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.

 

January 14, 2019- The Law of Faith, Jesus Does the Work of Salvation FOR Us- Romans 3:19-31

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Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

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. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.  Romans 3:19-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul clears up a lot of misunderstandings regarding Christian faith in the book of Romans.

Today we still get caught up in earning brownie points, even though the “buy your way to Heaven system” was the major impetus behind the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther and other reformers protested the buying and selling of indulgences- things you could buy or do to earn special favors for yourself of your family. Just like buying saints’ bones or making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or doing various acts of penance couldn’t make Renaissance age Christians any better in God’s sight, there is still nothing we can decide to do, suffer through, or pay for that can make us “right with God.”  One of the primary pillars of the Reformation is faith alone. Faith alone, in Christ alone, by His grace alone- it all comes back to Jesus.

We are often asked, “Are you saved?” or “Have you given your heart to Jesus?” by well meaning friends in various, ironically, Protestant, Christian traditions. Decision theology is the premise that we make a decision to choose Jesus and we choose to believe in God.  It is a popular theological misconception in American Christianity.  The premise is well intentioned, and fits in well with American individualism, but no decision made by a person can create saving faith in anyone. The decision to redeem us is God’s, for Jesus’ sake. (John 1:9-13)

The honest answer to decision theology is that we are being acted upon- saved, if you will- by God. We can no more save ourselves by our own actions or volition than an infant can change its own diaper or prepare its own bottle.

The Mosaic Law, which the apostle Paul as a former Pharisee would be well acquainted, is a law of works. No one can save themselves by works of the law, and no one ever was.  Abraham was counted righteous by faith. All of the flawed and mortal saints of the Old Testament were counted righteous by faith.  The Old Testament saints’ faith pointed ahead to Jesus’ appearing, while the saints of the New Testament era until now look to the Incarnation of Jesus.  We have the good news of the life He lived and the death He endured to forgive our sins and purchase our eternal life.  We are counted righteous- made good with God- for Jesus’ sake, by His grace because the Holy Spirit gives us faith.  We can’t brag about how good we are because if we appear to be good, that goodness is the work of God in Christ through us.

The Law of Faith points us to Jesus. Jesus is the one doing the acting on us.  If we brag, we brag about Him.

This is good news for those of us who struggle with doubt. Our salvation and strength is outside of us- no matter what we think or feel, Jesus has done the work of our salvation for us.  In our baptism, through the hearing and teaching of God’s Word, the Holy Spirit gives us saving faith in the completed work of Jesus.  Because we trust Jesus, we are free to do the good works God created us to do, but our works don’t save us.

The Law of Faith is so much better than the law of works!

 

 

April 16, 2018- An Unnatural Love- 1 John 3:10-16

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By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:10-16 (ESV)

If we think that it is possible for us to love everyone all the time, realistically we have to admit we don’t. It’s really easy to become cynical and unloving toward our fellow humans when we turn on the news, when we look out the door, drive on the freeway, or end up cleaning up after a family member yet again. Sinful humanity is really good at letting each other down.

Love does not come naturally to us. Anyone who has observed toddlers (or automotive technicians) for any length of time will find that human nature compels our hearts to stay focused on me, me, me.  It is hard to observe small children for any length of time without fights breaking out over who possesses what thing, or over who gets the most attention or privileges.  If one child wants a particular toy, the others will want that toy as well, no matter how many toys each child already has.  If Grandma is busy with child A, child B will barge in and scream for Grandma’s attention as well.

When humans are left to our own devices, we look out for our own well being, but not so much for the well being of others. We put our own interests and feelings first. Any of us put in the right situation can act just as Cain did. That inclination toward evil is built into our flesh and has been with humanity since the Fall.

God gave us His Law and His commandments because He knows that we need boundaries for our behavior. The Law is a good thing even if we can’t observe it completely and faithfully. Even with protective boundaries, God knew we could not keep His Law and redeem ourselves by good behavior no matter how hard we try.

Because God knew we could not save ourselves, He sent His Son Jesus to die and rise again to save us from our sins. He took the punishment that brings us peace and bore the wounds that bring us our healing, as well as our salvation, restoration and sanctification. (Isaiah 53:5)  Jesus has done for us what we are not capable of doing.  Not because He had to, but because God loves us.

In our Baptism we are adopted into God’s family. With the water and the Word we are baptized into the crucifixion and death of Jesus as well as we share in His resurrection. We share in His suffering, but we also share in eternal life. Our sins are washed away, and we are set free to act as who we have become in Christ.

The difficult part of this paradox of being a sinful human, but a saint of God at the same time (simul justus et peccator) is that we cannot completely drown the “old Adam.”  Even if we take the good advice of Martin Luther and put on Baptism as daily wear, we find that we don’t always have the mind of Christ.   We still sin no matter how hard we try not to.  We still lose our patience, we still scream “me, me, me” like a toddler, and we still hold grudges and offenses against those around us.  All we can do is lean on and rely on Jesus.

Love is the greatest commandment of the Law- to love God and to love our neighbor- including those neighbors we aren’t too thrilled to claim. Apart from Jesus we cannot breathe. We cannot have life. We cannot save ourselves.  Apart from Jesus we can’t even think of loving God or anyone else.  The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus took our place. He does for us what we cannot do ourselves. He gives us all we need and walks with us through every day.  Because of His love for us we are called to respond in love for those around us, that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

March 1, 2018 God is a Jealous God- Exodus 20:1-11

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Then God spoke all these words:

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 an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. Exodus 20:1-11 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God. Four points stand out in these passages:

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

Most of us are probably not into making golden calves, Baal worship, or sacrificing things to other assorted ancient demons. The bad news is we have modern idols to who we gladly sacrifice our attention and resources.  Do we indulge in anything to excess? Are there things that we put at a higher priority than God?

We all do this at times. Whether we put good things on a pedestal higher than they should be, or put good things in improper balance, or we indulge in things that just plain aren’t healthy for us and the greater community, we are all guilty of getting caught up in things. We make gods out of things that were never meant to be gods, things that have no intrinsic power.

God warns us about idolatry because He knows it’s not healthy for us. It’s easy to look at the Law as a buzz kill- ruining our fun so to speak- but in reality the Law serves two purposes. One is that the Law is a protective boundary.  When we chase idols we harm ourselves and others, and separate ourselves from God. The other purpose of the Law is to lead us to Jesus and show us our desperate need for Him.  None of us can completely obey the Law 100%.  Only Jesus was capable of living by the Law 100%.

The practical application of these first few Commandments is to underscore God is a jealous God. He made us for His good purpose and we belong to Him. He doesn’t want just a little bit of us on Sunday mornings- if we bother to drag ourselves out of bed and away from the TV for an hour or two to come to church to sing a few songs and (hopefully) pay attention to a 20 minute sermon.  He doesn’t just want a little bit of us when we are hurting and need comfort.  Yes, God does want us to come to church because we need each other as the Body of Christ, and we need Word and Sacrament to sustain us- but He wants us the rest of the time too.

He wants all of us, all of the time, even when we are running kicking and screaming from Him.

God has given us His name to call on Him- in praise and worship and thanks, to bless others, and in times of trouble. It is a privilege to be able to call upon Him, and a terrible insult to use His name as a curse.

Worship and prayer are regular spiritual disciplines that remind us that God is the One in charge.

Worship is not just going to church on Sunday- though Sunday worship at church with other believers and staying in community is important- so important that God commands to dedicate a day out of our week to worship. Worship is actively acknowledging that God is Who God says He is- the Creator, the I AM God of the universe.  The concept of worship actually covers a LOT of ground.  Thanking God for the gift of breath, for the beauty of creation, for the privilege of being able to come to Him anytime with anything, these are all part of worship.  Prayer is simply talking with God about anything.

Of course if we examine ourselves against the first three Commandments we discover we are not so hot at upholding our end of our relationship with God. We are all law breakers. We all fall short of God’s ideal for us.

Worship and prayer are regular spiritual disciplines that remind us that God is the One in charge.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, wrote a short but insightful book called Practicing the Presence of God.  He models a way of living our daily lives in prayer and worship- in how we work and in how we serve others.

Everything we do should be an act of worship, and we should always walk with God in prayer. The Law reminds us that we fall short of that goal, but the Good News is that in our Baptism we put on Christ.  In Christ God does not see our imperfections, but only the sacrifice of His perfect Son.

 

 

January 25, 2018- Hezekiah Prays With Shameless Audacity- 2 Kings 20:1-6, Romans 3:19-26

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In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my sake and for the sake of my servant David.’” 2 Kings 20:1-6 (NIV)

Hezekiah was one of the few “good Kings” of Judah – kings who tried to live as God wanted them to.  When he was faced with his own mortality, Hezekiah was not afraid to pray with shameless audacity.

One can argue that today we would not want to bargain with God based upon our own merit or perceived “goodness” because we really don’t have any. Hezekiah really only had the argument that he was “good,” because God gave him the heart to live God’s way. Even before Jesus walked the earth, God’s grace was still in action for Hezekiah, who came to God in faith, prayed with shameless audacity and had his prayer answered in a most unexpected and generous way.  He believed God is who He claims to be.

We can only protest our case with God on the merit of Jesus, who became our righteousness. Because of Jesus, we too can pray with shameless audacity- as Jesus tells us to do.

So what does that mean? The apostle Paul explains:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:19-26 (NIV)

The apostle Paul demonstrates an important concept in Lutheran theology here too: the juxtaposition of Law and Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and our desperate need for Jesus.  The Gospel is the Good News that Jesus has justified us by His perfect sacrifice and His limitless grace.  We need to hear both the Law and the Gospel.  Without the condemnation of the Law, how do we know and appreciate our desperate need for Jesus?

No, we are not good. God doesn’t hear our prayers because we are good.  He hears our prayers for Jesus’ sake. We are sinners and lawbreakers, every one.  But we are also saints, because we cling to Jesus and believe He is Who He claims to be.  In His name and by His merit, we can pray as Jesus tells us to, with shameless audacity.  Anything and everything is fair game for prayer.  God already knows our hearts.  Prayer that comes from believing Jesus brings us closer to the heart of God.

September 19, 2017- The I AM God- Exodus 20:1-6, Genesis 1:1, John 1:1-5

in the beginning

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 an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject Me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. Exodus 20:1-6 (NRSV)

The Ten Commandments are about healthy relationships and safe boundaries. The purpose of the Law is to maintain harmony and order and keep our lives productive and safe.  It is God’s will for us to have a right relationship with Him and with those in the world around us.  The first three Commandments have to do with our relationship and our boundaries with God.  The final seven have to do with our relationships and boundaries with others- rules for harmonious society.

Genesis 1:1 introduces us to not only our journey in Scripture, but to the Source of everything: In the beginning, God. John 1:1-5 expands upon that beginning, letting us know that Jesus is the Eternal Life and Light and Hope.

In the First Commandment as in Genesis 1:1, and in the introduction to the Gospel of John, we are reminded Who God is. This revelation about the being and nature of God is important for us to bear in mind.  He is not a material object.  He is not someone or something we can dismiss or ignore.  We may choose not to believe in God, but God is real and active as He has been and will be throughout all of time. He is the One from Whom all creation springs forth.

Because God is God, He commands certain respect and exclusivities from us.

Idolatry is not confined to golden calves or various venerated man-made icons. We can worship at the altar of money, or status, or attention, or pleasure.  We can set up mortal people as idols, especially ourselves.

There are some that claim that the ultimate idolatry- the sin of the Garden if you will- is the condition of pride. Instead of surrendering the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy will be done,” in our own weakness and arrogance we insist that, “my will be done.”  It’s the rebellion of man that is old as time, and that we struggle with daily as long as we have breath and walk this earth.  Pride is the sin of Eve believing the serpent when he tempts her with, “If you eat of it… you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:4-5)  We all know how that one turned out.

For our own good, God set a boundary around worship. In the First Commandment, He says to us, “Worship Me only, because I made you, I am your Creator, and I have only good for you in My heart.”  When we worship God and put Him first, our lives reflect His sovereignty.  The Law shows us the way to run toward Jesus and the Gospel- so that His light and love in the Holy Spirit are free to flow in and through us.

February 12, 2017- Choose Life, Deuteronomy 30:19-20

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I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deuteronomy 30:19 (NRSV)

Choose life.  Exactly how can we do that?  God determines when we are born, when we die, and He has the hairs on our heads numbered.  God has it all covered, and nothing gets past Him.

Theologians and sages and teachers have pondered on the question of free will for centuries.  If God is indeed omnipotent (all powerful) and omniscient (all knowing) and exists beyond His creation (He is in, through and with His creation, but is not created and is beyond creation,) then why should we concern ourselves at all with what we do?  If the events of the universe are all predetermined anyway, then why should we not just live as if anarchy is the law?  These are questions that can be argued (and have been for centuries,) and it is good to question authority, but in practical application, is anarchy- the absence of laws and standards- a viable answer to the question of how we should live?

If for no other reason, we should strive to live as God wants us to live, because He is God and we are not.

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Sometimes we have to go back to looking at God as our parent- to see God as Jesus addressed Him, as “Abba” or “Daddy.”  When we were five we didn’t question when Daddy said, “You need to eat your vegetables, ” or “Eight o’clock is bed time.”  We simply trusted that Daddy or Mommy knew what was in our best interest, and we did it.

In this passage from Deuteronomy- the final book of the Torah, or Jewish law, God is telling His people what things He wants them to do for their own good, so that they will live long and prosperous lives.  These are loving instructions from our “Daddy,” given to us for our own good.

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Love God (and this is primary,) obey God (do what He tells us to to do, as best we can with the Holy Spirit’s help) and hold on to God (have faith that He provides for us and has good plans for us.)  These are God’s instructions for life as He intends for us.