March 27, 2020 This Little Light, the Forever Party, and Jesus, Fulfillment of the Law

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Luke 8:16-18 (ESV)

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:13-20 (ESV)

In these “interesting times” it seems as if nothing is constant. Regulations change, activities change, essential functions are modified or limited, and it’s easy to get a feeling of “free fall” – that either nothing is permitted- or everything goes.We who believe in Jesus do have a constant in this ever-more bizarre world. We have Jesus, the Living Word, to cling to as our solid Rock and Foundation.

Jesus did not come into the world to make it a free for all. Jesus did not come into the world to create a locked down totalitarian state either. The Law that was handed down to Moses from God always remains the same.

The difference between Christians and those who do not yet believe in Jesus, is that Jesus fulfills that Law for us because we cannot live up to its demands.We need the Law to tell us what a good work is, and we need the Law to tell us just how broken (and to use my favorite Calvinist descriptive, depraved) we really are. We need the Law to point out the fact that we need Jesus. We need the Gospel, the precious, saving truth that Jesus has rescued us from the penalty of our sins.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

It is important for us to confess our sins to God. He already knows them, but in our confession (whether it be directly to Jesus in prayer, or in a confession with another believer standing with us) we admit that we are sorry for our sins and that we ask that the Holy Spirit give us the ability to avoid sin in the future.We are not going to be free of sinning in this life (simul Justus et peccator, or “sinner and saint at the same time” is always in play) but we trust Jesus to forgive our sins and for the Holy Spirit to let His light shine through us and our lives.

In our baptisms we have that tangible reminder- water and the Word. We have been given that mark of the cross of Christ forever, and God will not forsake His children.So what does it mean to let our lights shine?“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 is often used at baptisms, when the baptismal candle is lit. Martin Luther said that Christians are called to be “little Christs.” We are made to be as Christ out in the world, acting as His hands and feet and voice.To be emphatically clear, in God’s economy there are no brownie points, there is no extra credit, there is no quid pro quo, none of that. We are justified and made children of God by faith alone, grace alone, and by Christ alone.

Jesus does tell us that faith has active results. We are called to be light and salt, not because we are earning our way up the ladder, but because in Christ we are already forgiven, saved, set free, set apart to live with Him forever. We are free to start the “forever party” now- to do the good works that God made us for, to serve each other in whatever capacity we may have, to love each other without holding back.

Jesus wasn’t teaching that people need to be better at rule-keeping. The Pharisees were really big on obeying the fine points of the Law, like tithing their mint and spices, (Matthew 23:23) but not so hot at the Great Commandment, to love God and love others as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)Jesus was teaching the generosity that comes from freedom- the freedom of knowing that our omnipotent, sovereign and holy God is in control.

In law enforcement terms, He always “has our six” and then some. Because we know that God does provide for us and will provide for us, we can be confident in our Foundation and our Rock, Jesus, no matter how dark the times may get or how scary the world may seem.

March 26, 2020 – Jesus Is Master of the Storm- Luke 8:22-25, Job 38:1-11

jesus-calming-the-storm

One day he (Jesus) got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger.  And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” Luke 8:22-25 (ESV)

It’s a scary picture. Jesus is in the boat (sleeping) with His fisherman followers and a bad storm comes up on the lake.

It must have been a bad storm to send the fishermen, who are used to storms, into a panic.  So they woke Jesus in their panic, convinced that their death was eminent.

Jesus calmed the storm, and asked the disciples what happened to their faith.

Who is this man who can control the wind and water?

The disciples may have been familiar with God’s response to Job in Job 38.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? Job 38:1-11 (ESV)

The same God Who laid the foundation of the earth and set limits for the oceans is the same God who was napping in the disciples’ fishing boat.

We also wonder at times where Jesus is (or why is He “sleeping”) in our hours of greatest need. So many times we think that Jesus doesn’t care or doesn’t hear our prayers.

Yet the God Who created us, the God Who laid the foundation of the earth and set limits for the ocean is the same God Who redeemed us with His own body and shed His own blood.  This world will have trials, and plenty of them.  Even so, this world is not the end.

Jesus is in control of the storm. We are safe with Him even when the storm looks really bad.  Even when this life and this world end, we are safe with Him. Trust in Him.

 

 

March 25, 2020 God Understands Our Frustrations and Hears Our Prayers- Psalm 79

he-came-for-me

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.

We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name!

For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes!

Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die!

Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbors the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord!

But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. Psalm 79 (ESV)

Imprecatory (or “curse”) Psalms (35, 55, 59, 69, 79, 109 and 137) are a little bit different than the majority of the Psalms in that the prayers offered to God call for the destruction of enemies.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to turn the other cheek. So we wonder why anyone would pray to God to pour out His anger on others?

One of the big lessons of the imprecatory Psalms is that God hears all of our prayers and He encourages us to pray even when we are angry, even when we experience injustice, even when our anguish overwhelms us.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!

At the heart of even these anguished and revengeful prayers is faith: faith in God’s justice, faith that His will ultimately will be done, even though we might not understand how and in what kind of time.

In praying these Psalms we trust that God will deal with our enemies.  Only God knows the whole story and sees our enemies as they really are, without our biases. God already  knows how we feel about our enemies, but in honest prayer we admit both to God and to ourselves that we want justice for what our enemies have done.  We agree with God that the world is broken and that all is not as it should be.

We don’t gain anything by being Pollyannas and pretending that the world is fine and that we love everyone all the time and that we have never been hurt or wronged. We may experience righteous anger, as well as anger that is not justified.  Because we are sinful, we experience emotions through the lens of our bias, while God already has the complete picture. It’s easy to see what our enemies have done to us, but we don’t always see the trail of destruction we leave behind as well.

We do lift even our anger at others and our sense of injustice up to God in prayer along with every other need, every other petition, every other moment of thankfulness and praise.  Our judgments and condemnations may or may not be justified, but we can trust that God’s plan gets carried out according to His will- justice as well as mercy.

We can be confident that Jesus has overcome death and the grave in our place. We can trust that He alone has paid the price for our sins, that in Him we confess our sins and we are forgiven.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
And what a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer

Oh, what peace we often forfeit
Oh, what needless pain we bear
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged
Take it to the Lord in prayer

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer – What a Friend We Have in Jesus -Joseph M. Scriven

No matter what is on our hearts and minds, we are free to take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

March 24, 2020- Jesus, Friend of Hypocrites, Tax Collectors and Garden Variety Sinners- Psalm 78:36-39, Luke 7:31-35 and Mark 2:16-17

jesus-friend-sinners-1024x514

But they flattered him with their mouths;
they lied to him with their tongues.

Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.

Yet he, being compassionate,
atoned for their iniquity
and did not destroy them;
he restrained his anger often
and did not stir up all his wrath.

He remembered that they were but flesh,
a wind that passes and comes not again. Psalm 78:36-39 (ESV)

(Jesus said:) “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’  The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Luke 7:31-35 (ESV)

There are those who avoid participating in a church, citing that “the church is full of hypocrites.”  To that the answer should be, “there’s always room for one more.”

All of us are hypocrites, Christian or not, because all people are sinners.  We all fall short of what God demands of us.  We all “flatter God with our mouths” but don’t follow through with our lip service.  We don’t love God with our whole heart.  We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves.

This reality underscores our need for Jesus, the Suffering Servant, who the prophet Isaiah foretold, (Isaiah 53) who was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and who purchased our healing and redemption through His wounds.

All of us wayward sheep have gone astray and need Jesus- the Son of Man who came eating and drinking and befriending tax collectors and sinners and garden variety hypocrites like us.

And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17 (ESV)

Jesus is our greatest friend.  We can trust Him in all things.

 

March 23, 2020 Healing the Land? Trust Jesus- 2 Chronicles 7:11-22, Luke 7:1-10, 2 Timothy 2:11-13

Solomon

Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’
“But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 (ESV)

 

After he (Jesus) had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. Luke 7:1-10 (ESV)

2 Chronicles 7:14 is a verse we often see taken out of its context. The first rule of studying the Bible and learning from God’s Word is that it’s all about context. The second is that Scripture is informed by Scripture. What is the context that surrounds this verse?

On first glance, God’s pronouncement in 2 Chronicles 7:11-22 when Solomon had completed building the temple that God had commanded him to build, appears to be a sort of cosmic quid pro quo. It almost appears that God is telling the people, If you are good little children and do what I say, then I will reward you. 

On closer reading one sees that it is God who does the choosing- God chooses the site of the Temple.  God chooses the way in which people return to Him- not through their own efforts, but by realizing that God is the one in control and that God is the one doing the healing, restoring and returning people and nations to Him.

Human beings are born dead in trespasses and sins (we learn that in Ephesians 2:1-10) and we can’t be good little children and do what God says apart from His grace, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even then we fail miserably, pointing out our desperate need for God’s grace in Christ. The history of the nation of Israel bears that out, documented in Scripture for all of us to learn. The history of humanity as a whole bears that out.

God doesn’t work on the quid pro quo system, thankfully for us, so what does this mean for us, and why is it errant theology to simply proclaim, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” without telling the rest of the story?

Yes, God hears our prayers, as imperfect and selfish as they can be at times. He answers our prayers, but not just with our short-term interests in mind. Sometimes the answer is no because He has a better plan for us, or because there are lessons He needs for us to learn.

The First Commandment teaches us that we should have no other gods beside God. Because we are by nature sinful and weak, we can’t will ourselves to follow God’s Law. We can’t even be aware of what God’s Law is -or the fact that we break it- apart from His grace.

We can’t humble ourselves and repent of our sinfulness without God in His grace and mercy, making us aware of our need to repent (to turn back to Him.) Anything that we do that could be considered a “good work” is only made good because of Jesus- because faith and trust in Him is the only good thing about any of us.

God doesn’t owe us anything. He is the Creator and Master of everything.

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 2:11-13 (ESV)

Because creation is fallen, until Jesus returns, we will have famines, wars, pandemics, and natural disasters. If anything, in this world, crisis is the status quo. It’s only in the end that by the grace of God in Christ that His people who have been baptized and crucified with Him (who trust in Him by the gift of faith) will come in to the fullness of His resurrection, to a world that will be completely healed and remade. God does this for us, not because we are good, but because God is good and keeps His word even when we don’t and can’t.

The centurion from Luke 7:1-10 understood that there was nothing good about him that would heal his servant. He did (by the grace of God) believe that Jesus could heal his servant. The servant wasn’t healed because the centurion built the synagogue and had a love for the Jewish people. The centurion’s good works were the result of his faith in the God of Israel. He was no more or no less deserving of God’s favor and healing than anyone else.

There will be a day when God does heal and remake every land and nation, but that day has not arrived yet. On this side of eternity, until Jesus returns we can count on what He warns us of in Matthew 24. Human governments cannot and will not ever create a utopia on earth.  We do, however, realize that God made good on His promise of keeping a man on David’s throne.  Jesus came to earth to break the curse of the Garden by dying our death in our place, to be our King forever.

We can and should pray for the healing of our nation and for relief for those who are hurting. We should work toward healing, and do what we are able to help those in need. Even as we do what we can by the grace of God, we remember that God is the One in control even when everything is out of control. He gives us the gift of faith so that we will take comfort in Him and trust Him.

We can trust that God does hear our prayers and that in His way and time, He will heal our land. It’s not our prayers that effect these changes, (though we are told and taught to pray) but the faithfulness of God. God is the “motive engine,” not us. Solomon understood that human beings are going to screw up and that we need to repent of our sins. Only God gives us the grace to realize our need for Him. The centurion had faith that was firmly placed on Jesus, yet it was Jesus who gave him the gift of that faith.
Lord, in these uncertain times, turn our hearts toward You. Give us saving faith and grant us Your peace. Teach us to love as You first loved us.

March 19, 2020 The Omnipotent God of the Universe Cares for Us- Psalm 74:12-19

jesus comfort

Yet God my King is from of old,
working salvation in the midst of the earth.

You divided the sea by your might;
you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.

You crushed the heads of Leviathan;
you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.

You split open springs and brooks;
you dried up ever-flowing streams.

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.

You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth;
you have made summer and winter.

Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
and a foolish people reviles your name.

Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
do not forget the life of your poor forever.

Psalm 74:12-19 (ESV)

We must remember the God Who spoke the universe into being actually cares about us.  It’s easy to forget that in times of crisis, but God is truly in control of all things.

Jesus reassures us in Luke 12:6-7,

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows!

I can recommend for those of us with time on our hands to take a few moments to read Martin Luther’s letter, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,  in its entirety.  It was written in response to the return of the Black Plague (a disease with a far higher mortality rate than the current coronavirus) to Wittenberg in 1527.

The advice that Luther gives here in his letter is particularly timely and accurate:

Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. – Martin Luther, 1527

Ultimately we are reminded that our times are in God’s hands.  Even so, we should be washing our hands.  We should follow good precautions and do what we can to protect ourselves and our neighbors, even as we remember, and we trust that God hears our prayers.

The worst thing any disease can do to us is to take our life in this world, but even should our life in this body end, Jesus, the Lover of our souls, has bought and purchased us and we share in His resurrection. 

Therefore we have hope no matter what effect this disease may have on us.  We have comfort.  In Christ, we have peace. Keep on caring for our neighbors and for ourselves. Do sensible and beneficial things. Keep praying. Keep studying God’s Word.  Share the comfort, hope and peace that we have in Christ.

March 17, 2020 -Jesus, Our Rock of Refuge! Psalm 71:1-12

jesus_christ_the_lord-1448342

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!

In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!

Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.

I have been as a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all the day.

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.

For my enemies speak concerning me; those who watch for my life consult together and say, “God has forsaken him; pursue and seize him, for there is none to deliver him.”

O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me. Psalm 71:1-12 (ESV)

Learning and praying the Psalms is a rich source of learning about God and His character, but even more importantly, they are a rich source of comfort and peace for us in times of crisis and trouble.

The most well known hymn of the Lutheran tradition, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” was written by Martin Luther.  Luther was not a popular man during his lifetime, because he challenged the status quo of the church.  Those who fight error and corruption within a system are seldom popular. Luther knew death threats, the outside influence of plague, and the personal agony of losing his own children, yet by the grace of God he was able to keep the faith and keep pointing others to Jesus and the truth of the written Word that has been given to us.

Jesus is our refuge, our fortress, our safe place. Nothing or no one else is a true refuge.  No one else can defend us and save us from the natural consequence of our rebellion and our inheritance from our first parents.  No one else gives us the gift of eternal life, bought and paid for in His own blood.

May we pray along with the Psalmist:  Jesus, thank You for purchasing me at the cost of Your own Body and Blood.  Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.