September 11, 2019- The Unholy Trinity, the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Jesus Breaks the Curse

adam and eve2
Who or what stands against Christian people in this fallen world of “not yet?”

Sin
Death
The Accuser (Satan, the serpent)

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:1-6 (ESV)

“Did God really say?”

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.” It can be said that God does not tempt us or cause us evil. We’re good enough at finding temptation and walking into evil all by ourselves. We may know the difference between good and evil, but we don’t always choose what is good, and we don’t always reject evil.

The unholy trinity of sin, death and the devil are all against us and are all around us. The question behind the Fall of humanity, “Did God really say?,” echoes all around us.

Did God really say… I AM God, the Author and Creator of all things?
Did God really say…You will not bow down to the gods you make?
Did God really say…that He is the only One you will worship?
Did God really say…that you will honor your parents and those in authority over you?
Did God really say…that you will not murder or maliciously inflict harm on others?
Did God really say…that human beings were created male and female, and men and women are meant to be faithful to each other in marriage?
Did God really say…that you are not to steal money or possessions or anything that is your neighbor’s?
Did God really say…that you are not to falsely represent your neighbor or spread falsehoods?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s spouse, employees or livestock?
Did God really say…that you are not to desire your neighbor’s inanimate material things?

God really did say all of those things. Most of us can agree that the Ten Commandments–See Exodus 20– are good and that we would all have a lot less trouble if we could just follow the rules.

The problem is we can’t just follow the rules, no matter how hard we try. Every human being alive today has inherited the curse of Adam- call it original sin, or to borrow from another Reformed theologian, John Calvin, the total depravity of man, but human beings are born sinners. We cannot fix ourselves.

To make the sin problem even more acute, we learn from Scripture (James 2:10) that if we break one tiny little part of the Law, in God’s eyes we broke all of the laws. Salvation by our own obedience requires perfection.  No human being is capable of perfection.

The apostle Paul makes us aware of our dilemma in Romans 7:7-25.
The Law makes us aware that we fall short and don’t live up to God’s standards. The unholy trinity of our own sin, the curse of death that we and the world around us are under, and the Accuser himself all stand against us and assail us with all sorts of suffering, temptations and trials.

It’s just not possible for us in our own strength and will to live the way that God wants. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

But God so loved the world, and fallen humanity, that He sent Jesus- the perfect God-Man- to break Adam’s curse, to suffer the penalty of death and become the perfect sacrifice for fallen humanity once and for all. The Law was not God’s final word to humanity.

Did God really say…?

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

 
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Jeremiah 33:14 (ESV)

 
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)

 
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6b (ESV)

 
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”- John 6:35 (ESV)

 
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17b (ESV)

 
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16 (ESV)

 
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 (ESV)

 
Jesus has the final word. For we who believe in Him, there is no more death. We will pass from this life to eternal life with Him. The unholy trinity who would condemn us and lead us into unbelief does not have the upper hand. Jesus has broken Adam’s curse and Jesus paid the penalty of death for us.

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

Peter is restored.jpg

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

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

Who is the object of our faith?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 29, 2017- Keep Us Out of Trouble, and Rescue Us From Evil- Matthew 6:13, Romans 8:37-39

temptation of Christ

And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13 (CEB)

The sixth and seventh petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are related. While Christianity is not a dualistic religion – we do not believe that the world, evil and Satan are equal to God- we do know that we are subject to the influence of sin and death while we live on this earth.

Whether you believe that Satan is a personal adversary or that he is more correctly viewed as a metaphor for the spirit of evil, the fact is that evil is real. Evil is too alive and well in this world and often we don’t have a good explanation for why evil continues to exist.  We don’t have the answer to why God allows evil to exist in this world.   We can only have faith that:

..in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NRSV)

We do know that we fall into temptation easily enough though. We are constantly subject to temptations of the flesh, temptations of the world, and temptations of Satan and evil.

For in the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart…

Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed, and impels us to anger and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery, slander, pride and haughtiness, with superfluous finery, honor, fame, and power, where no one is willing to be the least, but everyone desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all…

Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God to tear us away from faith, hope, and love and bring us into wrong belief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil. – from the explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

Nobody needs any help finding temptation. From the smallest temptations- from wanting to snarf down that nice little bit of ice cream or chocolate we know we don’t need, or being enticed to something as devastating as stealing or engaging in infidelity, we need the Lord’s help to resist and avoid such things.

We need to ask for God’s protection from Satan and evil as well. Although Satan and evil can devastate us here on earth, they hold no power against God and His kingdom.

In the Greek text this petition reads thus: Deliver or preserve us from the Evil One, or the Malicious One; and it looks as if He were speaking of the devil, as though He would comprehend everything in one so that the entire substance of all our prayer is directed against our chief enemy. For it is he who hinders among us everything that we pray for: the name or honor of God, God’s kingdom and will, our daily bread, a cheerful good conscience, etc.

Therefore we finally sum it all up and say: Dear Father pray, help that we be rid of all these calamities. But there is nevertheless also included whatever evil may happen to us under the devil’s kingdom — poverty, shame, death, and, in short, all the agonizing misery and heartache of which there is such an unnumbered multitude on the earth. For since the devil is not only a liar, but also a murderer, he constantly seeks our life, and wreaks his anger whenever he can afflict our bodies with misfortune and harm. Hence it comes that he often breaks men’s necks or drives them to insanity, drowns some, and incites many to commit suicide, and to many other terrible calamities. Therefore there is nothing for us to do upon earth but to pray against this arch enemy without ceasing. For unless God preserved us, we would not be safe from him even for an hour.- from the explanation of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Large Catechism

When we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer it is good to remember these key points:

  1. God’s Name is holy. It is given to us to address God.
  2. God’s Kingdom is here, and it also on its way to being fulfilled on earth.
  3. God’s will is going to be done, so Lord, help us get on board with it.
  4. God provides for us DAILY, our food, and our needs. We need Him every day.
  5. Forgive others as God forgives us, it brings healing for our souls.
  6. Keep us from temptation because it’s all around us and we want to stay clear of it.
  7. Keep us from the influence of Satan and evil.

Have we thanked God for providing for us in every way today?

August 30, 2017 – God Wins! 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12

light

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming.  

 The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. 2 Thessalonians 2:7-12 (NRSV)

 The law of inertia states that an object that is at rest tends to stay at rest, until a force is acted upon it to make it move. An object that is in motion tends to stay in motion, until a counter force acts upon it to stop its motion.

In our paradoxical lives in which we have one foot in the earthly kingdom and one foot in the heavenly kingdom, can we ask ourselves, in what direction are we allowing ourselves to be pulled?

Are we sitting on the fence, not moving one way or another? The church in Laodicea received the harshest criticism of all the churches who were addressed in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 3:14-22) simply because they were neither hot nor cold.  They weren’t really terrible, but they weren’t doing anything good either. They were lethargic, apathetic and stagnant.  Nothing got accomplished through them.  Human beings were created to grow and move- or they will decay and wither away.  Indifference does not remain an option for long.  God’s message to us and love for us demands a response.

If we are set in motion to move toward the side of the heavenly kingdom and the things of God, then that inertia- and the Holy Spirit- keeps pulling us to desire God more and to concern ourselves with material gain and earthly power, pleasure and influence less. We respond to God’s grace and love and mercy, and the more we respond to Him the more we are pulled toward Him.

If we are headed toward all the power and things and influence that the world sets in high esteem here in the earthly kingdom, the inertia is set in the opposite direction, opening the door for the tempter – whether you see Satan as a spiritual entity or as a fallen angel, or simply as a personification of evil, the fact remains that evil in the world is real. Addiction is a good example of one of the worst temptations of the world.  It holds empty promises, and hollow euphoria that only lead to destruction and death.

The good news in this is that good and evil are not evenly matched. Dualism is not supported in Scripture, because we know how the story ends. Evil is powerful and today it is most pervasive, but it is not going to last forever. Evil is not going to win.  God and good prevail over evil, even though we might not be seeing that victory lived out right now.  We are still in the “right now,” but “not yet.”

God has already chosen us. In Baptism we were named and claimed and marked with the Cross of Christ forever.

How do we live in response to that knowledge? How do we reflect the truth of “God Wins!” in our daily lives?