Love Like No One is Watching- Romans 12

happy friends tasting food in cafeteria

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I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.- Romans 12 (ESV)

What does the apostle Paul mean by being transformed by the renewal of our minds? Human beings are funny creatures who, if left to the designs of the natural man, like to have things just so, who don’t like to share with others, who want control of their environments and the behaviors of others.

The designs of the natural man are not God’s designs.  God has gifted each of His people with different gifts so that we can work together for God’s purposes.  It’s not always readily apparent what God wants to do with us.  Sometimes we think we are made to be one thing or desire to be something that is different from what God has planned for us or has created us to be.  Other times our roles change based on the needs of others, the stage in life where we are, and the circumstances God has put in our lives.

This is why prayer and discussion in a body of believers is so essential- so that together we can discern God’s direction and follow Him individually and collectively.

All of us in spite of our different gifts we are called to love like no one is watching. We are called to faithfulness and prayer, and to serve others because this is how we serve God.

We are called to listen for God’s call: what should we be doing, where, and how?

We are called to trust God, not to repay evil with evil, but to leave judgment to God alone.

We are encouraged to weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.

We are called to be flexible enough to put our own desires aside and let God make His desires our own.

We are imperfect. We are sinners even though we are also God’s saints. Yet God’s purpose and plans will prevail- even when we are dragged along kicking and screaming.

We are not made the same, and it is difficult at times to come together, yet God has a place and a plan for each of us.  He calls us to trust Him.

 

 

April 27, 2020 Trust God to Forgive, as We Forgive Others- Psalm 107:1-16, Luke 17:1-4

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Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,for his steadfast love endures forever!

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands,from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty,their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;they fell down, with none to help.Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,and he delivered them from their distress.

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man. For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron. Psalm 107:1-16 (ESV)

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:1-4 (ESV)

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.- Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that anything we build in this world is temporary. For some people the temporary nature of this life is a comfort, because they have lived their lives in material poverty or in pain and suffering.  For others it’s a sadness to know that in a hundred years we will long since be dead and forgotten, and we can’t take our stuff with us. We wander and strive and work (and overwork) only to discover, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes writes, that we are chasing after wind.  (Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty,their soul fainted within them.

Jesus is leading us to the lasting city: Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!

We are reminded that Jesus forgives us. Jesus brings us out of darkness and delivers us from the shadow of death (as we also learn in Psalm 23.) He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man. For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Now that we see what Jesus has done for us and continues to do for us, we turn to our neighbors for whom Jesus also bled and died to save. Now it gets tricky for us because that old Adam who was buried in the waters of our baptism doesn’t like to stay drowned. When we remember the promises of Jesus are not just for us but also for all those other simul justus et peccators out there, our perspective on our neighbor has to change.

Because we are all saints and sinners at the same time,  as long as we draw breath on this earth, we are going to sin. We are going to do things that bring harm to our neighbors, and that will cause them to sin right along with us. Other people are going to do things that harm us as well.  Jesus gives us His remedy for our constant friction and discord with others: Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

Dearest Jesus, forgive us for those times when we have failed to love our neighbor as You love us.  You are with us no matter how many times we fail, and no matter how many valleys of shadow we must go through. Don’t let us forget that this world is not the lasting city that You are leading us toward. We are completely reliant upon You for all things, and you provide for us abundantly and graciously. Help us to pass those gifts along in Your Name.   Give us the gift of faith to trust You, and create clean hearts in us that are filled with Your love and joy.

 

March 27, 2020 This Little Light, the Forever Party, and Jesus, Fulfillment of the Law

“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” Luke 8:16-18 (ESV)

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:13-20 (ESV)

In these “interesting times” it seems as if nothing is constant. Regulations change, activities change, essential functions are modified or limited, and it’s easy to get a feeling of “free fall” – that either nothing is permitted- or everything goes. We who believe in Jesus do have a constant in this ever-more bizarre world. We have Jesus, the Living Word, to cling to as our solid Rock and Foundation.

Jesus did not come into the world to make it a free for all. Jesus did not come into the world to create a locked down totalitarian state either. The Law that was handed down to Moses from God always remains the same.

The difference between Christians and those who do not yet believe in Jesus, is that Jesus fulfills that Law for us because we cannot live up to its demands.We need the Law to tell us what a good work is, and we need the Law to tell us just how broken (and to use my favorite Calvinist descriptive, depraved) we really are. We need the Law to point out the fact that we need Jesus. We need the Gospel, the precious, saving truth that Jesus has rescued us from the penalty of our sins.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (ESV)

It is important for us to confess our sins to God. He already knows them, but in our confession (whether it be directly to Jesus in prayer, or in a confession with another believer standing with us) we admit that we are sorry for our sins and that we ask that the Holy Spirit give us the ability to avoid sin in the future.We are not going to be free of sinning in this life (simul Justus et peccator, or “sinner and saint at the same time” is always in play) but we trust Jesus to forgive our sins and for the Holy Spirit to let His light shine through us and our lives.

In our baptisms we have that tangible reminder- water and the Word. We have been given that mark of the cross of Christ forever, and God will not forsake His children.  So what does it mean to let our lights shine?

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16 is often used at baptisms, when the baptismal candle is lit. Martin Luther said that Christians are called to be “little Christs.” We are made to be as Christ out in the world, acting as His hands and feet and voice.To be emphatically clear, in God’s economy there are no brownie points, there is no extra credit, there is no quid pro quo, none of that. We are justified and made children of God by faith alone, grace alone, and by Christ alone.

Jesus does tell us that faith has active results. We are called to be light and salt, not because we are earning our way up the ladder, but because in Christ we are already forgiven, saved, set free, set apart to live with Him forever. We are free to start the “forever party” now- to do the good works that God made us for, to serve each other in whatever capacity we may have, to love each other without holding back.

Jesus wasn’t teaching that people need to be better at rule-keeping. The Pharisees were really big on obeying the fine points of the Law, like tithing their mint and spices, (Matthew 23:23) but not so hot at the Great Commandment, to love God and love others as yourself (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)Jesus was teaching the generosity that comes from freedom- the freedom of knowing that our omnipotent, sovereign and holy God is in control.

In law enforcement terms, He always “has our six” and then some. Because we know that God does provide for us and will provide for us, we can be confident in our Foundation and our Rock, Jesus, no matter how dark the times may get or how scary the world may seem.

April 9, 2019- Peter Betrays Jesus, and We Do Too- Mark 14:66-72

peter-denial

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”  But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:66-72 (ESV)

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Peter. He thought he had the inner fortitude to confess Jesus even when it could mean his hide.   There are times when we all think that we can be confident to confess Christ, and then our old Adam comes out and our words and actions betray Him.

The ability to remain faithful is not within us. This may have been the lesson that Jesus had for Peter as well as for us. Whether we stand or fall in the faith is not reliant on on our own desire, willpower or merit.  If Peter, the apostle, who walked and ate and lived with Jesus, could betray Him, who do we think we are?

The saint side of us (which is a gift of God, a result of God choosing us as His own) wants to cling to Jesus and wants to live for Him, even when it means our own personal discomfort or sacrifice.  We as sinners want to be God and we insist on having our own desires fulfilled- our own personal comfort and our own advancement and benefit.  It is inevitable that the saint and the sinner will have some skirmishes.

The apostle Paul discusses this struggle in Romans 7 – the things he wants to do he does not do, and the things he does not want to do, he does.  It is the struggle we all have and will have as long as we live in this lifetime.

Yet God gives us the gift of repentance. He gives us the Good News that Jesus died for ALL of our sins- even the times when we are faithless, when we fail, when we outright break His law.  No one is “too bad” for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Jesus forgave Peter and commended him to service and ministry even though Peter betrayed Him. We still sin and our actions betray Jesus every day.  Even so, we are still, by faith in Jesus, by the grace of God, named and claimed as His own children.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t just leave us to the consequences of our sins. We are baptized, washed, covered in His righteousness, because we believe He is who he said He is and that we trust that He is enough.

January 15, 2019 – Slaves? Romans 6:15-23

slave ship 1788slave auction

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:15-23 (ESV)

21st century Americans have a difficult time with the concept of slavery. We may remember seeing drawings of slave ships or slave auctions from the 18th and 19th century from history class like the ones pictured above, but we don’t really see slavery out in the open. We think of slavery as something that ended with the Civil War in 1865. Slavery does still exist in the modern world. It may not be as visible today, but it is still just as repulsive as the buying and selling of humans on the auction block. Human trafficking, child abuse, forced labor, addiction, and domestic violence are examples of some modern forms of slavery.

An easier question for us today is, to whom or what do we sell ourselves? Are we slaves to addictions such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol- or even to an excess of good things such as food or exercise? Are we slaves to excessive work or excessive leisure? Are we slaves to the thoughts and opinions of others?

The apostle Paul teaches us: “you are slaves of the one you obey.” As long as we are living in this body, in this life, we will still be tempted and we will still sin. (Simul Justus et peccator still applies.) However, because in baptism we die to sin and live with Christ, we have become His slaves- not in the sense of being in a sorry forced servitude, but as joyful servants responding to the love He first showed us.  We may not be able to obey perfectly, but our faith in Jesus is what saves us and justifies us. Our faith- which is a gift of the Holy Spirit- is what sets us free to live as God created us to live, and to do the good works that He created for us to do.

Sanctification is another concept that we can have difficulty with. Christian sanctification does not mean becoming rigid, legalistic, “holier than thou” hypocrites. We aren’t always people who are clean and tidy and well behaved.  Sometimes we road rage. Sometimes we use nasty words.  We are rough around the edges and a lot worse than that if we are honest with ourselves. Jesus’ first followers were once the likes of fishermen and tax collectors and even women of ill repute.  Our caricature of snooty false piety- imagine Dana Carvey as “the Church Lady”- is right out.  We are real people who live in this real world.

We are all hypocrites because we are all sinners, however, we confess our sins just as the apostle Paul did when he referred to himself as the chief (or foremost) of all sinners. We let Jesus forgive us. We trust Jesus to help us do better and to change our minds and hearts to be more like His.  Sanctification is actually “holification” (if I may borrow a term from Rev. Jonathan Fisk) meaning a process in which God makes us holy, by faith, in Christ, because of His grace. God makes us more like Him. We are meant to grow and develop into the people God has intended us to become.  That becoming is not something we do, but something God does in and through us.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes it’s painful, but faith is trust that in all of it God knows what he’s doing.

Sin and death appear to be the masters of this world. When we look around us, those things are everywhere.  Yet so is the transforming power of God- the same God who put death to death.  We know the end to this story.  God wins.

All of us sell ourselves to something. Our first parents sold us all into sin and death at the moment of the Fall. Yet we have been bought for a price. Jesus sold Himself- a perfect sacrifice- to purchase us so that He could transform us and make us holy.  He bought us, and set us free so that we can love and serve God as willing and joyful slaves to Him.

 

December 4, 2018 By Faith, Jesus was Born of Mary-Matthew 1:18-25

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Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14) (which means, God with us).

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

We share a common ground with Mary. Like her, we are saints.  Like her, we are sinners.  Like her, we have our life and being and our salvation in Jesus, our Savior. Mary is indeed blessed among women, because God chose her for a very special as well as a very daunting mission.  She is not immaculate, nor is she the co-redemptrix with God. She is a human being like us.  She is a human being through whom God worked.

By faith she received the gift of Jesus as not only her Savior, but also her firstborn son. By faith, Jesus, became fully human, as well as fully God. He shares His humanity with us.  The only difference is that Jesus alone of all humans is free from the curse of sin.

We learn from Scripture that we, like Mary and all of the saints who have gone before us, are saved by faith- not by what we do or even by who we are, but by faith in God.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of countless generations. Mary acknowledges in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) that in Christ the promise of Abraham is fulfilled.

God has a history of working in and through His people. He even chose to do His greatest work- the bodily incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus- through human flesh.

We have to wonder about the faith of Joseph as well. Certainly he may have faced accusations from the family or the community that either Mary or both of them had engaged in immoral behavior. It’s understandable that it would take an angel of God to convince him of what in every other situation would be a biological impossibility- a virgin carrying a child.  God made a way for him to believe, and worked in him the faith necessary for him to trust God and trust that Mary’s child was indeed the Son of God.

In Christ we are given the gift of faith. We are given the gift of God’s faith at work in and through the saints, like Mary, whose faith in Jesus was her righteousness.

God provided the lamb for Abraham, and God provides the Lamb for us. In Jesus we have God-with-us. We cannot come to faith in and of our own reason or power. God works great and wonderful gifts in and through the faith He gives us.

November 7, 2018 The Undeserved Faithfulness of God- Psalm 36, Hebrews 11:1-3

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Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O Lord.

 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

 Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.
There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Psalm 36 (ESV)

King David wrote many of the Psalms, including Psalm 36. We see the concept of simul Justus et peccator (we are saints and sinners at the same time) lived out in David’s life as well as it is spelled out beautifully in this Psalm.  We are wicked transgressors- blatant sinners- who do not fear God. We flatter ourselves and we make excuses for and cover up our sins.  We like to think we are OK because, “well I didn’t do what THAT guy did,” even though in reality we are just as bad if not worse than those we disdain. We are all prone to gossip and slander. We wish evil on our enemies, and we openly plot revenge on those who do us wrong.  Save by the mercy and love of Jesus we have absolutely nothing good or worthy about us.

God on the other hand, keeps His end of the covenant, His promise to Abraham and his descendents, (and we are descendents of Abraham by faith in Christ) even though we are not capable of believing and trusting God in our own strength. In our baptism, in the preaching of God’s Word, and at the communion table, through these means of grace, God gives us the gift of faith. The completed work of Jesus on the Cross is redemption, deliverance and restoration, not just of His people, but of creation itself. We can’t trust our own fickle and often evil hearts, but we can trust that God is faithful to His promises.

God has made Himself our refuge, our safe place. Apart from God there is no rest, no safety, no provision, no hope and no light.  By faith we trust that God provides for all of our needs.  We trust that He loves us and that He will not forget us- even though we do not and cannot earn or deserve His grace.

We pray that God would transform our hearts. We pray that we would live in humility, knowing that anything good is a gift from God alone.  We pray that God would spread around the good news of Jesus in and through us, even though we wrestle with the saint/sinner paradox (see Romans 7) every day of our lives this side of eternity.

We also pray that God would restrain evil- that we would not be the ones spreading evil around, and that those who are working evil in the world would be stopped in their tracks.

We learn in this Psalm that God is our refuge. Jesus laid down His life for us as a perfect sacrifice (Isaiah 53:1-5) so that our sins are forgiven, and when God looks at us He sees only Jesus.  Even though we are born with evil and death all over us, through the gift of faith in Jesus and His death on the Cross to save us from our sins, we belong to God, made descendents of Abraham and inheritors of the covenant of faith that God made with Abraham.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Hebrews 11:1-3 (ESV)

 

November 1, 2018- For All the Saints, Together in Christ- 1 John 3:1-3, Revelation 7:9-17, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

saintsSee what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

The celebration of All Saints’ Day traditionally is a somber holiday in which we remember the saints (meaning all who lived and died in Christ) who have gone before us. On Ash Wednesday we are made aware of our mortality as we remember that we are dust and will return to dust. (Genesis 3:19)  On Good Friday we are reminded of our mortality again as we remember Jesus sacrificing Himself, taking the punishment of a cruel death and paying the penalty we deserve for our sins in our place.  As Jesus breathed His last and gave up His Spirit, the curtain of the Holy of Holies in the Temple where the Presence of God lived was torn open as salvation and redemption was bought and paid for all, once and for all.

The celebration of All Saints’ should make us aware of our own temporary existence and mortality but this remembrance should also point us to the joy that those who have gone before us are already living in. We are in Christ now, but we are still living with one foot in the “not yet,” in hope of the promise to come.  While we are on this earth we will always grieve those who we loved, but we can take comfort in knowing that they have stepped over into the Kingdom of God in all its fullness.  We can take confidence and radiant hope in the knowledge that death is not the end for those who are in Christ.

While the Book of Revelation is apocryphal literature and it uses great imagery and allegory, it also gives us a vision of the new world to come in which we will be with our fellow saints again, but with an important distinction. We will be made holy and whole and clean, without sickness, sin or death, in the presence of God forever. The simul Justus et peccator (saint and sinner at the same time, as we are now) will finally be made a pure saint.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17 (ESV)

Even though our hearts hurt when we think of those who have gone before us in Christ, we thank God for their witness and for the legacy they have given us. Death is not the end and we are not in the same position of despair as people who do not know of hope in Christ. As the apostle Paul teaches:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (ESV)

It’s easy to be discouraged in this life. The older we get, we are more touched by the deaths of our loved ones and it is easy to get mired in grief and longing for them. There is no shame in grief. Yet we have confidence that those who have lived and died in Christ are already in the joy of eternal life with Him. We thank God for their witness and example, and we take great hope and joy in knowing that death is not the end. We will be with Jesus and we will be together again.

October 19, 2018 “Sin Boldly?” Matthew 5:17-20, John 14:1-7, Romans 3:21-31

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“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe in and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”- Martin Luther

Martin Luther is known for the quote, “Sin Boldly.” It is a bit taken out of its original context.  Properly understood, Luther is simply underscoring the Scriptural truth that Jesus forgives us our sins, and that our righteousness before God is through faith in Jesus.  Jesus has already paid the price of death that we have earned. By faith, Jesus forgives our sins and failures.  So our focus should be on believing in Jesus rather than living a legalistic and fearful life.

(Jesus taught: ) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)

The Ten Commandments are not the “ten suggestions” or the “ten good ideas.” God put His Commandments in place for our protection and benefit. The penalty for law-breaking (even one teeny tiny bit of it) is still death. There is only one person who ever lived (Jesus) who was able to obey the Law 100% perfectly.  Through faith in Jesus we have life with God forever. Apart from Jesus we are dead in trespasses and sins.  There is no other way to life and salvation except for faith in Jesus.

(Jesus said : )“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 (ESV)

The scribes and Pharisees were very careful to (attempt to) obey the letter of the Mosaic Law, which includes the Ten Commandments and a whole lot more (see the entire book of Leviticus…) but they ended up setting themselves up as legalistic, self-righteous hypocrites.  In Jesus’ day the Pharisees made great displays of religiousness and piety that were just outward displays.

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 3:21-31 (ESV)

The apostle Paul knew better than most – having been a Pharisee himself- what the Law required, and how utterly impossible it is for people to keep it. Paul knew he was condemned under the law. Paul also knew that Jesus came to keep the Law perfectly, and that He was the sacrifice to cover the sins and iniquities of not just Paul, but of the entire world.

We are not able to make ourselves perfect for God. No matter how hard we attempt to obey the rules we can’t do it. Ironically we often make ourselves even worse when we think that we can earn our way to God by what we do or don’t do.

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”- Martin Luther from the Small Catechism, on Sanctification, the Third Article of the Creed.

Faith in Jesus is the New Covenant. Not faith in our own law-keeping abilities, but faith in knowing that Jesus has already done for us what we cannot do.

So why should we take the Commandments seriously? First of all, even though we break them with regularity, they are still God’s standard and will for humans to follow.  They help us to keep order in society.  We know that even though we aren’t the greatest at law-keeping, that the Law is good and right.

The Commandments show us how we sin, and through that knowledge, and in our confessions, we see our desperate need for Jesus. We come to Jesus in our brokenness and need and knowledge of how we fall short, not like the Pharisee who thinks he has done everything right, but as the tax collector who cries, “forgive me Lord, as I am a sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14)

We can’t save ourselves. We can’t live in a way that pleases God.  But we are made right in God’s sight by faith- faith that believes that Jesus has taken the punishment that we deserve in our place (Isaiah 53) and that when God looks at us He sees Jesus.  Jesus has paid the price for us.  By faith, we trust Jesus, and live.

August 18, 2018 – Be Wise About What is Good- Romans 16:17-20

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Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,

 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.

 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:9-14 (ESV)

 

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:17-20 (ESV)

Unfortunately human history is a timeline filled with fallen, fallible people getting it wrong. Dogs bark because that’s what dogs do. Cats meow because that’s what cats do. People sin because people are sinners. It’s what we do.

No sooner than Moses had turned his back and returned to Mount Sinai to hear from God after he came to the people of Israel with the tablets of the Law, the people turned away from God and bowed down to a golden calf they had made. (Exodus 32)

We have been given all kinds of warnings against breaking God’s Law, but we still do it. We can’t help ourselves.

Even David, who wrote Psalm 34, wasn’t able to do as he instructed, and David was a man after God’s own heart.

Christians are no exception to the sinner rule. While we are also saints because of the offense of the Cross- that Jesus died for our sins and took the punishment we deserve- our sinful nature is evident in everything we do and that we don’t do.

The apostle Paul warns the people in Rome about believing bad teaching and wrong ideas just as he warns the Galatians and the Corinthians. There are people who teach doctrines that are contrary to what we learn in the Bible, and often these are teachings that lead people either to serving their own interests (prosperity “gospel”) or to lining the pockets of their “teachers.”  Sometimes bad teaching can be made to sound logical or good, but it does not point us to Jesus. We are warned because there are many things in the world that can lead us away from the truth.

There is no such thing as a perfect church. We are at best a collection of fallible and imperfect sinners.  If we rely on any one particular person or doctrine, we are going to encounter errors.  There will be disagreements and conflicts. We are not going to “do it right.”

God has given us holy Scripture so that we can hear and read His Word and know the truth. The more that we read, study, know and talk about the Bible the better equipped we are to see what is the real deal and what isn’t.

We are called to discernment- to test the spirits-  and to hold on to the good news of Jesus, as the apostle John teaches us:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”- 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

We are called to ask questions and to find answers.  We can do this knowing that even though we are never going to get it right in this world, we have the written Scripture God has given us. We have each other, and we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us.  We are invited to confess our sins, to be forgiven, and to live in the sweet assurance that in our baptism we have been named, we have been claimed and we belong to God because Jesus died for us.