February 7, 2019 – Joy and a Beautiful Inheritance- Psalm 16

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Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.  For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16 (ESV)

Psalm 16 is one of the many Psalms ascribed to David. The man after God’s own heart shared many of his insights on God and prayers to God on every possible subject- praise, anguish, repentance, thankfulness, in the Psalms.   David was a sinner just like the rest of us, but God’s words were recorded in Scripture through David’s mind and pen.

God as our refuge is an ongoing theme of David’s life. God chose David over Saul, the first king of Israel who ended up being a big disappointment.  God chose David over his older, stronger and more attractive brothers.  God spared David’s life when Saul wanted David done away with.

David warns against idolatry- putting other things ahead of God in our lives. Today we don’t go chasing after the Ba’als nor do we melt down and cast our golden earrings into calves, but idolatry is alive and well in American culture and in our own lives. It’s easy for us to forget amidst all the distractions of day to day life that God is our refuge, and that life itself is only found in Christ alone.

I have a beautiful inheritance, David declares. Even though most of us are not particularly materially wealthy, in Christ, the promise of our baptism is eternal life with God.  It starts now, even though we have one foot in this earthly, imperfect world, and one foot in the heavenly kingdom. What an encouragement that because Jesus has rescued us from the consequences of our sins, we can take comfort and delight in knowing that there is life beyond this world.  In Christ we have hope that pain and suffering and loss will end, and that God will wipe away all of our sorrow and dry all our tears.

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. God does not abandon us when our physical bodies die. Because we are baptized into the Body of Christ, we too will like Jesus, the Holy One, be resurrected into bodies that will not decay or age or die.

In your presence there is fullness of joy.

We are not promised happiness in this life, but happiness is conditional and fleeting. Joy is the deep understanding that no matter what trials we face or pain we suffer that God is there.  In Christ there is life, there is hope, there is joy- forever.

February 5, 2019 Agnus Dei: Behold the Lamb of God! Isaiah 40:1-5, John 1:19-34

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Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV).

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And this is the testimony of John, (meaning John the Baptist) when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:19-34 (ESV)

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What beautiful solace Isaiah gives us- Comfort, comfort my people! Your iniquity (sin) is pardoned!

Our pardon, our comfort, our peace, came at an unimaginable cost- the suffering and death of Almighty God Himself. The One upon whom the Spirit descended as like a dove, the One with whom God was well pleased, the God-Man, had to be given to die.

The concept of penal substitution – the theological premise that Jesus was given as a sacrifice to save us from our sins- seems foreign and archaic to modern ears.  Yet the sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.  The blood on the door frames on the night of Passover lead to lives being spared because they are covered by the blood of a lamb.  (Exodus 12:1-13)

John the Baptist was the man appointed by God and foretold by the prophet Isaiah to point the way to Jesus- the Agnus Dei- the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  John didn’t come into the world to build himself up or to tell everyone how great he was. His entire life was spent pointing others to Jesus.

Nothing we can do can make us right before a holy God- there is no other path to salvation and life than by faith in Christ, by trusting that we are covered by the blood of His sacrifice.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Repentance is simply turning away from the things that we know are contrary to God’s will for us.  When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our old nature is drowned in the water.  In baptism we are buried with Christ, and we are made alive in Christ.  This is a daily experience for the Christian, turning from our sins, drowning that old man in the ongoing promise of our baptism, and clinging to our new life in Christ.

The blood of the Lamb covers us and makes us clean. (Revelation 7:9-17)  Jesus had to die and rise again so that we can be alive in Him.

The very son of God died and rose again. For you. For us.

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

February 1, 2019- Teach the Truth, In Season, Out of Season -2 Timothy 4:1-18

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I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:1-18 (ESV)

The apostle Paul is addressing his protégé Timothy for what he believes to be the last time. Most of Paul’s letters were intended to clarify correct doctrine (i.e. Romans and Galatians) and to encourage his hearers in the faith.  1 and 2 Timothy were written as instructions to a young pastor and were meant to educate and encourage both Timothy and the congregation he served.

God gave us the gift of Holy Scripture as His revelation to us. The teaching of Scripture brings us closer to Jesus. Jesus is the whole point of Scripture, as Martin Luther said, “Scripture is the manger that holds the Christ Child within it.”  We learn the story of God’s people.  We learn of God’s condemning Law and His saving Gospel.  Through the teaching of Holy Scripture, and the preaching of the Word, we are brought to saving faith in Jesus, the Truth, the Way and the Life.

Unfortunately in this age when information is as easily available as an internet search, Biblical literacy is at an all-time low. Recently an evangelist did a survey of people on the street asking how many of the Ten Commandments they could name.  Then the evangelist asked people how many beers they could name (not that beer is a bad thing.)  Sadly, many more people could name ten brands of beer than could name all of the Ten Commandments.

Because fewer and fewer people are being taught to read and to understand the Bible, more and more people are susceptible to all sorts of non-Biblical teaching that is being sold as Christianity. There are money-grubbing televangelists, New Age and Eastern philosophies, universalism, and other false religions that people are using to scratch itching ears.  When we don’t know what the genuine article looks like, it’s a lot easier to fall for a counterfeit. When it comes to our relationship to God, the wrong information can lead us to deception and away from true saving faith in Jesus.

There are hard truths in Scripture that the world doesn’t want to hear. Nobody is good enough to earn his or her way to heaven.  Every human alive is a sinner who was born under the condemnation of the Fall.  Apart from Jesus and His sacrifice made for us on the Cross, there is no salvation.

Along with the hard truths, there is glorious good news in the Bible – good news that brings people to saving faith in Jesus. Jesus became a man and came to earth to be our substitute, to pay the penalty for our sins, because we can’t erase the curse of sin ourselves. Jesus died and rose again to save sinners.  His gift of life forever with God is freely given to us, by faith in Christ, by the grace of God. Nothing we can do can earn this gift.

This is why Paul urges his protégé- and us as well- to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

It is important not only for our own growth and development in faith that we learn and study Scripture, but also that we share what we learn with others, especially our children. Children do not learn anything about God, the Bible or the Catechism in public schools.  The dearth of Biblical teaching and the lack of Christian formation among our youth is a contributing factor to a sad decline in civility and order in our society. More importantly, these are people for whom Jesus died to save who have not heard the Good News.

If children today are to learn to study God’s Word, to come to church to worship with God’s people, or even how to pray, it is up to parents- and if not parents, grandparents and other concerned people to teach them. We learn in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing.  How can people know of God’s truth if they aren’t taught?

There has never been a more important time for us as God’s people to truly care about His truth. May the Holy Spirit guide us to understand and teach and live what is given to us in God’s written Word, so others may come to saving faith in Jesus.

January 31, 2019- A Faithful Witness, Circumstances, and Theology of the Cross – 2 Timothy 3

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But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,  having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.  For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions,  always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.  But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.  Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3 (ESV)

Timothy was a protégé of the apostle Paul. Here Paul warns Timothy that following Jesus is not all sunshine and roses.  Contrary to most religious teachings that are popular today, Paul underscores the reality that Christians will face hardship and persecution in this world.  We shouldn’t be surprised when we look around and see all the terrible happenings in the news.  We shouldn’t be surprised when bad things happen to us. Yes, we should intercede in prayer for those who suffer.  Yes we should pray at all times and in all of our circumstances. We should not allow the pain that is a part of this world to steal our joy. We should not entertain the same standards as the world does. We do have hope in the clear teaching of Scripture that no matter what this world and this life throws at us, Jesus is with us, in, through and with the suffering and that in Him we have comfort and peace and eternal life.

False teaching that showcases “your best life now” is a heartbreaking lie that only makes despair over the human condition worse. The theology of glory is the theology of the infomercial- just buy into Jesus and your life will be super! It’s the same theory that powers the Sham-Wow guy’s pitch, that if you only have this or that product it will change your life!  The “prosperity gospel”- that Jesus will make you healthy and wealthy here and now- is not Scriptural nor is it truthful.  The First Commandment teaches us that God is God and we are not. We are not to worship at the altar of ourselves or glorify material things. God’s priority for us is for life with Him forever, not necessarily for health and wealth here and now.  He does give us all good things, but He does not always take the cup of suffering away.

We learn the theology of the Cross from Scripture. As we are born into Jesus’ life and resurrection, we are also born into His suffering.  We were created to love and be loved by God, to do the good works He set aside for us to do.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The more that we cling to Jesus- in our prayers, in our praise, in serving others in our vocations and in diligent study of God’s Word to us in Scripture, the more we grow in faith. Even as the world around us grows darker, we are called to be light.  The light of Christ shines in and through us even as the world works against us and makes fun of us.  In our weakness we are strong in Christ. By faith, He enables us to stand.

 

January 30, 2019 The Words of the Prophets- Behold the Lamb of God-Zechariah 9:9-13, Matthew 21:1-11

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Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow. I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Zechariah 9:9-13 (ESV)

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Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

 “Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV)

When the church confesses the words of the Nicene Creed, we affirm that God the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets.  As a child I thought that a prophet must be some kind of microphone because it was the only theory that would fit into a five year old’s understanding. Logically, one who wants to be heard speaks through a microphone to amplify his or her voice, so God must have had some pretty powerful microphones to speak His Word down through the ages!

While the prophets were not microphones, their purpose was very similar- to amplify and spread around the Word of God. The prophets did not make up and broadcast their own words.  Like microphones, they simply amplified what God spoke through them.

Being a prophet was not generally a way to gain popularity or to enjoy long life. Jeremiah was left to die in a cistern.  John the Baptist was beheaded. False prophets were subject to the penalty of death, but even true prophets were sometimes doomed to die horrific deaths.  So if you claimed to speak for God, right or wrong, you weren’t going to have an easy life.

The prophets serve a very important purpose in the Bible and they still speak to us. They give us warnings that we could see fulfilled time and time again in the history of God’s people.  The prophets proclaim God’s Law and what happens when we think we know better than God. Time after time it has been proven that we simply can’t follow the Law.

The prophets tell us what we earn and deserve- namely God’s displeasure and wrath, but that is not the end of their messages. The prophets’ main job is to point us to Jesus. “Here is your King,” Zechariah proclaims, “humble and riding in on the colt of a donkey.” Zechariah did not see a Caesar or a Herod, wearing a golden crown, carried on a litter, surrounded by battalions of soldiers, but a man riding on a young donkey- the God-Man, one of us, approachable, vulnerable and human.  He is the God-Man whose only crown would be of thorns, the God-Man who would become the curse who would go from His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday to a brutal death by crucifixion on Friday.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Even though the prophets point us to Jesus, do we see Him? Do we truly understand that He comes to us to fulfill the words of the prophets that God spoke through so long ago?  Better yet, the testimony of the prophets underscores the history and the veracity of Jesus’ claims as to who He is.  We cannot simply acknowledge Jesus as a good moral teacher, but we must recognize Him as the fulfillment of the prophets, the very Son of God, God-with-us.

 

January 28, 2019 The Words of the Prophets, Life in Christ Alone- Zechariah 7:8-14, Romans 3:21-25

 

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And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another,  do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”  But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.” Zechariah 7:8-14 (ESV)

When God sent prophets to His people it was generally not to tell them what a great job they were doing. Prophets usually appeared with bad news and warnings of impending judgment and wrath.

Zechariah was no exception to the “harbinger of bad news” rule. The hope is always that by hearing the Word of God that people will do a 180 (i.e. repent, which means to turn from) and turn toward God and His way. Unfortunately, people didn’t always listen to the prophets or follow their instructions.

In and of ourselves we are not able to follow the Law. Our hearts are made of stone. We don’t naturally care for our neighbor.  Any psychologist will attest that human beings naturally have a self serving motive behind everything we do.  Left to our own devices we naturally make ourselves our own gods. Whether we refer to the doctrine of original sin or the total depravity of man, our fallen nature is proven true as Paul teaches in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  As Martin Luther taught:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” – From Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, on Sanctification, the Third Article of the Creed

Our prayer is that God would give us open hearts that hear His Word when it is preached, and that He would give us the gift of repentance, that we would not end up hard-hearted and unforgiving.

Thankfully, in Christ we have been given forgiveness and goodness that we have neither earned nor deserve. When God looks at us- by virtue of the faith we have been given, by His means of grace, He sees Jesus.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:21-25 (ESV)

January 25, 2019- Judgment Belongs to the Lord- Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 14:1-12

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(Jesus said) “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Romans 14:1-12 (ESV)

When children are gathered together, they tend to tattle on each other. It is human nature to compare and compete with each other to the point that such comparison and competition become unhealthy. We tear each other down instead of building each other up. We can be so busy judging others’ failures that we fail to examine ourselves and pay attention to the places in which we fall short.  Hypocrisy comes naturally to fallen humanity.

Jesus tells us to pay attention to our own failings and shortcomings before we examine the faults and the sins of others. How are we supposed to see to remove another’s speck with all the logs we have in the way? Other people are not accountable to us. They are accountable to God just as we are accountable to God.

When we celebrate, it is to the glory of God. When we fast we fast to the glory of God.  It is the Lord who makes us able to stand before Him, not what we do or don’t do, and we are certainly not justified or condemned because of what another person might think about us.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, not a result of public opinion.

It is better for us to show mercy to others the way that Jesus shows mercy to us- and to confess our own sins to God before we even think of looking at the sins of others. Others’ sins don’t look nearly so bad once we have honestly assessed and confessed our own. We are accountable for what we do or what we fail to do, but not for what other people do or don’t do. Our aim should always be to build other people up and do what we can to strengthen their faith. God will deal with us, and God will deal with them.  We have no reason to tattle or titter or gossip about the sins of others.  We have enough sins of our own to confess and for which to ask God to be forgiven.

At times we are all like children who need to be reminded to keep our eyes on our own paper and to be more concerned with our own behavior rather than the behavior of others.

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Jesus died and rose again so that by faith in Him we could have forgiveness instead of condemnation.

Thankfully by faith, we are covered by God’s grace in Jesus. We are not judged by what we deserve, but instead we are washed clean in the water of our baptism, and we are covered by the blood of Christ.  For the sake of His mercy on us, we can focus on building others up and living peaceably with others even if their practices and observances are different from our own.