November 30, 2018 The Lord’s End-Times Timing, Promise and Hope – 2 Peter 3

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(Peter writes: )This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3 (ESV)

Eschatology (the study of end times) is not a major focus for Lutherans as a general rule.  Yet at the end of the church year we look with hope to what Jesus has promised us beyond this life.  He will return again.  He will remake the heavens and the earth.  There will be a day when the earthly kingdom is no more and we will live fully and completely in God’s heavenly kingdom.  The paradox of living in “now but not yet” will end.  Until that day we live in that promise that Jesus will return and establish that “not yet” kingdom.

This chapter is a bit frightening. Peter tells us that when Jesus returns the universe as we know it is going to be destroyed by fire and remade.  Nothing of this “now” world is going to be left. Then Peter tells us that in order to be part of the new creation, we need to be holy.  On the surface Peter’s warning sounds like an admonition for us to “straighten up and fly right.” However, if we are honest with ourselves we know that we are definitely not holy. We are definitely not capable, by our own strength or reason, to “straighten up and fly right” by our own power.

Peter is not telling us to put on the window dressing and go into full blown holier-than-thou Pharisee mode. He redirects us outside of ourselves, to count the patience of our Lord as salvation. True holiness and sanctification are to be found in Christ alone.  Rather than despair about how wicked and terrible we are, we only need to confess our sins to Jesus, cling to the Cross and know that He has already won our forgiveness and salvation.

Christians have always faced ridicule and persecution for believing in Christ. The Man of Sorrows isn’t all that popular among those who worship the gods of power or money or self.  One doesn’t have to look very far to find the scoffers and critics of Christian faith that Peter warns us about.  In the greater culture, believers are presented as being intolerant of others, or ignorant and uneducated because we stand for Christ and believe in the One True God.  We are scorned because we believe that truth is not a matter of opinion.

In some places Christians are put in jail or even killed for the sake of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus (Satan the adversary, our own sinful selves, and those who have not been transformed by the Gospel) fight hard to convince us to surrender to the enchantments of the world.  We are all tempted by the invitation to hedonism, to serve the god of self rather than to take up the Cross of Christ.  We sin constantly, every day.  Even so, the Good News is we belong to Christ.  We can’t make ourselves good or earn our way in.  We are only justified through the grace of God, by faith in Christ.  Through the water and the Word in our baptism, and through the hearing of the Gospel, He has named us, claimed us, and is coming back for us no matter what misery or what valleys of shadow we walk through in this world.  He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, and delivers us from sin, death and evil.

We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but He is coming back. It might be tomorrow or thousands of years from now. We might face Him at any time at the hour of our death.  Even so, our faith- which is a gift from God- is counted to us as righteousness. We can look forward to Jesus’ return and the remaking of the world with hope and confidence.  We know the world is getting crazier and scarier as time goes on, but we are not alone.  Our hope is in Jesus.

September 13, 2018 -Praise God, He Hears Us, the Curtain is Open- Psalm 116:1-9, Mark 15:33-39, Hebrews 9:24

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I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.

Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.

 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling; 

I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living. Psalm 116:1-9 (ESV)

 

Do we see God as a merciful God? Some of us have come from religious traditions in which catechesis (teaching about the faith) focuses on God’s anger and wrath. If we only get one side of the Law-Gospel equation we might be scared into a degree of behavior modification, (or into a life of guilt and anxiety) but teaching the Law without balancing it with the Gospel makes it difficult for us to call on God in times of trouble, especially when we really screw up and need Him most. Feeling our inadequacy and guilt and sin should serve to convince us of our utter inability to make ourselves “good” and bring us to the Good News that Jesus died to save us from our sins. In Jesus the curtain of the temple separating God from man was taken away.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39 (ESV)

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)

The Psalmist reminds us that by faith Jesus set us free to call out to God in all situations- in our despair, in thanks, in good times and in trouble. We have nothing to prove to Him.  There is nothing we can earn or deserve from Him. When we cry out to God, He answers us for Jesus’ sake.  He sees Jesus and not all of our sins that have been covered by His blood.

When we are thankful- praise God. When we are troubled in our hearts, trust God for resolution and comfort. Jesus took away the curtain that keeps us from coming to the presence of God.  Trust Him.

August 22, 2018- Traveling With the Bread of Life- Mark 8:4-21

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Now they (Jesus’ disciples) had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he (Jesus) cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:4-21 (ESV)

The disciples may have forgotten their bread, but they also forgot they were traveling with the Bread of Life.

The apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:9 that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” If we start thinking to ourselves, “we need Jesus AND…” (which every single one of us is tempted to do,) that is a problem. The false gospel the Judaizers were trying to spread of “Jesus AND… circumcision and obeying the Mosaic Law” was a serious problem in the Galatian church. The apostle Paul suggests that the Judaizers shouldn’t stop at circumcision, but remove the whole member as well, (Galatians 5:12) to get his point across. Nobody is saved by law-keeping.

We can’t earn salvation or curry favor with God based on what we do. We are sinful creatures saved, redeemed and justified by the grace of God in Christ alone- or not at all. Nothing can add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross to save us from our sins. He saves us alone. It is a gift of grace. He is enough.

Nothing we can do, say, buy or possess is going to be of any use to us beyond this world. We can possess everything and master everything this world has to offer. We can be immersed in a worldly buffet that features every kind of food our hearts desire. But without Jesus, when the end of our days comes, we will be destitute, starving and hopeless. The apostle Paul teaches us in his letter to the Ephesians that apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Thankfully trespasses, sins and death are not the end of the story for us who trust Jesus.

When Jesus speaks of the baskets of broken pieces, many scholars believe He was referring to twelve baskets to feed the twelve tribes of Israel and seven baskets to feed the Gentile nations. Jesus’ multiplying the bread to feed the five thousand, and then the four thousand was an illustration to the disciples that He has come to give Himself as sustenance for the entire world.

How often do we focus on our worry about bread for the belly and all our cares about all the mess of everyday life? We get ourselves mired in anxiety over bread that only sustains us for today, and we get worked up over cares that don’t matter two cents in the context of forever. Like the disciples in this text, we don’t realize that we are in the presence of Jesus, the very Bread of Life. He is holding us, sustaining us, giving us the gifts of faith and grace and repentance and salvation. We can trust him, rest in Him, and know that He is walking with us.

We are traveling with the Bread of Life. Even when we don’t always see His hand holding us up, even when we forget that Jesus feeds us with His own Body- the everlasting Bread from heaven, Jesus is with us- in this world and the next.

July 25, 2018-The Curse of the Law and the Faith of Abraham – Galatians 3:1-14,1 John 1:8-10

(The apostle Paul writes:) O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:1-14 (ESV)

Christ alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. These statements are the very heart of Lutheran theology. We can’t save ourselves by behaving ourselves (which is a very good thing) or by earning brownie points.

This being said, all of creation is under the curse of the Law. Apart from Jesus taking the punishment for us who were born under the curse, we might as well simply eat, drink and be merry, because all of this world’s creation is destined for death.

If we look at the 10 Commandments in light of the teaching of Luther’s Small Catechism, we can see just how impossible law-keeping is. Even if we look only at Jesus’ two Big Commandments: Love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we fall woefully short.

We may not worship golden calves, but do we honor the sovereignty of God by putting Him first at all times? Do we consistently love our neighbors as ourselves? Even if we really try?

The bad news is that as good and right as God’s Law is, we can’t follow it perfectly, and to fail at following any part of the Law perfectly means we have broken all of the Law. (James 2:8-13)

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (ESV)

Law can’t save us. It can only point us to trust the One Who already did.

Jesus broke the curse. In baptism we are made clean and brought into the family of God. In Holy Communion we are given the healing Body and Blood of Jesus, for the forgiveness of our sins.  We don’t earn forgiveness or salvation.

Jesus became the “cursed one,” Who hung on a tree and took the penalty of sinful humanity.

There is no other way to life. “It is Christ or nothing,” as C.S. Lewis so aptly described the Christian faith. The faith of Abraham was the simple act of trusting God-  and knowing God makes a way. That gift of faith extends to us as well.

This is the good news. Jesus has done it all.

May 4, 2018-Joyful Noise and Automatic Praise- Psalm 98, Philippians 4:4-13

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Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!

His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98 (ESV)

On days like today it’s easy to praise God as we take in the beauty of creation. When the sun is shining and we look around and see the trees and flowers coming to life again after a long winter, the metaphors of the “rivers clapping their hands” and the “hills singing” seem to fit.

Many of our days are not quite so bright. What about days where the weather is dull and grey and we are mired down in pain and buried in cares? What about those days in which the furthest thing from our minds and hearts is singing?

Is praise to God an automatic response for us? Do we praise God only when we experience the beauty and wonder of nature and when we can feel the presence of God?  Can we still praise Him through our pain?  When He seems far away?  When we can see the ways we have fallen short of God’s glory due to our own sins?

Can we see the salvation of our God in a world that very often appears to be beyond saving in so many ways?

By faith we can praise the God of our salvation and trust Him even when we can’t see. The apostle Paul was often in situations where he was exiled or imprisoned and had to trust in the support of others.  He wrote to the Philippians who were supporting him while he was imprisoned in Rome:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (the apostle Paul)—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:4-13 (ESV)

Through the gift of faith in Christ, we can praise and sing and rest in God’s peace even when we cannot see beauty or feel God’s presence. By faith we know He is there and that He never leaves us. May our praise not be connected to what we see or our current circumstances, but may our praise and worship rise up by faith- automatically in response to the promises of God.

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 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.