December 11, 2018- The Majestic Name of the Lord- Psalm 8

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Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.

Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

 Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8 (ESV)

Sometimes praising God is the furthest thing from our minds.  When we are in pain or stuck in sadness usually our first response is not to look up to God and know that He is there. Yet even when our lives seem dark, the Light of the world is never far from us.

It is good to praise our majestic God, God Who is above all the sadness and suffering of this world.

It is good to remember in this season that can be dark and depressing for some, that the Light of the world is with us.

The same God whose majesty is reflected in the heavens is the same God who chose to live among us, the same God who came to us as a humble child born to a peasant girl and laid in a manger.

The same God who is beyond time chose to endure a brutal death on a Roman cross to take the punishment for our sins and save us from eternal death.

The majesty of God is both beyond us, and intimately, always with us.

Take comfort this season.  The God of creation is always near.

 

 

December 4, 2018 By Faith, Jesus was Born of Mary-Matthew 1:18-25

immaculate-conception-jose-claudio-antolinez

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) (which means, God with us).

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

We share a common ground with Mary. Like her, we are saints.  Like her, we are sinners.  Like her, we have our life and being and our salvation in Jesus, our Savior. Mary is indeed blessed among women, because God chose her for a very special as well as a very daunting mission.  She is not immaculate, nor is she the co-redemptrix with God. She is a human being like us.  She is a human being through whom God worked.

By faith she received the gift of Jesus as not only her Savior, but also her firstborn son. By faith, Jesus, became fully human, as well as fully God. He shares His humanity with us.  The only difference is that Jesus alone of all humans is free from the curse of sin.

We learn from Scripture that we, like Mary and all of the saints who have gone before us, are saved by faith- not by what we do or even by who we are, but by faith in God.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of countless generations. Mary acknowledges in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) that in Christ the promise of Abraham is fulfilled.

God has a history of working in and through His people. He even chose to do His greatest work- the bodily incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus- through human flesh.

We have to wonder about the faith of Joseph as well. Certainly he may have faced accusations from the family or the community that either Mary or both of them had engaged in immoral behavior. It’s understandable that it would take an angel of God to convince him of what in every other situation would be a biological impossibility- a virgin carrying a child.  God made a way for him to believe, and worked in him the faith necessary for him to trust God and trust that Mary’s child was indeed the Son of God.

In Christ we are given the gift of faith. We are given the gift of God’s faith at work in and through the saints, like Mary, whose faith in Jesus was her righteousness.

God provided the lamb for Abraham, and God provides the Lamb for us. In Jesus we have God-with-us. We cannot come to faith in and of our own reason or power. God works great and wonderful gifts in and through the faith He gives us.

November 30, 2018 The Lord’s End-Times Timing, Promise and Hope – 2 Peter 3

Cross

(Peter writes: )This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3 (ESV)

Eschatology (the study of end times) is not a major focus for Lutherans as a general rule.  Yet at the end of the church year we look with hope to what Jesus has promised us beyond this life.  He will return again.  He will remake the heavens and the earth.  There will be a day when the earthly kingdom is no more and we will live fully and completely in God’s heavenly kingdom.  The paradox of living in “now but not yet” will end.  Until that day we live in that promise that Jesus will return and establish that “not yet” kingdom.

This chapter is a bit frightening. Peter tells us that when Jesus returns the universe as we know it is going to be destroyed by fire and remade.  Nothing of this “now” world is going to be left. Then Peter tells us that in order to be part of the new creation, we need to be holy.  On the surface Peter’s warning sounds like an admonition for us to “straighten up and fly right.” However, if we are honest with ourselves we know that we are definitely not holy. We are definitely not capable, by our own strength or reason, to “straighten up and fly right” by our own power.

Peter is not telling us to put on the window dressing and go into full blown holier-than-thou Pharisee mode. He redirects us outside of ourselves, to count the patience of our Lord as salvation. True holiness and sanctification are to be found in Christ alone.  Rather than despair about how wicked and terrible we are, we only need to confess our sins to Jesus, cling to the Cross and know that He has already won our forgiveness and salvation.

Christians have always faced ridicule and persecution for believing in Christ. The Man of Sorrows isn’t all that popular among those who worship the gods of power or money or self.  One doesn’t have to look very far to find the scoffers and critics of Christian faith that Peter warns us about.  In the greater culture, believers are presented as being intolerant of others, or ignorant and uneducated because we stand for Christ and believe in the One True God.  We are scorned because we believe that truth is not a matter of opinion.

In some places Christians are put in jail or even killed for the sake of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus (Satan the adversary, our own sinful selves, and those who have not been transformed by the Gospel) fight hard to convince us to surrender to the enchantments of the world.  We are all tempted by the invitation to hedonism, to serve the god of self rather than to take up the Cross of Christ.  We sin constantly, every day.  Even so, the Good News is we belong to Christ.  We can’t make ourselves good or earn our way in.  We are only justified through the grace of God, by faith in Christ.  Through the water and the Word in our baptism, and through the hearing of the Gospel, He has named us, claimed us, and is coming back for us no matter what misery or what valleys of shadow we walk through in this world.  He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, and delivers us from sin, death and evil.

We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but He is coming back. It might be tomorrow or thousands of years from now. We might face Him at any time at the hour of our death.  Even so, our faith- which is a gift from God- is counted to us as righteousness. We can look forward to Jesus’ return and the remaking of the world with hope and confidence.  We know the world is getting crazier and scarier as time goes on, but we are not alone.  Our hope is in Jesus.

What is Truth? John 18:33-38, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Matthew 10:34

ascension

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Pilate was not a Jew and had little to no understanding of Jewish laws and customs. He would not have known all the references in the Old Testament that speak of Jesus and of His kingdom. Pilate would not have been able to comprehend that as he was condemning the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 55 he was also condemning the Lord of Life, the I AM God.

Pilate did understand the power of Caesar- of tangible, absolute, military authority. However, Roman society was very tolerant of just about every type of religious belief or observance as long as it was understood that in practical and temporal applications, Caesar was “lord of all.”  As far as religious belief went, the attitude was, “I have my truth, you have yours.” Pantheism (the worship of many gods) was the norm in Roman society.  There were gods for everything from fertility, to the oceans, to the harvest. People were thought to be strange if they didn’t indulge in worshiping a pantheon of gods.

We can identify to some degree with Roman society in that there is a smorgasbord of philosophical, religious and spiritual beliefs out there. As Americans we hold the freedom of religious exercise in high esteem if for no other reason than we don’t want to face persecution for our own beliefs.  Political correctness blurs the line even further when we are shamed or made to feel uneducated because we speak up for the truth even when it offends some people.  Truth is never made false simply because it is unpopular.

Christianity is not compatible with the postmodern concept of relativism or with the pantheistic, hedonistic, anything goes idiom of ancient Rome. The message of Christianity has never been the nebulous “find your own truth” philosophy that is so prevalent and pervasive today. Pilate had a philosophical conundrum with “the truthiness of truth,” but reality is that truth is objective.

Truth is not based on feelings. Truth is not based on expediency. Sometimes truth is painful. The way of the Cross is the way of the truth even though it seems silly to the rest of the world.  The apostle Paul teaches us: “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)

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34 (ESV)

As the church year ends, we certainly are aware of the things are wrong with this world, and we groan right along with the rest of creation as it endures the weight of the curse of the Fall. We are bogged down in the world of now, and the promise of not-yet seems far away.

Truth is concrete. It is not flexible or subjective.  The truth is there is a Lord of All.  The truth is that the way to life is found only in the Way, the Truth and the Life- Jesus- the One Who went to the Cross to die to save us from sin, death and the power of evil.

 

 

November 21, 2018 – Thank God for Everything- Psalm 30, 1 Peter 2:4-10

thank god everything

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)

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22-23, Matthew 21:42)

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:4-10 (ESV)

Faith, as we learn from the apostle Paul (see Romans 3), is a gift from God.  We may never understand why some receive the gift of faith and others do not.  We know that Jesus died for the sins of ALL.  Our faith is a gift, and it comes to us through the means of grace – hearing the Word taught and preached, and through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.

David’s theme in Psalm 30 is thankfulness. Left to our own designs we fail.  We can see God’s Law in action and it condemns us. God does not owe us anything.  God chooses to act on our behalf regardless of how ornery or obnoxious we are. If we look into David’s life- David, the anointed king, the man with a heart after God, David, the earthly forefather of Jesus, we find a pretty ornery character with quite a few skeletons in his closet.  We are no better than David was, yet like David, we are made right with God by faith.

God is the one who grants us the gift of repentance, which is simply sorrow over our sins and a desire to turn a 180 away from them. God is the one who lifts us up when it seems as if the world and our own evil desires are going to destroy us.  God has mercy on us even though we hardly deserve mercy.  The only thing that we are capable of earning from God is wrath.

Jesus is the one who calls us from darkness to light. Jesus is the one who says to us, “I have chosen you and I am transforming you into one of the precious stones I use to build My house.”  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are being made holy- bit by bit in this world, but fully and completely when we step out of the “now” and walk into finality of “not yet.”

The only response we can have to such generous grace and mercy is deep thanks- thanks for the assurance that we are named, claimed children of God. He will never let us go in spite of our inadequacy and our utter inability to repay Him.

In this season of darkness sometimes it is hard to believe that there will come a day when darkness and despair will be defeated forever. Our mourning will be turned into dancing.  We have been lifted up from the pit of Sheol (place of the dead.)  We are set free to praise and sing. We are God’s people, saved by His mercy.  We have everything to thank Him for.

 

 

 

November 19, 2018- Beyond the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Psalm 23, Job 19:25-27

valley of shadow

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. Job 19:25-27 (ESV)

The valley of the shadow of death is not a popular destination, but mortality is a reality.  No one gets out of this life alive…except…those who believe by the grace of God in Christ will share in His resurrection.  In spite of the really bad pop theology that is rampant in American Christianity, Jesus never was about “your best life now.”   Even though televangelists and “Christian” authors may try to sell us a Cross-less Christianity, Jesus teaches us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

True Christianity holds to a theology of the Cross, one in which we die to our own selfishness and sins- not to earn points, but in response to the extravagant grace and the undeserved favor God has already given us.

Psalm 23 has been beloved among believers for millennia, precisely because God’s inspired words from David’s pen underscore God’s promise that death and the curse is not the end. We who are baptized into Christ are not alone.  This world and its valleys of shadow are not the end.

God with us, Emmanuel, does not shield us from suffering, but He is in it with us, ever present with his comfort, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death, (Psalm 23:4) and leading us away from evil.

God so loved the world that He sent Jesus, His only Son to be a man- fully God and fully man- and live in this world with us. (John 3:16) When the time came for Jesus to give His life for us, He struggled with the cup He was given to drink, but the only way for Him to accomplish our salvation was through His suffering and death. Jesus was not spared the bitter path of the Cross.  The sin of the Garden of Eden could only be overcome on by Jesus’ suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and ultimately His sacrifice on Calvary.

God does give us challenges that are way over our heads and way over and above our capacity to overcome.  We do not have life in our own strength. On our own we have no strength.  Apart from Jesus we have nothing to look forward to but despair, hopelessness and death in our trespasses and sins.  Yet in losing ourselves and relying on Jesus we can endure anything.  He has already overcome death and the grave.

As the church year is drawing to a close, we become aware of the groaning of all creation, awaiting the restoration of all things that the apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 8:18-25.

Those who are familiar with the musical work The Messiah, by George Fredric Handel, will recognize the verses from Job 19 above.  I know that my Redeemer liveth / and that he shall stand /at the latter day upon the earth./ And though worms destroy this body/ yet in my flesh shall I see God.

As we are very quickly coming upon the season of Advent and celebrating the arrival of the promised One, we put our focus on Jesus, the living Redeemer, the conquering King.

We can trust that we will endure the suffering that is simply a part of this life here in the now, but not yet. We will stand with Jesus, in our own bodies, on that great and glorious day when all tears are wiped away and there is no more suffering or mourning.

November 14, 2018 – Comfort, Suffering and Christ-Reliance- 2 Corinthians 1:3-11

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:3-11 (ESV)

There are some troublesome trends in American Christianity that are not healthy for us to follow. The phrase, “God will never give you more than you can handle” is an example of a not-so-biblical teaching that gets spread around on blog posts and such.  We think that it is comforting to others when we repeat such nice-sounding platitudes, but we are simply putting the burden on the other person and the emphasis on “you” rather than sharing the blessed comfort that God has our circumstances in HIS control.  We like to believe that we are the ones who are in control, but we are not. We do encounter more than we can handle.  Apart from the grace and mercy of God we cannot handle anything.

A more accurate and ultimately more comforting phrase would be, “God can handle everything you have been given, because apart from Him you can’t.” We share in the good news and in the real comfort that God offers in and through our suffering, beyond the limits of our strength, and beyond our afflictions. Suffering is not a surprise. It is inevitable. Suffering is part of the human condition we inherited in the Fall. As believers in Jesus we are not going to be spared suffering, but we are given the hope that suffering will eventually end.  Jesus calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him.  We necessarily share in the Cross of Christ, but we who share in the suffering of the Cross also share in the triumph and eternal life of Christ.

The apostle Paul experienced just about every imaginable obstacle and type of persecution on his missionary journeys. Apart from the grace of God, Paul would not have been able to continue to believe or to persevere in his mission.

Our trust is in God who raises the dead, God who delivers the captives from bondage, God the I AM before and outside of time.

It is interesting that Paul asks the church at Corinth for their prayers. We trust God, yet we still pray for each other in thanks for the blessings God gives us.  Prayer is one of the evidences and the results of our faith, that springs from our confidence that God is the one in control not only of us and our circumstances, but of the ultimate redemption and restoration of all things.  Prayer is the way that God invites us to align our wills with His holy and good will, such as He teaches us to pray- “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” in the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Paul is teaching us not to be self-reliant. Paul assures us that God handles those things- pretty much everything- that is beyond our ability to manage. Our culture teaches us to be independent and headstrong, but Jesus is teaching us through the apostle Paul that we need to be Christ-reliant. We need to pray together with other believers, trusting that God’s will is being, and will be done just as Jesus taught us to pray.  God is the master of our circumstances as well as He is the bringer of all comfort and peace.