July 30, 2019-Lessons from Galatians, Our Identity in Christ

galatians

Today’s lesson is a little different study. This week’s Catechism lesson (8-4) features key concepts and food for thought from the book of Galatians.  With the new school year starting soon it’s great to remind young people (as well as older people!) that we belong to Christ, and we live as new creations in Him.

The apostle Paul warned the Galatians against teaching a different gospel or of adding to the Gospel message out of fear of what other people might think.  Salvation comes to ALL people, regardless of national ancestry, race, gender or ethnic traditions by faith in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone.  There is no such thing as “Jesus….AND.”  We are not made right with God through circumcision, or by keeping Jewish Law (which the Jews never could seem to do anyway,) but by the grace of God in which we are given faith in Christ. It’s all about God, and it’s all a free gift.  No ANDs.

Galatians 1:10- (NIV) Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

What does it mean to be a person of integrity?

Galatians 2:20- (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Even though we are sinners who sin daily and sin much, we are defined by our identity in Christ, not by the sins we have committed.  What does it mean to “put on Baptism as daily wear?”

Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV)- So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

What does it mean that because we are baptized, our identity is in Christ, no matter what our place in life or our vocation (the things we do) happens to be?

Galatians 4:7 (NIV) -So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

What does it mean to be an heir of the kingdom of God?  Do we share in both the cross of Christ as well as in His resurrection?

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV) Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

As children of God, do we care more about living as someone who Jesus bled and died to redeem and save, or “going along to get along?”

Galatians 5:25-26 (NIV) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What does it mean to stay true to our values and to trust the Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need in difficult situations? When is it better to stand and fight or to walk away from an awkward situation?

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

We may not see the rewards of being kind, helping others, and living as God’s children should.  However, this is the vocation God gives us as His people no matter how other people treat us.  There is a saying, “No matter who your boss is, you are really working for God.”  What does this mean as we navigate our way through life?

 

 

July 15, 2019- No One is Beyond the Grace of God in Christ- Galatians 1:11-24

paulwriteletters

(The apostle Paul writes:) For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.  (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV)

Today people would be rightfully skeptical if someone were to claim a special revelation of God such as Paul had.  There is a view that many in the Christian church hold (including most Lutherans) that the extraordinary gifts and divine revelation ended with the apostles, the last being John of Patmos who wrote the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation.  This is a view called cessationism.

Lutheran Christians generally believe that the canon of Scripture is closed, and that since there are no living apostles to whom Jesus directly revealed Himself, there are no direct revelations being given to people living today.  Today we are instructed to seek God where He promises to be found- in Scripture,  at the Lord’s Table, at the baptismal font, and in the preaching and teaching of His Word- which includes not a few of the letters the apostle Paul wrote to the churches.

The reason why Paul’s message is still such a big deal is primarily because it was taught to Paul by Jesus Himself.  

God took someone who was completely opposed to Him and transformed him into someone who endured unimaginable hardships, suffering and ridicule for the sake of Jesus’ holy name.  It is rare that a person will risk imprisonment, torture, starvation, suffering and ultimately death, for a message that is a lie.  It would have been so much easier for Paul to go back with the other Pharisees and back to his old life, but for Christ, he could not do that.  For Christ, but only through Christ- Paul was willing to sacrifice everything.

Paul was profoundly changed.  From death to life.  From despair and damnation to the wonder and hope and salvation of Christ.

Paul didn’t ask for it.  He didn’t pray the Sinner’s Prayer, or wear a hair shirt, or promise to feed a thousand orphans.  God was doing the acting.  Jesus came to Paul, not the other way around.  The act of redemption and salvation is and will always be through the merit of Christ alone.

We may not have been given the charismatic gifts and highly visual miracles that the apostles were given, but faith comes to us the same way.

In the water of baptism, Jesus comes to us.  In His Body and Blood that we share at the Communion table, Jesus makes Himself part of us.  In the preaching and the hearing of the Word, the Holy Spirit works faith within us.  The Good News is that no one is beyond the grace of God.

It doesn’t matter if we have a shady background or a tortured past.  Jesus redeemed the apostle Paul, who was formerly a murderer of believers.

“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

 

 

July 8, 2019- Left Out? Or Invited In?Clean or Unclean? Acts 11:1-18, John 4:21-26, Matthew 27:51-54

clean and unclean

Clean and Unclean Foods in Mosaic Law: Leviticus 11

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Acts 11:1-18 (ESV)

It is human nature for people to congregate in communities that share similar ethnic heritage, language and customs. It is also human nature to go beyond appreciating one’s own heritage and culture and language to assume that people belonging to different ethnicities, who are of a different culture, and who speak a different language are somehow “less than” those of us who share the same common ground.
In the early church many of the first Christian believers were ethnic and religious Jews. They followed the purity and dietary laws outlined in the first five books of the Bible- including circumcision, observing certain days and festivals, and avoiding forbidden or “unclean” foods.  An observant Jew would have no dealings with Gentiles, or people outside of the faith.

The laws of Moses were given by God to set His people apart from the rest of the world around them.  The Law also shows God’s people that it is impossible to keep the Law, and that in the end every person is completely reliant upon God’s grace.

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” John 4:21-26 (ESV)

In Jesus’ day the Samaritans were considered to be “unclean” and faithful Jews had no discourse with them.  It was also not typical for Jewish men to speak with women, especially non-Jewish women.  But Jesus changes everything!

In Jesus we are given God’s grace.  When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn, giving access to the Holy of Holies to all people.

At that moment (when Jesus gave up His spirit) the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54 (NIV)

Peter was having some struggle with the new reality that in Jesus it’s not about being an observant Jew (or anything else that we do) but about having faith in Jesus- in knowing that God comes to us and is with us.

God comes to humanity and redeems us.  Even people we might think to be “culturally inferior.”  Jesus’ love extends to even the “unlovable-”  the drug addicted, those who have committed crimes, those who society has written off.  Jesus came to the apostle Peter in this graphic vision to show him that no one is beyond the love of God.  The lesson is the same lesson God’s people need to hear today.  The person we might see as beyond help or a basket case is still a person that Jesus loved all the way to the cross.  May we extend His mercy and love to even the “unclean,” the “basket case,” and the “beyond hope,” for these are also people for whom Jesus died to save.  No one is beyond the love of God.

June 24, 2019- Jesus Loves You, MYOB (sometimes), Follow Me (always)… John 21:20-25, 1 Corinthians 10:31-33

 

business

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?”  When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”  So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21:20-25 (ESV)

The disciples, like us, were human beings subject to sin (also like us.)  There had to be a moderate degree of tension between Peter and John upon Jesus’ return, especially because John had to know not just that Judas betrayed Jesus unto death, but also Peter denied Jesus three times.

Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (ESV)

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.” Luke 22:61 (ESV)

Peter was wondering about John’s position with Jesus.  Rumor had had it that John was going to be around until the Second Coming.  There had to be a small bit of jealousy going on there, otherwise Jesus probably wouldn’t have been as quick to tell Peter to mind his own business, at least as far as what happens to John.

John did outlive the other disciples, and was the only one of the Twelve to die of natural causes, at the age of 90+, but John did, in fact die.

It’s easy to look around and wonder about “What is going to happen to so-and-so?,” or “Why doesn’t God use me for _____?” or even to speculate on the worthiness or unworthiness of another person.

Jesus told Peter to MYOB when it comes to John and what John will do and where John will go.

It can be hard to mind our own business when we should be minding our own business. As the apostle Paul taught regarding the body of Christ- if everyone were an eye, where would the hearing be? God puts each of us in the places we are with different vocations.  Paul talks about the diversity of the body of Christ at length in 1 Corinthians 12.

It truly isn’t our business to wonder why this person ended up in a place that seems “cushy” or “privileged” to us.  We don’t know the back story.  We don’t know why God chooses one person to live 100 years and another to live two.  We don’t know why we fit in the tapestry of God’s kingdom in the place we are assigned.

Minding our own business is not about ignoring the needs of others, but about not being jealous of others, about not coveting others’ positions and stations in life.  It is about being content with our vocation and concentrating on the mission we have right in front of us.

Most of us are not called to be missionaries or millionaires, but all of us are called to live out our daily vocations with the knowledge that serving our neighbors is really serving God.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (ESV)

June 20, 2019- The Absolute Truth- John 18:33-38, John 14:6

jesus-before-pilate

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, (the apostle Thomas) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 (ESV)

Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” may or may not have been asked in a sarcastic or snarky tone.  Pilate was a product of a largely permissive culture that embraced multiple gods and belief systems- similar to our culture today.  Our culture also has a real problem with absolutes.

How many times have we heard in the media or from others, “You have your truth, I have mine.”   The implication in that statement is that truth is subjective,  but for truth to be true, it must remain absolute.

Either Jesus is the King of the Jews, the inheritor of the throne of David, the Son of God, Emmanuel, God in human flesh, the Savior of the world, or He is not who He says He is.

There is no middle ground with Jesus, no gray area.  As Jesus tells Thomas- who is sometimes reviled as being “Doubting Thomas-” No one comes to the Father except through Me. 

Thomas was actually wise to ask Jesus questions and to demand proofs of Him.  Faith must have a valid object.  We have faith that the highway bridge over the river is going to hold up because it is built with steel and concrete and it was engineered by people who understand what it takes to build a bridge that will stand up to weather and time and tons of vehicles driving over it.  Faith would be sorely misplaced if one were to have faith that it’s possible to float a car across a river on a pool float.

God has given us the inspired Word of Scripture so that we can be like Thomas and find the proofs of Jesus’ truth.  There is nothing wrong with having an informed faith.

So what is truth? The truth is found in Jesus, and in the faith in Him passed down to us in the Scriptures.  The Apostle’s Creed is a synopsis of the Christian faith which is derived from the Scriptures:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Christian Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

June 18, 2019 – Jesus Prays for Us- John 17:6-10, Matthew 10:34-39, Psalm 139:16

Jesus-prays

“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.  Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” John 17:6-10 (ESV)

It’s kind of a strange – but encouraging- thought that Jesus prays for us and intercedes for us.   After all, Jesus taught us to pray to God the Father for all that we need.  Then He prays for us that we would be one, as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit are one.  Jesus is personal.  He does not just observe us from a distance.  He is with us and near us always no matter what we might think or feel about His presence.

Jesus knows first hand how difficult life in this world is.  He knows that there is much division and infighting between believers and others in the world and that it is not always easy to be one of His own in this world.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.   Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

We need Jesus’ prayers and intercession.  Thankfully there is nothing we can do that He doesn’t anticipate.  The hairs on our heads are numbered.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)

Take comfort in this life that Jesus prays for us.  The Holy Spirit intercedes for us.  God the Father together with the Son and Spirit- God the Three in One- planned our existence and knew everything about us long before we ever drew a breath.

God Speaks- Psalm 19:1-6, John 1:1, Job 38:1-7,34-36, Romans 5:15-17

majesty of God

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.

 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun, 

which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat. Psalm 19:1-6 (ESV)

In the Gospel of John, the writer mirrors the Genesis creation narrative in which God spoke the world into existence.

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1(ESV)

In some religious traditions (those that espouse pantheism or panentheism) God is viewed as being the universe (creation is God, in a sense) or that God includes and encompasses the universe and beyond, i.e. God is the universe and more.  Yet in the Christian understanding, God is outside of creation.  Creation came to be by the Word of God; by His speaking the universe into existence.  We dare not confuse the Creator with the creation.  The heavens declare the glory of God, but they are a reflection, a creation that shows us just part of His vastness and majesty and glory.  The heavens are not God.

The Word is not silent. The voice of God still commands the ebb and flow of the tides, the revolution of the planets around the sun, and the appointed movements of the constellations in the sky. As God reveals to Job, His speech and His sovereignty over creation are beyond our ability to comprehend:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

 Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,

 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts            
    or given understanding to the mind?” Job 38:1-7,34-36 (ESV)

Adam earned all his children the curse of death through the Fall, and fallen humanity could not break the curse. God could have just abandoned us all to death forever, but that was not His plan.  Jesus, the one and only God-Man, entered into this broken and fallen world to redeem us.  The apostle Paul explains:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Romans 5:15-17 (ESV)

God still speaks to us today. He speaks to us in the majesty of creation, but He speaks to us most directly in the Scriptures. Through the written Word of God- the Bible- God speaks to us.  Through the hearing of the Word, we come to saving faith. (Romans 10:17.)