May 11, 2018 – The Perfect Man- Psalm 1

jesus psalm1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Psalm 1 (ESV)

The Psalms are prayers and songs- some of praise and worship, and others of supplication and mourning. Still others, such as Psalm 22, are prophetic and speak of the humanity as well as particular details of the passion of Christ. All of the Psalms point us to Jesus in one way or another.

Psalm 1 is a description of Jesus- the person who lives perfectly according to God’s Law. We, of course, cannot do that.

Even though we are not capable of living as Jesus lived, we can still look to His example as the Author and Perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Because we belong to Jesus, we are not counted among the wicked in the judgment. Because Jesus was that man who delighted in God’s law and lived perfectly sin-free in our place; the God-man who died as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, we are judged as though we lived with HIS perfection instead of our own wickedness and sins.

Thanks be to God that when the judgment comes we who believe in Him and trust Him for the forgiveness of our sins will be judged on the merits of Jesus and considered to be His saints.

April 3, 2018 – Jesus Died for All- Acts 10:34-43

I am the way

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:34-43 (ESV)

Jesus didn’t die and rise again just to save the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t die and rise again just to save white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  Jesus died and rose again for the salvation and redemption of all humanity – for everyone who would believe in Him.

It’s easy for us to speculate on “who’s in and who’s out” based upon a person’s ethnicity or on a person’s faith tradition, or upon a person’s history or lifestyle. The reality is that we don’t get to decide who is in or who is out.  That’s God’s decision.

Jesus Himself sought out some unlikely company- tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, etc. As much as we would like to think that our ancestry buys us something, or that our good conduct, or social standing buys us something, it doesn’t. If anything there is a danger in taking comfort in one’s ancestry or conduct or social standing as if it somehow imparts superiority on us. The Pharisees thought that their history and their traditions and their displays of piety made them better in God’s eyes.  Jesus saw right through their window dressing and called them “whitewashed tombs”- clean on the outside but filthy on the inside. (Matthew 23:26-28)

God doesn’t work on the brownie point system. One of the major rediscoveries of the Reformation was the reality that there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve forgiveness or salvation. Only Christ alone, through faith alone, according to the inspired word revealed in Scripture alone can do the job. The good news is that there is no one beyond His grace and redeeming power.  It doesn’t matter if a person is born into a non-believing family or raised with pagan beliefs. It doesn’t matter if a person is mired in all kinds of immorality or drug use.  Jesus finds and claims His own no matter whether they were raised in Christian homes or whether He calls them from the most forsaken of pigpens and dens of iniquity.

We are iustus et peccator – saint and sinner at the same time.  It is better for us to simply admit that we are powerless to live and serve God in our own strength. When we confess our sin and come clean with God, God Who is faithful and just forgives our sins and gives us what we need to live the way He designed us to live. (1 John 1:9)

We need Jesus. Everyone needs Jesus. It doesn’t matter where someone comes from, but that Jesus loved that person enough to go to death on a cross for them.  Jesus went to the Cross for me and for you, but He also suffered and died for that foreign person who has been deceived by a death cult, for that tattooed biker, for that kid who decided to shoot up a school with a gun, for the crazy North Korean dictator- for all of us flawed humans.  We have no way of knowing who will ultimately join us in eternity, but the potential is there for every human being.  God alone makes that distinction.  We are called by God to live in response to His priceless gift of grace- and to love others as He has first loved us.

February 7, 2018- The Chief of Sinners, and the Only Savior- 1 Timothy 1:15-17, James 2:10, 1 John 1:9

saintsinner

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NKJV)

The apostle Paul has an interesting back story. Here was the Pharisee Saul, a guy with a reputation for killing Christians- who by the transforming power of God became the apostle Paul, who was arguably the most powerful and influential Christian thinker and writer of all time.

Paul ended up having to endure much for the sake of his faith in Jesus. He endured prison, persecution and according to historical tradition, (though not recorded in Scripture,) died as a martyr by beheading.

How many of us could claim to be Chief of Sinners? It’s a good bet all of us have some pretty long lists. Some translations of the verse above from 1 Timothy say, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” (NIV) or “of whom I am foremost.” (NRSV) It is the same message, just a bit less poetic.  If anyone is feeling sin-free (which is unlikely,) the apostle James reminds us that everyone who violates just one little teeny part of the Law violates all of it.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10 (NIV)

The title of Chief Sinner falls upon every one of us.

In the Lutheran tradition we tend not to be terribly overbearing on the sinner label, because we focus upon the grace of God in Christ, and that is a good thing.  If being a sinner were the end of it, then we would all be nothing more than the Chief of Sinners, just like Saul / Paul was, but without any hope of being transformed into saints of God.

Confession is indeed good for the soul, and it is for our own benefit to stay in conversation with God in prayer and meditation. Confession is one of the most difficult of the spiritual disciplines, but it is well worth the initial discomfort and squirminess. It is a good idea for us to confess to God and to a trusted believer who can pray for and with us, but it is God alone who forgives us.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

The interesting part of this is that God didn’t say, “I only forgive this, but not that.”  He says we are both forgiven and purified. Our God is far bigger than our sins and failures.  He can overcome anything.

Everyone who follows Jesus has the potential to transform the world around him or her. God can overcome our sorry back stories, our most tragic failures, and outright sins and work in and through us to encourage and inspire others.

Lent is coming soon. Lent is a season of penitence, but it isn’t about punishment. Lent should be seen as being cathartic- a time for getting rid of old garbage so we are free to take in what’s healthy and good and beneficial. Rather than seeing Lent just as a time of “giving up something,” why not see if the Holy Spirit would like us to take up something edifying for ourselves and others?   When we Chief Sinners confess our sins, and surrender ourselves to Jesus, we are forgiven and purified, set free for God’s purpose- so what does that mean in practical application?