November 19, 2019- Christ, the Foundation, and Trials by Fire-1 Corinthians 3:11-23, 2 Timothy 2:8-13

refiners fire

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.                                                                    

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 

For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”  and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. 1 Corinthians 3:11-23 (ESV)

The apostle Paul makes it clear that we aren’t saved by the things we do but by who we ARE in Christ, which is a good thing.   God has made us for doing good works – as we learn in Ephesians 2:10.  But the doing is the result of being– that old analogy of “cats meow because they’re cats,” “dogs bark because they’re dogs,” and good works are the fruit of Christ within us.

We also know that we fallible humans are also sinners.  We sin because we are sinners- even though we are living the paradox of being saints as well as sinners at the same time.  Even our good works- apart from the grace of God- have no goodness in them.

We are – collectively as the body of Christian believers, and individually as those named and claimed as Christ’s own in baptism- are temples of the Lord.  This is not due to anything inherently great about us, but because the Holy Spirit lives in us.

Our works will be tested by fire, and only that which lasts and that which is valuable will stand.  Paul, as he always does, points us to Christ, the foundation of all things.  Our works can only build upon His foundation.

God speaks to us in the Bible- He tells us what is good and what is evil.  He reveals to us what is good doctrine and practice, even while knowing that none of us can observe perfect doctrine or practice.  God is patient with us and our shortcomings even as the Holy Spirit is working in and through us here and now.   In Christ we can see beyond different teachers and different traditions and know that it is in Him alone that we stand or fall.

It’s a fine line we walk between knowing that our efforts fall short, and seeking our own will versus submitting to God’s will.  What it does mean is that God is in control of the results, and even though we might get a little bit scorched and a little bit worn along the way, God will get us through.

God is trustworthy and His words are true.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.  The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:8-13 (ESV)

 

 

 

 

November 14, 2019 Spiritual Discernment and the Mind of Christ- 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

wisdom1

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ESV)

The apostle Paul underscores what he taught in yesterday’s study verses- that wisdom is found in Christ.

The “secret and hidden” wisdom of God is that faith is a gift from God to us.  It comes from Him, not from our own minds or designs.  The power of the Gospel is in hearing it, but without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we can study the Scriptures and make them say anything we want them to say.  A good case in point is when people take individual verses out of context, i.e.

And (Judas) throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. Matthew 27:5 (ESV)

“You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:37b (ESV)

Obviously these two verses were pulled out of their original context!  If we read the surrounding context to these verses (Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 27:3-10) we see that these verses do not imply that since Judas hanged himself that we should hang ourselves too.

The study of Scripture is not purely an intellectual pursuit, rather, it is primarily a spiritual one.  Our own rational minds and our own interpretations are subject to what God is saying to us through the text.

To have the mind of Christ is to trust that He does speak to us in His revealed Word- the Bible.  We are called to seek a right understanding of what the full counsel of Scripture has to say whether we like it or not, or whether we agree with it or not.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

There are times when it is difficult to explain Scriptural authority.  Do we believe that because Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God that He is a sheep? Do we take Scripture so literally that we impose the Jewish ceremonial laws of Leviticus on today’s Christians (even though the apostle Paul spoke against this sort of teaching in the book of Galatians…)  Should we be afraid that we are wearing fabrics made of cotton-polyester blends?  This would be the error of legalism- thinking that we are justified by following all the rules.  The problem with legalism is that nobody can follow all the rules, and if we are honest with ourselves we break all 10 of the Commandments on a pretty regular basis.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

Do we fall on the other side of the fence and turn the entire narrative into metaphor, even when it is clear that there are historical truths and absolutes communicated in Scripture?  Antinomianism (literally means “against the law”) is alive and well not only in the greater society, but in the church as well.  “If it feels good, do it” is not a healthy approach to life.  Ice cream is fantastic, but a steady diet of it is not healthy.

Doing what we want may be harmful to ourselves and others.  When properly applied, rules serve as boundaries to protect us and others from actions that will cause harm.  There are absolute truths that are absolutely true all the time.  For instance, we cannot break the natural law of gravity without consequences.  We might believe we can fly off a 50 foot tall building, but the landing will not be pleasant.   Some rules were not made to be broken. The wages of sin is death.

Thankfully Jesus paid our sin-wages by going to the cross and suffering the penalty of death in our place.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:9-10 (ESV)

The good news is that in Christ He gives us the Holy Spirit and the discernment to “stay on the path.”  When we sin and fall short He calls us to confess our sins to Him and ask for forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is always there for us to help keep us from going off into the ditch on either side of the road.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 (ESV)

ditch

Dearest Jesus, we thank You that by your grace and through the Holy Spirit you give us the gifts of discernment and wisdom.  We pray that the Holy Spirit would illuminate our study of Scripture so that we will understand  your will for us and not go into the ditch on the right or the left. We pray that You would keep us balanced and on the road with You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 13, 2019- Jesus Christ and Him Crucified- 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

crucifixion2

And I, (the apostle Paul speaking) when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (ESV)

Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The apostle Paul was not after the world’s wisdom, or the vastness of the cosmos or the wealth of human knowledge, but the stark and lonely truth of the God-man, humiliated and bleeding, dying a criminal’s death on a Roman cross.

Paul was a learned man, a Pharisee, who was carefully catechized and taught the Scriptures from his earliest memories.  He knew all the ins and outs of the Mosaic Law, the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms.  He had the intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, yet his essential message- also known as the folly of Gentiles, and a stumbling block for Jews-is the crucified Christ.

It’s easy for Christians to get caught up in the sticky points of theology and miss the whole point of it all.  John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the great forerunner of Jesus got it clear as he exclaimed:  “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:28-30)

This is not to say that Christians should neglect the study of the Bible or of the Catechism, because God speaks to us through His Word and faith is imparted to us by hearing (Romans 10:17.)  It is a beautiful pursuit to study and learn God’s Word.  He strengthens our faith and gives us food for the journey as we study and internalize His Word. Yet study should always begin and end at the foot of the cross. Everything that we do, everything that we learn,  everything that we internalize, is a gift from God to us- gifts that we find at the foot of the cross.

We don’t bring people to faith…including ourselves. God gives us faith, and we respond to His gifts. He transforms us.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

We don’t persuade others to believe in God by putting together clean logical arguments or by citing historical evidence.  While there are valid intellectual arguments for the truth claims and the veracity of Christian teaching and history, the primary focus must always be Christ, and Him crucified, the One Who took the punishment we earn and deserve and Who gives us the gifts of repentance and faith and salvation.

Our faith rests in the power of God rather than in our own wisdom or designs.

 

 

 

November 7, 2019 Through the Flood- Baptism Now Saves You- Genesis 9:8-17, 1 Peter 3:8-22

rainbow

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth.  I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations:  I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”  God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” Genesis 9:8-17 (ESV)

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;

let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,  because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.-  1 Peter 3:8-22 (ESV)

There are times when those of us who live in high-rainfall areas such as central Ohio might wonder about God’s promise not to destroy the world by flood again.  Much of the American Midwest does experience regional flooding from time to time, but since the time of Noah there hasn’t been a global flood.  The end of the world will not come as a result of global flooding. (see 2 Peter 3)

God rescuing Noah and his family from the global destruction of the flood to preserve humanity is a foreshadowing of how God rescues us from sin and death through the waters of baptism.

In our baptism we are also brought through the water of the flood- washed clean and  carried by the ark of God’s provision.  We are buried in the death of Christ, and with Him we are brought from death into life.

So where does baptism fit in to our confession of faith, and why is it so essential? We learn from the Small Catechism:

First.
What is Baptism?–Answer.
Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.
Which is that word of God?–Answer.
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Secondly.
What does Baptism give or profit?–Answer.
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
Which are such words and promises of God? Answer.
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Thirdly.
How can water do such great things?–Answer.
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

Fourthly.
What does such baptizing with water signify?–Answer.
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?–Answer.
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Through baptism God comes to us- it is not a work of obedience, but a gift given to us through which God works saving faith. Through baptism the old Adam is drowned and we are brought to repentance.  We are washed, renewed and kept clean, not by our efforts or merit, but by the hand and will of God.

By the grace of God, may we repent and remember that in the water of our baptism we are made God’s own.  Our sins are forgiven and God gives us the power to stand for Him and to be counted as righteous in the merits of Christ.

 

 

 

November 1, 2019- Dia de los Muertos- (The Day of the Dead) – Remembering and Forgiving- Lead Us to Jesus -1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

day of dead

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

Those of us who observe the church year may find the feast of All Saints to be one of the most difficult days to commemorate.  On this earth, death still has a very real sting.  The pain and longing of separation from those we love and those who have been big parts of our lives is a heavy burden to bear.

We also endure the pain of regret when loved ones go before us.  We may wonder if our loved one died in Christ.  Sometimes we carry grudges or unforgiveness toward those who hurt or wronged us before they died because we never had a chance to resolve the issues we had with that person when he or she was alive.  Sometimes our remembrance of a family member is tainted either by our regret that we were evil to them, or the pain we suffered due to their evil toward us.  The world is one big pack of sinners, after all.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We all desperately need the grace of God in our relationships with others.

We do not have to resolve the issues with someone in order to forgive them. They may never “forgive us back.”  We are called by Jesus to let go of our anger, resentment and unforgiveness toward others regardless of their response to us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.  There are situations in which reconciliation is impossible in this life- the death of the other party, or situations in which one’s health or life may be endangered through contact with the other party. Those who are living with physical or emotional abuse, or are enduring life with a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs may have to separate themselves from and completely cut off contact with that person for the sake of their own life and health. In Christ we can pass on the gift of forgiveness, but we are not compelled to keep enduring abuse.

God gives us the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, as Jesus has first forgiven us- even if there is no reconciliation, or even contact with the other party.

Jesus has sweet comfort for His own when we have to encounter earthly death, unforgiveness, disappointment and separation. He is walking with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

Many people read the above verses from the Gospel of Matthew and look at the Beatitudes as a “to do” list, things that we need to pull up our bootstraps and just do.  On one level, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but like the Ten Commandments teach us God’s Law, (that are also seen as a sort of “to do” list,) and show us our inability to keep them, Jesus teaches these blessings so that we may see how we are not the source of any of the blessings of the Beatitudes.

Only in Christ can we receive these attributes.

He is the one acting upon us so that we do see our own complete inadequacy and our desperate need for Him.

He is our comfort and our companion in our mourning.

He is the champion of the meek and lowly, as He came to serve, not to be served.

He is the Bread of Life who feeds us with the most sweet and holy bread of heaven- His very own Body and Blood.

He is the source of all mercy.

He is complete and total holiness and purity.

He grants us peace that is beyond all understanding.

He gives us the confidence to stand up for things that are right even when they are not  popular and may lead to our own personal harm.

He suffered the ultimate persecution and punishment (Isaiah 53:5) in our place, so that we would be blessed with salvation and life with Him forever.

The Beatitudes point us to our utter dependence on Jesus.

As we remember those who have gone before us, we thank God for those who passed along the faith to us, those who loved us, and those who we have confidence in Christ who we will see again.  We ask God for the gift of forgiveness toward those who have hurt us, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus first forgave us. We ask that Jesus brings us healing and peace for the injuries from relationships that cannot be reconciled, especially those relationships that we have had with those who have died.

We pray for the gifts of the Beatitudes because they are the attributes of Christ.

Today is remembered in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Part of that tradition involves honoring one’s ancestors.  Another part of it is acknowledging that death isn’t the end.  It is a celebration of remembrance and anticipation.

We will see those who departed in Christ again in the next world, in the new heaven and earth.

According to the message of Genesis 3  we are all dead- every person living will die.  In Christ we have His promise of eternal life.  The Day of the Dead is for those who went before us, the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews speaks of. (Hebrews 12:1-2)  We celebrate their lives.  We mourn their absence.  We think about what we may have done differently.  We pray for the grace to forgive where we need to forgive. But ultimately the lives of those witnesses serve to point us to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One Who is beside us and with us always, the One Who broke the curse of death so that we may live.

 

October 29, 2019 – Gentle Jesus? The Love of Money, and the First Commandment- Mark 11:15-19, Leviticus 25:36-37, Matthew 6:24

Jesus-clearing-the-money-lenders-

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me. Psalm 69:8 (ESV)

And they (Jesus and His disciples) came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.  And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”  And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.  And when evening came they went out of the city.

Mark 11:15-19 (ESV)

Gentle Jesus…yes, but not always. Emotions are not inherently good or evil.  What we do in response to our emotions is what matters.  Jesus got angry.  Jesus acted upon His anger, which was justified.  People had turned the temple, which was supposed to be a holy place of prayer, into a place to rip people off.

The money changers and other vendors had taken legitimate business and turned it into price gouging and taking advantage of people who traveled to the temple over long distances. They engaged in a similar philosophy that lies behind the truth that a Bud Light that costs $1.50 at Kroger costs $12 at the football stadium or hockey arena.

Most of us can live without a $12 beer. It’s there if we really want it, and it is a rip off to pay that much, but the people coming to the temple had no other place to exchange their money for temple currency.  Most people coming to the temple also could not bring live animals for sacrifice over long distances, so they had to buy animals on site. The money changers and other vendors had a captive audience at the temple for needs rather than for wants or conveniences, which makes that sort of price gouging a form of extortion.

Some people have interpreted Jesus’ actions toward the money changers and vendors to mean that one should never sell anything at church. To this day many churches will not conduct fund raisers inside the church building because of this example from the life of Jesus, but the act of selling things in the temple isn’t what made Jesus angry.

The money changers and temple vendors were not wrong to be exchanging “secular” money for temple currency for the offering, nor was it out of bounds that they were selling live animals for the ritual sacrifices.  Both the exchange of “secular” money for temple currency and the purchase of animals for sacrifice were required for those who were observing the Mosaic Law and keeping the Passover. The sin of the money changers and temple vendors was that they were making exorbitant profits on those transactions and taking advantage of their neighbors. The money changers and temple vendors were ripping people off and lining their pockets with the proceeds in clear violation of the Mosaic Law which states that the people of Israel were not supposed to loan to each other with interest or exact a profit off of each other.

Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.  You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. – Leviticus 25:36-37 (ESV)

See also: Ezekiel 18

The fact that the chief priests and the scribes were so unhappy with Jesus for his reaction to the vendors activities suggests that they may have been on the take as well.

Jesus was bad for business.

Which brings us back to the question: “Which god were the chief priests and the scribes actually serving?”  It wasn’t the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Jesus Himself taught:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

The sin that the chief priests, the scribes, the money changers, and the vendors in the temple all shared is the worship of a god (money) that isn’t God. We are tempted in that direction as well.

The love of money is the most attractive false god (other than ourselves) that people fall prey to.  While it is true that we need money to buy the things we need to survive, it is also true that God is the maker and provider of all things.  God is the one who provides us with the means to earn what we need to survive, as well as to serve our neighbors (vocation.)  We cannot put our trust in our abilities, in money or in anything else other than in Jesus.

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

The First Commandment: 

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

No one puts God first in all things. We are not capable of obeying the Law.  We all get obsessed with having enough (or not having enough) money at times.  Money in and of itself, like anger, is not a bad thing.  But do we love money more than God and others?  Do we get angry without having a good cause and an appropriate release for our anger?

Jesus took the penalty for all the times we violate the law.  We don’t deserve His pardon. We can’t earn His pardon.  Jesus took the penalty of death for us because He loves us.  Jesus was angry at the money changers and the temple vendors because they were turning a holy place that was supposed to be reserved for prayer to God and worship and turned it into a place to rip people off.

How maddening it must have been for Jesus to watch people ripping each other off for the love of money and worshiping the acquisition of wealth when He was right there in front of them- the Creator and Source of all.

The priests and scribes put their love of money above the love and worship of God.  Most of us would be guilty of the same sin against the First Commandment.

Yet God turned the priests’ and scribes’ intents- as well as our intents- for evil to our good.  The people who plotted the death of Jesus did not know that His blood would be spilled for the forgiveness of their sins. They looked right at God but didn’t know Him.  They rejected the stone that God had made to be the cornerstone.  The reproach of the reprehensible fell on God in human flesh alone.

Save by the power of the Holy Spirit, no one can come to faith in Jesus.

Lord, we thank You for Jesus, and we thank You for the gift of faith that we cannot earn and do not deserve. Help us to always remember Your death on the cross to save us from our sins. Comfort us and give us confidence that in our Baptism we have died in Christ and are made Yours forever.

We pray that we would trust in Your provision- that we would have enough for ourselves and some to share with others- neither too little so we would be tempted to steal, nor too much, lest we worship the thing (money) rather than the Creator and Giver of all.

We pray these things in the holy Name of Jesus.

 

October 16, 2019 – Be? or Do? James 2:14-26, Ephesians 2:1-10

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What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  (see Joshua 2)  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. – James 2:14-26 (ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.   For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

Lutherans don’t usually make a habit of quoting the Book of James, because on the surface it may appear that James advocates the concept that we can earn salvation through the things we do much as a worker earns a wage or we exchange money for items we buy.  There is no exchange.  God has already acted on us. Our wages have been paid in full, through the merit of Christ.   However, faith (knowing who we ARE in Christ) always results in action.  As we believe, so we respond. What we do is a result of our faith, a response to the work of God within us.

We believe that faith is a gift of God.  Jesus teaches us in John 6:44- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Jesus gave the church (meaning all believers) its marching orders in Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All of the other activities the church gets involved in are secondary to making disciples. Yes, it follows that we as Christians would seek to help our neighbors with their physical needs.  Yes, it follows that we would strive to be good stewards of the environment and that we would care for animals, land and water, which are good gifts from God.

But if we simply focus on doing we can forget from whom comes our being. If we neglect to preach and teach the Bad News- that all of humanity is born dead in trespasses and sins and that we cannot save ourselves, followed by the Good News that Jesus took our penalty and paid the price we all owe when He died on the cross, and that we who belong to Him will live forever with Him, then our good works have no lasting value. This world is temporary.

Without Jesus, there is no point. We can and should encourage people to do good things for each other.  We should be good stewards of our world which is a gift to us from God.  But a message and a life that is not focused on the cross of Christ is no life at all.

The cross of Christ is central to who we ARE. What we do for others springs from the reality that there is nothing we can do to earn favor or repay God for what He has first given us.

Without Jesus, serving others is a chore, an endless to-do list that wears on the body and burns the conscience.  We are not capable of doing enough to earn our own way.  But in the light of His mercy, serving others becomes a delight.  In the light of His mercy as we serve, we are being served.