Sacrificial Giving


Here name was Lucille and she was easily the most sacrificially giving saint I have personally met in my 27 years of ministry. Lucille was 60 years old with advanced stages of rheumatoid arthritis when I was assigned as the pastor or her church here in Austin, Texas.

She served as the church and school secretary for free. Her disability payments covered her expenses, so she donated her time to the church to advance the gospel and make it more affordable to do ministry. She typed with a pencil clutched tightly in a gnarled hand. Day after day, week after week, she served through pain and discomfort as she created all the worship folders for Sunday and special services, kept school records, wrote correspondence, answered the phone and made calls to volunteers. It took her two hours every morning to get herself ready and drive herself over to church.

Once when the congregation included her in the Christmas gifts I was selected, as Pastor, to beg her to take it. There I stood with her $250.00 check asking her to accept it with grace. With tears welling up in her eyes she said, “No, you will only rob me of the joy of serving if you make me take that!” I backed down and gave it back to the leaders just as she demanded. Lucille served like this for over 25 years. We tallied up what we think we saved the church in wages and benefits. It came to over $500,000. What a sacrifice!

Well, actually, It was a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Some people think that sacrificial giving is giving until it hurts. Sacrificial giving is giving because Christ hurt for us. It’s what Paul talked about in Romans 12:1. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

Thanks to Lucille, I have a vivid image of what that looks like in my world. Will you be the vivid image for your brothers and sisters in Christ?

I’m precious child of God.


He sat in my study, a 23-year-old man I had baptized and confirmed, and told a tale of an identity crises.  Recently he had sat at a restaurant all alone pondering how unworthy he was to be dating the nice young lady he had met.  As he retold me the story, he linked his intense feelings of unworthiness to episodes when his father called him “Stupid” and “Idiot”.  He also felt ashamed of stupid and idiotic choices he had made in his late teens.  “How could God allow him to date such a nice girl?”  He thought. He just didn’t feel worthy. 

So, what do you think I told him?  How do you help someone who has a trashed identity?  I asked him to look at me squarely and then I told him he had just confessed his sins to me and that was pleasing to the Lord.  Then I said, “Jesus died on the cross for the time you …. And for the time you … And for the time you …” I repeated every sin he had confessed and pronounced God’s grace over them all.  His face brightened and he brandished a big smile.

But I still needed to address how his father had made him feel.  I said, “Jesus is the one who made you.  Fathers and mothers are very powerful to give us a healthy or unhealthy view of ourselves, but they didn’t make us.  Jesus made us. He likes what he made and he doesn’t call you ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot.’  What’s more, he died to take way your stupid mistakes.  Do you know what he calls you?”  He shook his head.  I said, “He calls you his precious child.  That’s what he calls you, his child.”  Then I made him repeat after me, “I’m a precious child of God.  I’m not an idiot or stupid.  I’m precious child of God.” His smile was riveted on his face.  There’s nothing like a good dose of gospel antibiotic applied to a bad case of identity crisis!  With a few more doses I think he’ll be cured of the vortex of shame that was sucking him down.

I hope you catch my drift as a reader.  Our God has done everything we need to establish and protect our identity.  His creative and redemptive grace are what defines us, not anyone or anything else.  When we understand and believe this, we will resiliently deal with the identity crushers that the devil, the world and we ourselves throw at us.  So, when you see a person shrinking in guilt and shame, don’t forget to renew their minds with the gospel of a Christ centered identity.  It will change everything about their lives to what God intended them to be! In Christ there’ always a reason for hope.  

Portraits of a mature Christian: Prioritizing marriage and family

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They had barely been married two years, and their problems landed them in my study for some counseling. They needed some help.

She went first. “Pastor, it just seems that everything and everyone comes before me. When he gets home from work the first thing he does is call his coworkers in order to plan out the next day. Then his buddy calls, and they start making plans without ever consulting me. This is not what I signed up for.”

I asked, “What have you tried?”

She said, “I don’t know what to do, so I usually just call a friend and get out of the house.”

“How is that working for you?” I asked.

“Not very well. I think he likes it when I get away so he doesn’t have to be near me.”

I turned to the husband, “What do you think?”

He said, “I need my down time and my time with my friends. She just has to understand that.”

Uh oh! This couple is headed for real trouble!

Genesis 2:18 kept echoing in my mind: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” When God made Adam, he made him to need someone—a wife. Adam’s suitable helper was not a male buddy, a job, an education, or a hobby. It was a woman who would love him and share life with him. That young wife had a legitimate gripe. We intuitively get married to share our lives to the fullest extent with that one other person. Both husband and wife were made to fulfill each other’s deepest need for human companionship. No one and no thing should ever bump our partner from that sacred throne of suitable helper. When something else does come first, our partner feels isolated, cheated, and alone. Mature Christians recognize this marriage principle.

The very first thing this couple had to hear was God’s Word about marriage. Many Scriptures offer help, but here you will find one from 1 Peter for your meditation.

1 Peter 3:7-9

7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. 8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.


1. List the phrases you see in these passages that would guide a husband in the way he treats his wife?

The phrases are: be considerate as you live with your wives, respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate, humble

2. Name five habits of a considerate husband.

1. He looks at his wife when she is talking to him. 2. He tells her his schedule. 3. He does not volunteer her to babysit or to host a guest at her home without asking her first. 4. He opens the door for her. 5. He helps with house work. 6. He tries to understand her unique love language and then speaks to her in that language.

3. List the phrases in the passages that guide the wife above in how to handle her husband?

Verse 8 and 9 speak to both partners so they certainly apply to a wife. In summary, wives need to show respect for their husbands. If they respond to them with insult or sarcasm it will quickly drive him away and make it hard for him to love her the way she needs for him to. Husbands are more fragile than their tough exterior lets on.


1. What compromise can the couple above create in order to suitably help each other?

This husband can make it his aim every day to spend the first hour at home communicating with his wife and catching up after a long day. She has been missing him and needs to have his undivided attention. It is a big part of what she signed up for. On the other hand, she can let him call his buddy after that and let him talk guy with that buddy. His friend will give him good vibes that a woman cannot give. Then she will get a better husband in return. Basically, they need to work out a plan where they both give a little out of love and reap the rewards of a close partnership as they listen and respond.

2. Think of a couple that you know that offers a great example of Christian marriage. Find a way to tell them what you are learning from them.

When we take time to notice and then tell the couple what we see, several things will happen: they will be encouraged to do even better, they will feel that their lives matter more than they did before, you will better get the lesson they model as you articulate it in your own words, you will

be more encouraged to be like them, and you will be closer to them through your admiration of them.

3. Each day choose three things your partner does that make you happy. Tell him or her about them.

Learning to focus on the positives is scriptural (see Philippians 4:8). When we do look for the good it turns the friendship around and helps us feel respect for each other. Positive reinforcement works. As we compliment each other we will feel the ice between us begin to thaw. It takes a while to defrost a relationship, so don’t give up quickly. Practice giving compliments three things daily for 30 days and then you will notice a marked difference in your friendship.

Other helpful passages

1 Corinthians 13

Ephesians 4:25–5:2

Philippians 2:12-18

Colossians 3:12-17

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

Portraits of a mature Christian: Trust in God over our experience

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Portraits of a mature Christian

Trust in God over our experience

God made great promises to Abraham, but for 25 years, Abraham only had God’s word that the promises would come to pass. It was not easy to believe what God promised, but believing God’s word is a trait of spiritual maturity. God put Abraham through difficult circumstances to teach him to trust God’s word above everything he could see, feel, or understand.
Abraham and Sarah did not always fully trust God’s word. During the 25 years they waited for God to fulfill his promises, they wavered and even attempted to help God along. Sarah suggested that Abraham have a son by her handmaid, Hagar. But that was not God’s plan.
When God promised that Sarah would give birth to a son, both Abraham and Sara were well past the childbearing years. They both chose to believe God rather than what their experience taught them.

Once their son, Isaac was born, Abraham continued to believe God’s word. He followed God’s instructions to sacrifice Isaac because he believed God’s promise that this son would be the father of a great nation. God’s instructions were against every natural emotion and thought. It even seemed contrary to God’s earlier promises. Yet Abraham trusted God instead of his own thinking. The writer to the Hebrews (11:19) tells us that he reasoned that God would raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham was a top student in God’s school of faith. He learned God’s lesson, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
We too are in the school of faith. God gives us his word and then guides us through many different and difficult situations so we can learn to trust his word above our circumstances. The apostle Paul was like a New Testament Abraham. He served God faithfully, but time and again God put him in strange and life-threatening situations. Often he was sick or persecuted, but he never lost faith in God promises. In the reading below Paul teaches us to live by faith in God’s word and not by sight.

Romans 8:37-39

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the
future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


1. Name some terrible circumstance that Paul passed through in his life. You can get help from 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 and Acts 9–28. As soon as Paul began preaching Christ, there was a plot to take his life. Later he was stoned. He was shipwrecked, bit by a viper, and abandoned by friends to name a few. He was also lied about and insulted.

2. What does it mean to be more than a conqueror?
It means to live in a realm above the problems themselves through faith in God’s ultimate deliverance and good will in our behalf. We don’t have to see the deliverance to be encouraged because we know God is not far away and that he soon release us from our trials. You might also look at Philippians 3:17-21 and Romans 8:18,19.

3. Read through the list of things that Paul says can threaten us. Describe how each could do so.
Death threatens our very existence. It is the most frightening thing we all face. Life sometimes threatens us so that we afraid to leave our homes and face the day. Angels are spirit beings and so we would naturally afraid at first when we would see them. Demons are unseen and yet so unpredictable that the very thought of having them work on us scares us. Present problems and the dread of future problems can overwhelm our sense of happiness and well being. Height and depth may refer to cliffs and seas that threaten our lives. They could also refer to heights and depths in our experiences.

4. How does Paul teach us that God shows his love for us?
He shows his love for us in the cross of Christ. When we think of Jesus death and resurrection that promises us life forevermore and when we think of his Lord’s Supper that brings him near to us—we experience the love of Christ in any and all circumstances.

5. What promises of God’s love stay constant in all circumstances?
The love of Christ comes through his word, the gospel, and it is done deal with all of its beauty. It is proclaimed to us no matter where we find ourselves and it always promises impending rescue through the Savior who once came and will come again for us. See John 14:1-6.

6. How do these promises sustain us in every circumstance?
When we hear the love of god in Christ it gives us hope in the Lord and not in ourselves or others. See also Philippians 4:6-7, Jeremiah 17:5-10.


1. Name some circumstances that have tempted you to doubt God’s love for you.
When we have a serious illness or a serious auto accident, or lose our job or have a large financial setback, or when we lose a loved one—all of those times tempt us to doubt God’s love for us.

2. Go to a friend who is suffering some sort of trouble and read Romans 8:37-39 and explain it to him or her.
In explaining to another person we will also be ministering to ourselves. The Holy Spirit helps the speaker and listener through his powerful word.

3. Explain how Paul is teaching us to walk by faith and not by sight in this passage.
He wants us to know that God is always on our side and is always working for us even though we cannot always see it. We are his children by declaration of the gospel and not because life on earth goes this way or that.

Similar Scripture passages to study

2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10
Philippians 3:17-21
1 Corinthians 15

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

Portraits of a Mature Christian: A strong desire and ability to practice spiritual discernment

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A teen raises her hand in Bible class and asks, “How far can we go on a date?” An 11- year-old boy unwillingly hands over his iPod to his mother and exclaims, “Mom, that song is not that bad. It didn’t have any curse words in it!” As she listens to the song for herself, she finds that it encourages drunkenness. A college student starts attending a nondenominational church. When her dad asks her about what they teach there, she says, “Dad, they believe in Jesus just like we do.”

What do all of these people have in common? They all exhibit a lack of discernment regarding what they take into their minds and hearts. When God created us in his own image, he always intended that we would think his thoughts. He never wanted us exposed to evil ideas much less stack them like cord wood in our minds. He wanted us to understand that his thoughts are truth and bring many blessings.

There is a saying in the computer world that applies to our minds, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If you put garbage in the memory of a computer, it won’t drain out later when you turn the computer off. It stays piled there until it is erased. It often comes out later to affect other computers connected to it on the Internet. We call them computer viruses. Just like computer viruses, worldly ideas infect people all over the world every day. God wants us to filter out what opposes his truth and would harm our faith. He wants us to be careful so we are not drawn away from his grace.

Spiritually mature people understand this. They put safeguards in place to guard their minds and lives from evil influences.

The writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to start practicing discernment regarding all the worldly and wild religious ideas they were hearing. Let’s study what he told them and reclaim for ourselves an aptitude for discernment. Read Hebrews 5:11-14 and answer the following questions.

Hebrews 5:11-14

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.


1. After you read the entire passage, what clearly is God’s goal for every Christian?
God desires that all Christians keep growing into mature believers who can handle ever more solid theological food. He doesn’t want anyone to stop at an entry level of biblical knowledge.

2. What does it mean to be acquainted with the teaching about righteousness?
It means to have a full understanding about how we derive our righteousness from God and not from our own doing, thinking, or choosing. It also means that we understand how the gospel changes us to live faith- and love-motivated lives that have a righteousness from faith instead of from the law. It means that we understand how the Scriptures display God’s plan to bring this righteousness to humanity from the first time he walked into the Garden of Eden and found our sinful parents to the end of Revelation.

3. What does the writer say in verse 14 that the mature person does?
A mature person is trained in discerning good from evil in choices of human behavior, in theology, philosophy and any other issue having to do with people, God, and his world.

4. How do we use the Scriptures to help us discern good from evil?
We use Scripture to discern good from evil by taking the questions, temptations, and opportunities we have in this life and filtering them through what the Bible has to say. We also learn to discern by having a regular diet of Bible reading and study so that the insights of Scripture are flowing through our minds and hearts in a fresh way all the time.


1. Describe what happens to a person who does not discern right from wrong when taking in different media.
If a person does not practice discernment then he or she becomes like a wave tossed to and fro by every wind of idea or teaching. What we watch and listen to will affect us. We cannot stop it from doing so. So, we must learn to confront every story (i.e. movies and TV shows), thought, and idea with good faith-based questions and biblical answers that help keep the good and throw away the bad.

2. How does discernment help us to live happier lives?
We can avoid huge mistakes that will affect us for years to come by practicing discernment today. Also, we will leave more room in our lives for the good things that bless us if we keep from being distracted by silly and harmful ideas and actions.

3. How does truth demand discernment?
There really is only one truth about anything. So, true discernment is getting down to what the truth of any matter really is. Then we learn to avoid all other ideas that counter that truth. This is shown very well at the beginning of the Bible when Eve was tempted by Satan to go against the one simple truth of what God wanted for Adam and her.

4. What are the reasons we might become lax in discernment?
Our hearts are very deceitful, and they love to sin (Jeremiah 17 and Romans 7). So, we easily fall into laxity regarding God’s will and ways. Also, we can get tired of the exhausting task of filtering everything we read, see, and hear. Then there also is peer pressure. It is not always popular in a fallen world to stand up and go against the tide.

Related Scripture passages

1 Timothy 4:15,16                                                                                                                            Philippians 4:8

Contributing editor Donald Patterson is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.
This is the fifth article in a 12-part series on Christian maturity.
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © March 2010 reprinted with permission.

Portraits of a Mature Christian: A Balanced View of One's Gifts and Weaknesses

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Oh, if the chairs in my study could talk! It amazes me how the same chair can hold people with such different views from one day to the next. One week a man whom I was recruiting to teach Sunday school sat in a chair in my study and declared, “Pastor, I would love to help, but I just don’t think I have the gifts.” He was selling himself short. I had seen him in action, and he had the gift of teaching.

But then the next day a zealous woman, who struggled in leading one of our Sunday school classes, sat in that very same chair and bubbled out the words, “Pastor, I have a passion to teach. Would you help me advertise a small group Bible study that I can hold in my home?” I was amazed. She was biting off way more than she could chew. All in the same chair!
What did those two people have in common? They didn’t have a balanced view of their gifts. A mature Christian works at that. God gives different gifts to different saints, and he intends that we use them powerfully and properly for the good of his church. To help us improve the way we use our gifts, let’s study these words from Romans 12 and work through the questions that follow.

Romans 12:3-8
3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.


1. Look at verse 3. When you fully understand the grace of God, how does that lead you to not think too highly of yourself?
When we fully understand that we are not only saved by grace but that also every spiritual gift and earthly talent is ours as a gift of God’s grace then we do not see ourselves as a superior person who has honed his or her gifts better than others. Instead we humbly see ourselves as a recipient of a gift, and we feel obligated to use that gift to serve others and not ourselves.

2. How do verses 4 and 5 give all of us a proper perspective of ourselves?
In these verses Paul reminds us that we all have different gifts so that we can fit together with each other. We all belong to one another and not to ourselves alone. Then we will see our gift as a responsibility to serve all others for their good.

3. How do verses 6-8 lead us not to think too lowly of ourselves either?
These verses remind us that we all do have gifts. God wants each of us to use them for the good of others. We waste precious time in our lives if we view ourselves as having nothing to offer the body of Christ.


1. List ways that church leaders can help fellow Christians understand how to use their gifts.
Church leaders could carefully look over their roles and prayerfully evaluate each member of the flock, trying to decide what gifts they have to offer the church. Then they could approach that member based on their giftedness and ask them to serve. Too often we ask based on need and not giftedness. Secondly, there are several good spiritual gift surveys out there, and leaders could help members fill those out and then give their other leaders names of people who can serve in appropriate capacities.

2. How does a person find out what his or her spiritual gifts are?
Usually, if you start helping out in the mission of the gospel at your church in ways that you like to help as well as in ways that seem to come easily to you, you will discover your gifts in those areas. Also you could take a survey on spiritual gifts or ask people who know you well what they think your gifts are.

3. Identify what you think is one of your more prominent spiritual gifts. Then list three ways you will put that gift to use for Jesus in the next seven days.
When you get specific with yourself you will move yourself past the theoretical to real Christian living. If you have close loved one hold you accountable to this, you will see some definite fruit born for Jesus.

4. Think of someone you know who has a spiritual gift that is easy to see. In the next few days call to tell him that you appreciate that gift and how he uses it.
Often the encouragement of a close trusted Christian friend will help another Christian get off of the sideline and into faith action. We need to stir each other up to love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24-26).

Related Scripture passages about spiritual gifts

1 Corinthians 12
1 Peter 4:7-11
Ephesians 4:1-16

Contributing editor Donald Patterson is pastor at Holy Word, Austin, Texas.
This is the seventh article in a 12-part series on Christian maturity.
Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © May 2010 reprinted with permission.

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.


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.


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
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.