November 27, 2019- To the Glory of God – 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

prayer-sinner

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.  Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.  Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 

For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”  If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—  I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?  If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?   

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 10:23-33 (ESV)

There is a fine line between seeking to live a sanctified life, a life that reflects one’s faith in Christ, and full blown pietism, which hearkens back to the holier-than-thou position of the Pharisee in the temple that Jesus speaks of in Luke 18:9-14.

Paul reminds us that our focus needs to stay on Jesus.  Our faith and trust need to be in Jesus rather than on whether or not we follow specific rituals or eat certain foods or hang out with certain people.

Our culture, our dinner plates, and even our habits and friends do not determine our status in the sight of God. We have no righteousness in and of ourselves, and nothing we can do (or fail to do) can justify us in the sight of God.

Our righteousness- our standing and validation before God – is outside of us.  Our Redeemer- Jesus- stands in our place.  He gives us all we need to stand. (see Romans 14:3-14)

We are reminded in the classic hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”   that Christian freedom is trusting in Christ alone- not in how good we appear to be on the outside or by what we do or don’t do.

Our freedom doesn’t mean we just do whatever we want, but that we act based upon what is best for those around us and on what brings glory to God.

When we pray do we make a display for others to see how holy we are, or because we know how much we need Jesus and that He listens to our prayers?

Do we do devotions and study so we can prove how much we know, or do we study so that through hearing and consuming God’s word we are transformed by the Gospel and filled with the Holy Spirit?

When our trust is in Jesus He purifies our motives.  The Holy Spirit gives us the discernment and the concern for others so that we can love and care for others in a way that glorifies God.

There is freedom in knowing that as imperfect as we are that Jesus stands in our places.  As we confess our sins to God, we know that our sins- every single one of them- was paid for by Jesus on the cross of Calvary.  He has done it all.  All we can do is respond to Him.

Lord, Jesus we are poor tools in your hands, but by your grace you hold us up and we stand in You.  Thank you for your sacrifice to save us from our sins, so that we can live in freedom, to your glory.

November 22, 2019 – Join In, Serve All- 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

coffee together

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.  1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV)

Some of the best teachers are those who haven’t forgotten how to be kids- teachers who aren’t afraid to sit down with kids, join in their play, and get dirty with them.  After all, we tend to trust those with whom we share common bonds.

Hospitality is easy when other people are like us, when we share common culture, similar world views, eat the same foods and so forth.  It’s not so easy for us when others have radically different cultures, opposing world views and other differences from us.

For Christians, Jesus is the common bond, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (so says the writer of the book of Hebrews.)  As we look to find common bonds with others we remember that we can have unity in Christ even if our cultures, world views and even languages are different.

It is helpful for us to learn about our neighbors and to actually spend time with them.  Sometimes it is good to take a moment to share a meal or a cup of coffee with someone we may not be well acquainted with.  It is no coincidence that on the Emmaus road Jesus was made known to those travelers in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

God can use those times when we connect with others for the Gospel to shine through us so that another may hear and be brought to faith.  God can use those moments spent with others to strengthen and encourage and teach His truth to us and others.

Every person we encounter is a person for whom Jesus died.  We respond to His love when we care for others enough to share with them and step into their lives.

 

 

November 21, 2019- Christian Freedom and Stumbling Blocks- 1 Corinthians 8

pagan sacrifice

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. 

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”  For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—  yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?  And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 1 Corinthians 8 (ESV)

Christian freedom is a subject that the apostle Paul has to approach many times in his ministry.  Either people were guilty of wanting to impose all the old rules on everyone (that they couldn’t keep anyway) or of throwing out all the old rules and doing whatever.

What we do or don’t do should consider the example we show to our neighbor.  Most of us in our culture do not believe that man-made idols are real, and most of us do not sacrifice food in the temples of idols.  Paul was talking about going to the pagan temples to eat and socialize.  Many of the Greek and Roman temples had, for lack of a better word, cafeterias where one could get a meal.  The meats and other foods in these temples would have been offered up to the various pagan gods before being cooked and served up at the buffet.

A Christian who knows that there is only one God and that pagan idols are false gods, can partake of food without worrying whether or not it had been sacrificed to idols, because  food is food.  But if by partaking in the pagans’ food we would cause someone who is on the fence or weak in their faith to waver or fall from faith, we would be sinning against them.

We don’t want to use the freedom we have in Christ to make the road difficult for someone else.

A good example is that some of us do not watch R rated movies because we want to avoid improper or immoral subject matter.  Some of us observe very conservative dress standards, while others are more moderate in clothing choices.  There is only one “rule” we need to consider in those things that are not clearly spelled out in for us in Scripture:  Do our actions serve to strengthen or weaken our brothers’ and sisters’ faith?

Loving our neighbor means that we keep our focus on Christ.  There is plenty of room in God’s kingdom for adiaphora- or those things that are not essential to our faith.

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If one feels that watching a Clint Eastwood film festival is wrong and it would be detrimental to one’s spiritual growth, then by all means, don’t watch Clint Eastwood movies.  But many of us enjoy watching Clint Eastwood (and Chuck Norris and John Wayne) and have no conflict between watching good action movies and living out our faith. We have the freedom to choose and to discern what activities are permissible for us as long as they are not forbidden by God’s Law, and they do not damage the faith of others.

The definition of the Law is love- first for God, and then for those around us. We must always consider the weaker ones and treat each other with gentleness, kindness and consideration.

Our activities are within the realm of Christian freedom if they do not contradict how we are taught to live in Scripture, and if they do not cause our brothers and sisters to stumble.

One definition of this teaching is to meet people where they are.  As long as it does not violate our faith we are free to partake in food, entertainment, fashion, etc., but if by doing so we cause others to doubt their faith, we should respect and honor their customs when we are with them.

Lord, help us to be Your ambassadors and good witnesses to people around us.  Help us to build up others by our examples.

 

 

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

possession

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.

 

October 15, 2018 – Freedom for the Captives, Comfort for the Mourning, and a Crown of Beauty for Ashes- Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 4:16-21

Jesus reading IsaiahThe Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. – Isaiah 61:1-4 (NIV)

 

He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NIV)

Jesus caused a scandal in the synagogue in Nazareth. Imagine the incredulity we would experience if a sibling, a cousin or a classmate became a celebrity. Out in the world celebrity might be one thing, but being at home with people who knew that celebrity as the kid who always ended up pinned down getting wet willys, or was the nerd who got routinely pounded with a dodge ball, it’s a different perspective.  Are the kids from 4th grade who fried ants with a magnifying glass at recess together going to take a classmate seriously as an adult?

Perhaps Jesus was just “one of the boys” when he was growing up. Maybe the Savior of the world was once the class wisenheimer? We really don’t know much about Jesus as a child, other than the incident when He was twelve and was left behind teaching at the temple.

No matter what the people in Nazareth thought about Jesus’ claim to divinity, or what they remembered about Him, Jesus, as unlikely and humble and human as He was, speaks back the Word of God given to Isaiah about Him 700 years earlier. He speaks not just to his relatives and friends he grew up with in Nazareth, but He still speaks to us today.

Jesus proclaims the good news of freedom from bondage to sin, death and the torments of Satan. Jesus comes to us with good news of healing and restoration. He opens our eyes to see Him and his incredible love and compassion for us.

Jesus came to exchange our ashes (perhaps the condition of being dead in trespasses and sins?) and desolation and sorrow for His crown of beauty and joy. “Unholy” becomes “made holy” when Jesus in His grace and mercy, speaks His forgiveness. He brings us poor beggars salvation, peace and joy that we cannot earn or deserve.

This world of not yet, with its paradoxes and contradictions and disappointments is not the end of the story. In our baptism we are forever marked with the Cross. In Jesus’ blood our sins are covered, gone, removed. We share in Jesus’ death, especially as we suffer and are called to sacrifice on this earth, but we also share in Jesus’ resurrection.

He has come to be the death of death, the bringer of healing and of life forever. Jesus is the comfort for all mourning.  He is the beautiful joy beyond our understanding.  He takes away the curse once and for all.  He exchanges all of our ugliness and baggage for freedom, healing and peace, and this all by the gift of faith for those who will believe.

Good news indeed!

September 4, 2018-Freedom and Feelings 1 John 4:19, Galatians 5:1,13-15

freedom1We love because He (Jesus) first loved us.- 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery….For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.   Galatians 5:1,13-15 (ESV)

“Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.”– Martin Luther from the Commentary on Galatians, 1535.

Freedom in Christ does not mean we are set free from the law of love. It means that because of Jesus’ love for us we are set free to love each other.

The Law is a good thing.  It shows us God’s will for our behavior toward Him and toward our neighbors.  The Law was given to maintain good order.

The Law also shows us our desperate need for a Savior.  None of us can follow the Ten Commandments (let alone the whole of the Mosaic Law) perfectly for even a day.

Our freedom in Christ does set us free from the penalty of the Law (which is death) but our freedom is not a license for “anything goes.”  It is empowerment from Jesus Himself to love as He first loved us.  No, we are not going to love one another perfectly.

Feelings are not good indicators of where we stand spiritually.  One day one might feel as if, “Hey, I am doing a really good job.  I haven’t murdered anyone, I do my Bible study and devotions, I am faithful to my partner, etc.”  But the next day, one might feel as if all is lost and God is far away. Feelings are mercurial at best, and following our fickle feelings will only lead us to despair.

The fact is that no person is able to justify him or herself.  Regardless of our feelings or how bad or good we think we are at any given moment, the reality is that justification and salvation is found in Jesus alone.

We are not set free because of our feelings.  We are set free of the curse of sin and set free to live out the Law of love because Jesus became the curse for us. Because Jesus died on the Cross and put death to death our freedom is in Him no matter how we feel. When we come to the font in Baptism we are washed clean of our sins, we are buried with Jesus in His death, and we are named and claimed as His own.  When we come to the Communion table, we share in His body and blood.  We can taste and see that He is good, He is there, and He is enough.

We are free because of Jesus, no matter what we feel.  It is in Him we have our life and strength and hope.

 

 

April 14, 2017- Good Friday: The Crucifix and the Empty Cross- John 19:30, 33-36, Isaiah 53:1-5

jesusdiesonthecross

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.)  These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the One whom they have pierced.” John 19:30, 33-36

Most Lutheran and almost all other Protestant churches do not display a crucifix in the church. Jesus is risen, and we don’t want to focus on the gory reality He suffered to purchase our redemption and freedom.

Yet His suffering was both necessary and costly. Our freedom and redemption was not bought without a price. One Lutheran church I belonged to displayed both the crucifix and the empty cross, because our pastors believed we need to acknowledge both Jesus’ sacrifice and the miracle of the empty tomb.  We cannot have the glory of the Resurrection on Easter without the passion and sacrifice and pain of Good Friday.

We should pray and meditate on today’s sorrow and passion, but we should not dwell upon the suffering of Jesus without the realization that it culminates in resurrection, and that we share in that resurrection. Even as we stand at Golgotha, there is hope.

Today is a day in which we should take a long and loving gaze on the One we have pierced. Our sin put Jesus on the Cross.  While we should not go around guilt tripping about that, because sin is part of the human condition we were born into, we should realize that it wasn’t just the Jews or the Romans who killed Jesus.  Every one of us has His Blood on our hands, but it is blood of atonement rather than guilt.  Blood freely shed to cover our sin and shame. Blood freely shed to set us free and to give us life.

Today is a day in which we can learn from the iconography of the crucifix, even though that image itself is sanitized. Yes, the crucifix depicts Jesus nailed on the Cross, but the reality of crucifixion is much bloodier and more gory.  The Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ” is extremely graphic, but it is probably the closest we can see to the actual horror of scourging and crucifixion.  Sometimes our hardened hearts need to see that image Isaiah gives us of the Suffering Servant:

Who has believed what we have heard?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.

 But he was wounded for our transgressions,crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole,and by his bruises we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (NRSV)

godslove

He didn’t have to do it /He could have set Himself free /He didn’t have to do /But He stayed there just for me /Surely, surely, surely He died on Calvary

Surely, Died on… He died, he died, on Cavalry – Richard Smallwood, from the song “Calvary”