February 20, 2020- Justice, Truth, and Jesus, the Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior- Isaiah 59:14-21, Acts 4:11-12, Isaiah 55:10-11 and Acts 10:39-43

transfiguration

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.

Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment.

So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives.

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. 

“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 59:14-21 (ESV)

There is no mortal man who can intercede for the sins of humanity. Since the day of the Fall the whole creation has been crying out for healing and redemption.  The forerunners of Jesus in Scripture- Moses, Boaz, David, Solomon, and so forth, all pointed to Jesus, but they were fallible people who could not save themselves or anyone else from the curse of the Fall.

We deceive ourselves if we think we can save ourselves. As the apostle Paul taught,

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:11-12 (ESV)

Isaiah also tells us of the real Intercessor, Redeemer and Savior- Jesus, the God Man Himself.

Though Isaiah was speaking to the nation of Israel 700 years before Jesus came to earth as a man, the truth that he spoke to them is full of hope for us even today.

The Holy Spirit that lit upon Jesus at His baptism, the Spirit that came down as tongues of fire on the first believers at Pentecost is alive and among us.  The words of God always fulfill their intent and do what God intends for them to do.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water 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 shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)

We can have great confidence and comfort knowing that God is faithful and that when He says He has sent a Redeemer, Intercessor and Savior, He has done it.

The Lord Jesus stands as the Cornerstone, the Suffering Servant, Who is coming again to judge the living and the dead as we confess today in the Apostle’s Creed, as the apostle Paul preached:

God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:39-43 (ESV)

 

September 16, 2019 – Peace and Joy in Christ- Philippians 4:4-8, Galatians 2:20

joy of the Lord

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:4-8 (ESV)

The apostle Paul didn’t have a lot of worldly stability in his life, to put it mildly.  On the surface he didn’t have a whole lot to rejoice about. Being stoned (with rocks,) beaten, flogged, starved, shipwrecked and put in prison isn’t exactly what most people would call a good time.

Most of the time, Paul had nothing as far as material wealth.  He had little if any assurance of physical safety, but in Christ, Paul had everything.

The human condition is such that there is no permanent home in these imperfect bodies and in this flawed and broken world.  If we put our trust in our health, or our family and friends, or in our abilities, or in our wealth, we are trusting in things that cannot last and are temporary at best.  Only Jesus offers us the peace of knowing that in Him we have life forever, life without end.

No matter what this life throws at us, this life is not all there is.

As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

We have peace because we know to whom we belong.

July 15, 2019- No One is Beyond the Grace of God in Christ- Galatians 1:11-24

paulwriteletters

(The apostle Paul writes:) For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV)

Today people would be rightfully skeptical if someone were to claim a special revelation of God such as Paul had.  There is a view that many in the Christian church hold (including most Lutherans) that the extraordinary gifts and divine revelation ended with the apostles, the last being John of Patmos who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.  This is a view called cessationism.

Lutheran Christians generally believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, and that since there are no living apostles to whom Jesus directly revealed Himself, there are no direct revelations being given to people living today.  Today we are instructed to seek God where He promises to be found- in Scripture,  at the Lord’s Table, at the baptismal font, and in the preaching and teaching of His Word- which includes not a few of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the churches.

The reason why Paul’s message is still such a big deal is primarily because it was taught to Paul by Jesus Himself.  

God took someone who was completely opposed to Him and transformed him into someone who endured unimaginable hardships, suffering and ridicule for the sake of Jesus’ holy name.  It is rare that a person will risk imprisonment, torture, starvation, suffering and ultimately death, for a message that is a lie.  It would have been so much easier for Paul to go back with the other Pharisees and back to his old life, but for Christ, he could not do that.  For Christ, but only through Christ- Paul was willing to sacrifice everything.

Paul was profoundly changed.  From death to life.  From despair and damnation to the wonder and hope and salvation of Christ.

Paul didn’t ask for it.  He didn’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer, or wear a hair shirt, or promise to feed a thousand orphans.  God was doing the acting.  Jesus came to Paul, not the other way around.  The act of redemption and salvation is and will always be through the merit of Christ alone.

We may not have been given the charismatic gifts and highly visual miracles that the apostles were given, but faith comes to us the same way.

In the water of baptism, Jesus comes to us.  In His Body and Blood that we share at the Communion table, Jesus makes Himself part of us.  In the preaching and the hearing of the Word, the Holy Spirit works faith within us.  The Good News is that no one is beyond the grace of God.

It doesn’t matter if we have a shady background or a tortured past.  Jesus redeemed the apostle Paul, who was formerly a murderer of believers.

“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

 

 

July 12, 2019- The One True Faith, Christ Alone- The Apostle’s Creed, Galatians 1:1-10

apostle's creed
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:1-10 (ESV)

The Apostle’s Creed has historically been a sort of “Cliff’s Notes,” or a basic faith statement of orthodox (small o) Christianity. It is derived from Scripture, and we as Christians learn the Creed so that we know what and in whom we believe. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther teaches the three articles of the Creed- the first article being of God, the Creator, the second article on Jesus Christ, the Son, our Salvation, and the third article on the Holy Spirit, our Sanctification (the process of being purified and made holy.) So in the Creed we learn in short form the roles of the Persons of the Trinity as well as the simple Gospel.
God created us and the whole world and everything in it. Jesus redeemed us, took on our sins and suffered the death penalty (that we earned) for us. The Holy Spirit keeps us in faith and transforms our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.

Today, Christian believers need to be more discerning than ever. There are endless Bible studies, videos, teachings and other information out there that claim to be “Christian” but upon scrutiny don’t line up with the Gospel given to the apostles. Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians was meant to warn and safeguard them against false teachings that were being brought into the community- teachings that could keep people from hearing the real saving message of the Gospel. Paul had a problem with people coming into the early Christian communities and telling Gentile believers that the only way they could have salvation in Jesus is if they obeyed the Jewish laws (that the Jews weren’t able to do either) and if they observed Jewish rites such as circumcision.
False teachers were teaching a false gospel of “Jesus….and.”
With this in mind, we learn from Paul that he was an apostle of Jesus. He did not declare himself an apostle, nor did any human being decide Paul was going to be an apostle. God in Christ made Paul an apostle and gave him a very specific message- one that could be verified by the Scriptures and by the teaching of the other apostles.
Paul begins his letter by praying for the people of the church in Galatia. He prays for grace and peace, and for deliverance from the evil of the current age. He attributes all the glory to God. He gives God all the credit for his message- not to himself. He vehemently denies that there are things that people can do to earn favor with God.
It is easy for us to get distracted by the world that surrounds us. It is easy to hear all the messages from the media and from those around us- do this, don’t do that, here’s the way to happiness, 15 ways to financial freedom, etc. and so on. The idea of our “best life now” sells books and admissions to seminars, but the concept of a perfect life here on earth isn’t found in God’s Word. God’s Word teaches the theology of the cross. We are baptized into the death of Christ and we rise again with Him. This life of now, but not yet necessarily involves suffering, sacrifice and loss. We still suffer the human condition of the curse of the Fall (Genesis 3) until either we die or Christ returns.
Sometimes we think that we can judge from appearances who is living a moral life and who isn’t. We can succumb to the rather prideful thought that we can justify ourselves by following the rules. We want to feel as if we can contribute something to our creation, salvation and sanctification, when in fact it is God doing the acting in all three of these realms as reflected in the three articles that we profess when we say the Creed.
In Paul’s day the Judaizers (some early converts from Judaism to Christianity) taught a gospel of “Jesus…and,” as in Jesus AND the requirement of circumcision, or Jesus AND observing the Jewish dietary laws and feast days. The true Gospel message of Christ alone, Faith alone, Grace alone was getting lost in the rules and rituals.
Modern day Christians have gotten caught up in false gospels too. Nobody is telling people they have to get circumcised or forgo bacon to be a Christian today. Today’s popular false gospels sound Christian, but their influence in the church is both subtle and damaging, because the peripheral messages take the emphasis off of Jesus and the cross.
Prosperity Gospel- a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following steps such as sowing “seed offerings” (i.e contributing money to people, churches or causes) will bring a person financial and material prosperity.
Self-Help Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and following certain behavior modification techniques will eliminate bad behaviors (keep us from sinning.)

Social Justice Gospel– a message that implies that believing in Jesus and going out and doing projects for the less fortunate, or to save the environment, or championing various and sundry political and social causes.

The apostle Paul stresses that the real Gospel is not Jesus…and. We are powerless to come to faith or to save ourselves no matter what we do. All of the popular false gospels put undo emphasis on specific good things that Christians do, rather than the new creations we are in Christ. It is good and necessary for Christians to engage in stewardship and to give of our time, treasure and talents for the benefit of the church. It is good and necessary for Christians to be mindful of our behavior and how our behavior affects our lives and witness. It is also good and necessary for Christians to care for the rights of others and for the world around us.
The important thing about good works that are truly good is that they are always a result of God acting on, in and through us. We can’t earn our salvation, but we are called to respond to the Good News.
We have the gifts of the Apostle’s Creed, Paul’s letters to the churches, and the entire counsel of Scripture to keep us centered on the real Gospel, the Good News of Jesus. Paul didn’t write and preach because it made him popular. Rather, his writing and preaching always pointed to, and came from Jesus.

June 24, 2019- Jesus Loves You, MYOB (sometimes), Follow Me (always)… John 21:20-25, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

 

business

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 (ESV)

The disciples, like us, were human beings subject to sin (also like us.)  There had to be a moderate degree of tension between Peter and John upon Jesus’ return, especially because John had to know not just that Judas betrayed Jesus unto death, but also Peter denied Jesus three times.

Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (ESV)

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” Luke 22:61 (ESV)

Peter was wondering about John’s position with Jesus.  Rumor had had it that John was going to be around until the Second Coming.  There had to be a small bit of jealousy going on there, otherwise Jesus probably wouldn’t have been as quick to tell Peter to mind his own business, at least as far as what happens to John.

John did outlive the other disciples, and was the only one of the Twelve to die of natural causes, at the age of 90+, but John did, in fact die.

It’s easy to look around and wonder about “What is going to happen to so-and-so?,” or “Why doesn’t God use me for _____?” or even to speculate on the worthiness or unworthiness of another person.

Jesus told Peter to MYOB when it comes to John and what John will do and where John will go.

It can be hard to mind our own business when we should be minding our own business. As the apostle Paul taught regarding the body of Christ- if everyone were an eye, where would the hearing be? God puts each of us in the places we are with different vocations.  Paul talks about the diversity of the body of Christ at length in 1 Corinthians 12.

It truly isn’t our business to wonder why this person ended up in a place that seems “cushy” or “privileged” to us.  We don’t know the back story.  We don’t know why God chooses one person to live 100 years and another to live two.  We don’t know why we fit in the tapestry of God’s kingdom in the place we are assigned.

Minding our own business is not about ignoring the needs of others, but about not being jealous of others, about not coveting others’ positions and stations in life.  It is about being content with our vocation and concentrating on the mission we have right in front of us.

Most of us are not called to be missionaries or millionaires, but all of us are called to live out our daily vocations with the knowledge that serving our neighbors is really serving God.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (ESV)

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

teach children

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 22, 2019 – Grafted In, by Faith, the Gift of God- Romans 10:13-24

ancient-olive-tree

 

Now I (the apostle Paul) am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?  If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. Romans 10:13-24 (NIV)

God gave the apostle Paul a rather difficult mission field. Jesus sent him as the apostle to the Gentiles (Gentiles=everyone who isn’t a Jew.)  Paul was formerly the Pharisee, Saul- a persecutor and murderer of Christians, a person who tried to save himself by obeying the Law. After he was converted to Christian faith by Jesus on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1-19) Paul wanted his hearers to understand that one’s heritage and genetic lineage are not the things that reconcile a person to God.  God grafts us into His family, into the covenant of faith, the covenant of Abraham.

The Jewish people for the most part, rejected Paul and the message Jesus had given him. Paul had made it clear to the Gentiles that had come to faith, that they were accepted by God on the basis of their faith. Paul also made it clear that God did not necessarily exclude those from whom the faith had first been given.

It is an interesting paradox of theology that while Jesus died to save every person from their sins regardless of their ancestry, not everyone will accept the gift that He has given.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Lutherans accept the paradox. We believe Jesus indeed died to redeem everyone- to take away the sins of the world.

He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 (NIV)

We also believe that there are some that for whatever reason, will not accept the free gift of salvation. God alone knows who and why.  As Christians we are instructed to tell others about Jesus and trust that the Holy Spirit works through the hearing of God’s Word (Romans 10:17.)  God alone judges the living- those who have faith- and the dead, who have not come to saving faith in Jesus.

We don’t inherit faith like we inherit our genes. Just because a person’s parents or grandparents are of a particular ethnicity or were members of such and such church does not automatically make faith a child’s birthright. Being born into a non-Christian family does not exclude a person from coming to saving faith in Christ, as many people who have no familial tradition of belief do come to faith when the Word is spoken and taught.  God’s means of grace are exactly that- God’s. We are called to see people as God does, without regard to their ancestry or history.  We are adopted into His family by grace, by faith in Jesus, just like everyone else who believes in Him. The Good News is for everyone.

In baptism we become children of God, but it takes us a lifetime for God to transform us into the people He created us to become. Children learn the dogma (statements of belief) of the faith from parents and grandparents, pastors and teachers.  We can lead horses to water as it were by bringing our children to the font, by providing the information (catechesis) and by our examples, but the Holy Spirit opens the heart to hear what is taught and He creates faith.

Paul was telling the Gentiles that no one is more or less special in God’s eyes by means of their ancestry or background. It may seem more natural for those of Jewish descent to believe, and this is Paul’s hope, but he doesn’t want the Gentiles to feel as if they have a special privilege because they were adopted into God’s family and non-believing Jewish people were left out. Faith is what justifies us, regardless of our heritage, and faith is a gift from God. God is the one doing the acting.

In our baptism we are reminded that it is in Christ alone that we remain in faith, that we are forgiven, and that we are made children of God.

Thank God for His gift of faith. May He give us the grace and the passion to live in response to it.

January 18, 2019 – For Us, Jesus – Romans 8:18-39

jesus light

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure 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 8:18-39 (ESV)

When we come forward to the Communion table and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we receive it as what Jesus said it is: this IS My Body, given FOR YOU, and this IS My Blood, shed FOR YOU. In, through, under and with the bread and wine, Jesus IS.  He is given FOR US, for the forgiveness and remission of our sins. The Sacrament of Holy Communion is not a symbol or a “memorial meal.”  It is tangible, edible proof that Jesus gave Himself for us. We are part of His body.  We share in the suffering of His Cross as well as we share in the resurrection in the world to come.

Paul does not give us any illusions about suffering for Jesus’ sake. Paul endured stoning, shipwreck, starvation, imprisonment, and ultimately beheading, all for teaching and spreading the Gospel. By God’s grace not only did Paul endure, but God gave us much of the New Testament through him. His faith and his focus stayed squarely on Christ alone no matter what trial or suffering he endured. This was truly a gift of God’s grace, and it is gift that God gives to us as well.  God’s gifts are given at the font, as well as in, with, through and under the bread and wine, and poured out on us every time we read, study or hear His Word.

Most of us 21st century American Christians will not face the persecution that Paul faced. Yet in many parts of the world, – in China, for example, and in the Muslim world- a person can be executed for preaching the truth of the Gospel, or for even possessing a Bible.  It is a blessing for us that we face minimal restrictions in professing our faith, but we should caution against becoming so distracted by all the material things around us that we forget the Giver. We should remember in times of blessing and in hardship that God is in it all and HE will get us through. He will not abandon us.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Even when it’s hard for us to see it, He does hold us in the palm of His hand. The Holy Spirit is constantly interceding for us in the places where we cannot find words.  He may not deliver us from pain or trials or suffering, at least not in the ways we would like, but He too had to drink the cup.  He chose to drink the ultimate cup of suffering- FOR US.  FOR US, He became the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.  He has mercy on us, and He will see us through to the place where pain, suffering and death are no more.

 

 

 

January 16, 2019- We Aren’t Good. We Don’t Want to Be Bad. We Need Jesus! – Romans 7:7-25

angel-devil-homer

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.  So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7:7-25 (ESV)

In popular culture a person’s struggle between good and evil is often represented by a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. If only the line between our sinful nature and the saints we are in Christ were as sharply defined as Good Homer vs Bad Homer!

It is a common misconception that the grace of God gives us license to do whatever we want. While in Christ we are forgiven, and nothing we can do will earn us brownie points with God, we are still frustrated by our inability to live according to God’s laws.  The good laws of God that are meant to protect us and those around us also convict and condemn us- and show us how helpless we are and that at best we are beggars, solely reliant on God’s grace.

If we were able to just straighten up and fly right and obey the law on our own we would not need Jesus. The Pharisees tried that- they added their own rules to God’s Law in an attempt to keep people from even coming close to breaking the law.  Instead of keeping people from sinning, trying to follow all the extra laws turned people into self-righteous hypocrites who cared more for the outward appearance of keeping the law than caring for others.

The reality is that we cannot have life without Jesus. Without Him we are dead in our trespasses and sins. The Law (and our utter inability to keep it) should serve to show us our desperate need for Jesus, cause us to cling to Jesus, and to stay in His word and in prayer.

Knowing that everyone has a sinful nature should also help us be more forgiving. Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to ask Him for forgiveness, as well as for the grace to forgive others as He forgives us.  It’s not easy, but others are just as weak and in need of Jesus as we are.

The apostle Paul (the writer of Romans and many other letters in the New Testament) had to deal with the battle between his inner sinner and inner saint. We face the same conundrum as Paul- we don’t do the things we should. We do things we shouldn’t.  We feel terrible about it, but no matter what we do, we can’t just stop sinning and behave. That dissonance and unease Paul laments here, and that we feel in that struggle should compel us to run to Jesus, to take solace in the water of baptism, in prayer and in the promise of God’s Word.  Our faith in Jesus sends us in our life of paradox to the foot of the Cross.

January 15, 2019 – Slaves? Romans 6:15-23

slave ship 1788slave auction

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:15-23 (ESV)

21st century Americans have a difficult time with the concept of slavery. We may remember seeing drawings of slave ships or slave auctions from the 18th and 19th century from history class like the ones pictured above, but we don’t really see slavery out in the open. We think of slavery as something that ended with the Civil War in 1865. Slavery does still exist in the modern world. It may not be as visible today, but it is still just as repulsive as the buying and selling of humans on the auction block. Human trafficking, child abuse, forced labor, addiction, and domestic violence are examples of some modern forms of slavery.

An easier question for us today is, to whom or what do we sell ourselves? Are we slaves to addictions such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol- or even to an excess of good things such as food or exercise? Are we slaves to excessive work or excessive leisure? Are we slaves to the thoughts and opinions of others?

The apostle Paul teaches us: “you are slaves of the one you obey.” As long as we are living in this body, in this life, we will still be tempted and we will still sin. (Simul Justus et peccator still applies.) However, because in baptism we die to sin and live with Christ, we have become His slaves- not in the sense of being in a sorry forced servitude, but as joyful servants responding to the love He first showed us.  We may not be able to obey perfectly, but our faith in Jesus is what saves us and justifies us. Our faith- which is a gift of the Holy Spirit- is what sets us free to live as God created us to live, and to do the good works that He created for us to do.

Sanctification is another concept that we can have difficulty with. Christian sanctification does not mean becoming rigid, legalistic, “holier than thou” hypocrites. We aren’t always people who are clean and tidy and well behaved.  Sometimes we road rage. Sometimes we use nasty words.  We are rough around the edges and a lot worse than that if we are honest with ourselves. Jesus’ first followers were once the likes of fishermen and tax collectors and even women of ill repute.  Our caricature of snooty false piety- imagine Dana Carvey as “the Church Lady”- is right out.  We are real people who live in this real world.

We are all hypocrites because we are all sinners, however, we confess our sins just as the apostle Paul did when he referred to himself as the chief (or foremost) of all sinners. We let Jesus forgive us. We trust Jesus to help us do better and to change our minds and hearts to be more like His.  Sanctification is actually “holification” (if I may borrow a term from Rev. Jonathan Fisk) meaning a process in which God makes us holy, by faith, in Christ, because of His grace. God makes us more like Him. We are meant to grow and develop into the people God has intended us to become.  That becoming is not something we do, but something God does in and through us.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes it’s painful, but faith is trust that in all of it God knows what he’s doing.

Sin and death appear to be the masters of this world. When we look around us, those things are everywhere.  Yet so is the transforming power of God- the same God who put death to death.  We know the end to this story.  God wins.

All of us sell ourselves to something. Our first parents sold us all into sin and death at the moment of the Fall. Yet we have been bought for a price. Jesus sold Himself- a perfect sacrifice- to purchase us so that He could transform us and make us holy.  He bought us, and set us free so that we can love and serve God as willing and joyful slaves to Him.