July 13, 2018 – One Gospel, One Way- Galatians 1, 1 Corinthians 1:18

apostle paul

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)  Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1

There are many voices all around us that demand our attention. Demands of work, family and the world around us scatter our minds.  It’s easy to get our priorities messed up in today’s world- and even easier to create a value system (a religion if you will) of our own.

The media and the culture send us messages that “there are many paths to heaven,” yet if we go to Scripture, we learn from Jesus that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The only way to eternal life is through Him. (John 14:6)  We can’t earn our way to God’s favor.  All we can do is accept the gift of faith.

The story of the apostle Paul doesn’t point us to Paul, but to Jesus. Jesus is the one “doing the doing” as it were.  Jesus is the one who knocked the Pharisee Saul off of his high horse as he was traveling to Damascus. Through the Holy Spirit the Pharisee Saul – who once had approved the persecution and killing of Christians- became the apostle Paul, who wrote a large part of the New Testament and was eventually martyred for the cause of Christ.

Our culture isn’t accepting of the Gospel that Paul preached. The theology of the Cross, that we are both crucified with Christ and raised with Christ, is just as abhorrent to 21st century sensibilities as it was to those in the 1st century.

Some people twist the Good News into a license for anything goes (antinomianism) which denies the reality and the evil of human sin as well as the power and the necessity of Jesus’ death on the Cross to save us from the death we have earned and deserve.

Others preach a “gospel” of legalism or works-righteousness that requires rigid adherence to a series of rules and regulations and self-denials and penances to appease an angry and vengeful God who is stalking us and condemning us for every possible error or flaw in our conduct.

Still other so-called pastors, preachers and teachers teach for shameful gain the illusion that God is like a vending machine, perpetuating the error of Johann Tetzel that through the sale of modern-day indulgences we can buy our way out of hell, and/or have our “best life” here on earth right now. Jim Bakker, Rod Parsley, Leroy Jenkins and countless other modern-day wolves in sheep’s clothing who teach the false gospels of word-of-faith, prosperity gospel, or sell “miracles” for money fall into this category.

It is true that we need to hear and know God’s Law, and that left to ourselves, we have earned and inherited death and hell, but the purpose of knowing God’s Law is to show us our desperate need for the Gospel- the free salvation that Jesus bought for us on the Cross. We are not going to have a perfect life this side of heaven.  We do have Jesus walking with us, the Holy Spirit in us, and God’s promise that by His grace we will not be tried beyond what we can bear.  We do not have the promise of “prosperity now.”

Being nice doesn’t save us. Being social justice warriors can’t save us. Sending money to the televangelist du jour doesn’t save us or give anyone prosperity- except the one to whom the check is made out. We cannot do anything to earn or deserve anything from God. Even the ability to trust the One Who died on the Cross comes to us as a free gift from God.

Any “gospel” that denies the reality of and the need for Jesus’ death on the Cross is no gospel at all. The assurance that Jesus died to save us from our sins and that He rose from the grave is the Good News. It is the Good News of eternal life versus eternal death in which countless martyrs and saints over the centuries have stood firm.

As people who are called Christians and followers of Jesus, God’s opinion is the only one that matters.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV)

 

July 10, 2018 One Flesh, One Body- Genesis 2:13-25

garden of eden

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:18-25 (ESV)

It is not good for human beings to be alone. God made us for relationship, not just with Him, but with His creation and with other humans. God entrusted Adam with naming the animals, but having the animals as companionship just didn’t seem to be enough for Adam.  As much as we might think a world with just dogs and cats for company would be a good thing, we can’t relate to them on the same intellectual level.  Procreation is pretty much impossible without both male and female humans.  Where would the babies come from?

One of the most tragic casualties of the Fall – and of the second half of the 20th century- is the good gift of marriage.  Fewer and fewer couples see the necessity of making the commitment of marriage, and even among those who do, only about half of all marriages will survive until one of the partners dies.  Our culture glorifies the ideals of independence and sexual freedom.  The fallout of the so-called “sexual revolution” is all around us. We want that euphoric high of infatuation, and we love to be in romantic love, but we don’t want to deal with another person’s flaws or hard times. Infatuation doesn’t last long. Marriage can become trying when the reality of monthly bills, medical issues, and dirty laundry and each other’s personality flaws becomes painfully clear.

Some marriages are destroyed by adultery. Still others are torn apart by addiction, or by physical or emotional abuse. Some even decide to end a marriage due to lack of interest or “falling out of love.” There is always emotional and spiritual fallout throughout a family when a marriage falls apart.  Separation and divorce- while sometimes absolutely necessary due to abuse or unavoidable because of adultery- are part of our sinful condition, because of our hardness of heart. Separation and brokenness were not the ways God intended.

The relationship of a husband and wife was intended by God to be the closest and most intimate relationship within humanity. John the Baptist compares the relationship of Christ and the church to a marriage. See John 3:28-30. We, the church, as the Bride of Christ are part of His body- just as we see foreshadowed in the creation of Eve from the flesh of Adam. Marriage was intended to be a mirror of that perfect union.

Flesh of my flesh,” Adam says of Eve.  He speaks of a relationship so close that they are of the same body, the same mind, unashamed of their nakedness, with no secrets between them.  This kind of relationship echoes the intimacy of God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden without the barriers of sin, shame and regret.

The good news is that Jesus always invites us to come to Him- to confess our sin, to repent, and to surrender our shame to Him. Unlike our flawed and tempestuous relationships with other sinners/saints like ourselves, Jesus is always with us, always faithful, never letting go of us, even into eternity.

While the best earthly marriages foreshadow the delight of the forever relationship we will share with Jesus, we can trust that at all times Jesus is our comfort, our strength and our defender.

It is important to remember that there is no condemnation for a person to seek separation or divorce should they be the victim of adultery, or for those who suffer abuse (which includes physical, financial and emotional abuse) at the hands of their spouse. There is forgiveness, healing and restoration for those who have suffered the pain of divorce. Everyone alive has fallen short of the glory of God.  Jesus invites us to come to Him to be forgiven and restored.

We can look forward to the day when there will be no separation from Jesus- no more tears, no more pain, and no more brokenness. Until that day we trust that God will give us the grace to reflect and share His love, forgiveness, restoration and peace.

July 6, 2018 – Jesus’ Love for His House- John 2:13-22

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The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22 (ESV)

What Jesus would do for the love of God’s house? Was Jesus defending the sanctity of the bricks and mortar of the temple, or was He protesting the perversion of worship and extortion of the people by the ruling authorities?

The temple in Jerusalem where Jesus drove out the moneylenders was the second temple, (the original temple of Solomon was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC) and it was actually built by Herod. Herod was not so much into worshiping God as he was about making himself look good.  The second temple was magnificent- but it ended up being destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, never to be rebuilt.  The Dome of the Rock- a Muslim mosque- stands on the site today.

Jesus wasn’t really concerned with bricks and mortar. He was concerned about people being taken advantage of in the name of God.  Even today, there are those who make ill-gotten gain in the name of God by promising miracles or giving “prophecies” in exchange for cash.

It is true that the legitimate work of the church of Christ takes financial resources. The work of making disciples- preaching the Gospel, helping the needy, comforting those in need, and providing a healthy and safe place for us to worship and for our children to learn and grow in faith isn’t glamorous.  The resources to truly nurture and provide for God’s people on earth- the Body of Christ- are vital, and we are to give as our consciences compel us (2 Corinthians 9:6-15) and as we are able.  Christian communities shouldn’t operate the way the world does.  Our concern should be that the Gospel is preached, and the sacraments are given, and that as many people as possible would hear the Good News of Jesus (Romans 10:17.)

The temple Jesus spoke of was His own body, His body given freely, destroyed by every human who has or ever will live. That temple was rebuilt in three days!  Not Herod’s temple of bricks and mortar, but a far greater and precious temple.

The house of God is the body of believers-it is not the buildings where Christ’s church meets. While buildings are important for the mission of the church, the community of believers who gather for Word and Sacrament are truly the house to which Jesus was referring, and the house Jesus is passionate about.

We don’t like to picture Jesus as that guy- the one who cracks the whip and takes out His wrath.  Everyone loves the depictions of Jesus as the gentle Shepherd, or Jesus who is patiently knocking on the door, or Jesus praying in the garden.  We don’t want to think of Jesus with the cat o’ nine tails whipping the unholy thunder out of “prophets for profit” or of Jesus delivering sweet ninja moves on various enterprising merchants who are engaged in fleecing the flock.  We get a bit disturbed to know that even Jesus gets angry.  None of us likes to think about the reality of the wrath of God.

Jesus does have righteous anger against practices that take advantage of people and that slander His holy name. Just as a good father would not hesitate to protect his wife and family from an intruder who comes to rob and pillage, Jesus defends His own as well.

It is true that mercy triumphs over judgment. Otherwise there would be no hope for anyone because everyone alive falls short of the glory of God. It is good to know that Jesus loves us and defends us, even though we don’t deserve it, and even if we don’t always see His hand protecting us.

Jesus taught that His kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:33-36)  We know we are living in the paradox world of now, but not yet.  May we always trust in Jesus defending and protecting us from those who would do us harm, and may we be free to love and serve Him.

 

 

July 3, 2018 Neither Poverty Nor Riches, but Somewhere in the Middle- Proverbs 30:7-9, 2 Corinthians 8:9

man walking on train rail

Photo by Chinmay Singh on Pexels.com

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9 (ESV)

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)

When we pray the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we agree with and trust God for “daily bread-“ not because we doubt whether or not God provides for us, but so that we stand in agreement with God and that we know the One from whom our sustenance and life come.

Behold, thus God wishes to indicate to us how He cares for us in all our need, and faithfully provides also for our temporal support. And although He abundantly grants and preserves these things even to the wicked and knaves, yet He wishes that we pray for them, in order that we may recognize that we receive them from His hand, and may feel His paternal goodness toward us therein. – Martin Luther, on the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer

The world surrounds us with messages that implore us to buy more, to upgrade our technology, to be thinner, to be more beautiful, ad nauseam. Advertising teaches us dissatisfaction with what we have so that we will strive for more, bigger and better.  The urge to keep up with the Joneses is written deeply in American culture, as if somehow our value as people is validated by wearing the latest fashion or having the newest smartphone.

Contrast the wisdom of Agur (the writer of the above verses from Proverbs) as it was recorded in God’s word for our benefit. His prayer is more like: Keep us honest. Maintain us materially somewhere in the middle, neither rich nor poor, but having enough for our daily needs. Keep us from either trusting in our own abilities to the point where we fail to see our need for God and thank Him for everything; or from being so impoverished and desperate that we starve and must scrape or even steal to survive.

We are so conditioned to believe in our own ambition- or blame our failures on “bad luck” or our circumstances, but that’s not how God wants us to go about things. He calls us to rely on Him and know that our needs– though not necessarily our wants– will be met.

Agur’s wisdom in the Proverbs, Luther’s teaching on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, and the apostle Paul’s reminder in 2nd Corinthians that Jesus sacrificed everything specifically to save us from sin and death, are all contrary to the wisdom of the world.  Scripture doesn’t teach us about how to have the greatest life ever right now. God is not a vending machine, nor is He a celestial scorekeeper, looking for our every failure and flaw. In Scripture we learn about Jesus- what He has done to save us from sin and death.  Throughout Scripture we are pointed to Jesus and His love for us. We are reminded that in our baptism we have received the greatest, most lavish, most precious gift of all- the gift of eternal life with God forever.

Trusting in our own ability to achieve, earn and be self-reliant, and thinking we can do it all and don’t need God, and failing to trust God for our daily bread in difficult times are opposite sides of the same error. We need to trust God that He will give us what we need to live and thrive without leaning to one or the other extreme.

Jesus has already provided for us- forever. In our doubt we succumb to worry that our needs will not be met, and we get trapped in the pursuit of our own wants. May we trust Jesus that He will indeed provide our daily bread as we seek Him and His will for us, and trust Him that He cares for us and provides for us.

June 29, 2018 Mourning, Dancing, and the Joy of the Lord- Psalm 30, Philippians 4:11

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I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”  By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy. “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?  Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! Psalm 30 (ESV)

Sometimes we fail to understand our thorough dependence on God when things are going well for us. We tend to be a bit too self-reliant when things are going well. The distractions of daily life and our own pursuits can cause us to forget that we were made and named and claimed by God to be Christ-reliant.

The apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Phillipi: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, I am strong.” Philippians 4:11 (ESV)

It can also be true that hardship can cause us to question our faith and cause us to doubt God’s love and care for us. Even so, mourning and trials are times in which God draws close to us, in which we realize how desperate we are and how much we need Him.  When we come to that point of “it’s Christ or nothing,” all we have left is to fall upon the tender mercy of Jesus so He can put us back together again.  Jesus brings us back from the darkness of mourning and the despair of trials and comforts us with His peace and gives us joy that is not dependent upon our circumstances or material standing.

David (the writer of this Psalm) understood that God walks with us through times of mourning. God alone heals and restores us even as we know that we will not have complete or total healing in this lifetime.  For now we have to walk by faith in the promises of God. We will be made new and whole. We can rely on Jesus and know He cares for us until that day when the world is remade.

There is a morning coming soon when mourning will be gone forever.  Until then, even through our tears, we can sing.  We can dance.  We can trust that we have the joy of the Lord.

June 27, 2018 -God’s Mercies are New Every Morning- Lamentations 3:22-33

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The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.

Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.

 For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. Lamentations 3:22-33

Suffering is a common denominator across humanity. Whether a person is born privileged or in poverty, all of us are touched by the fallout of the Fall.  Sometimes we would like to think that material wealth is the answer to all earthly problems, but to see the broken relationships, chemical dependence and suicide rates among the “beautiful people,” it’s clear that money alone can only buy the misery one likes the best.  There is no escaping suffering, loss and despair by attempting to do so in burying oneself in the comforts of this material world.

It’s easy to get into a place where we blame God for suffering, but it is a non-negotiable condition of living in a fallen world. Sometimes suffering is the result of our own poor choices, and can be used by God to bring us to repentance, but more often than not, suffering is brought about by something outside of our control or ability to prevent.

The reality of suffering is that we are not the ones in control. If it were up to us we would take it all away. If it were up to us we would try to figure out some higher meaning or noble purpose for suffering.  Sometimes we can see a purpose for it, but most of the time we are simply left to endure it and keep on wondering why. We are challenged by suffering to simply trust God when we do not understand.

It is encouraging to know that no matter what suffering we must endure as a condition of being a fallen creature that Jesus walks with us in our suffering. We are being tried and prepared for life with God forever.  Our bodies will age and decay and wither. We will all know grief and loss. Even so, there will come a day when suffering will end. There is life beyond the limitations of this world.

Jeremiah, the writer of Lamentations, was most familiar with suffering. He was sent to the people of Israel by God as a prophet, set aside to warn the people of God’s impending judgment on them.  The people weren’t terribly thrilled with Jeremiah’s message, even throwing him into a cistern to sink into the mud and die. (Jeremiah 38)  Nobody likes to hear that they are screwing up and that their screw ups are coming back to bite them.

Yet Jeremiah had hope even though his earthly life was rather bleak and he endured a great deal of persecution and suffering precisely because of his assignment from God. Jeremiah points us to the hope he had in God.

Jesus, too was no stranger to suffering.  The prophet Isaiah foresaw His coming as the Suffering Servant. (Isaiah 53:1-5)  Jesus knows the suffering of fallen humanity because He shared in it.

God’s mercy is always fresh and new. God is always listening to our prayers, God the Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf, and in Jesus we have the assurance that He has died to save us from our sins and that we will be made whole and our tears will be wiped away forever (Revelation 21:4.)

We can trust in the compassion of God and know that in Him is comfort and peace, even when our circumstances would argue otherwise.

 

June 25, 2018 Today is the Day of Salvation- 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

loving god

Working together with him, (Jesus) then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.  For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,  but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;  through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;  as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.”  2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (ESV)

Lutherans generally don’t view salvation as a one-time event; rather, we see it as a lifelong process. We don’t do altar calls or expect miraculous immediate healings. Yet we do believe in the promises God gives us in Scripture.  We believe what Jesus and His apostles taught us. We believe that in our baptism we are named and claimed by God, and that we receive the real Body and Blood of Jesus- given to save us from our sins- when we come to the communion table. Our sins are washed away. Although now we live with one foot in this world and one in the next, and we struggle with sin and unbelief every day, salvation is our hope, The Promise, the ongoing process of God restoring, renewing and preparing us for live forever with Him.

For us, every day is the day of salvation, just as the apostle Paul preached during his ministry. Paul’s ministry was fraught with danger. As he and other Jesus followers endured persecution, shipwreck, starvation, imprisonment, deprivation and eventually martyrdom, the promise remained.

Because we know today is the day of salvation, and every day is a day to put on our baptism and know that in Jesus we have salvation, we are free to live in a way that honors Jesus no matter what obstacles or hardships we face.

We deal with living in this fallen world. We have suffering, loss, poverty and disappointment all around us.  Yet we also have that great and precious promise of salvation- Jesus with us now even through all of our pain, sorrow and loss- and life forever with Jesus.