November 14, 2019 Spiritual Discernment and the Mind of Christ- 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

wisdom1

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.  But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.  None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 (ESV)

The apostle Paul underscores what he taught in yesterday’s study verses- that wisdom is found in Christ.

The “secret and hidden” wisdom of God is that faith is a gift from God to us.  It comes from Him, not from our own minds or designs.  The power of the Gospel is in hearing it, but without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we can study the Scriptures and make them say anything we want them to say.  A good case in point is when people take individual verses out of context, i.e.

And (Judas) throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. Matthew 27:5 (ESV)

“You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:37b (ESV)

Obviously these two verses were pulled out of their original context!  If we read the surrounding context to these verses (Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 27:3-10) we see that these verses do not imply that since Judas hanged himself that we should hang ourselves too.

The study of Scripture is not purely an intellectual pursuit, rather, it is primarily a spiritual one.  Our own rational minds and our own interpretations are subject to what God is saying to us through the text.

To have the mind of Christ is to trust that He does speak to us in His revealed Word- the Bible.  We are called to seek a right understanding of what the full counsel of Scripture has to say whether we like it or not, or whether we agree with it or not.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

There are times when it is difficult to explain Scriptural authority.  Do we believe that because Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God that He is a sheep? Do we take Scripture so literally that we impose the Jewish ceremonial laws of Leviticus on today’s Christians (even though the apostle Paul spoke against this sort of teaching in the book of Galatians…)  Should we be afraid that we are wearing fabrics made of cotton-polyester blends?  This would be the error of legalism- thinking that we are justified by following all the rules.  The problem with legalism is that nobody can follow all the rules, and if we are honest with ourselves we break all 10 of the Commandments on a pretty regular basis.  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us… 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

Do we fall on the other side of the fence and turn the entire narrative into metaphor, even when it is clear that there are historical truths and absolutes communicated in Scripture?  Antinomianism (literally means “against the law”) is alive and well not only in the greater society, but in the church as well.  “If it feels good, do it” is not a healthy approach to life.  Ice cream is fantastic, but a steady diet of it is not healthy.

Doing what we want may be harmful to ourselves and others.  When properly applied, rules serve as boundaries to protect us and others from actions that will cause harm.  There are absolute truths that are absolutely true all the time.  For instance, we cannot break the natural law of gravity without consequences.  We might believe we can fly off a 50 foot tall building, but the landing will not be pleasant.   Some rules were not made to be broken. The wages of sin is death.

Thankfully Jesus paid our sin-wages by going to the cross and suffering the penalty of death in our place.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:9-10 (ESV)

The good news is that in Christ He gives us the Holy Spirit and the discernment to “stay on the path.”  When we sin and fall short He calls us to confess our sins to Him and ask for forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is always there for us to help keep us from going off into the ditch on either side of the road.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 (ESV)

ditch

Dearest Jesus, we thank You that by your grace and through the Holy Spirit you give us the gifts of discernment and wisdom.  We pray that the Holy Spirit would illuminate our study of Scripture so that we will understand  your will for us and not go into the ditch on the right or the left. We pray that You would keep us balanced and on the road with You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 1, 2019- Dia de los Muertos- (The Day of the Dead) – Remembering and Forgiving- Lead Us to Jesus -1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

day of dead

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

Those of us who observe the church year may find the feast of All Saints to be one of the most difficult days to commemorate.  On this earth, death still has a very real sting.  The pain and longing of separation from those we love and those who have been big parts of our lives is a heavy burden to bear.

We also endure the pain of regret when loved ones go before us.  We may wonder if our loved one died in Christ.  Sometimes we carry grudges or unforgiveness toward those who hurt or wronged us before they died because we never had a chance to resolve the issues we had with that person when he or she was alive.  Sometimes our remembrance of a family member is tainted either by our regret that we were evil to them, or the pain we suffered due to their evil toward us.  The world is one big pack of sinners, after all.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We all desperately need the grace of God in our relationships with others.

We do not have to resolve the issues with someone in order to forgive them. They may never “forgive us back.”  We are called by Jesus to let go of our anger, resentment and unforgiveness toward others regardless of their response to us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.  There are situations in which reconciliation is impossible in this life- the death of the other party, or situations in which one’s health or life may be endangered through contact with the other party. Those who are living with physical or emotional abuse, or are enduring life with a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs may have to separate themselves from and completely cut off contact with that person for the sake of their own life and health. In Christ we can pass on the gift of forgiveness, but we are not compelled to keep enduring abuse.

God gives us the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, as Jesus has first forgiven us- even if there is no reconciliation, or even contact with the other party.

Jesus has sweet comfort for His own when we have to encounter earthly death, unforgiveness, disappointment and separation. He is walking with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

Many people read the above verses from the Gospel of Matthew and look at the Beatitudes as a “to do” list, things that we need to pull up our bootstraps and just do.  On one level, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but like the Ten Commandments teach us God’s Law, (that are also seen as a sort of “to do” list,) and show us our inability to keep them, Jesus teaches these blessings so that we may see how we are not the source of any of the blessings of the Beatitudes.

Only in Christ can we receive these attributes.

He is the one acting upon us so that we do see our own complete inadequacy and our desperate need for Him.

He is our comfort and our companion in our mourning.

He is the champion of the meek and lowly, as He came to serve, not to be served.

He is the Bread of Life who feeds us with the most sweet and holy bread of heaven- His very own Body and Blood.

He is the source of all mercy.

He is complete and total holiness and purity.

He grants us peace that is beyond all understanding.

He gives us the confidence to stand up for things that are right even when they are not  popular and may lead to our own personal harm.

He suffered the ultimate persecution and punishment (Isaiah 53:5) in our place, so that we would be blessed with salvation and life with Him forever.

The Beatitudes point us to our utter dependence on Jesus.

As we remember those who have gone before us, we thank God for those who passed along the faith to us, those who loved us, and those who we have confidence in Christ who we will see again.  We ask God for the gift of forgiveness toward those who have hurt us, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus first forgave us. We ask that Jesus brings us healing and peace for the injuries from relationships that cannot be reconciled, especially those relationships that we have had with those who have died.

We pray for the gifts of the Beatitudes because they are the attributes of Christ.

Today is remembered in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Part of that tradition involves honoring one’s ancestors.  Another part of it is acknowledging that death isn’t the end.  It is a celebration of remembrance and anticipation.

We will see those who departed in Christ again in the next world, in the new heaven and earth.

According to the message of Genesis 3  we are all dead- every person living will die.  In Christ we have His promise of eternal life.  The Day of the Dead is for those who went before us, the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews speaks of. (Hebrews 12:1-2)  We celebrate their lives.  We mourn their absence.  We think about what we may have done differently.  We pray for the grace to forgive where we need to forgive. But ultimately the lives of those witnesses serve to point us to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One Who is beside us and with us always, the One Who broke the curse of death so that we may live.

 

October 13, 2019- Message- Responding to Jesus (Y’all Need Jesus!)

y'all need Jesus

On the way to Jerusalem he (Jesus) was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Luke 17:11-19 (ESV)

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15 (ESV)
The relationship of a parent to his or her child can be a strained and complicated one. Some of our children are easy to love some of the time. Some of our children can be difficult and hard to manage from day one forward. Most of them are a little bit of both- a little sweet, a little sour, just like the Sour Patch kids. We do things for our kids not because we want them to be grateful for what we do, but because they’re our kids. We love them even when they don’t care whether we love them or not. We love them when they are unlovable. We love them even when they are ungrateful. We love our children even when they don’t respond to our love in the way that we hope.
There’s a popular T shirt that states: Y’all Need Jesus. It’s fun to wear t-shirts with catty sayings such as this as a conversation starter. In one way the saying on the shirt is supposed to imply that others’ behavior is so bad that they need Jesus to straighten them out. In another it reveals the truth that we are dependent upon Jesus- and for far more than to keep us from saying or doing things we shouldn’t.
Our need for Jesus is just as profound and essential whether we are people needing healing from leprosy or people dealing with the turmoil of the 21st century. We ALL need Jesus. Our very lives, the heartbeats within us, the air that we breathe, the very existence of all matter depends on Jesus, whether we acknowledge His hand and His sovereignty or not. A lot of the time we are like the nine guys, the former lepers who were healed and just went along their merry way, not considering the amazing thing Jesus had just done for them.
All good gifts of God, including healing, are gifts- given not because we are worthy, but because Jesus is worthy. God does not give gifts expecting anything in return from us. What does God need? Is there anything we can give to God that He didn’t give us first?
The rain falls on good and bad people alike, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:45. – For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
That’s not the message we expect to hear. We instinctively gravitate to the wisdom of the world that says, “one hand washes the other.” Quid pro quo. You get what you deserve, which is the concept that some of the world’s religions refer to as Karma, the principle that every world religion, with the exception of Christianity, believes. Because of Jesus we don’t get what we deserve, and that is good news considering that every human being deserves death and hell.
Cause and effect logically follow in our minds. Cause and effect are powerfully evident in the natural world. Good and bad things happen to good and bad people alike. But Jesus’ economy isn’t our economy. Jesus is the Giver, the Sustainer, the Lord of Life, whether we understand or acknowledge that or not. As we learn in the book of Job, God gives and takes away as God wills, not according to what makes sense to us.

Some of us pray for physical healing and will never see it this side of eternity. Some of us grieve the loss of someone precious to us who we will not see again until Jesus returns. All of us are crying out for some sort of deliverance or comfort at one time or another. The human condition since the Fall is such that we will all suffer. Some of us get respite from our torments, while others of us can only take comfort and strength in knowing that Jesus walks with us even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

We will share in the cross of Christ just as we will share in the resurrection and life of Christ.

The Samaritan leper understood the mercy and grace given to him by Jesus. He may have understood it even more profoundly than the Jewish lepers because he wasn’t “born into” the promise. It was only by faith in Jesus that he was healed. He knew that there was no way that he deserved or earned healing and that his healing was indeed a free gift of God.
Jesus tells us a story of a Pharisee – a guy who thought that he earned “having it made with God” and a tax collector, who acknowledged being a sinner in need of a Savior, in the temple.
He (Jesus) also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)
The Pharisee’s prayer was not as much in praise of God as it was in praise of himself. “Thank God I am not that prostitute, or that tax collector, or that guy.” He might as well have said, “Thank God I go through all the right motions and say all the right things.” The Pharisees even had prayers in which men thanked God that they were not born women. Today we still find ourselves trying to compare ourselves to others, saying things like, “at least I’m not an addict or a criminal,” without realizing that only by the grace of God we could be the ones trapped in addiction or mired in a life of crime. We have no idea to the extent and depth we are beholden to God’s grace.
We see the mercy of Christ when we see how completely and often we break God’s laws, yet He is still good to us. He still forgives us for all the times we break the Law. It is only because of His grace and mercy that we can stand, and He is the One Who chooses to make us His own. We do not choose God any more than children choose their biological parents.
We are invited to come to Him, to confess our sins and to be forgiven. No matter how many times we have broken God’s laws. No matter how horrible a sinner we may believe we are, even a sinner like the apostle Paul who claimed to be the chief of sinners, as he tells his protégé Timothy : The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)
Jesus bled and died to pay for the sins of ALL. There is no one beyond the scope of God’s grace, unless we choose to put ourselves there. We can choose to ignore God and fail to acknowledge Him, but ignoring God is not a good choice, as we learn from the Psalmist (possibly King David) who teaches : The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

There is a big difference between assuming the grace of God because of what we do or the tradition we follow, and knowing one’s sinfulness and undeserved favor before a holy God.
We learn from the writer of Proverbs that the fear (fear meaning: a reverent respect) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)
In our baptisms we are made children of God- some of us are the easy children who smile and hug and cooperate and make our parent’s heart glad. Some of us are the difficult children who are incorrigible and frustrating and are the children who make us question our choice to become a parent. All of us are both- saint and sinner- some of the time. A lot of the time we are like the nine lepers who didn’t give God a second thought. Yet God gives His gracious gifts to us all, for the sake of Jesus Who died to save us from our sins and to reconcile us to the Father.
We all desperately need Jesus. Seeing this need is wisdom, and living in thanks to God for life in Jesus is a gift of faith.
Whether we are healed here and now or whether we suffer here and now, or we live a life of both suffering and of being healed, we live in thanks to Jesus. We look to the Suffering Servant who gave His life so that we may live with God forever. We believe Him and take Him at His word. We thank and praise Him, not as though there would ever be anything we could to do to repay Him, but simply as a response of thankfulness and praise to the Author of all things who has delivered us from death and brought us into ultimate healing- the healing and peace of eternal life with Him.

August 30, 2019 – The Wisdom of Solomon, the Sin of Solomon-Exodus 20:1-6, 1 Kings 11:1-13, Romans 3:21-25, 1 John 1:8-9

Solomon

And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (ESV)
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Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.
And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what the LORD commanded. Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son. However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen.” 1 Kings 11:1-13 (ESV)
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But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. Romans 3:21-25 (ESV)

The first of the Ten Commandments is the foundation on which the Law is based: God is God. It sounds simple and basic, but we as fallen humans keep going back to the temptation of the Garden. “Did God really say?,” the serpent inquired of Eve. (Genesis 3:1-7) Part of the tension and the paradox of this life is in truly acknowledging that God is God…but we still harbor the desire to be as God ourselves.
Jesus taught that the summary of the Law is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:25-28) The rich young ruler Jesus was speaking to in Luke 10 would have heard this before if he were an observant Jew, as Jesus’ teaching came from the Shema, which is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
Solomon was the son of King David- the second son of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who David committed adultery with. Solomon wasn’t the oldest son of David, nor was he a likely candidate to inherit the throne from David.
Solomon did have faith in God. At the beginning of his reign he asked God for wisdom above the typical things that people in positions of power would ask for. He asked for wisdom above wealth or territory or the death of his enemies. God added wealth and long life, and military victory (including death to a number of his enemies) and renown to him also. (1 Kings 3:5-14)
Yet even a man as blessed by God as Solomon got comfortable as his life went on. He accommodated his foreign wives and joined in the worship of their false gods. He wasn’t completely faithful to God.
We read the account of Solomon and we think, “How could a guy like this, the wisest man who ever lived, mess up like that?”
Then we remember that no matter how wise or gifted or “good” we may appear, that:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 (ESV)
David was a sinner. Even though he had a heart for God, and he was truly blessed by God, he was also an adulterer and murderer. David did not love God and love his neighbor as himself all the time.
Sin was a fact of life for all of the “heroes” of the Bible, save Jesus Himself. Only Jesus out of all the humans who walked the earth obeyed God’s Law 100% perfectly all the time, and that was because only He was both God and man. All the rest of us human beings are born under the curse of Adam. All of us struggle with the ancient question, “Did God really say?” All of us entertain foreign gods that are far from God, whether it is out of our own selfishness, or our own obsessions, or our own negligence.
We can’t make ourselves right with God by anything we do or don’t do. Jesus makes us right with God by what He did to break the curse of Adam for us. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, by which we have the ability and the desire to confess our sins and accept that Jesus has forgiven us and covers our sins.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)
We pray that through faith in Jesus we would stay focused on the One True God, and not get sidetracked and obsessed with false gods that cannot bring life or hope. We pray that we would trust Jesus to keep us in His grace and love even when we sin and fall short of His standards.

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 14, 2019- Father, Forgive Them, Luke 23:32-43, John 14:1-7

crucifixion

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him (Jesus).  And when they came to the place that is called Golgotha, or Place of the Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.  And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”  There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And he (Jesus) said to him (the second criminal), “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-43 (ESV)

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Jesus says this from the place where He is being crucified, after He has been brutally beaten and He is suffering.  He is asking for forgiveness for His tormentors, even as His blood is being shed to atone for their sins.

We are His tormentors. Our sins put Jesus on the cross.  All of humanity was represented in the crowd that chanted “Crucify Him!” before Pilate, just as all of humanity was born into the Fall and the curse of the Garden.

The two criminals are both looking at Jesus, yet they see Him very differently. The first mocks Him, deriding Him because He doesn’t simply snap His fingers and miraculously release them from their crosses.  The second, in faith, fears God and trusts Jesus.  The second criminal is saved by his faith in Jesus.  The first is lost in his unbelief and left to die- condemned and in despair.

As people who believe and trust Jesus, we know that we are not always going to be released from our crosses in this life. When we pray that most difficult of petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, thy will be done, we know that thy will and my will are not always the same thing.  God is faithful, God is good, but He does not excuse us from our crosses any more than He took the cup of suffering away from Jesus.

Jesus did nothing to deserve the condemnation and suffering He endured. We might look around and rail at God, “If you are God, why do kids get cancer?,” or “If you are God, then why is there injustice?” Perhaps we are asking the wrong question, especially if we look at the perfectly innocent suffering of Jesus.  It is only by the mercy and grace of God that we are spared more suffering than we can bear.

The object of our faith is Jesus- the One who has the power of life and death. Jesus, who bled and died to save those who screamed, “Crucify Him!,” is the One who says, “Come to Me. I forgive you. Trust Me. Believe Me. I came to save you from the consequences of your sins.”

(Jesus said) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

No matter who we are, where we come from, what we have done or have not done, Jesus came to save us from the penalty of death that we have earned and deserved.

March 11, 2019- The Beatitudes, For Us- Matthew 5:1-12

holy spirit2

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (children) of God.

 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

The Beatitudes are difficult in the way that the Ten Commandments are difficult. They are beautiful. They are good. And there is no way that any of us can live by them perfectly.

We teach our children to be independent almost from day one. Independence and autonomy are ingrained into Western culture, but in God’s economy, we are blessed by our trust and dependence upon Him.

We can’t even believe in God and trust Jesus on our own. Faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

When we come to a place where we have no tangible reason to believe- when we are abandoned, ill or destitute, Jesus sustains us with the reality that He is with us, and that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God.

In Jesus’ resurrection we have hope that death is not the end. We will be reunited with the vast cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and all tears will be washed away, when Jesus returns to remake heaven and earth.

When we are at the end of our strength and powerless, we are reminded that powers and principalities and governments are temporary, and that corruption in governance will eventually be overturned.

In the new heaven and earth there will be no more evil. We will have incorruptible bodies free from the curse of sin.  We will no longer endure injustice, unfairness, and mistreatment.  There will be no illness, violence, or suffering.

As Jesus has forgiven us, so we are able to be forgiven and to forgive others. We will no longer have to carry the burden of past injuries and grudges- nor will those things be held against us where others have failed to forgive us.

The veil will be removed from our eyes, so that we can love God with a purity that is not marred by our fear or desire for self-preservation.

In Christ we will have peace, not as the world gives but as only He can give. As the apostle Paul encourages us: 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.” Philippians 4:4-7 (ESV)

Even as Christians are persecuted and ridiculed for our faith more and more, we are in good company. No one can take away the promise and the hope that we have in Christ.  It’s not always easy or popular to do the right things (and we are by no means perfect at this) but by the power of the Holy Spirit we are blessed to stand and we are given the courage and the confidence to stand.

As we examine the Beatitudes, it is not a “to do” list for us, but a “God does through” us list. We are not the engine behind our transformation, and we cannot make ourselves holy through our own efforts.  It is only by the grace of God that He gives us the faith to believe and trust Him.  Christ alone redeems and transforms us.

This is good news.