pluck people out of the devil’s grasp and firmly establish them in his body. Denise and her family are changing the congregation too. They are boldly different than our monocultural heritage. They challenge our thinking, awaken excitement in our Sunday morning worship and Bible class, and push us to challenge all of our assumptions about people and culture. As a pastor, I am deeply refreshed and happily improved by their presence.

When Paul and Barnabas told those baby Christians in Asia Minor that they would have struggles as they entered the kingdom, they weren’t talking specifically about struggles in the church. But becoming part of a church that originated in a different culture is a big struggle for Denise. She will often say, “I just don’t get it! Uhhhhhh!” And she asks, “Why can’t we do that?” or “Why does this church stand for this or that?” My old filters for discussing truth and practice are shattered as I struggle to see the world from her perspective and learn what she thinks, feels, and understands. It’s a great adventure. God is using Denise and her family to change us just as he used us to change them. Jesus works that way. As members of the body of Christ hang in there with each other with durable love and grace, we morph into a something new and better without giving up any truth. But it’s a struggle. Jesus helps us with that too.

When I see Denise, I think of Paul’s words in Philippians: “You will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (2:15,16). For years Denise Hunt was just a star on the silver screen on the island of Jamaica. Now she is a star that shines on God’s screen for the world to see.

Donald Patterson, president of the South Central District, is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © May 2017 reprinted with permission.

What hangs in your heart?

Like a lot of pastor's I have a cross collection.  It's a fine way for my friends and family to share the central message of Christ and our faith with me.  I have fond memories when I look at each one and remember the person who gave it to me and why. 

One large cross hangs in the middle of the collection.  It was given to me by a dear friend with whom I have a very deep connection in the faith.  The cross is made of rough pine and has no ornamental value.  But it bears a shiny sword that hangs in the middle of the cross.  In Ephesians 6 Paul tells us to arm ourselves for battle against the devil and his demons by putting on the different central truths of the faith like armor.  The only offensive weapon in his list is the word of God which he calls "the sword of the Spirit."  What a clear message that sends.  The gospel of Christ is the the sword that kills the devil who tempts us to hate God and question his love.  The cross is of Christ cuts that enemy down! The word about the cross slaughters the guilt that so easily debilitates us too.  

The word of God that holds as it's central message "Christ crucified for us" is the sword God has put in our hands to defeat all the unbelief and wickedness that would otherwise ruin our lives.  

When I look at this cross bearing a shiny sword I think in my heart of my friend and her deep attraction to the word of God and I think about the reminder she has given me to faithfully fight with God's sword for the good of his flock and my own salvation. It hangs on my study wall but it also hangs in my heart.  

What hangs in your heart?  

Who is in YOUR corner?

Today, March 8 marks the 46th anniversary of what was called the fight of the 20th century.  Joe Frazier defended his heavy weight title against Muhammed Ali.  Maybe it was the fight of the century.  Joe Frazier won by decision after 15 grueling rounds.  But now both men have passed away.  They have met their maker.  The fight they had that night along with all of their other fights are irrelevant. 
Jesus’ fight for us will never be irrelevant.  It was the fight of eternity.  He won that fight for Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali.  He won for us too.  Now, we can meet our maker with confidence and peace because Jesus entered the ring and won. #Jesusfights #temptation #jesusfightsthedevil #fightoffaith
 

At Home You Don’t Have to Live with Your Past

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.   “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.  “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.  “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.  So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’  “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.  But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

– Luke 15:11-32

A few years back I was intrigued by a man named, Chris, who coached my son’s basketball team. He is an incredible father to his son and daughter but he is also a great mentor for all the boys on his team. He befriended every parent too. I was so intrigued by his depth of character that I had to get a closer look to learn what made him tick. Behind every special leader there is a great story. So, I invited him to lunch. Over fried fish and chips he told me how he had been reared by a single mom in a small east Texas town. His father didn’t stick around to help rear him. Chris had to learn how to be a man by watching other men closely. Later in in our talk he pulled back the curtain that men so often use to hide the back stage of their lives. He said, “I reconnected with my real father about ten years ago when he moved to this area. He reached out by telephone to try to start a relationship with me. I drove over to his house and rang the doorbell. When my father stepped out on the porch I laid the groundwork for our relationship. I told him, ‘If we are going to have any relationship at all, we start right here and now and we don’t live in the past. I forgive you for never being there for me and I don’t want you to have to explain it or to blame anything on my mother. I don’t want to hear about her faults either. I just want to start with a clean slate.’”

From that day forward, Chris and his dad developed a close bond that gave them a wonderful ten years together. But Chris wanted me to know something else. He said, “None of the boys on my basketball team know this but right now my father is dying in the local hospital. He and I are very close and so after work and then basketball practice, I go to see him every night to spend time with him. I don’t want to lose any more time than I already have. He always asks me why the son he never was there for is now there for him. It’s because I forgave him.” Do you see what Chris did? He created a place in his heart for his dad by forgiving and refusing to ever bring up the past. That made it easy for his father to step in and step up. What Chris did as an adult son, too many fathers are clueless about. As the leader in your house you are to create a home where your wife and children don’t have to live with their past.

In all of the places outside our home our past follows us like a trailer packed with heavy trash. Think about it! Our driving record and criminal record both follow us for life. Our workplaces do “performance reviews” that are kept on file for the length of our careers. Worldly friends hold us accountable by leaving us over stupid sinful, mistakes we’ve made. Schools keep meticulous records on behavioral issues. The list is endless. Sadly, so many families follow suit because the fatherly leader wasn’t there to teach and model forgiveness. Or, even though he was there, he didn’t understand and believe that home is a place where you don’t have to live with your past. God designed the family so that once a mistake or sin is confronted, apologized for and forgiven, then your sin is expunged from the family record. Your relationship and place in the family is based on grace not your performance, no matter how badly you have messed up. This allows you to move forward in every family relationship without having to constantly earn love or make up for your sins. If we must earn love or make up for our sins then relationships amount to nothing more than a job. They are work. Family relationships are supposed to be made easy by grace. The concept isn’t new. It isn’t even a satellite truth orbiting out on the edge of Christian teaching.

Grace and forgiveness are the heart and soul of what Christianity is. In fact, Jesus taught his generation what Chris taught his dad; forgiveness gives us a new foundation on which to build a relationship. Take a look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15. It’s printed above. The younger son was a selfish brat who took half of what his father had earned and squandered it on nothing but trashy entertainment. He disdained the father and his hard work by wasting every bit of it. The hurt that causes a father runs deep. But what did the father focus on? He focused on the fact that the younger son was still his son. He loved him as his own flesh and blood and not as an employee. Jesus was showing us what God is like. He is our father who focuses on us as his child, instead of letting our sins give us an identity in his mind. How can he do that? Well, his only begotten Son freed him from having to think about our sins. Jesus paid for all of them. That frees the father to love us without thinking about justice. All of our mistakes have been made right. All of them.

In Jesus’ parable the father runs out to love and forgive his son long before he apologizes, because he just wants his son back. God put our sins on the cross long before we apologize so when he sees us turn toward his home he’s free “emotionally” to run out to welcome us. God forgives our sin and welcomes us home each time we come crawling back. He just wants us back. Once we are back, he doesn’t want to bring up the past any longer. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) If he did, it would prevent him from having our whole heart. Instead, he wins us over when we understand how freely we have been forgiven. What’s more, since we know that we don’t have to live with our past, we like to hang around God. His love is a safe place. We are in a constant state of starting over.

Many fathers wonder why their sons don’t want to be with them very much as they get older. It might be the allure of the exciting new world out there for them. It could be that they are being like the prodigal son before he repented. But sometimes it’s because the dad is not like the father in the parable. Instead, he reminds his son of his failures far too often. The son in Jesus’ parable knew his father was a gracious and forgiving man. That’s why he had courage to go home when he had reached the end of his rope. Many fathers act more like the older brother than like the father in the parable. The older brother was stuck on the enormity of the cost of his brother’s sins. He couldn’t see his brother as a family member. He saw him as a terrible family employee. He was blind to the fact that he even treated himself like an employee and his father like a boss. He had robbed himself of a real grace based relationship too.

If you are having a hard time not viewing your son in the light of all of his sins, don’t be surprised if he won’t stick around to share his life with you. It hurts too much for him to do that. If he does stick around, he might turn out like that older brother, living under rules and family policies like your family is some sort of corporation. He won’t be too forgiving of you either. His love for you will be conditional. You don’t want that any more than he does.

Sons already have an obsession for their father’s approval. They unconsciously weigh every day whether or not their dad loves and respects them. When a father doesn’t forgive and often brings up the sins of the past, he can make his son lose hope that he will ever experience what he longs for, that is, a safe place with his dad where he doesn’t have to live with his past.

So, why would a father struggle to forgive his son and refuse to remind him of his failings? Here’s the reason: Either he is weak in his Christian faith or he has no faith in Jesus at all.

It’s just that simple. How do we know this is true? Because when we understand Christ and how he has won for us full and free forgiveness from our terrible sins against his father, then we live in a state of unconditional forgiveness. We understand forgiveness. We believe in forgiveness. And we share forgiveness. A forgiving father will refuse to hold the failings of a son or daughter over them.

So, what about you? Do you remind your son of what he has done wrong long after it has been dealt with? When the family gathers around on special occasions do you parade his faults out on stage for everyone to remember? Do you make his faults an object of humor to get a laugh from your siblings and cousins or close friends? Do you keep seething about how much his mistakes have cost you? Jesus never does that to you. That’s why you feel so close and safe with him. Give your son the same place in your life. If you’ve reminded him of sins long past, chose a quiet moment to apologize to him and ask for forgiveness. It’ll turn his world upside down in a good way. He will see in you what God is like and his faith in God will grow as you model God for him.

Oh, and don’t forget this one thing: Your son knows you aren’t God. So, don’t try to be God in your own mind. You are a fallible dad. You are forgiven. God loves you like he loves your son. In God’s mind you are not the “screw up” dad. You are his child too. He has forgiven you for being a crummy father also. Now, forgive yourself. Dust yourself off and get back in the game of creating a home where your son doesn’t have to live with his past.