March 5, 2020- Repentance, Judgment, and Thank the Giver- Micah 2:1-5, 1 Corinthians 10:12-14, 1 Timothy 6:10

micah

Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.

Therefore thus says the Lord: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster.

In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you and moan bitterly, and say, “We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate he allots our fields.”

Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.

Micah 2:1-5 (ESV)

Micah was a prophet from Moresheth-a rural town in south eastern Judea- who was active from about 737-696 BC.  He was a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, and he is considered one of the twelve minor prophets.

When God sent Old Testament prophets, they were sent to warn God’s people that judgment was coming to them.  In this season of Lent we are reminded that apart from Jesus we are far removed from God.  We are brought back to God through Jesus. His death on the cross paid the price for our sins.  In Christ we are set free from a life of sin that leads to death, and are given the gift of forgiveness and eternal life with God.

As a part of our life with God we are called to examine our lives against God’s Law (any questions on what constitutes God’s Law, see Exodus 20:1-17) and to confess our sins. When we pray we ask for forgiveness for our sins, we repent of them every day, and we trust that Jesus forgives us and gives us what we need to live according to our calling as His followers.

The apostle Paul teaches us:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 (ESV)

Micah in particular addressed the corruption of the government and commerce of Judah in his day.  Even though we may try to separate what we do and how we act in the left hand kingdom (things having to do with government and commerce) from who we are and what we do in the right hand kingdom (having to do with spiritual and religious things,) our integrity must be established and consistent in both areas.  One can’t just be a Christian on Sunday, and then be a scoundrel the rest of the week. Faith and trust in Christ is reflected outward in our actions.

Corrupt business dealings, abuse of governmental power, and squandering public resources are sinful even when those sins take place in the left hand kingdom.  Some may think that what he or she does as an employee, or as a representative of government is somehow beyond one’s own personal responsibility. The reality is that our obligation to follow God’s Law does not end when we punch a time clock, join a nation’s military, or take an oath of office.

Befehl ist Befehl (orders are orders,) or the “Nuremberg Defense” can stand in a court of (human) law, but it does not stand up to God’s Law. Even in the left hand kingdom, if “orders” from human employers or governments violate God’s Law, then God’s Law must prevail.

When government causes harm to its citizens by stealing from them, by building up certain individuals with ill-gotten wealth and engaging in graft, that harm is a sin against God. One of the sins that Micah protested against, and prophesied God’s judgment toward was the exploitation of the poor.

Exploitation of the poor through unethical business practices such as usury (lending with exorbitant interest) or price gouging is an affront to God.  It is also an affront to God to live in the lap of luxury and to set wealth and power up as idols while ignoring the very things that God has put us here for- to love Him and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When the apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, he warned:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

Resources in and of themselves are good gifts from God, but loving the gift more than the Giver is a pernicious form of idolatry to which we all succumb at times. The reality is that left to our own devices we do not love God with our whole hearts, and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.

The answer to the forces that wish to destroy us – our own sinful flesh, the world and Satan- is always found in Jesus.  Our salvation and life come from Him – not through power and resources, and certainly not from taking power and resources from others.

The good news of repentance is clear- God is the Giver and Source of all.  There is only death and destruction to be found in trusting in ourselves or scheming dishonest and wicked ways to “get ahead.”

Lord, forgive us when we forget You are the Source and the Giver of all things.  Forgive us when we want what other people have, when we take what is not rightfully ours from others, and we fail to be thankful for Your provision for our daily bread. Help us to be thankful all you provide us, as well as for our salvation and life with You forever.

 

December 21, 2019 Advent 21, Luke 21- The Widow’s Mite, Destruction, War, and the Coming of the Son of Man

widow's mite

Read Luke 21.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,  and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 (ESV)

At this time of year we are often concerned with giving gifts.  Most of us are giving out of our abundance.  It’s neither good nor necessary to give lavish gifts we can’t afford to people who already have too much stuff to begin with.  It is good to give generously and to those who have a genuine need.

God doesn’t need anything of ours.  Even if we were to have the resources to build a fine cathedral or to give large sums of money to the church, we don’t give in order to earn favor with God.  Jesus has done that for us as a gift.

Giving is an act of faith.  Some of us are capable of giving much, but others of us can only give a widow’s mite.  The motive behind our giving is our faith.  Do we trust God with all that we have and all that we are? (the answer is no, we can’t…)

The rest of the chapter is not very cheery.  Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and of the things that will come to pass in the end times.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Luke 21:5-9 (ESV)

It can be said that there have not been too many periods of time that the world (especially the Middle East) has been peaceful.  Since Jesus walked the earth there have been countless empires that have risen and fallen.  There have been wars, skirmishes, tumults and takeovers, coups, assassinations, intrigues and so much more man-made evil and violence. We long for peace and we pray for justice and mercy, only to see more wars, corrupt governments and injustice go merrily along.

We hear those who come to the table with false gospels- the false gospel of prosperity, the false belief that there is salvation in “social justice,” the name-it-and-claim-it, “best life now” self-help preachers, or the cults led by false prophets such as Jim Jones or David Koresh who claimed to be God, but were anything but. Jesus has warned us against those pseudo-christs that cannot save.

Christian people will face persecution for speaking out for Jesus.  In some places believers are martyred simply for standing up for Jesus and not backing down from their faith..  Jesus has warned us about this also:

This will be your opportunity to bear witness.  Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:13-19 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say if we are persecuted for our faith.  Jesus is faithful.  In the grand scheme of things, He has promised to keep us faithful to Him.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:25-28 (ESV)

There will always be war and dissent in this world, at least until Jesus returns.  The natural disasters, wars and other unrest will only escalate until that day. Yet our hope, Jesus is coming to redeem us and remake our world. For believers, this will be a day of great joy.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36 (ESV)

As we come closer and closer to the celebration of Christmas- the Incarnation, Jesus coming to earth as a helpless child, we remember that Advent is also about being ready and awake for Jesus’ return.  He is the One Who holds us up and makes us able to stand. We pray that in Christ we will stand firm and that we will join the everlasting celebration on that day when He returns in glory.

July 16, 2019 Crucified With Christ, Galatians 2:20-21

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I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Galatians 2:20-21 (ESV)
Did the Law ever love me? Did the Law ever sacrifice itself for me? Did the Law ever die for me? On the contrary, it accuses me, it frightens me, it drives me crazy. Somebody else saved me from the Law, from sin and death unto eternal life. That Somebody is the Son of God, to whom be praise and glory forever.
Hence, Christ is no Moses, no tyrant, no lawgiver, but the Giver of grace, the Savior, full of mercy. In short, He is no less than infinite mercy and ineffable goodness, bountifully giving Himself for us. Visualize Christ in these His true colors. I do not say that it is easy. Even in the present diffusion of the Gospel light, I have much trouble to see Christ as Paul portrays Him. So deeply has the diseased opinion that Christ is a lawgiver sunk into my bones. You younger men are a good deal better off than we who are old. You have never become infected with the nefarious errors on which I suckled all my youth, until at the mention of the name of Christ I shivered with fear. You, I say, who are young may learn to know Christ in all His sweetness.
For Christ is Joy and Sweetness to a broken heart. Christ is a Lover of poor sinners, and such a Lover that He gave Himself for us. Now if this is true, and it is true, then are we never justified by our own righteousness.
Read the words “me” and “for me” with great emphasis. Print this “me” with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this “me.” Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins. – Martin Luther, from his Commentary on Galatians
The Law can only show us how terribly we fall short of keeping it. While the Law is good and necessary and right, it cannot save us. It only condemns. It shows us how desperately we need a Good Shepherd, a Redeemer, a loving Savior.
The harsh reality of the Law should bring us all to the foot of the cross from where God’s mercy flows- from the hands and feet and side of Jesus.
The reason why the offense of the cross was so necessary is because our sins are so offensive. Daily, constantly, even unconsciously, we thumb our noses at a holy God. If we could simply straighten up and fly right of our own accord then there would have been no need for God in human flesh to die in our place. The only way for fallible and unholy humans, born under the curse, to be made holy, to be justified, was for a sacrifice to be given on our behalf to break the curse, to cover us, to redeem us.
Our remorse for our sins and our attempts at right living don’t touch the depth of our corruption. In our own efforts we might become “beautiful-looking” Pharisees, at least on the outside. But looks can be deceiving.
Jesus wasn’t fooled by that whitewash job: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness- Matthew 23:27 (ESV)

Only an act of God, from the inside out, can make us right with God. Only in being crucified with Christ, buried with Him in baptism, and constantly held in faith by the Holy Spirit, are we healed, justified, made whole, saved.
The Law condemns us. The Gospel is a free gift from God to us- nothing we have earned, nothing we deserve. Even the faith to believe the Gospel is a gift. Thank God for the faith we need to cling to Jesus and to know that because we have been crucified with Him, we live in Him as well.

 

June 12, 2019- Who is the Object of Our Faith? Luke 22:31-33, 54-62, Ephesians 6:10-12

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(Jesus said to Peter: ), “Simon, Simon, behold- Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”… Luke 22:31-33 (ESV)

Then they seized him (Jesus) and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance.  And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them.  Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.”  But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”  And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.”  But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”  And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

Who is the object of our faith?

Faith is only as good as its object. We have faith that when we drive over a bridge that it will hold fast- at least until the car goes over it.  We have faith that the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening.  Faith is backed up by past performance- we drove over that bridge yesterday and made it to the other side in one piece.  The sun rose and set yesterday, so it’s probably going to do the same today.

Sometimes we have a habit of putting faith in things that we shouldn’t put faith in- such as that sketchy tuna salad that’s been in the fridge how long? Our culture tells us to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, “tough it out,” “believe in yourself,” and culture gives us various other motivational mantras based upon the values of independence and self reliance.  Autonomy is not necessarily a bad thing- nobody wants to be a leech or a mooch, but humans were not designed to be lone rangers.  We were made to rely on God and made to serve our community.

In the first Commandment we are instructed to have no other gods besides God, but we fall into the self reliance trap pretty easily. We really shouldn’t have faith in ourselves, because we make pretty lame gods, but this was the sin of the Garden, the sin of pride that claims that we can be like God.

The problem with our illusion of self reliance is that we really aren’t self reliant at all. The saying, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” is very true.  The apostle Peter believed (read: Peter had faith in himself) that he could follow Jesus to His death in his (Peter’s) own strength.  He fell miserably, three times.  Peter’s faith was not in Jesus, but in his own willpower.

We don’t talk about Satan much in Christian circles any more, even though Jesus did talk about him. Jesus prayed for Peter that Satan would not prevail against him.  Jesus intercedes for us in the same way.  While we are in this world we, like Peter, are surrounded by adversaries, whether they are our own desires for control, the influence of other people, or the Adversary himself.  We cannot overcome the world by having faith in ourselves.  The apostle Paul teaches that we must rely upon God alone:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

The good news is that Jesus is faithful even though we are not. Our faith is not from us, but a gift from God. Jesus did not abandon Peter after His resurrection.  Jesus did not hold a grudge against Peter for his faithlessness and his denials.  Jesus was faithful to Peter and did establish him as the first earthly leader of the church as he said He would do in Matthew 16:18. We learn of Jesus restoring Peter to ministry in John 21:1-19.

Peter’s mission was not to believe in himself or his own willpower, but to have faith in Christ, and to lead others to that same valid, saving faith in Christ. (Acts 2:14-41)

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.”- Martin Luther, Explanation of the Third Article of the Creed

In Jesus – the object of our faith- we are forgiven for our sins.

Even when we are faithless and deny Jesus in our thoughts, words and deeds, He is faithful to us. He has paid the price for our sins, and only in Him are we made worthy in God’s sight.

In Jesus- the object of our faith- we are baptized and born into eternal life.

December 28, 2018- The Gift of Joy…or the Pursuit of Stuff? Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 29:19

shepherds

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on our own personal comfort, and therefore on the pursuit of stuff. Who wouldn’t want a lovely adjustable bed or an instant cosmetic fix for facial imperfections? Those who deal with late night insomnia and have a subscription to cable have no doubt been inundated with the endless procession of infomercials that extol the virtues of just about every product under the sun.  The late night infomercial announcers sing the praises of stuff you never knew existed, and stuff you never knew you needed….until now!  For example, why bend over to wash your feet when you can use:easy feet

The problem with the pursuit of stuff is that there is never enough stuff, or the right stuff.  Material things in and of themselves are morally neutral- God made the world and everything in it, and gave humanity stewardship of it. (Genesis 1:26-28) Stuff isn’t good or bad.  Our use of stuff can be considered good or evil, and as we are saints and sinners at the same time, our use of stuff is generally a mixed bag.  Sometimes we are good stewards of God’s gifts, and other times we are not. Our dilemma begins when we esteem the created thing more than the Creator.  We are all guilty of breaking the First Commandment.

The First Commandment:

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism

None of us can claim to perfectly fear, love and trust God above all things. All of us fall short in this regard, whether it is by making idols of our relationships, or our wealth, or our position in the community, or by simply not believing that God is in charge of everything.

Yet Jesus came to set us free from our sins. While we were still sinners and lost, He broke the curse of Eden so we would not have to endure death and hell. Jesus came to this earth as a human, yet as God at the same time, to live the perfect life we cannot live and to be the perfect sacrifice we cannot be. In Him we are given true joy. We who are named, claimed and marked with the Cross of Christ forever, in our baptism, by the faith that He has given us, have been set free to live joyfully.

Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is generated internally. Happiness is fleeting and is largely dependent on our circumstances and our feelings. Joy is given- it comes from outside of ourselves. Joy is not dependent upon ourselves or our feelings. Joy is a gift of serenity and peace, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:19-23)  We are given joy in the Lord regardless of our circumstances, because in faith we trust that He is with us forever, and we share in eternal life with Him.

The Prince of Peace is with us.

As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are reminded that our salvation and our joy come from Christ alone. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this as Isaiah said.  God’s will be done.  His joy is given to us, from outside of us.  It is a gift, unearned, undeserved and freely given.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 29:19 (ESV)