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.

 

September 26, 2018 – Fishing, Foolishness and the Good News – Matthew 4:18-22, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 and Isaiah 55:6-11

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While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22 (ESV)

Some people enjoy recreational fishing. Those of us who live in areas close to rivers and small ponds tend to fish by angling (using bait and a hook) rather than fishing with nets, which is what Simon Peter and Andrew were doing. Net fishing is more commonly seen today in industrial fishing in the Great Lakes or in the ocean.

We don’t “fish for men” on Jesus’ behalf using the angling method. Who would want a hook through the lip? Bait should not be involved in fishing for men, and there certainly should not be a hook. All of us have encountered the marketing ploy known as “bait and switch.” A store advertises a special on a popular product only for one to discover that the special price is for the least desirable variety of the product advertised, or for the smallest size, and that the upgrade to the product everyone wants is available for a higher price. The special gets people in the door, only for them to find that if they want what they came for, they will pay more for it, or settle for a different product. Ultimately the idea of bait and switch is to get consumers to pay more money for a product they may never have intended to buy. Even though the consumer may fall for the bait and switch tactic from time to time, it is not an effective method to grow disciples for Christ. Faith comes by hearing the Word. People need to hear the Gospel.

Net fishing is different from angling as it is a less damaging and more passive process on behalf of the fish. The fish in the net do nothing to be caught other than they are in the right place at the right time. They haven’t been tempted in by a bait or dragged in by the lip on a hook.

The net that Christians use to “fish for men” is the Gospel- the life-saving safety net. Not every fish is going to find its way into the net, but God gets the fish God will get. We are supposed keep on putting our nets out there- whether they come back with fish in them or not.

We who follow Jesus are given an awkward and a counter cultural message. We are commanded to tell the world the whole truth- that all humans are sinners condemned to death, save for an undeserved salvation in the death of Christ- a salvation that we are given by faith as a free gift, a gift that defies rationality. The apostle Paul teaches us:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV)

We are not promised that everyone we share the Good News of Jesus with will come and follow Him too. There are people who will laugh at us and call us silly and say we believe in fairy tales, and worse. There are people who will abuse our hospitality and take advantage of the good works we do because we serve Jesus. We are still commanded to love our neighbors, to tell, to preach, to share, and to pray for those around us, that they would hear the Gospel and that the Holy Spirit would bring them to faith.

We are not called to scratch itching ears with promises of prosperity or wealth or popularity. We are not called to give out flashy gimmicks or provide entertainment. The theology of the Cross is not a bait and switch. Christians will share in the Cross of Christ as well as in the resurrection and the life to come. We are called to share in the witness of the apostles and of the great champions of the faith, teaching Christ and Him crucified for the redemption of our sins.

Who can tell if by sharing our faith today that God might work through our witness to reach someone years from now? We can only trust God and know that His Word does what it says it does.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)

April 25, 2018 – Jesus, Alpha and Omega Be- 2 Timothy 4:6-18, Matthew 10:26-33, Revelation 22:13

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(The apostle Paul says) : “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon.  For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.  Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.  Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”  2 Timothy 4:6-18 (ESV)

In this passage the apostle Paul is coming to the end of his life on this earth. By this time, Paul has worked with several other preachers and teachers throughout his ministry.  Some of them, like Luke, (the writer of the Gospel of Luke) walked alongside Paul faithfully and partnered with him in his ministry. Others, like Titus, Paul mentored and trained so that they could go out as missionaries and pastors in other places to build new congregations.  Still others, like Alexander the coppersmith, were outright hostile to the Gospel and to Paul’s preaching, and opposed him.

Even though some people were helpful to Paul and faithful to doing God’s work alongside him, not all of them were. Other people don’t always meet our expectations.  Sometimes they try, but it’s too much for them, or they are only with you for a little while because their path is a different one from yours, or sometimes they are outright hostile to you and what you are trying to accomplish.

For Paul the constant was Jesus. If people come along side us who work with us and build us up, what a blessing from God.  If people who are a blessing can only be with us for a little while, that’s OK.  Jesus is faithful and stays with us whether people do or not.

It’s easy to worry about what other people think of us or wonder if we will have help to “run the race,” as Paul puts it. We may not know what is ahead of us or what we will be called to do, but we can trust that the God of all creation is our provision and He knows our needs.

Whatever is ahead of us is in God’s hands. As we pray Psalm 23:4 – Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me (KJV)- we know we can trust in God who never leaves our sides.

Paul was very aware of God’s provision in every circumstance. Paul clung to Jesus. We also cling to Jesus, who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death, who has experienced death and the grave, and who has conquered the grave.

This life is not easy. The great theologian Axl Rose once said, “You’re not going to get out of life alive.” While our present physical bodies will experience death, it is also true that in Christ there is life in the kingdom to come.

Jesus tells us where we should place our trust, and how to view adversaries in the world:

(Jesus said) : “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:26-33 (ESV)

Jesus, you are before anything was, and you will be when nothing else is.

(Jesus said): “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Revelation 22:13 (ESV)

He who is first and last will be with us forever!

April 18, 2018- Necessarily Annoying? Acts 4:1-4, Romans 10:17, Luke 12:11-13, Hebrews 12:1-3

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And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. Acts 4:1-4 (ESV)

There is a saying that “well behaved women don’t make history.” The same can also be said for well behaved men. There is a place for gentle speech, logical argument and parliamentary procedure with all its niceties when relating to and when attempting to convince other human beings of a particular point of view.  However, when one’s speech versus silence is the difference between life and death, it can be necessary to be annoying.

It is necessary for an ambulance driver to run a siren and to take the ambulance through traffic lights- to make it highly audible and highly visible and to some, annoying- when the ambulance is being used to make a way to save a life. Desperate times require desperate measures.

We probably wouldn’t still be talking about the apostles Peter and John two thousand years after they died if they hadn’t made themselves annoying for the cause of Christ. It would have been a lot more polite of them if they hadn’t preached Jesus crucified and risen, at least not in the temple. They could have stayed out of jail for the night too, but then who would have heard their message of salvation? What may have become of the five thousand who came to faith by the apostles’ words- had they not been able to hear?  (Romans 10:17)

The fact that we still read about Peter and John and Paul and all the apostles and saints who have held fast to faith and proclaimed Christ even to martyrdom, says something for the truth of who Jesus is, and for the validity of the Word of God. The same good news that saved the five thousand is still saving millions- perhaps even billions- more, because God gave these men the conviction and the courage to be bold and get the truth out, even though they were considered by some to be obnoxious and annoying, even though it led them to persecution and civil consequences, and led many of them to suffer martyrs’ deaths.

It is not always easy to share our faith, especially in contexts where it could make us annoying, or even get us in trouble. The political and social climate is increasingly hostile to the Gospel message.  Even so, God gives us the ability and the courage to witness for Him especially when it is scary for us, or when we annoy the powers that be when we speak the truth because the truth offends their perceived authority.

We have the Holy Spirit to lean on in this: (Jesus said) : ”And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-13 (ESV)

When we are bold for our faith and we speak the truth of Jesus Christ, we are in good company. Throughout the centuries we are supported by the witness of the apostles as well as by countless martyrs and saints.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)

Faith comes from God. The endurance to run the race He has set before us comes from God. We run in HIS strength. We, along with the saints before us, look to Jesus, cling to His Cross, and in Him we can take comfort that the joy that was set before Him is set before us also.

April 11, 2018 Jesus Brings Real Healing- Acts 3:1-10, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

peter and john lame man

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.   And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.”  And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.  And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 (ESV)

There have always been false prophets and unethical teachers who prey upon people by promising miraculous physical healings. Because claiming the ability to heal people of incurable illness or lameness is a tragically common scam perpetrated by those who would make money from “faith healing,” we read this passage and it seems a bit surreal.

However, this miracle of physical healing is real. It is an act of Jesus through the apostles Peter and John, recorded for us in Scripture. No money exchanged hands on either end. There were no strings attached. There was no “seed offering” required. The lame man was only anticipating the charity of some pocket change, or a bit to eat.  He was not expecting the greater gift that Jesus had for him.

We come to Jesus in some ways like the lame man- we know we are broken and not able to fix ourselves, but we can’t see beyond our immediate need. We ask for pocket change, or a quick fix for a bad situation, when Jesus comes to us so he may heal our fatal weakness.  We don’t even know what we need to ask for, but God still provides for our needs.

We cry for bread for today, (and we should, as we are told to ask God for our provision) but Jesus has already gone far beyond that. In His suffering and death on the Cross He has covered our essential, fatal weakness- our sin.  He has defeated the death and the grave that we deserve, and won eternal life for us.  He gives us abundant life today as well as life forever. Jesus’ aim for us is to be with Him and to live forever, and that is the approach that He always takes in our forgiveness, healing and formation.

We are baptized into His suffering, and we are marked with His Cross forever, but we are also raised with Him into eternal life. (Romans 6:4)

In this life there are conditions that we must endure, and there are thorns that God will not always choose to remove from our flesh in the short term. Our healing doesn’t always become apparent in the short term, or even in this lifetime. Even so, in Christ we are made whole.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)

Jesus our Provision and our Healer isn’t about just tossing us leftovers now and then. He meets our every need. We have our life and salvation and everything in Him.

January 18, 2018 – Courage, Conversion and Salvation- Acts 4:8-12, Psalm 118:22-24, Romans 8:26-27

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Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is:

“‘the stone you builders rejected,  which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:8-12 (NIV)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; Let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24 (NIV)

Imagine the courage it would take to do what Peter did- to stand up to the authorities and defend his faith.

What would we do in Peter’s position? This was the same guy who had denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed (Matthew 26:75.)  Yet after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit.  He had supernatural courage that only God could give him to speak boldly even when such speech could cost him his freedom or even his life.

Sometimes we wonder if the Holy Spirit is still at work today. Where is that courage we need when we aren’t feeling it, or when we know we should speak up for what is right, but we don’t?

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

We can be confident that God the Holy Spirit will fill in the gaps. He is strong where we are weak.  That is how Peter, who betrayed Jesus three times, became a bold and stalwart witness for Him.

The Holy Spirit still intervenes for us today. He brings us back to the One Who has become the cornerstone. He gives us the courage to stand when we no longer have- or never did have- the power to stand on our own.  He brings us back from a place of denial and cowardice into a place of defending our faith.

Different Christian traditions have differing views on soteriology (the “how” of salvation) but we can all agree on the Who of salvation.  Whether we believe that salvation is a one-time lightning bolt event, whether we believe we choose God, or that He chooses us, or whether we believe salvation is a gradual and life-long process, the Who of salvation is not in question. It all comes back to the Cornerstone the builders rejected, the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-5) who Isaiah spoke of so long ago.

Perhaps we can agree that the Holy Spirit has endless means of grace at His disposal. After all, Saul the Pharisee- who became the apostle Paul- was knocked off his high horse on the Damascus Road. That was a pretty dramatic conversion event.  Some of us have experienced dramatic conversion events as well.  Others of us have gently grown into faith over the years through a series of small epiphanies and discoveries about God.  God does speak to each of us differently, and we are called to respond.  We can trust that when we are asked to attest to the reality and the power of God in Christ, the Holy Spirit will lead us and give us the words we need when we don’t have our own.

March 24, 2017 –In Response to the Grace of God- Ephesians 2:4-10

acts of the apostlesBut God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:4-10 (NRSV)

Of all the human characters in the Bible the apostle Paul is one of the most prolific and well known, as well as one of the least likely. We first see Paul in the Bible when he was called Saul. Saul was a strict Pharisee who believed he was doing God a favor by persecuting the early church- up to and including having early Jesus followers killed for their faith.

God’s plans for Saul were far different from the plans Saul had made for his own life and purpose.   (Acts 9:1-31)

After Saul’s dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus his life was forever transformed. Instead of rooting out and persecuting and killing Jesus followers, Saul became Paul- one of the primary missionaries and teachers of the Gospel.

If anyone would be an unlikely pick for God, it was Paul. Yet God has a pattern of choosing the unlikely and the underdog to work in and through to accomplish mighty works for Him.

Paul emphasizes that salvation is a gift- that God in Christ comes to us, calls us, and justifies us. This salvation and justification has absolutely nothing to do with us earning or deserving it. All we can do is live in response to that gift.

There is a beautiful song written by Marty Haugen as part of the Holden Evening Prayer, in which he echoes the Psalmist :

“Let my prayer rise up as incense before you /the lifting up of my hands as an offering to you.” (Psalm 141:2)

May our prayers rise up as a sweet offering to God, not out of an obligation to pray and praise, but as a loving response from a grateful heart.

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