October 6, 2017 – Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, According to God’s Plan- Isaiah 26:4, Psalm 139:1-18

Cross

Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock. Isaiah 26:4 (NRSV)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end__I am still with you.  Psalm 139:1-18 (NRSV)

This week we have been discussing the Sacrament of Baptism. God makes a covenant with us in our Baptism that is rather one sided.  It is all about what God does for us and how He comes to us. He chooses us and makes us His own.

While human beings have freedom to make choices- and probably because human beings have been given that freedom- God makes provision for us to restore us, to draw us to Him, to fulfill the purpose He created us for, even though He knows we will not always make the best choices.

In Baptism God affirms His role as our Creator, our Life-Giver, our Savior, and the Lover of our souls.

Have we ever taken time to meditate and pray upon the reality that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Hand of God, and that He always is in us, with us and surrounding us?

 

October 5, 2017- Thoughts Along the Damascus Road- Acts 9:1-19

ananias and saul

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one.  Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”  But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.  So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Acts 9:1-19 (NRSV)

There’s nothing like the zeal of a person with a cause. The Pharisee Saul thought he was doing God a favor when he persecuted and killed Christians. He thought that ridding the world of those who followed the Way would keep the world pure for “law-keepers” like him.

Even in modern times genocidal purges continue- one faction against another, killing each other over ideological differences. Genocide has gone on for countless centuries, and it has only created more division and pain in our world.  There is a time when we as children of the same God need to acknowledge that even if we have deep disputes and ideological differences with other races or nations, that we need to maintain and respect each others’ boundaries and each others’ right to live as they see fit.  Much heartache could be avoided if everyone could agree to disagree and be peaceable with those who don’t subscribe to the same beliefs.

The problem with Saul was that his zeal and his mission weren’t lining up with the purpose God had for him. Saul was Doing It Wrong in a big way, even though he thought he was doing everything right.

Jesus had plans for Saul. Jesus had big plans for Saul, exactly the opposite of killing off Christians. The Pharisee Saul was to become the apostle Paul- the most influential Christian evangelist and writer of all time.

Jesus knocked Saul off of his high horse, quite literally. For three days (does this interval sound familiar?) Saul was blind, hungry, and more or less dead to the world.  Then Saul was brought to a place where God came to him through a believer- one who would nourish him, clean him up, bring him to the baptismal font, and restore him.

Ananias must have been scared speechless, to have God command him to take care of this evil guy who had been killing off Christians. Yet Ananias listened.  He was faithful and did what God said to do for this enemy of believers.

Many of us have had those Jesus-come-to-us moments, when we are knocked off our high horses only to come to the realization that it is only in Christ (and through His hands and feet in the body of Christ) that we are set right, healed and restored. In Baptism our eyes are opened and our sins are washed clean.

We have had our Ananias experiences too- when God calls us to care for someone we think is a basket case or beyond help- or someone who means us harm. Sometimes trusting God seems like the most illogical thing to do.

God has a purpose for everyone, no matter how unlikely, no matter how unlovely we are or how abysmal our pasts can be.

Thank God He loves sinners like us, and that He has the power to make us His saints.

October 4, 2017- Baptism for All Ages- Isaiah 55:10-11, Ephesians 4:4-6

infant baptism picture

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 (NRSV)

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 (NRSV)

The big deal about the universality of the sacrament of Baptism – why it is something meant for all, regardless of age or cognition or profession of faith- is that it’s God doing the calling.

God has a way of calling the unlikely, the underdog, the weak. This isn’t to say that baptism is not for those who come to faith as adults, but that it is always God’s Word that makes it effective regardless of who is brought to the font. It is God’s calling, whether through our own volition or through our parents and sponsors, that names and claims us through the water and the Word.

I have had the privilege of witnessing Baptisms of all ages, from an infant at the age of three days to my own grandfather who was baptized three days before he died at age 91.   Whether the person was aware of what the pastor was doing and why, or not, the power of the Sacrament is still manifested there.  God is the Author of our salvation and of our faith. It is His promise being given.

We can have confidence in what God promises, even though we might not fully believe and comprehend His promises. It’s always God doing the calling and the equipping.

Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. This now is perhaps somewhat acute but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word. –from the explanation of infant Baptism, Luther’s Large Catechism

Today’s children and young adults have tremendous challenges ahead of them. It is easy to get caught up in the things this world tempts us with and not give the things of God a second thought. Often teens and young adults stray from the faith and don’t understand or don’t acknowledge the promise they were given in their Baptism.  Yet God is still at work in them and in their lives whether they acknowledge His work or not.

Baptism, and particularly infant baptism, clearly is an affirmation that God is in control. It is God Who redeems.  It is God Who names and claims and restores.

Therefore I say, if you did not believe then believe now and say thus: The baptism indeed was right, but I, alas! did not receive it aright. For I myself also, and all who are baptized, must speak thus before God: I come hither in my faith and in that of others, yet I cannot rest in this, that I believe, and that many people pray for me; but in this I rest, that it is Thy Word and command. Just as I go to the Sacrament trusting not in my faith, but in the Word of Christ; whether I am strong or weak, that I commit to God. But this I know, that He bids me go, eat and drink, etc., and gives me His body and blood; that will not deceive me or prove false to me.

Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err. –from the explanation of infant Baptism, Luther’s Large Catechism

Many of us have children or grandchildren who have strayed from the faith or who fail to acknowledge God. Yet we can call on God- and know that His promise given to them through His Word in their Baptism will not be empty.

If we have loved ones who have been raised in faith and baptized, but have strayed from God, we can take comfort that in their Baptism they too have been named and claimed, and that God will find a way to restore them.

October 3, 2017- Baptized Into God-Life- Romans 6:1-11

abundant life.jpgWhat then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?   By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.   But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:1-11 (NRSV)

The apostle Paul had a difficult audience in the Romans. Roman culture and religion glorified consumption, violence, excess and certain forms of immoral behavior.  So Paul had his work cut out for him explaining to the Romans why it is necessary for us to die to our old sinful selves so that we can be free to live with Christ.

50-Bucks-And-A-Pack-Of-Cigarettes

Our culture today is very similar to the Romans’. We watch the news and all we seem to hear is death, destruction and debauchery.  Violence and sex sell. Evil is very prevalent in the world as we see all around us, but Baptism is God’s promise to us that His life isn’t what the media portrays. There is more to life than the Jerry Springer show and the sad dramas we see played out in the tabloids- and in our neighborhoods. God-life is a far better way for us to live.  It is the life God designed for us.

In Baptism we die to the “old Adam.” Our sins are crucified on the  Cross with Jesus, and we are set free to live God’s way.

Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practice all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. In short, it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be true. For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive.

Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body. For that is the reason why these two things are done in Baptism namely, that the body, which can apprehend nothing but the water, is sprinkled, and, in addition, the word is spoken for the soul to apprehend. Now, since both, the water and the Word, are one Baptism, therefore body and soul must be saved and live forever: the soul through the Word which it believes, but the body because it is united with the soul and also apprehends Baptism as it is able to apprehend it. We have, therefore, no greater jewel in body and soul, for by it we are made holy and are saved, which no other kind of life, no work upon earth, can attain.- from the explanation of Baptism, Luther’s Large Catechism

 In Baptism we are given the most precious of God’s gifts- we are made His own. We are given the means to participate in the life we were created for, to live in response to the grace of God- not just after our bodies die, but here and now.  We have the gift of abundant, meaningful life in Christ, because we are no longer prisoners to the old ways of sin and death.

How are we living the God-life today?

October 1, 2017 – Named and Claimed by God in Baptism- Matthew 3:13-16

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. Matthew 3:13-16 (NRSV)

Lutherans observe two sacraments. A sacrament is defined as a special way to connect with God that was specifically instituted by God, and that has a tangible connection to the elements of the earth. When the Word is brought together with an earthly element, such as water or bread and wine, God makes that a sacrament.

Baptism is the first of the two sacraments. We baptize because Jesus was baptized, and we are baptized into His death- and into His resurrection.

Baptism is first and foremost an act of God, a tangible reminder of His covenant of grace. It may be done with human hands, through a human pastor, with plain city tap water, but it is the Word flowing through the water, the Word being spoken through the pastor, that accomplishes the saving work of God.

In Baptism God names and claims us as His own. In Baptism we are given the gift of salvation, freely and without any condition save our faith in Christ, which is also a gift from God. We do not “choose God.” God chooses us.

This is why it is not only appropriate but fitting that we baptize people of all ages, regardless of cognitive ability. One does not need to understand or make a conscious choice to come to the font for the water and the Word to be effective.  It is all God’s doing.  It doesn’t matter if the person is three days old or ninety five years old.  It doesn’t matter if the person is sprinkled with water or dunked in the river.  God is the One at work in Baptism, and it is not just a one-time event but a way of life.

Luther taught that we are to “put on Baptism as daily wear.” When we wash our faces or take a shower it is an opportunity for us to remember our Baptism- that through the water and the Word we have been named and claimed by God, and set apart by Him for the purpose He created.

It is always good to take a moment now and then to remember that in Baptism we are named and claimed and set aside as children of God.

September 29, 2017- Keep Us Out of Trouble, and Rescue Us From Evil- Matthew 6:13, Romans 8:37-39

temptation of Christ

And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (CEB)

The sixth and seventh petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are related. While Christianity is not a dualistic religion – we do not believe that the world, evil and Satan are equal to God- we do know that we are subject to the influence of sin and death while we live on this earth.

Whether you believe that Satan is a personal adversary or that he is more correctly viewed as a metaphor for the spirit of evil, the fact is that evil is real. Evil is too alive and well in this world and often we don’t have a good explanation for why evil continues to exist.  We don’t have the answer to why God allows evil to exist in this world.   We can only have faith that:

..in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

We do know that we fall into temptation easily enough though. We are constantly subject to temptations of the flesh, temptations of the world, and temptations of Satan and evil.

For in the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart…

Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed, and impels us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery, slander, pride and haughtiness, with superfluous finery, honor, fame, and power, where no one is willing to be the least, but everyone desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all…

Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God to tear us away from faith, hope, and love and bring us into wrong belief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil. – from the explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

Nobody needs any help finding temptation. From the smallest temptations- from wanting to snarf down that nice little bit of ice cream or chocolate we know we don’t need, or being enticed to something as devastating as stealing or engaging in infidelity, we need the Lord’s help to resist and avoid such things.

We need to ask for God’s protection from Satan and evil as well. Although Satan and evil can devastate us here on earth, they hold no power against God and His kingdom.

In the Greek text this petition reads thus: Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Malicious One; and it looks as if He were speaking of the devil, as though He would comprehend everything in one so that the entire substance of all our prayer is directed against our chief enemy. For it is he who hinders among us everything that we pray for: the name or honor of God, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a cheerful good conscience, etc.

Therefore we finally sum it all up and say: Dear Father pray, help that we be rid of all these calamities. But there is nevertheless also included whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom — poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. For since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life, and wreaks his anger whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Hence it comes that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and incites many to commit suicide, and to many other terrible calamities. Therefore there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this arch enemy without ceasing. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from him even for an hour.- from the explanation of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

When we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer it is good to remember these key points:

  1. God’s Name is holy. It is given to us to address God.
  2. God’s Kingdom is here, and it also on its way to being fulfilled on earth.
  3. God’s will is going to be done, so Lord, help us get on board with it.
  4. God provides for us DAILY, our food, and our needs. We need Him every day.
  5. Forgive others as God forgives us, it brings healing for our souls.
  6. Keep us from temptation because it’s all around us and we want to stay clear of it.
  7. Keep us from the influence of Satan and evil.

Have we thanked God for providing for us in every way today?

September 29, 2017 – Forgive Us When We Do Wrong- Matthew 6:12

Forgiveness

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. Matthew 6:12 (CEB)

The traditional English translation of this verse is “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”  and that is part of forgiveness, but that wording tends to limit our understanding of forgiveness to monetary transactions or mortgage payments. Forgiveness is much more than simply writing off a debt, which is why a more comprehensive translation of this verse is necessary here.

In Luther’s explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we get into the hardest, yet most necessary thing to do if we humans are to live in community and live at peace with God: forgive.

It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.

 But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. For just as we daily sin much against God and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. If, therefore you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, — for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, — but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6, 37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6,14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. – from the explanation of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer from Luther’s Large Catechism

 Forgiveness is not blithe forgetfulness, in which we no longer remember the hurtful things said or done to us. Forgiveness toward others is a process in which we acknowledge the injury and pain that we have suffered at the hands of others, but we make the conscious choice to let go of our anger and surrender our claims to revenge against those who have wronged us. We surrender those who have wronged us to the mercy of God, as we surrender ourselves to His mercy and forgiveness when we do wrong.

Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Sometimes forgiveness means to let that person or group of people out of our lives, especially if they are unforgiving toward us or if they have the potential to be toxic to us in the future.  There is nothing about forgiveness that requires us to endure abuse or live in a toxic environment.  Forgiveness allows us to get rid of the toxic anger and pain we carry and give it to God.  He can handle it.  He can heal and restore us. We can’t work that kind of restoration and healing ourselves.  Forgiveness toward others is really for our own good.

Our response to a loving God who forgives us unconditionally is to pass that gift along, and let His healing and His grace flow through us.

It has been said that the heaviest burden to carry is a grudge.

However…Jesus said to take up His yoke, because His burden is light.

Who do we need to consciously decide to forgive today?