July 30, 2019-Lessons from Galatians, Our Identity in Christ

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Today’s lesson is a little different study. This week’s Catechism lesson (8-4) features key concepts and food for thought from the book of Galatians.  With the new school year starting soon it’s great to remind young people (as well as older people!) that we belong to Christ, and we live as new creations in Him.

The apostle Paul warned the Galatians against teaching a different gospel or of adding to the Gospel message out of fear of what other people might think.  Salvation comes to ALL people, regardless of national ancestry, race, gender or ethnic traditions by faith in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone.  There is no such thing as “Jesus….AND.”  We are not made right with God through circumcision, or by keeping Jewish Law (which the Jews never could seem to do anyway,) but by the grace of God in which we are given faith in Christ. It’s all about God, and it’s all a free gift.  No ANDs.

Galatians 1:10- (NIV) Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

What does it mean to be a person of integrity?

Galatians 2:20- (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Even though we are sinners who sin daily and sin much, we are defined by our identity in Christ, not by the sins we have committed.  What does it mean to “put on Baptism as daily wear?”

Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV)- So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

What does it mean that because we are baptized, our identity is in Christ, no matter what our place in life or our vocation (the things we do) happens to be?

Galatians 4:7 (NIV) -So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

What does it mean to be an heir of the kingdom of God?  Do we share in both the cross of Christ as well as in His resurrection?

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV) Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

As children of God, do we care more about living as someone who Jesus bled and died to redeem and save, or “going along to get along?”

Galatians 5:25-26 (NIV) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What does it mean to stay true to our values and to trust the Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need in difficult situations? When is it better to stand and fight or to walk away from an awkward situation?

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

We may not see the rewards of being kind, helping others, and living as God’s children should.  However, this is the vocation God gives us as His people no matter how other people treat us.  There is a saying, “No matter who your boss is, you are really working for God.”  What does this mean as we navigate our way through life?

 

 

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

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(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.”

 

 

May 10, 2019- Jesus Alone, Free from Legion- Luke 8:26-39

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Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:26-39 (ESV)

We don’t hear much about demon possession today, although we learn in Scripture that there are powers and principalities that work against us, as well as our own sinfulness and the age old fallen human desire to make ourselves our own god. We have a similarity with the demon possessed man- we are in bondage to sin, whether or not it is markedly visible to the world.  We are separated from God because of our sin.

The demon possessed man didn’t ask for Jesus’ help to be set free. The man was so far into bondage to the legion of demons that he couldn’t ask for help if he wanted to.  Jesus came to him.  This is how the Kingdom of God comes to us.  Jesus came to earth as a flesh and blood man to reach into the world, to reach out to us with the gifts of faith, repentance, forgiveness and redemption.

The possessed man didn’t earn or deserve to be set free of the demons. Jesus saving him from that possession had nothing to do with the man-  and everything to do with Jesus.

By His grace, Jesus sets us free from those things that would keep us from Him. He forgives our sins.  He gives us the grace to love others, to serve others, to live in a way in which we can say to others, “See what God has done!”  In Christ, our sins are forgiven- and the old Adam is sent to drown in the abyss, like the possessed horde of pigs.

It is indeed good news that Jesus comes to us in our need, in our helplessness and in our utter inability to save ourselves.  May we have faith in Christ alone, and fall upon His mercy and grace.

 

April 25, 2019 – By Faith in Jesus, We Will Live In the Heavenly City- Hebrews 11:1-16

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Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:1-16 (ESV)

It is telling that the author of Hebrews brings the definition of faith back to creation. At the very beginning of Scripture we are taught, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”- Genesis 1:1

God created the universe ex nihilo- from nothing- and this is the God in whom we believe.  If creation is of God, then we are inextricably connected to Him whether we acknowledge it or not.  While God is separate from His creation, creation cannot exist apart from Him.

Our mighty creator God gives us the gift of faith- faith so that we would trust in His provision and promise. The stories of the patriarchs are given to us not to show us how great Abel or Noah were, or what fantastic people Abraham and Sarah were, but to show us how great God is. Their faith is what commended them to God rather than their own merit or good deeds.  Our merits and good deeds are nothing more than dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6) in the sight of God. By faith, we trust that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and when God looks at us all he sees is Jesus.  Jesus has justified us, because we believe He is who He says He is, and that what He said: “It is finished,“ as He died on the Cross in our place is enough.

We are strangers and sojourners in this world, but as people baptized into Christ we are made to be the children of God’s covenant with Abraham- born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

By faith we know that Jesus has made for us a lasting city. By faith we trust that the kingdom of “now but not yet” will end, and we will step into the fullness of God’s promise as citizens of the heavenly city.

 

 

April 24, 2019- Born Again to a Living Hope- 1 Peter 1:3-12

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:3-12 (ESV)

In Christ we are born again to a living hope. One of the many amazing things about the grace of God is that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from Him. In and of ourselves we are nothing but dead in trespasses and sins, as the apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:1-3.

In the Garden of Eden our first parents discovered the sin of pride – of wanting to be God- and they learned the consequences of disobeying God. (Genesis 3)  Ever since the Fall, human beings have been mortal and doomed to suffer and to die as the consequence of this original sin.

Jesus shakes up that paradigm. If natural law were the last say, none of us could save ourselves by our own merit.  All of us earn and deserve eternal death and hell, and that is exactly what our fate would be if we were left to the consequences of our actions.

Yet God has mercy on us. Out of His desire to save us, He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. Our death sentence, our consignment to eternal punishment, was revoked at the moment when Jesus cried from the Cross- “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Paid in full. Set free. The curse of the Garden, set over all of creation, was broken.  Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, was given to suffer and die and take the penalty FOR US.

The apostles’ testimony was given to us so that we would know the joy of Jesus’ Resurrection from those who witnessed it first, so that we who did not see can believe. We have been given, by the gift of faith, the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Salvation and life are God’s gifts to us. We add nothing to the salvation equation except for our unbelief, rebelliousness, imperfections, and of course, the dirty rags of our sins.  Just as we love our own children even though we are always cleaning up after them and providing for them, God loves us and provides for us in spite of our inability to repay Him in any way. The reality is that the faith we need to even acknowledge God is itself a gift from Him.

The Sacraments- instituted by Jesus and given as gifts to us- are for everyone. We are given baptism, in which the Word of God and the water bestow the gift of faith, the gift of being named and claimed as God’s own child, is given for all ages and stages.  The effectiveness of baptism is not reliant on a person’s ability to understand or to ask for the gift.  We are given the gift of the Lord’s Supper, the very Body and Blood of Jesus in with, over and under the elements of bread and wine. In the simple gift of bread and wine we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We receive the very real presence of Jesus, in which we are given comfort and our faith in Him is strengthened.

Our trials today may seem overwhelming. Even though we hold each other up, because we are the hands and feet of Christ here on earth, we grow weary.  Many of us have health concerns that tax our ability to do even the most basic of tasks.  Some of us live in chronic pain and/or with debilitating diseases.  Many of us know financial poverty far better than we would like to. Others of us live with the grief of losing loved ones- spouses, parents or even children.  The trials and pains of this world are not the end of our story.  We are being tested by fire so that our faith is refined, and we are all the more willing to turn to Jesus and cling to Him, our Risen Lord.

April 9, 2019- Peter Betrays Jesus, and We Do Too- Mark 14:66-72

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And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”  But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 (ESV)

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Peter. He thought he had the inner fortitude to confess Jesus even when it could mean his hide.   There are times when we all think that we can be confident to confess Christ, and then our old Adam comes out and our words and actions betray Him.

The ability to remain faithful is not within us. This may have been the lesson that Jesus had for Peter as well as for us. Whether we stand or fall in the faith is not reliant on on our own desire, willpower or merit.  If Peter, the apostle, who walked and ate and lived with Jesus, could betray Him, who do we think we are?

The saint side of us (which is a gift of God, a result of God choosing us as His own) wants to cling to Jesus and wants to live for Him, even when it means our own personal discomfort or sacrifice.  We as sinners want to be God and we insist on having our own desires fulfilled- our own personal comfort and our own advancement and benefit.  It is inevitable that the saint and the sinner will have some skirmishes.

The apostle Paul discusses this struggle in Romans 7 – the things he wants to do he does not do, and the things he does not want to do, he does.  It is the struggle we all have and will have as long as we live in this lifetime.

Yet God gives us the gift of repentance. He gives us the Good News that Jesus died for ALL of our sins- even the times when we are faithless, when we fail, when we outright break His law.  No one is “too bad” for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Jesus forgave Peter and commended him to service and ministry even though Peter betrayed Him. We still sin and our actions betray Jesus every day.  Even so, we are still, by faith in Jesus, by the grace of God, named and claimed as His own children.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t just leave us to the consequences of our sins. We are baptized, washed, covered in His righteousness, because we believe He is who he said He is and that we trust that He is enough.

March 29, 2019-Sitting in Jesus’ Glory or Taking Up Our Cross? Mark 10:35-45, Luke 9:23

request of james and john

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:35-45 (ESV)

Many people believe that God works on a quid pro quo system which means, “If I do this, then you will do that.”  Examples of this mindset are.  “If I do great works of penance for all the sins I committed, then God will forgive me,” or “If I give ‘beyond the tithe’ to Christian ministries, then God will bless me with wealth and health and so on.”

We learn from Jesus and from the apostle Paul that God does not work on the quid pro quo system. We cannot earn our place in God’s economy. No one can follow Jesus unless the Father draws him- John 6:44. God doesn’t need anything we have.  He is the Giver.  Anything we have to give should be given in service to our neighbors, with thanks to God who gives us everything.

James and John are asking the wrong question of Jesus. Jesus’ mission has nothing to do with two guys arguing over which one is more special. They don’t realize that Jesus is the only one qualified to drink the cup that was prepared for Him. Jesus is the only acceptable and holy sacrifice to pay the ransom for fallen humanity.  James and John did not understand that the greatest in God’s kingdom are those who serve and glorify God and not themselves.

Jesus came to save sinners (Mark 2:13-17) and to rescue the lost- lost people like us who are powerless to save ourselves no matter how many good works we do.

Following Jesus has nothing to do with our own glory. It has everything to do with God’s glory. We can’t earn, deserve or bargain for God’s love. Faith in Jesus alone- which is a gift of the Holy Spirit- is what is required.  We respond to this gift in humble service, from a grateful and joyful heart.

Jesus is the one who paid our ransom. Jesus is the one who covers us with His righteousness, so that when God looks at us in judgment He does not see our sins.  All He sees is Jesus.  It is in Jesus’ strength and because of His love that we can dare to follow Him.  He is with us even through the valley of the shadow. He has taken the cup of death for us, that we may live.

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)