Posts

Light for our path: Levels in heaven

Could you explain the different levels in heaven? I was told that people who do the greatest works on earth will get the upper levels in heaven. I have a hard time with this because it sounds like work righteousness. 

James F. Pope

Your question provides the opportunity to marvel at the gracious love of God Christians enjoy in equal measure and in unique ways. 

Salvation: equally enjoyed 

You are correct in rejecting work righteousness as a way to heaven. If we were to attempt to save ourselves, we would have to be perfect, keeping every part of God’s law every second of our lives. We cannot do that. In addition, our attempts at personal holiness come to a crashing stop when we realize that we begin life with a sinful nature. We cannot be perfect on our own to enjoy salvation. Jesus was perfect for us. His holy life and substitutionary death are the reasons for our salvation. Our works do not contribute in any way to our salvation (Titus 3:5,6). The salvation we enjoy is God’s doing. 

More than that, the salvation you and I enjoy is what all Christians possess. The book of Revelation illustrates that well. In one vision, the apostle John describes Christians who had been killed for their faith being given “a white robe” (6:11). The garment represents the robe of righteousness Jesus won and which people “wear” through faith in him. Each of those martyrs received a white robe. Some did not receive half a robe; others, two robes. All enjoyed salvation equally. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) also teaches that God’s children equally enjoy his salvation. 

While all Christians enjoy the same gift of salvation, Scripture speaks of God customizing his gracious blessings. That brings us to the main part of your question. 

Degrees of glory: individually blessed 

Rather than speaking of levels of heaven (as the Mormons do), we understand Bible passages like Daniel 12:3; Matthew 25:23,28,29; Luke 19:17,19; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 9:6; and Revelation 14:13 to address the subject of “degrees of glory.” That expression describes the individual blessings God will graciously bestow on his followers in connection with their faithful earthly lives. We will have to wait to see what that specifically means. 

What it means now is that we do not serve the Lord with the idea of getting something from him in the future. That is the mercenary attitude of which you spoke in your question. Such an attitude can easily plague Christians. 

I once had a number of conversations with a person who was interested in joining the church I served. The person’s profession of faith and our church’s statement of belief matched until she brought up “once saved, always saved.” In spite of citing Bible passages that speak of people falling from faith (for example, Matthew 13:20,21; 1 Timothy 1:19), she regarded apostasy as an impossibility. Hypothetically conceding to her position, I asked what reason she had to attend worship services in church. Her answer made everything clear: “To get more jewels in my crown.” 

Now I got it. Her stated motive for doing God’s will was to get something in return. That is an attitude we need to reject. Any way that God chooses to bless our Spirit-driven lives of love (Philippians 2:13) is grace. Pure grace.   


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Martin Luther vs. books

Why was Martin Luther against so many of the books that are in the Roman Catholic Bible and some that remain in ours also? Also, why did the Protestant Bible throw away so many books, ones it had before the Reformation? 

James F. Pope

Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is one of the great Reformation emphases. The term underscores the truth that Scripture alone is the source and foundation of our faith. Since that is the case, it is important to understand what constitutes “Scripture.” Your questions help sharpen that understanding by addressing some misconceptions. 

Opinions of Martin Luther 

Like other theologians before and after him, Martin Luther had opinions of certain biblical books. His views on the book of James, for example, are well-known. To Luther, the book of James seemed to support the idea that people contributed to their salvation by their good works. However, a careful look at the context of the book of James reveals that the author is reminding Christians that good works flow from saving faith. Still, Luther had concerns about the book of James, as well as the books of Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. 

So how do we regard these concerns and thoughts of Luther? We recognize them as his opinions. While we thank God for giving Luther many insights into God’s Word, Luther is not the foundation of our faith. Jesus Christ is. Luther’s writings are not the foundation of our faith. The Bible is. Sola Scriptura. We can disagree with Luther when it comes to something like his views on the book of James. There is no disagreeing, however, with Jesus Christ, and he is at the forefront of the answer to your second question. 

A pronouncement by Jesus Christ 

Your second question refers to the Apocrypha—the seven additional books that are in Roman Catholic Bibles. There is a faulty starting point with the question though, thinking that all followers of God have always recognized the apocryphal books as being divinely inspired. That is not the case. The apocryphal books were never included in the Hebrew Bibles of God’s Old Testament people. The Jews listed the Old Testament books in three categories: the law, the prophets, and the writings. The apocryphal books were not included in any of those categories. 

Jesus himself testified to that during his earthly ministry. When the risen Lord appeared to his frightened disciples on Easter Sunday evening, he explained that his suffering, death, and resurrection were all fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. He told them: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). (The psalms are prominent among the “writings.”) Jesus pronounced the Hebrew Bible—without the Apocrypha—to be the authoritative Word of God.  

So, it is really not a case of the Protestant Bible throwing away books it had before the Reformation. When it comes to the Apocrypha, it is a matter of the Roman Catholic Church adding those books to its version of the Bible. And, incidentally, Rome officially did that in 1546, three years after Luther’s death. 

Finally, you might be interested to know that Martin Luther included the Apocrypha in the German Bible he produced. His preface said the Apocrypha was not inspired but was useful for reading. That was another way of indicating “Scripture alone.”  


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 10
Issue: October 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: “Vain repetitions”

When the Bible talks about “vain repetitions,” what does that mean? Several times I have heard people say that the Lutheran liturgy is nothing but vain repetition.

James F. Pope

Your question provides opportunity to distinguish between meaningless prayers and meaningful liturgies. There is a great difference.

MEANINGLESS PRAYERS

“Vain repetitions” is part of the King James Version’s rendering of Matthew 6:7: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” Another Bible translation puts it this way: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (NIV).

That instruction comes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Prior to speaking the words that we know as the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus addressed two pitfalls for prayer. One is that people might try to impress others with a pretentious, ostentatious prayer life. Jesus explains that prayer is not for show but a sincere conversation with God. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6). The other potential problem is that people might think they can impress God with their non-stop conversations with him. That is the reason Jesus instructed his followers not to “keep on babbling like pagans.”

The verb in Matthew 6:7 in Greek has the idea of “repeating the same thing over and over, to babble, to speak without thinking.” We see that kind of mindless praying in the example of the prophets of Baal (1 Kings chapter 18), who cried out to their god incessantly from morning until evening.

Is this the stuff of Lutheran liturgies? Not at all.

MEANINGFUL LITURGIES

There is no question that there is some repetition, from week to week, in historic Lutheran liturgies. Each service contains some common items like a confession of sins and absolution, prayers, hymns, Scripture readings, sermon, and a dialogue between the worship leader and the worshipers. But there are numerous places where the worship service offers variety and freshness. Common elements in historic liturgies provide continuity from week and week, and they help connect us to Christians from past centuries who treasured God’s promises and worshiped him.

While common elements in worship services include repetition of some kind, that commonality does not equate to “vain repetitions.” I think you would agree with me that “speaking without thinking” can take place in any worship service, even those that have no liturgy from week to week. The real concern is not the form of worship, but the heart of the worshiper. Consider how God rebuked his Old Testament people for their empty worship life, even when they were doing outwardly what he had commanded (Isaiah 1:10-15). With their sacrifices and celebrations of divinely-appointed festivals, the people’s outward actions lined up with God’s Word, but their heads and hearts were not involved; they were merely going through the motions of worship.

Similarly, Lutheran worshipers can find their bodies engaged in the actions of worship with little involvement of their heads or hearts. The problem, again, is not the order of service. The problem is the worshiper. Whether the format for public worship is familiar or foreign to us, worship requires our ongoing effort and concentration.

So let’s continue to give God our best in worship—again and again and again.


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 9
Issue: September 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Should a Christian support the death penalty?

Should a Christian support the death penalty?

James F. Pope

Public opinion polls indicate that, although the numbers are declining, the majority of Americans still support the death penalty. “What about Christians?” you ask. “What are they to think of the government taking the life of a human being?” God’s Word addresses that subject and sheds light on the question.

Protection of life

The protection of human life in the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17) is part of God’s moral law. No one should take the life of another person or their own life. That’s God’s will for all people of all time. Life on this earth is important and worthy of God’s protection because this is the only time of grace people have. The prophet Isaiah urged: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). When death takes place, so does eternal judgment (Hebrews 9:27). So God desires to protect life because it is a time to learn that Jesus Christ is the Savior from sin.

The ending of life

At the same time, God states that he has the authority to end life. “See now that I, myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life” (Deuteronomy 32:39). God can bring life to an end directly, or he can do it through his representatives in government. God has given those authorities “the sword” (Romans 13:4) to punish lawbreakers. That means governments can implement capital punishment for those who take the lives of others. In short, God allows governments the right to exercise the death penalty, but he does not command them to utilize it. If governments do wield “the sword,” they are illustrating what God declared to Noah after the flood: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6).

Views of death

So, what are Christians to think of the 31 states in our country where the death penalty is legal? Might Christians be uncomfortable with the death penalty? Might Christians wish that states imprison murderers rather than execute them? Certainly. Christians can have personal preferences and comfort zones when it comes to the freedom God gives governments to punish wrongdoers. There is every reason, though, for Christians to support the death penalty simply because God, in Scripture, allows it.

If Christians have objections to capital punishment, they can voice those concerns to their elected representatives, just as they are able to do with their thoughts on any other legislative matter. But if Christians have preferences that differ from the laws of their state, God still demands that they give respect and honor (Romans 13:7) to his representatives in government.

What Christians can agree on is the importance of the capital punishment that took place outside Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. Two criminals were executed—not for murder but for robbery. Between them was the Son of God. An earthly government had sentenced them all to death. If the robbers were guilty, justice—severe justice—was being served. On the other hand, Jesus was completely innocent of wrongdoing. Instead divine justice was being served. God transferred the punishment all people deserved because of their sins and placed it on his Son. That death brought life (John 12:24)! For that we praise God.


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 8
Issue: August 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Making consistent confessions of faith

I am a WELS member and will soon be marrying a man who is studying to become a pastor of another denomination. His church teaches that there is salvation only through faith in Jesus, but beyond that its doctrine can be described as being on “shifting sand.” Is it wrong to convert because I do not fully adhere to the doctrine of my future husband’s denomination?

James F. Pope

My response to you addresses the confessions of faith we make and how important it is that those confessions be consistent.

The confession of the heart and mouth

Faith is a matter of the heart. Faith certainly involves knowledge and the affirmation that such knowledge is true, but faith is primarily trust in God’s promises. Perhaps you have seen that truth illustrated in a picture in which a heart is tilted, leaning against the cross of Christ. Saving faith is known only by God and the Christian involved. God alone can see what is in a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

When we confess our Christian faith, as we do when we speak the creeds, we tell God what he already knows, but we also tell others what is in our hearts (Romans 10:10). That confession is important.

We all make another significant confession. It’s not one of words, but actions.

The confession by church membership

Think back to the day of your confirmation. At that time, you confessed your faith publicly, you answered questions, and you made solemn promises to God. While the questions might vary from one congregation to another, it is likely you were asked if you believed that the teachings you learned in your course of instruction were correct explanations of biblical doctrines.

You were not alone in being asked such a question. Adults who wish to be confirmed are asked a similar question. That question also is presented to people who wish to join our congregations by way of profession or affirmation of faith. That question is appropriate and necessary for people who are seeking communicant membership. Membership in a congregation sends the signal to others that their faith matches the church’s teachings. Their membership is a tangible way of doing what Jesus said— acknowledging him before others (Matthew 10:32). Others would have every reason to conclude that your faith matched those of the church you joined. If that were not the case, someone could naturally wonder why you affiliated with that church in the first place.

A consistent confession

It can be misleading and confusing when the confession of faith made by your membership in a church is different from what you believe in your heart. In your case, joining the church of your future husband would naturally lead people to think you believe what that church teaches. While that church correctly points to Jesus Christ as Savior, you indicated that its doctrine beyond that is on “shifting sand.” Your membership in that church would be an endorsement of teachings you do not accept.

Many have faced similar decisions. Those situations are not always easy. Take the matter to the Lord in prayer and begin a discussion with your fiancé about your questions. I do not know how you will make a consistent confession. That is a conversation for you and your fiancé. Both of you will want to determine how best to make a confession that is consistent—before your Lord and before others.


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Which ten percent should I be giving?

When I give weekly offerings of ten percent, should I be giving ten percent of my gross earned income or ten percent of my net earned income (after taxes)? I truly am not sure.

James F. Pope

Your question affords the opportunity to review the instructions God once gave his people in Old Testament times and to see what guidance God gives his children today in how they can honor him with their wealth (Proverbs 3:9).

Divine direction

Through the ceremonial laws, God regulated the everyday lives of Old Testament Israel with great detail. Among other things, the ceremonial laws addressed the people’s behavior when it came to worship, diet, and hygiene. Laws concerning the tithe, or giving ten percent of income, belonged to the ceremonial laws.

Today people like you and me can easily have a partial understanding of the Old Testament tithe. That is because the Old Testament speaks of more than one tithe. Perhaps the tithe that we recognize most was the one covering crops and cattle (Leviticus 27:30-32). This tithe supported God’s representatives in the church (Numbers 18:21). But there was more divine direction for his Old Testament people. There was a tithe for the benefit of God’s representatives in the government (1 Samuel 8:15). There also appeared to be a triennial tithe for the aid of the needy (Deuteronomy 14:28,29).

With these tithes in mind, Bible scholars and commentators speak of God directing his Old Testament followers to give back to him, in various ways, in the area of 23 percent of their income. This information puts your question of giving back ten percent of your income to God in a different perspective.

Faith-filled freedom

What is, of course, very different for you and me is that God’s directives for tithing are no longer in effect. The tearing of the temple curtain in Jerusalem on Good Friday (Matthew 27:51) served as a powerful visual aid that Jesus abolished all the ceremonial laws—including the commands to give tithes. Christians like you and me are exempt from the ceremonial laws. If people today demand that we follow those laws, such as insisting that we tithe, we need to assert our freedom (Colossians 2:16,17).

What we can certainly do is use the tithe as a pattern for our giving; I personally find that helpful. But remember, there were multiple tithes for God’s Old Testament people.

So, the choice is entirely yours if you wish to give back to God ten percent of your gross or net income. The “should” of your question can safely be eliminated.

Proportionate praise

With the abolishment of the commands to give tithes, God has not left his New Testament followers without any guidance regarding their giving. He provides general direction through his apostle: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income” (1 Corinthians 16:2). Those words encourage us to plan our offerings with a proportionate view toward our income. Essentially, our guidance for giving is to offer a percentage of our income. We have freedom to choose the percentage.

Recognition that our money belongs to God (Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8) and gratitude for our salvation (Romans 12:1) provide good reasons for proportionate giving that is generous and cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7). God bless such management of his blessings!

 


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 6
Issue: June 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Does WELS focus too much on Martin Luther?

“Does our church body focus too much on Martin Luther?”

James F. Pope

It is understandable that Martin Luther is receiving a great deal of attention this year, since 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Then again, there have been questions and accusations in the past that we focus too much on Martin Luther.

As we head toward the second half of this year, when the Reformation anniversary celebration will peak, your question provides a good opportunity to explain how WELS views Martin Luther.

A single foundation

Our church body believes and teaches that the Christian church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The Bible alone is the source of our faith. The writings of Martin Luther are not an additional source of faith for Lutherans. We do not believe anything simply because Martin Luther said so. Scripture alone—sola Scriptura—is the foundation of our faith.

A gifted reformer

Instead of viewing Luther as foundational to our faith, we regard him as a reformer of the faith. There were others who preceded him, pre-Reformers who spoke out against the errors of the church and paid for their testimony with their lives. While Luther voiced similar and other concerns as those men, he did not suffer their fate. He did live the last 25 years of his life with death threats hanging over his head, but he enjoyed God’s protecting hand.

With tireless energy and an abundance of God-given gifts, Luther threw himself headlong into preaching, teaching, writing, and reforming. We recognize Luther as a highly gifted man whom God used at a critical time in history to restore the truths of his word. Restore is the key word. Luther did not create doctrines; he rediscovered biblical truths.

A human name

So, what is Martin Luther’s place in our church body? The writer to the Hebrews offers guidance: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (13:7).

Does remembering Luther mean naming our church body after him? That was not Luther’s idea. The name “Lutheran” came from Luther’s opponents. Luther wrote about the use of his name: “I ask that men make no reference to my name and call themselves, not Lutherans but Christians. What is Luther? After all, the doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. . . . How, then, should I, a poor evil-smelling maggot sack have men give to the children of Christ my worthless name? Not so, dear friends. Let us cast out party names and be called Christians after him whose doctrine we have” (What Luther Says; Vol. II, p. 856).

In spite of Luther’s wishes, the label “Lutheran” remains. In and of itself, that is not objectionable. Denominational names can be helpful in providing a profile of a church body’s theological stance. But because there are different branches of Lutheranism, Lutheran church bodies need to articulate their beliefs and practices so people can see that a shared name does not necessarily mean a shared theology.

Do we focus too much on Martin Luther? No. When we give attention to a person through whom God worked his blessings, we ultimately give attention—and praise—to God. “To the only God our Savior be glory” (Jude 25).

 


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 5
Issue: May 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Helping those who consider worship boring

What can I do to help my Christian friends who consider worship services boring?

James F. Pope

It is wonderful that you want to help your friends view worship properly. I pray that my response will be beneficial to you, your friends, and all who read it.

Know the enemy

Effective military strategy means that military personnel “know the enemy.” That strategy translates into understanding the enemy’s strengths, weaknesses, weaponry, and tactics. “Knowing the enemy” also is important when it comes to our spiritual warfare as Christians. Satan certainly is the chief enemy of our faith, but unfortunately an ally of his resides in each one of us.

Every person is conceived and born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5). That nature is “hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). While Christians possess a new self through the converting work of the Holy Spirit, the sinful nature remains. That sinful nature wants nothing to do with God and his Word. While our new selves echo King David’s joy at the thought of worshiping the Lord in his house (Psalm 122:1), our old selves want nothing to do with any of that.

Meet the King

In our worship services, there are exchanges of spoken word and sung response. But when it comes to Christian worship there’s more to it that just the liturgy. In Christian worship we meet our God as he comes to us through his Word and sacrament. Each time we gather for worship, the almighty and all-merciful God speaks to us through his Word. That audience with the King is worthy of our attendance, attention, reverence, and love. In the Lord’s Supper, our risen Savior comes to us in bread and wine to tell us in the most personal way possible that he has forgiven our sins. Through the gospel in Word and sacrament, God nurtures our faith and fortifies us for more faithful Christian living.

In the King’s court we also communicate with him through our prayers and hymns and praises. We confess our sins to him, we praise him for his forgiving love, and we petition him for blessings in our lives and the lives of others. As Christians, our new selves thrill to meet the King again and again.

Encourage the citizens

So what encouragement can you pass along to your friends, citizens of God’s kingdom, who consider worship boring? Thoughts like these come to mind:

• Pray. Encourage your friends to pray before worship, asking that God bless their time with him and also thwart Satan’s efforts in stealing God’s Word from them (Matthew 13:4,19).

• Prepare. Show your friends the value of preparing for worship by looking at the Scripture readings for the day and discovering their connection.

• Participate. Explain to your friends how helpful it can be to examine the sermon text before worship and then follow along with a Bible as the pastor preaches the sermon. Perhaps your friends would benefit by taking notes.

• Ponder. Encourage your friends to find two or three takeaways from the sermon that they can think about during the week.

• Perceive. Help your friends see the mutual encouragement that takes place when Christians gather together for worship (Hebrews 10:25).

May the day of worship be the highlight of the week for all of us!


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Where did Jesus go?

Where did Jesus go when he died? I am having a discussion with a friend who is a Jehovah’s Witness, and his ideas do not sound biblical.

James F. Pope

The gospel writers record seven sayings of Jesus Christ from the cross. Two of those sayings help answer your question. To the repentant thief at his side, Jesus graciously bestowed this promise: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). At death, Jesus directed words in a different direction: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ words contain simple, meaningful truth. Sadly, the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses reject that truth.

The false teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that people have an immortal soul. They maintain that the soul and body form a person’s entire being and when death takes place a person ceases to exist. They insist that was the case when Jesus died on Good Friday. You can find the following on their website: “Do you know what happened to Jesus’ body? God caused it to disappear. God did not raise Jesus to life in the fleshly body in which he died. He gave Jesus a new spirit body, as the angels in heaven have.”

What about Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief that he would begin enjoying heaven the very day he died? Jehovah’s Witnesses play a grammatical game with their Bible (New World Translation). Their Bible renders Luke 23:43 as, “And he said to him: ‘Truly I tell you today, you will be with me in Paradise.’ ” Notice the comma. Inspired writers of Bible books like the evangelist Luke did not use punctuation devices like commas. We insert them in our translations according to the rules of our grammar. There is no basis whatsoever to place a comma after the word today. Jesus was certainly speaking those words “today” and not “yesterday” or “tomorrow.” The New World Translation places a comma after the word today, because Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a paradise on earth at some point in the future.

The true teachings of the Bible

Scripture clearly and consistently teaches that a human being has a body and a soul (Genesis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 16:26; Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:6-9; Revelation 6:9; and, Revelation 20:4). That applies also to Jesus Christ since the time he took on human flesh (John 1:14).

Scripture’s teaching is also that a person’s body and soul separate at death (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Not long after Jesus spoke of committing his soul into the hands of his heavenly Father (Luke 23:46), his soul and body were separated.

So “where did Jesus go when he died?” His soul went to heaven, while a pair of faithful followers (John 19:38-42) laid his body in a tomb. While in the tomb, the Lord’s body did not experience any decay (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:31). “On the third day” he appeared to his disciples with his same, but glorified, body (Luke 24:36-39).

That is what resurrection is all about: the reuniting of body and soul. For Jesus, that happened at exactly the time he had prophesied (Matthew 16:21; 17:23). For the repentant thief and everyone else who undergoes death, that will take place on the Last Day (John 5:28,29).


James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Should I take Communion?

I was raised and confirmed WELS. Recently I had sex before marriage, and I feel awful. I’m incredibly guilty and do not want to do this again. Should I take Communion? 

James Pope

The type of question you asked could be answered yes or no. Let me explain why my answer to you is yes.

When could the answer be no?

In 1 Corinthians 11:27, the apostle Paul explains that it is possible for people to receive the Lord’s Supper to their harm and not their spiritual good: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” Imagine that—a person appears to be on the receiving end of God’s forgiveness by partaking of the Lord’s Supper, but instead the individual is actually sinning! How can that be? By partaking of the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner.”

In the case of the Christians in Corinth, their unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper consisted of abuses that took place in a meal preceding the celebration of the Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:18-22). Unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper can go beyond those abuses to include a denial of the real presence of the Lord’s body and blood, a denial of one’s sin, or a denial of Jesus Christ as Savior. If you had informed me of your sin and then defended it with the mind-set that “Hey, everyone else is doing that,” I would have advised you to refrain from being a guest at the Lord’s Supper until God changed your heart and you had the right attitude toward sin.

Why is the answer yes?

In your question and statements, I did not sense attitudes that would have resulted in unworthy reception of the Lord’s Supper. Rather than seeing a denial of sin, I recognized a confession of sin. I saw in your words the cry of a child of God: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

God does not ignore a cry like that. The Bible says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, God offers and gives you the forgiveness of sins by giving you the very body and blood of your Savior in, with, and under the bread and wine. That forgiveness covers all sins.

You are bothered by your sin. What is important in preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper is our attitude toward sin. With that in mind, let me remind you of a resource that you likely came across in your confirmation instruction. Luther’s Small Catechism has a section titled “Christian Questions.” It consists of a number of questions that Christians can ask themselves prior to receiving Holy Communion. There is also a condensed version of those questions on page 156 in Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal. Asking and answering those questions is a practical way of doing what Scripture says: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). Examining your heart will help you answer ­your question in the future.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 02
Issue: February 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Respect God’s authorities

These days it seems like people, particularly professional athletes, disrespect the anthem, the American flag, and our military to “protest.” I’m worried this mentality is going to trickle down to our children. What can we tell our children about what God says about respecting government and authority, even when we don’t agree with something that is happening in our country?

James F. Pope

It is no secret that young people have long been susceptible to following trends established by those seen as role models. Let’s see what scriptural principles can address your question and concern.

Respect God’s authorities—then

God’s will for people to respect his author-ities in government is clear. One apostle, Paul, wrote: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1,2). Another apostle, Peter, urged: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors. . . . honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13,14,17).

When those apostles wrote, Nero reigned as Roman emperor. He was definitely no friend of Christians; his atrocities against them are well documented. Yet, the directives of “be subject” and “honor” applied even to him—not because his life or actions generated respect, but because he filled a seat of authority God had established. Certainly, if Christians were caught in the crossfire of conflicting commands from God and government, it was important for them to implement the principle of Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Otherwise, they were to obey and respect the governing authorities.

Respect God’s authorities—now

So what does this mean for Christian youth in 21st-century America? The Fourth Commandment still applies. God still has representatives in the government. God still looks for Christians to respect his representatives and submit to governing authorities.

What can Christian youth do when they do not agree with what is happening in our country? They can work toward positive change. They can contact people who are in a position to bring about such change. They can be positive examples of impartial love and respect in their daily lives. Can they follow the example of some professional athletes by kneeling during the national anthem? There is no law forbidding that. But one wonders if their actions will generate more support for their cause or ill will.

The use of a national anthem and any customs related to it is certainly an adiaphoron: something God has neither commanded nor forbidden. In that and every area of Christian freedom, God’s people will seek to benefit others. One wonders what the greater benefit might be for kneeling during the national anthem—especially when the song is introduced by the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, to honor America . . .” When people ignore that announcement, it follows logically that they are dishonoring America.

Kneeling during a song will not change hearts; kneeling in prayer can. So, let’s continue to teach our Christian youth to pray “for all people—for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1,2). When God changes hearts through his Word, then there are blessings—for people personally and for the land in which they live. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Worship emphasis on Dec. 24th

Since the early Christian church chose Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate Jesus’ birth, why is there so much emphasis on worship the night before?

James F. Pope

Anecdotal evidence and congregational worship service statistics supply credence to your question, so let’s examine the issues.

A lost date

It does seem unimaginable, but the exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown. God certainly had a time in mind for Jesus to enter the world he created, and when that time had “fully come” (Galatians 4:4), the Lord was born of the virgin Mary. You and I might think that the date of such an important event would have been written on a scroll like Job’s words (19:23) or chiseled into tablets like the Lord’s words to Habakkuk (2:2). If it was, it did not survive the passing of time. The date of Jesus’ birth escapes our knowledge.

An arbitrary date

So if we do not know the date of the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, how did the early Christian church arrive at Dec. 25, as you noted? The answer to that question is not entirely clear. Two theories have long been suggested. One states that the early Christian church proposed that late December date to counteract a Roman winter festival that promoted immorality. The other theory imagines that Jesus was conceived and died on the same date: March 25. That would make the day of his birth Dec. 25. Neither theory carries much weight by way of historical evidence and documentation.

Because the date of Jesus’ birth is elusive, it comes as no surprise that the Christian church does not agree on when to celebrate it. The Western church opted for Dec. 25 as the day of Jesus’ birth, while the Eastern half selected Jan. 6.

As Christians in the Western church, we have a church calendar in which Dec. 25 has long been designated as the Nativity of our Lord, the festival that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. So why is there so much emphasis on worship the night before, you ask? Why does Christmas Eve surpass Christmas Day in importance in some people’s minds? I have my own guesses, but that is all that they are. I imagine the sentimentality of an often candlelit evening service is more appealing to people than another morning worship service. Family traditions, including get-togethers, can take place on Christmas Day, leading people to gather for worship on the evening before.

No doubt there are many other factors involved.

A timeless celebration

For me personally, the day the church has designated as the celebration for Jesus’ birth has more significance than the evening before. Yet I recognize the place of Christian freedom in this area of life. God has not spoken in his Word about our worship schedule. We can freely establish liturgical church calendars. Consequently, it is not surprising to find both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day listed alongside the Nativity of our Lord in liturgical church calendars.

Rather than pitting an evening against a day, that dual listing can encourage worshipers to attend both Christmas celebrations. As with other important events in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry, his birth merits more than a single-day celebration.

There is every reason for it to be a timeless celebration.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 12
Issue: December 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Is marrying an unbeliever wrong?

Is marrying an unbeliever wrong? Or is it just foolish?

James F. Pope

Multiple choice questions regularly have more than two possibilities, so I am going to propose a third option and provide rationale for it.

Wrong?

There are some who say that, yes, it is wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. They often cite 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” to support their position.

The context of that passage, however, is not one of marriage. In fact, when the Bible does address Christians married to non-Christians, there is no condemnation of such marriages. The apostle Peter encouraged Christian women who were married to unbelieving men to witness to their husbands by their way of life. “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1,2).

Foolish?

Foolish” is defined as “having or showing a lack of good sense or judgment.” That word could be used to describe a particular marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever. It could also, depending on the circumstances, be used to describe a marriage between a Christian man and a Christian woman. Describing all marriages between a Christian and a non-Christian as “foolish” goes too far.

Challenging!

Challenging” is a word I would use to characterize a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian. Potential problems will arise, including dedicating time to worshiping the Lord in church, determining how much of one’s income to give back to the Lord, and deciding how to raise children—just to list a few. A Christian who thinks of marrying a non-Christian will need to realize that in that marriage he or she will be spiritually single. Is he or she equipped spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically to be spiritually single? Is the Christian entering that marriage with a noble goal of evangelizing the non-Christian spouse, with the hope and prayer that God will change another heart and life? Does the Christian fully realize what pressures can arise to compromise or abandon the Christian faith in order to accommodate the wishes of the non-Christian spouse?

To me, one of the greatest challenges for a Christian married to a non-Christian is knowing that unless God intervenes and changes the heart of the non-Christian, husband and wife will be spending eternity in different places. That knowledge has to inject great sadness into the Christian’s heart.

On the other hand, what blessings there can be when a man and a woman are “one” in marriage in the most important way: when they are fellow members of the family of God. Such a marriage is not exempt from problems, but that marriage has a wonderful foundation because it is built on the love of God in Christ.

“He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22). How doubly true that is when the wife is a child of God through faith in Jesus. And how wonderful it is when a Christian woman can find a Christian man for a spouse. In those instances it is possible to echo Joshua’s pledge: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).


Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Is Luther adding words?

It was brought to my attention that Martin Luther added the word “alone” to Romans 3:28. Is this a fact?

James F. Pope

Luther did include the word alone in his translation of Romans 3:28. It will be helpful to consider the simple content of that verse.

A look at the text

A literal translation of the verse in question could be: “For we consider that a person is justified by faith without the works of the law.” There is not a Greek word in the verse that corresponds to alone in English. Well-known Bible translations indicate that. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (English Standard Version). “For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (King James Version).

So why did Luther put alone (or in German, allein) after “a person is justified by faith” in his translation? Let’s let Luther himself answer that question.

A reply from Luther

In his “On Translating: An Open Letter,” written in 1530, Luther explained his translation of Romans 3:28:

I knew very well that the word solum [Latin = alone, only] is not in the Greek or Latin text. . . . At the same time . . . it belongs there if the translation is to be clear and vigorous. I wanted to speak German, not Latin or Greek, since it was German I had undertaken to speak in the translation. But it is the nature of our German language that in speaking of two things, one of which is affirmed and the other denied, we use the word solum (allein) along with the word nicht [not] or kein [no]. For example, we say, ‘The farmer brings allein [only] grain and kein [no] money.’

. . . This is the German usage, even though it is not the Latin or Greek usage. It is the nature of the German language to add the word allein in order that the word nicht or kein may be clearer or more complete. Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, pp. 188,189

Luther plainly acknowledged that the word alone is not in the Greek text, but there was good reason to include that word because of the nuances of the German language.

An answer from Scripture

Certainly, if we are not saved by our good works or by a combination of faith and good works, then we are saved through faith alone. That is the consistent message of Scripture. “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). If we are saved by faith, and the works of the law have no place in our salvation, then we are saved by faith alone. “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16). If we are justified by faith and not the works of the law, then we are saved by faith alone.

Sola fide (Latin for “by faith alone”) is a Christian doctrine that does not hinge on a single verse or even a single word in the Bible but is clearly a truth of Scripture.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 10
Issue: October 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: What are we to learn from the parable of the shrewd manager?

What are we to learn from the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke chapter 16?

James F. Pope

You are not the first to ask that question. Many people consider that parable to be one of the most challenging to understand. The key is grasping Jesus’ instruction at the end of the parable (v. 9).

Viewing money selfishly

In the parable of the shrewd manager, a man mismanaged his employer’s possessions. When the employer learned what happened, he dismissed the servant. But fearing for his future, the servant embarked on a new level of mismanagement: He contacted people who were indebted to his employer and singlehandedly reduced their bills. It was not concern for other people’s financial situation that prompted his actions. No, he cooked his boss’ books because he wanted to create a network of potential friends who might help him out in the future. The man wrongly used someone else’s possessions for his own earthly benefit.

One of the biggest surprises in the parable is the response of the employer. Rather than expressing outrage, he commended the dishonest manager! Even though he was a victim of someone else’s incompetent and fraudulent actions, he acknowledged how shrewdly his former manager had operated. It takes a person with a skewed worldview to appreciate getting ripped off like that.

Viewing money unselfishly

In contrast to the example of the dishonest manager, Jesus instructed his disciples: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). Rather than looking upon money with a “What’s in it for me right now?” attitude, Jesus leads us to view money with a “What’s in it for them in the future?” attitude. Jesus teaches us to use the possessions he has entrusted to us for other people—to gain eternal friends.

How can we do that? We can gain eternal friends by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others and by supporting the spread of the gospel with our offerings so that more might come to faith and become fellow members of God’s family. One of our hymns offers this encouragement. “May our zeal to help the heathen Be increased from day to day, As we plead in true compassion And for their conversion pray. For the many faithful workers, For the gospel they proclaim, Let us all be cheerful givers To the glory of your name” (Christian Worship 577:3).

Imagine someone in heaven walking up to you and thanking you for supporting the proclamation of the gospel that changed his or her life and eternity! Imagine that scene being multiplied countless times as your financial support of mission work brings the gospel into the lives of people throughout the world. Imagine all those “forever friends.”

Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager holds contrasting attitudes before our eyes. One attitude sees money—no matter whose it is—as something to be used selfishly and only for this life. Another attitude sees money as a temporal blessing from God that is best used for the eternal welfare of other people. One attitude might be shrewd in the eyes of some people. The other is pleasing in the eyes of God. In this and every area of life, may God work in us what is pleasing to him (Hebrews 13:21).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Can I be sure that what I have been taught is the truth?

There are so many religions that claim to be the true religion. How can I be sure that what I have been taught is the truth?

James F. Pope

The Bible provides instructions like this: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). I see your question as a way of following through on that advice. I can suggest three courses of action:

Consider the sources

Only a few books in the world claim to be foundational for a particular religion. Some of those books include the Qur’an (Islam), the Vedas (Hinduism), Tao Te Ching (Taoism), the Tripitaka (Buddhism) and the Book of Mormon (Mormons). An examination of these books reveals numerous problems. Different versions exist. Inaccuracies abound.

The Bible has no equal when it comes to books associated with religions. That is true especially when it comes to the content of those books. Despite being written by some three dozen people over a period of 1,500 years, there is complete unity in the Scriptures; all of it points to Jesus Christ as Savior. In addition, God’s guiding hand has preserved his inspired Word with remarkable accuracy over the years.

Contrast the messages

Page through the “holy books” of non-Christian religions and you will find a common theme. The gods of those religions are demanding, not giving. Adherents are told what they must do and not do to get in on the god’s good side. But will people be able to do enough to please their god before life on earth comes to an end? Uncertainty reigns. Fear dominates.

How different the God of the Bible is! After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea on their exodus from Egypt, the assembly asked in song: “Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11). Yes, which God has rescued people who were naturally opposed to him? None but the true God, the God of the Bible. Only the God of the Bible has shown sacrificial love to sinners. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Convinced by God

While I can show you differences between Christianity and non-Christian religions, only God can convince you that what you have learned is the truth.

See if you can identify with Jeremiah in the Bible. When life’s circumstances tempted the prophet Jeremiah to withhold God’s Word from other people, he observed: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). Consider the two men on the road to Emmaus. When they heard Jesus speak to them, they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

If your reaction to reading the Bible is different from reading any other book, that is not a chance happening. Because the Bible is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12), it has the power to convince and convict people of the truth. In that regard, God himself assures you that you have been taught the truth—his truth.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 8
Issue: August 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: How does one recover from a failed evangelism opportunity?

How does one recover from a failed evangelism opportunity?

James F. Pope

Yours is the experience of many a Christian. Whether the door of opportunity opened just a crack or swung wide open, failing to take advantage of that opportunity to witness can fill Christians with guilt and regret. I am going to suggest that you can recover by looking in different directions.

Look back to Christ

When we fall short of God’s expectations and requirements of us, we might shrug it off with this attitude: “That’s the way it goes. Nobody’s perfect.” We could wallow in self-pity and guilt, thinking, “I’ll never get this right. There’s no use in trying.” Or, we can take our sin and burden to God and find forgiveness and strength in Jesus his Son.

There is forgiveness for every sin, including our sins of omission—those times when we fail to do what God commands. There is forgiveness for those occasions when we hide our faith for whatever reason and fail to testify about our Savior. There is forgiveness because Jesus was a “faithful witness” (Revelation 1:5) in our place. He seized every opportunity to share the truth of God’s Word with people—from a Samaritan woman to a Roman governor. What we have failed to do, Jesus did.

More than that, Jesus willingly endured the punishment our sins of omission and sins of commission deserved. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus sacrificed himself, and now his blood “purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

A starting point, then, in recovering from a failed evangelism opportunity is knowing that you are forgiven. Completely. The slate is clean.

Look back and learn

But before we look ahead, let’s look back once more.

Without getting bogged down in the past, ask yourself, “Where did it go wrong? Why did it go wrong?” Was it fear of people’s reactions that led to your silence? Was it a problem of not knowing what to say? Was it failure to recognize a witnessing opportunity?

Whatever the reason might have been, look back and learn. Learn what you might do differently. Then, armed with God’s forgiveness and power and equipped with a greater understanding of what happened in the past, look in a different direction.

Look ahead, Christian

Remember Peter. As Peter cozied up to a fire on a cool spring night in the courtyard of the high priest, the door of opportunity to testify about his Lord opened so wide you could have driven a Roman chariot through it. But rather than telling people about the Jesus of Nazareth he knew, Peter vehemently denied any association with him.

Sometime later, after shedding tears of sorrow and hearing words of forgiveness from his Savior, Peter displayed a bold outlook on evangelism opportunities. He shared it with the recipients of his first inspired letter: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Those are not the words of a man who lived in the past—the past of failed witnessing opportunities. Those are the words of a man who looked forward to more witnessing opportunities. You can look in that same direction, Christian.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Unbelievers who seem to be more morally upright

What do I say when a friend asks why some unbelievers seem to be more morally upright than many Christians she knows?

James F. Pope

Your response to your friend includes understanding what the Bible teaches about good works and the dual nature of the Christian.

SIMILARITY ON THE OUTSIDE

Picture two strangers walking down a street. One is a Christian, the other is an unbeliever. Can you tell who’s who? That is not a fair question because no human being would be able to know the difference with one hundred percent certainty. Why? What the Lord said to the prophet Samuel regarding the identification of Israel’s second king is also true when it comes to people trying to distinguish a believer from an unbeliever: “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God alone can see faith or unbelief in the heart and sort out Christian from non-Christian. You and I have limited vision. That means we might not be able to differentiate between an unbeliever who does nice things in life and a Christian who seems to do fewer amounts of good works.

But, you wonder, why might the morally upright behavior of an unbeliever seem to be more abundant than the good works of a Christian? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? An answer to those questions lies in recognizing the unique makeup of the Christian.

A BATTLE ON THE INSIDE

In Romans chapter 7 the apostle Paul explained the struggles he experienced in living the Christian life. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18,19). The apostle’s struggles materialized when the Lord blinded him physically and opened his eyes spiritually on the road to Damascus. The new self created by the Holy Spirit clashed with the sinful nature Paul had from birth. The result of that clash was that the apostle fell into sin again and again after he became a believer.

Christians today find common ground with the apostle. Christians may find themselves on the losing side of temptation all too often. It then can appear as if the unbeliever’s behavior surpasses the good works of battle-weary Christians. But it’s important to keep the distinction between outward goodness of an unbeliever that does not impress God and good works of a Christian that are pleasing to God because of Jesus his Son. The truth remains that only Christians can do good works (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13), while the entire life of the unbeliever is one of sin (Romans 14:23).

JOY IN OUR INNER BEING

Picture again those two strangers walking down a street. One person just tries to do nice things—to be a good neighbor, a good citizen, and a good person. Another person tries to do good things because she shares the attitude of the apostle Paul and seeks to do what God says in his law as a way of thanking him for salvation. Does that mean such gratitude will express itself in greater measure than the morally upright behavior of unbelievers? Not necessarily. But Christians will strive to grow in their praise of God.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 6
Issue: June 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Preparation of meat invoking Allah

As Christians, should we steer clear of “halal” meat, considering that part of the preparation of this meat includes invoking Allah?

James F. Pope

“Halal” is an Arabic word meaning “permissible.” Halal meat comes from animals that have been slaughtered in keeping with Islamic laws of the Qur’an. Included in the slaughtering process is a ritual with prayer to Allah or at least the mention of his name. As the Bible addressed a situation like this in the past, your question illustrates the truth of wise King Solomon’s words: “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

A BIBLICAL PARALLEL

The scene is Corinth, Greece. The date is A.D. 50. Two Christians are standing in the marketplace eyeing meat that is available for sale. The grade is good, the price is right, but there’s one potential catch: the meat was involved in idolatrous worship practices. One Christian says, “I could never buy or eat that meat considering it is associated with pagan practices. That would be wrong.” The other Christian responds, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing unacceptable about that meat.” Two Christians with differing opinions about something the Bible neither commands nor forbids.

When I mentioned your question to a couple of friends, I received reactions similar to those two Christians in Corinth:

● “I could never buy or eat meat from animals that had been slaughtered as Allah’s name was being invoked.”

● “I don’t have any problem with buying or eating that meat.”

Who was right in Corinth? Who is right today?

IDENTICAL BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES

The apostle Paul addressed the situation in Corinth by reminding those Christians that there is only one God—the God of the Bible, the triune God: “We know that ‘An idol is nothing at all in the world’ and that ‘There is no God but one’ ” (1 Corinthians 8:4). The food that had been sacrificed to idols was perfectly fine because, as the apostle pointed out, idols do not exist.

“But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled” (1 Corinthians 8:7). If Corinthian Christians believed it was wrong for them to eat meat that had been associated with idolatrous worship practices, then it was wrong for them. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome of the same truth: “But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean” (Romans 14:14).

On the other hand, a Christian in Corinth who recognized the freedom to buy and eat meat associated with idolatrous worship practices could have consumed that product without sinning. At the same time, that Christian would have wanted to exercise that freedom with a loving eye toward fellow Christians whose consciences were guiding them in a different direction. This is where the apostle’s instruction came into play: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9).

So what about halal meat? Slaughtering animals in the name of a nonexistent Islamic god does not spiritually contaminate the meat. Buying or eating such meat is a matter of conscience. And, as was the case in Corinth, Christians will refrain from condemning those who have a different opinion.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 5
Issue: May 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Religion vs. Relationship?

“I don’t want a religion; I want a relationship.” I have seen this quote quite a bit lately. Is there any risk in me using it?

James F. Pope

There is always some risk in being misunderstood when we use language and phrases that might be used in ways different from our intention.


 

IS RELIGION A BAD THING?

From the sound of it, the quote seems to say that religion is bad. Is it?

Dictionary.com offers several definitions of religion including “something one believes in and follows devotedly,” “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects,” and “the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.” There is nothing bad about religion from those definitions unless a person does not want to be locked into a “set of beliefs and practices” or has an objection to certain worship practices.

And that is precisely what can lead some people to say, “I don’t want a religion.” They may want to believe only what they think is best. Or they may want freedom from organized religion and its forms of worship. “I can worship God in nature” replaces “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’ ” (Psalm 122:1).

ISN’T TRUE RELIGION ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS?

“I don’t want a religion; I want a relationship.” From the sound of it, that quote seems to say that religion and relationships are worlds apart. That is not at all the case. True religion is all about relationships. True religion, that is, Christianity, means enjoying a relationship with God and having the privilege of calling him our Father. The opening words of the Lord’s Prayer illustrate that truth. True religion means enjoying a relationship with Jesus and having the privilege of calling him our Brother. “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:11).

True religion, Christianity, means enjoying additional relationships. God’s design is not that his people become hermits and live far removed from society. No, God’s intention is that his followers interact with fellow human beings, encouraging fellow Christians and serving as light and salt to the unbelieving world. Interestingly enough, the Bible even pairs the word religion with human relationships. “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (1 Timothy 5:4).

True religion, then, is all about relationships, isn’t it? The relationships people enjoy with God their Father and Jesus Christ their Brother as well as the relationships people experience with others. Without question, true religion, Christianity, is all about relationships—the vertical and horizontal kind.

So is there any risk in your use of the quote “I don’t want a religion; I want a relationship”? Sure, there is always a risk in being misunderstood if you use an expression that others use for their own purposes. There will be no mistaking what you mean if you say, “If you want a religion and a relationship, you will find both in Christianity.”

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net/questions. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

 

 

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Why do we say “rose again”

Why do we say Jesus “rose again” in the creeds?

James F. Pope

Your question addresses a phrase we speak week after week in worship services. When we confess our faith using the Apostles’ Creed, we declare that on “the third day he rose again from the dead.” When we use the Nicene Creed as a confession we profess that “on the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.” Your question will help clarify part of our worship vocabulary.

A SAVIOR WHO DIED AND ROSE

Like many words in our language, the word again can have different meanings. It can mean “once more” or “another time.” We can rule out those definitions for again in the creeds because Scripture speaks of Jesus dying only once and rising to life only once (Romans 6:9).

Again can also mean “in addition.” Our use of the word again in the creeds has that definition in mind. After confessing that Jesus died and was buried, we declare that, in addition, Jesus rose from the dead. In other words, his death was not the end of his life. In addition to laying down his life for our sins, Jesus took up his life again just as he said (John 10:18).

A SAVIOR WHO ROSE, NEVER TO DIE AGAIN

While Jesus’ resurrection was the fulfillment of prophecy, the Lord was not the first person to rise from the dead, was he? The Bible provides several accounts of individuals who died and were raised to life: the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:22), the son of a widow in Nain (Luke 7:15), a brother of two sisters in Bethany (John 11:44), and brothers and sisters of the faith in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52). But in those and other resurrection accounts in the Bible, people experienced death a second time. They died, they were raised to life, and they died again. That was not the case with Jesus.

Jesus made that clear when he appeared in a vision to the apostle John on the island of Patmos. To a very startled disciple Jesus offered these words of comfort: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17,18).

The Savior who died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25) will not suffer death again. Nor will his followers.

A SAVIOR WHO ROSE AS THE FIRSTFRUITS OF THE DEAD

In the Bible’s great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul describes Jesus as “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (v. 20). In Old Testament times the concept of firstfruits (Exodus 23:19) indicated that while the first portion of the harvest was given to the Lord, it was only the beginning of the harvest. Similarly, Jesus is the first of those raised to life, never to die again. As the firstfruits of that kind of resurrection, there will be others. On the last day the bodies of Christians who died will be raised to life and reunited to their souls. Their bodies will be glorified, and they will never experience death again.

These blessings are possible only because Jesus “rose again,” as we say in the creeds. We make that confession because it is what Scripture states: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 3
Issue: March 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Sacrifices

As a modern American I have trouble understanding how the Old Testament animal sacrifices were pleasing to God. Because of that, I do not understand why God would want or accept the sacrifice of his Son. Can you explain this?

James F. Pope

I can appreciate your question because you and I are so far removed from the time and culture of the Old Testament sacrificial system. If we bridge those cultural gaps, we can come to appreciate the twofold message of the animal sacrifices.

A VIVID MESSAGE OF GOD’S LAW

Euphemisms for sin abound today. People speak of “mistakes,” “indiscretions,” “poor choices” and “errors in judgment.” Those alternate terms for sin are designed to lower the guilt level in a person’s conscience and boost self-esteem. Unfortunately, those terms mask the seriousness of sin and the need for a Savior from sin.

By contrast, the Old Testament sacrificial system indicted people as rebels who violated God’s will by their “sins,” “transgressions,” and “iniquities.” The killing of an animal broadcasted a powerful message to the people, and the message was that sin is serious. “The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Worshipers who witnessed the slaughter of a sacrificial animal had every reason to think, “My sins are serious. I rightly deserve punishment from God. I need forgiveness for my sins.”

A BEAUTIFUL PICTURE OF GOD’S GOSPEL

And yet, in that same sacrificial system there was good news for the worshipers. While the sacrificing of an animal provided a graphic image of the seriousness of sin, it also painted a beautiful picture of the forgiving love of God. The sacrificing of an animal taught the worshiper to think, “I deserve to die and be punished for my sins, but God accepts a substitute and spares me.” Those animal substitutes pointed ahead to the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. The animals were to be perfect and without spot. The Messiah was like them; he was without sin—a substitute for the sinners for whom he died.

Against the backdrop of countless animal sacrifices pointing to a hill outside Jerusalem, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement” (Romans 3:25). The sacrifice of the Son of God did what the animal sacrifices could only portray: it removed sin and guilt (Hebrews 10:1-18). And consider now what that sacrifice says about God.

A WINDOW INTO GOD’S HEART

“Why would God want or accept the sacrifice of his Son?” you wonder. Because he desires the salvation of all people. God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The plan of salvation that God set up and implemented involved the sacrifice of his own Son.

That Son once said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Imagine the love of someone who lays down his life, not for friends, but for sinners, a world of sinners (Romans 5:8)! God’s love for sinners moved him to institute the sacrificial system and then sacrifice his own Son.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Climate change exposure in colleges

My daughter’s exposure to climate change ideas in college has led her to question whether it’s responsible to have any children (who will each have a “carbon footprint”). I hate to think that we should refuse God’s gift of children because of climate change fears. Can you shed any light on this?

James F. Pope

Responding to your question will take us in two different directions, but they both lead to God and the truths of his Word.

Caring for God’s creation

More than any other people in the world, Christians have reason to care for the environment. Why? Because we recognize that “the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters” (Psalm 24:1,2). This planet we call home is not the result of some cosmological explosion or chance alignment of atoms. The world, the universe—all things—came into existence by the powerful word of the Lord (John 1:3). He then entrusted the management of this world to the crown of his creation (Genesis 1:28).

So we strive to care for God’s creation as best we can, but we do so with the humble realization and confident trust that the Creator of the universe is also the preserver of the universe. That means that concerns—real or imagined—for the environment need to be balanced by the fact that people are not ultimately in control of this world. God is.

To take a short refresher course in God’s control of his world, review Job chapters 8–41. With figurative language God speaks of the “storehouses” of the snow and hail (38:22) that he has at his disposal. In unmistakably clear language throughout that section of Job, God identifies himself as the one who oversees the environment to sustain life.

Understanding God’s gift of procreation

In addition to sustaining life, God gives life, and he does that through people. With his directive for Adam and Eve to fill the earth (Genesis 1:28), God blessed people with procreative powers. He enables people to be his agents in the life-giving process.

We view children as blessings from God (Psalm 127:3-5). Blessings. Not inconveniences on a lifestyle, not drains on personal income, not barriers to career goals. Blessings. God wants his blessings nurtured, cared for, loved, and brought up in the Christian faith. And because he is in control of life, God will grant those blessings according to his loving wisdom. Husbands and wives, then, can gladly receive God’s blessings as he grants them.

Will God grant so many blessings that he threatens his own world through environmental change or inadequate food supplies? Not at all. The one who gives life is also the one who sustains life. When it comes to God meeting people’s basic needs, the observation of the psalmist still rings true today: “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15,16).

On the basis of Scripture, then, your daughter can definitely move forward in life with the attitude that “it is responsible” to have children, should God so grant them. Her concerns about God’s creation are not to negate what God has said about his gift of children and his promise to preserve the lives he has given. God can be trusted in whatever he says (Titus 1:2).

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 103, Number 1
Issue: January 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Church’s approach to biblical interpretation

Is there a simple answer why many mainline Christian denominations either remain silent or now actually officially teach morality contrary to Scripture?

James F. Pope

While there are certainly other contributing factors to the situation you describe, a simple answer can be found in a church’s approach to biblical interpretation.

DIFFERENT METHODS OF INTERPRETATION

The most common method of biblical interpretation for churches under the umbrella of Christianity is the historical-critical approach. This approach has two underlying premises: Any account in the Bible that contains supernatural content is fiction and not fact, and God did not inspire the writers of biblical books by giving them the exact words to write down.

Those who subscribe to this approach maintain that miracles recorded in the Bible are merely the reports of superstitious people with scant scientific information. They further assert that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not write the gospels that bear their names, but individuals who never knew Jesus personally and who lived decades after his earthly ministry penned the gospels.

The historical-grammatical method, on the other hand, takes a drastically different approach toward the Bible. It treats Scripture on its own terms: that all of it is truth (John 17:17), inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and centers on Jesus Christ (John 5:39). The historical-grammatical method examines the words of Scripture in their historical context and seeks to understand and apply those words as they were originally intended—regardless of how unpopular the content might be today.

PUTTING THE METHODS INTO PRACTICE

With this very brief background of biblical interpretation methods in mind, consider what I could do if I interpreted the Bible according to the historical-critical method. If I came across a Bible passage with moral content I did not like—whatever it happened to be—I could amend it in ways that appeared to be credible and legitimate for me today. I could ask, “Would it be loving to others to accept as truth and to implement in life what this passage is saying? Or would it be more loving to find a different meaning and application?” To some people, that could appear to be a sound and noble approach to biblical interpretation.

But you see what is happening, don’t you? People are approaching the Bible with their minds made up regarding what Scripture should and should not say. And, if Scripture does not agree with their opinions, then they believe they can—with self-asserted scholarship and stated sincerity—propose a meaning that lines up with their ideas.

Is that how biblical interpretation is to work? Isn’t it to be just the opposite? King David implored of the Lord: “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me” (Psalm 25:4,5). Proper biblical interpretation approaches God’s Word with a student-like attitude, seeking to be taught by God and to have him replace our ideas on subject matters—including morality—with his.

When that happens and we profess what the Bible says, we may find ourselves standing up for a message that is unpopular for some. Does that mean we change the message to make our lives easier or to attract people who have itching ear syndrome (2 Timothy 4:3)? Not at all. We hold to the Lord’s teachings (John 8:31) out of love for him and others.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm, Minnesota.

James Pope also answers questions online at wels.net. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

 

Light for our path: Truly repentant?

If someone repeats the same sin often but goes to God with a sorry heart, is the person truly repentant and forgiven?

James F. Pope

Since the fall in Eden, people are sinners from the moment life begins, and they commit sins until their life on earth come to an end. What differs among people is how they view sin, repentance, forgiveness, and Christian living. Two case studies can illustrate those differences and, in turn, help answer your question.

CASE STUDY ONE

Consider the case of a Christian we will call Jessica. She is single and a senior at a Christian college. By her own admission, though, her worship attendance is sporadic, and her Bible reading has come to a standstill. As a result, she has her own thoughts about sin, repentance, and Christian living. She has the idea that because she is a Christian, she can do pretty much whatever she wants and all she has to do is say she is sorry to God and all is well. Because of that faulty thinking, drunkenness and sexual activity are common occurrences in her life.

No human being can look into Jessica’s heart, of course, but one has reason to wonder to what degree she understands Romans 6:1,2: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Or Romans 6:11: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” A person like Jessica could easily deceive herself into thinking that all is well with God when it is not.

CASE STUDY TWO

Consider now the case of a Christian we will call Paul. We know him by that name in the Bible. In Romans chapter 7 Paul informs us about his struggles with temptation and sin. He confessed: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. . . . Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15,18,24,25).

Like Jessica, Paul sinned time and again, but Paul was bothered greatly by doing what God forbade and failing to do what God commanded. Paul understood the seriousness of sin and the great cost of his forgiveness, and he expressed a sincere desire to live according to God’s will.

Where does this leave you with your question? You indicated that the individual in question responds to sin with a “sorry” heart; sorrow is expressed after doing wrong, but sin follows soon thereafter. There is repentance, a turning away from sin and trust in the forgiveness God promises, but there is also a daily struggle. What we do not want to do is unfairly or unlovingly equate repeated sin in a person’s life with indifference or hypocrisy. The individual you reference might very well be fighting “the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) but losing regular battles against sin. Or, you might be describing an individual who seriously misunderstands repentance and Christian living. We leave the judgment of hearts to God in the hope that hearts are filled with sorrow over sin and faith.

Contributing editor James Pope, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

James Pope also answers questions online. Submit your questions there or to fic@wels.net.

 

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

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

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

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

 

Author: James F. Pope
Volume 102, Number 11
Issue: November 2015

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2017
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us