March 12, 2020- On the Death of Precious Servants in Christ, and the Hope We Share- Philippians 2:17-18, Matthew 16:24-25, Romans 10:5-17

drink offering

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18 (ESV)

Jesus never promised us “our best life now.” Jesus called us to take up our crosses and follow Him.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

Suffering and cross-carrying are part of this life. It is no small coincidence that all three of the Synoptic Gospel writers- Matthew, Mark and Luke- tell us of Simon of Cyrene, a man that was randomly plucked from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross to Calvary.  Simon was taken by surprise by the compulsion to carry the cross.

It certainly wasn’t Simon’s idea when he woke up that morning, that a Roman soldier would demand him to carry a heavy beam for a condemned man he did not know. For us who know Jesus, it should not be a surprise to us that Jesus enters into our suffering as we share in His.

One of the implications of sharing in the life of Christ is that even as we are baptized, even as through the preaching of the Word we are made new and brought into eternal life, we must also share the cup of suffering and daily drown the old Adam and his sinful ways. We still have to deal with the consequences of sin and death in this world. We still suffer. Our bodies still die.

There are people who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” in our lives, who like the apostle Paul, sacrificially pour themselves out for the sake of their faith in Jesus. We thank God for them.

Many of these dear saints of God do not see their life is one of sacrifice, but one of joy. We benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them that radiates from them just as light gives off heat.

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:5-17 (ESV)

By faith we trust Jesus. We can’t trust in how well we follow the rules, because we don’t, and we can’t. The Ten Commandments are God’s Laws. If we are honest about how well we follow God’s Laws, (see Exodus 20,) we understand that we break every single one of them on a daily basis. We cannot trust in ourselves or what we do. We trust Jesus and by faith we know that He took God’s punishment for our sins in our place.

Our life here in the now, but not yet world contains a lot of suffering. But it also contains the grace of God in Christ. It also contains people with “beautiful feet” who preach and live out the Good News of Christ. People who are precious to us because they share that saving message.

It’s easy to get angry with God for taking those we love away, or to be sad because one who is precious to us is no longer there.

This life is not the end, though. God has plans for us that are so much more than we can hope for or imagine. Those of us who trust in Christ will see Him and be with Him in just a little while.

Teach me to live that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed
Teach me to die that so I may
Rise glorious at that awesome day- All Praise to Thee, Thy God This Night – Thomas Tallis

Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

The saints that have gone before us are glad. They are rejoicing. We will be with Jesus- and with everyone we love- soon.

March 5, 2020- Repentance, Judgment, and Thank the Giver- Micah 2:1-5, 1 Corinthians 10:12-14, 1 Timothy 6:10

micah

Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand.

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.

Therefore thus says the Lord: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster.

In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you and moan bitterly, and say, “We are utterly ruined; he changes the portion of my people; how he removes it from me! To an apostate he allots our fields.”

Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot in the assembly of the Lord.

Micah 2:1-5 (ESV)

Micah was a prophet from Moresheth-a rural town in south eastern Judea- who was active from about 737-696 BC.  He was a contemporary of Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, and he is considered one of the twelve minor prophets.

When God sent Old Testament prophets, they were sent to warn God’s people that judgment was coming to them.  In this season of Lent we are reminded that apart from Jesus we are far removed from God.  We are brought back to God through Jesus. His death on the cross paid the price for our sins.  In Christ we are set free from a life of sin that leads to death, and are given the gift of forgiveness and eternal life with God.

As a part of our life with God we are called to examine our lives against God’s Law (any questions on what constitutes God’s Law, see Exodus 20:1-17) and to confess our sins. When we pray we ask for forgiveness for our sins, we repent of them every day, and we trust that Jesus forgives us and gives us what we need to live according to our calling as His followers.

The apostle Paul teaches us:

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:12-14 (ESV)

Micah in particular addressed the corruption of the government and commerce of Judah in his day.  Even though we may try to separate what we do and how we act in the left hand kingdom (things having to do with government and commerce) from who we are and what we do in the right hand kingdom (having to do with spiritual and religious things,) our integrity must be established and consistent in both areas.  One can’t just be a Christian on Sunday, and then be a scoundrel the rest of the week. Faith and trust in Christ is reflected outward in our actions.

Corrupt business dealings, abuse of governmental power, and squandering public resources are sinful even when those sins take place in the left hand kingdom.  Some may think that what he or she does as an employee, or as a representative of government is somehow beyond one’s own personal responsibility. The reality is that our obligation to follow God’s Law does not end when we punch a time clock, join a nation’s military, or take an oath of office.

Befehl ist Befehl (orders are orders,) or the “Nuremberg Defense” can stand in a court of (human) law, but it does not stand up to God’s Law. Even in the left hand kingdom, if “orders” from human employers or governments violate God’s Law, then God’s Law must prevail.

When government causes harm to its citizens by stealing from them, by building up certain individuals with ill-gotten wealth and engaging in graft, that harm is a sin against God. One of the sins that Micah protested against, and prophesied God’s judgment toward was the exploitation of the poor.

Exploitation of the poor through unethical business practices such as usury (lending with exorbitant interest) or price gouging is an affront to God.  It is also an affront to God to live in the lap of luxury and to set wealth and power up as idols while ignoring the very things that God has put us here for- to love Him and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When the apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy, he warned:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

Resources in and of themselves are good gifts from God, but loving the gift more than the Giver is a pernicious form of idolatry to which we all succumb at times. The reality is that left to our own devices we do not love God with our whole hearts, and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves.

The answer to the forces that wish to destroy us – our own sinful flesh, the world and Satan- is always found in Jesus.  Our salvation and life come from Him – not through power and resources, and certainly not from taking power and resources from others.

The good news of repentance is clear- God is the Giver and Source of all.  There is only death and destruction to be found in trusting in ourselves or scheming dishonest and wicked ways to “get ahead.”

Lord, forgive us when we forget You are the Source and the Giver of all things.  Forgive us when we want what other people have, when we take what is not rightfully ours from others, and we fail to be thankful for Your provision for our daily bread. Help us to be thankful all you provide us, as well as for our salvation and life with You forever.

 

January 28, 2020- Justice, God’s Servant, and Bruised Reeds- Isaiah 42:1-4

bruised-reed

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law. Isaiah 42:1-4 (ESV)

Justice should be informed by truth. We all know what it feels like to be the object of injustice– when we are betrayed or blamed for the offenses of others, or we suffer consequences through no fault of our own.

The truth of fallen humanity is that we deserve justice- justice that rightfully means the wrath of God. Whether we like it or not (or agree with it or not) we have all inherited a fallen nature and we are subject to the effects of sin and death.

The Good News is that God has come with justice- justice poured out upon Jesus, the Servant Who is gentle with bruised reeds, Who does not put out an ember struggling to stay lit.

How could it be just for Jesus to take the wrath of God that we deserve?

The truth is that:  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 (ESV)

All of us are heavily burdened- and condemned- by the Law of God.  If we look at the Ten Commandments, we can clearly see that-

We fail to honor God and acknowledge Him above all things. 

We take God’s holy name in vain – and this encompasses far more than oaths and swearing.

We do not honor the Sabbath by willingly and eagerly worshiping God and learning and digesting God’s Word as we should. 

We do not honor our parents or those put in authority over us.

We may not physically kill people, but we murder others through slander and from failing to care for them. 

We have physical lusts that are impure, whether we act upon them or not, that betray chastity and faithfulness to one spouse.

We steal time, treasure and talents from others.

We often speak ill of others and fail to put the best construction on their motives and actions.

We lust after other people’s stuff. 

We envy other people their spouses or employees.

To further implicate us in our guilt, the apostle James teaches us: For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. James 2:10 (ESV)

Yet Jesus still has lifted the burden and has taken away the guilt of all our sins. He took on the weight of the curse of ALL of our sins.  The penalty for all of our iniquity is not placed on us, but was placed on Him.

From the mountain of Sinai, Moses was sent down carrying the tablets of the Law that condemns us all.  Thankfully condemnation and wrath are not the end of the story.

At the cross of Calvary, justice has been carried out. Not on all of us bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks who have been broken and condemned by the curse of sin, but solely upon Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.

Lord, we thank You that You are the Suffering Servant, the One Who took the punishment we deserved in our place.  The justice we deserved fell upon Your shoulders.  Forgive us for our many and constant sins, and give us the strength and the fortitude to live in a way that glorifies You.

 

September 25, 2019- Logs, Dogs and Mercy- Matthew 7:1-6, Romans 14:1-4

SacredHeart

Jesus taught: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. 

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Matthew 7:1-6 (ESV)

This passage in Matthew, especially verses one through five, is well known. Jesus warns us about being judgmental of others and of ignoring our own egregious sins in favor of nit-picking on the sins and faults of others.

It is easy for us to see others’ specks and miss our own logs. We can also make it difficult for people who are new to the faith by piling all kinds of rules and regulations on them instead of meeting them where they are and patiently teaching them and sheltering them. (The apostle Paul goes into great depth in the book of Galatians regarding the subject of law-keeping ) It’s easy to forget that the Holy Spirit works faith in us. Jesus transforms us to conform to His will. He is the one doing the acting. We don’t earn our way to holiness by our own efforts. There are no brownie points to earn.

The summary of the Law is love- to love God and love our neighbors. The problem is we don’t do it. We fail to keep every single one of the Ten Commandments every single day. Considering everyone is a law breaker, it is inevitable that we will hurt others and others will hurt us even if the hurt is completely unintentional. Our failure to keep the Law of love is a consequence of our brokenness, our fallen humanity, and our bondage to sin.

This is why Jesus emphasizes mercy. Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came to save us.  He has done for us what all our attempts at law-keeping cannot. We deserve and have earned death and hell, but Jesus offers us free pardon from all of our offenses on HIS merits. Jesus has the authority to put the hammer down on us for every single time we break the Law, but He shows us mercy instead. He took the punishment we deserve (Isaiah 53:5) so that we can be forgiven, redeemed, set apart for eternal life. We forgive others because Jesus forgave us first.

The apostle Paul – a former Pharisee- also taught us to be gentle and merciful with each other as he teaches in Romans:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:1-4 (ESV)

Thankfully it is by the Master’s hand that we stand or fall. If any of us were to be judged on our own merits before a holy God we would most certainly fall and fail. We can’t earn, deserve, beg, borrow or buy God’s favor. It is given to us as a free gift, bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

It is our calling as believers to preach the word and to share the Good News- whether or not our vocation is in full-time ministry. We know that faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17) and that as the apostle Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy, we should be prepared to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

We should certainly be aware of the logs in our own eyes, and we should take Martin Luther’s advice and put on our Baptism as daily wear. Each day is a new opportunity to repent of our sins, to turn from them, and to remember that we are clothed in Christ and we are forgiven.

We should seek to be teachable and humble in our dealings with others, but we must remember there are people who are overtly hostile to the message of the Gospel. There are people who will mock and revile us for what we believe.

When Jesus told us not to give dogs what is holy or to cast pearls before swine, He was letting us know that not everyone will be open to hear the Gospel. Some will be overtly hostile toward it. We can’t pound faith into anyone, as faith is a gift of God. We are instructed to tell the story, to teach the Scriptures, and to display the fruits of faith for the world to see, but only the Holy Spirit can open ears and eyes and hearts to the Gospel message.

As the apostle Paul tells us, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:7 (ESV)

We thank God for Jesus coming to earth not only to be God With Us, but most especially for dying on the cross to break the curse of sin and death so that we can be forgiven and live with Him forever.

We pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ and as we live out our vocations in the world. Give us the discretion and the grace to be merciful and forgiving toward others as Jesus is toward us. May the Holy Spirit give us the right responses when we are questioned about or mocked for our faith.

September 21, 2017- Love Builds a Fence?- Exodus 20:12-15

love commandments

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

 You shall not commit adultery.

 You shall not steal.

Exodus 20:12-15 (NRSV)

The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on our relationship with God. The remaining seven have to do with our life in our families and our community.

Commandments Four through Seven have to do with our actions toward others as well as our heart toward others. There is an old saying that “good fences make good neighbors.”  This is why God gives us boundaries regarding our relations with others.  The Commandments give us healthy boundaries for living in community.

Honoring our parents means that even though they may be flawed, we must at the very least acknowledge that they have given us birth and life. We are also commanded to respect their authority and the values that they have passed down to us. The Fourth Commandment is one of the few that carry a promise- God promises that we will retain our inheritance that He has given us if we honor our parents and respect those in authority as it is God Who has put them in authority over us.  Should we rebel against authority and violate the law, we open ourselves up to the consequences that disobeying civil law can bring.

In Luther’s Large Catechism he expands upon honoring and obeying the temporal authorities in his explanation of the Fourth Commandment:

“The same also is to be said of obedience to civil government, which (as we have said) is all embraced in the estate of fatherhood and extends farthest of all relations. For here the father is not one of a single family, but of as many people as he has tenants, citizens, or subjects. For through them, as through our parents, God gives to us food, house and home, protection and security. Therefore since they bear such name and title with all honor as their highest dignity, it is our duty to honor them and to esteem them great as the dearest treasure and the most precious jewel upon earth.” – Luther’s Large Catechism (on the Fourth Commandment)

The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Commandments (Luther’s explanations of them in the Large Catechism can be found here) have to do with boundaries in our relationships with individuals.

The Fifth Commandment tells us to refrain from murder (the premeditated and purposeful taking of a human life) but it also means we are called to lift up those around us by offering help when we can. As Jesus followers we are called to be life-bringers and to shine His light in the world.  Our words and actions should help bring life to the world rather than death and despair to others.

In matters of sexuality, which are addressed in the Sixth Commandment, we are commanded to keep our expressions of sexuality within the marriage bond. As evidenced in society and in the tabloids (as well as in our own personal lives) we see what becomes of people and of families when this boundary is broken.  God puts a boundary around His good gifts of sexual expression- not because they are “dirty” or “wrong” or “bad,” but so this physical and spiritual connection is reserved for a husband and wife in a lifelong commitment to each other.

When that bond is broken, the fallout reaches far and wide- there is financial and emotional hardship for children who must grow up without the benefit of a father (or mother,) possible transmission of horrible (sometimes even fatal) diseases, unplanned pregnancies, lost friendships, and public scandals.  While God assures us that there is nothing that can separate us from His love in Christ, (see Romans 8:38-39) the spiritual and emotional consequences of adultery are deep and lasting and difficult to overcome. God gives us this command for fidelity in marriage (and abstinence outside of marriage) for our own protection, because He knows how devastating overstepping this boundary can be for ourselves and our families and communities. He loves us and He wants to spare us this pain.

The Seventh Commandment appears to be as straightforward as can be, but there is a deeper message in this Commandment also. God tells us: “Don’t steal.” But how do we steal from others?  Obviously violating civil laws against robbery constitute stealing, when we take tangible objects or property that belongs to others, but we steal in other ways too.  We steal when we commit fraud against others, such as failing to give someone an honest wage for honest work- or when we accept wages for work we do not do.  We steal when we fail to help someone when it is in our power to do so.  We steal when we treat other people harshly without cause- we steal their peace and joy.

We know that there is both Law and Gospel throughout the Commandments, and all through Scripture. The Commandments are given to us because God loves us. God gives us boundaries for our own- and for others’- protection.  In these Commandments God gives us the gift of respect for authority so that there is order in society, the ability to have and share life, the gift of intimacy and fidelity, and the confidence that we may retain what belongs to us.

September 19, 2017- The Holy Name of God- Exodus 3:4-6, Exodus 20:7, Matthew 15:16, Matthew 23:27, Psalm 51:10-12

moses burning bush

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he (Moses) said, “Here I am.”  Then He said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Exodus 3:4-6 (NRSV)

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 15:16 (NRSV)

God is holy. We are given the privilege of calling on His Name for prayer and praise and worship, because His Name is a holy name. Are we rightly offended when we catch others (and even ourselves?) in a fit of anger or frustration using God’s name to swear?

It’s important for us as Jesus followers to understand and submit to the sovereignty of God, even as we know that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. We need to be reminded of the humanity of Jesus and the humanity of the apostles and others in the early church, because we need to know that they were human like we are, with the same frailties.  They had the same temptations that we have.  But even as we realize that Jesus hurt and loved, and cried and laughed just as we do, because He is fully human, unlike Jesus, we are not divine.

Who do we say Jesus is? Not just by our words or our church attendance or our financial giving, but by the thoughts of our hearts and by our actions? The heart of the Second Commandment is, “OK, we know who God is, and we know that He is holy.” Since we claim to follow Him, do our lives reflect His holiness– do we shine the Light of Christ? That doesn’t mean false piety, or prudery, or a perceived moral superiority masquerading as righteousness, but a real and true love and reverence of God.

(Jesus said): “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. Matthew 23:27 (NRSV)

The scribes and Pharisees knew the Jewish Law in and out- the letter of the Law.  But they missed the heart of the Law.  On the outside it looked like they honored the Name of God, but their motives and actions proved differently.  Each of is a hypocrite in his or her own way, because we are sinners, but in Christ we have the opportunity to confess our sins to Him and call upon the Holy Spirit to put a clean heart in us, and to give us the right motives. (Psalm 51:10-12)

How many atrocities and persecutions have people tried to perpetrate while hiding behind the Name of God? How does God feel about that?

What does it mean to honor the Name of God?