Saturday, December 15, 2007

Baptism: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

While in conversation with a few Christians one asked me how I know I am saved. Without flinching or hesitation I said “Because I am baptized.” That caused quite an uproar in the bunch due to the fact that I was the only Lutheran.

Why all the uproar? Certainly they have bibles and I know several of them read them daily. Many will say that St Paul was not sent to baptize but to preach. Yes that is true he did not claim many baptisms. 1 Corinthians 1:17 Another thing St Paul was called to do was to teach and write letters. In his masterful letter to the Christians at Rome he outlines the Christian faith from beginning to end.

Romans 6: 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ESV

He refers to baptism in writing as how we are dead to sin and it is not something in which we live. If baptism is not an act of God which is a powerful gift he certainly would not present it as help to combat sin. In this way it is a gift that keeps on giving.

Martin Luther in his catechism teaching on daily prayers suggests:

In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say: In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray Thee to keep me this day also from sin and all evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Then go to your work with joy, singing a hymn, as the Ten Commandments, or what your devotion may suggest.

What this does is to place oneself under the cross and return to baptismal grace. This is the time when one died to the former life and raised in new life. In the same way when awaking from sleep we can start the day dying and rising anew in Jesus. This drowns the inner brat and although a good swimmer gives us a leg up on our sinful nature.

In the evening, when you go to bed, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say:
In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then, kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. If you choose, you may, in addition, say this little prayer:

I thank Thee, my Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Thy dear Son, that Thou hast graciously kept me this day, and I pray Thee to forgive me all my sins, where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Thy holy angel be with me, that the Wicked Foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Then go to sleep promptly and cheerfully.

This is again dying and rising in Jesus. Troubling dreams are rare although still do happen. But this sends our ancient foe Satan, or whatever evil little helper he has, packing.
Many of my evangelical friends would object to this as to Roman Catholic. But bear in mind the Romanists, while teaching baptism is a Sacrament, very seldom refer to it but rather to good deeds as knowing one is a Christian. Kind of like one would hear in way too many evangelical churches today. So who is being more Roman Catholic one who reflects on baptism or looks at his or her works for assurance?

In the Name of the Father † Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mixing up the Mountains

When a pastor in a church tells his congregation that they are obligated, empowered, or enabled to keep God’s law he is mixing up the mountains. When the law was given at Mount Sinai there was such commotion due to the wrath of God that His friend Moses said “I tremble with fear.” That is what the law does is show the holiness of God and how we are unable to do this. It is not surprising when a religion such as Islam or some other of the world’s religion lean heavily upon the law. What is alarming is when a Christian Church does it. That has happened repeatedly down through the years and is what spawned attempts to reform. Now after 500 years we see the same thing happening. The limiting the nature of the law so that it appears to be manageable and something God is helping us do is quite fashionable and appeals to our inner brat.

Rick Warren said “Deeds not Creeds is the new reformation. The question is how is that different from what ailed the church so many years ago? Joel Osteen has a book out in which he explains how to “Become a Better You.” This will sell like hotcakes for who in his or her right minds do not want to improve. However, one does not need to be a Christian to improve behaviour. Self help books abound in the non religious sphere and have for years.

You will see on Sermon Audio examples of preachers who are caving in to this trend. These men are in traditions which historically told people how hopelessly lost are their condition and how Jesus answered the need for them. The law was put forth in all it’s crushing power. Jesus’ active obedience was proclaimed as how God looks upon anything a believer does as holy. And Jesus’ passive obedience on the cross was shown to pay for the inherited guilt we all have.

Hebrews 12: 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. ESV

The law says to “Be holy as God is Holy,” and “In the day you sin you will die.” We cannot by our means get God to save us, or once He has saved us, need Him or are able to get Him to love us more. One cannot play nice with the law. That is what caused all the lightening, shaking, smoke and commotion. That is what one will get when trying to manipulate God with behaviour. His people were just delivered out of slavery to a system of religion where gods were manipulated. Therefore a restatement of what is naturally in the heart of man was needed. Of course they said we will do it all. Not long after that the golden calf was erected and business as usual occurred.

On Mount Zion we have a peaceful and well pleased God. We have the same God of course with all the same requirements. The difference is not in God but what He has done for us. Let us not grieve Him by trying to manipulate Him with our behaviour. It will not go well with those who never repent from doing so.

Matthew 7: 21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” ESV

Father, please protect us from self righteousness which turns our eyes off You and causes us to stray. When we do stray we trust Your promises to come get us. Holy Spirit, we beg you to crush us with Your law daily so we can repent and receive forgiveness. Jesus, thank you for your active obedience which fulfills the law for us and you passive obedience on the cross which paid for our sin. May you Name Holy God be evermore praised on earth and in highest heaven. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Worsening Famine.

Troubling reports to leaders of the Christian church about people leaving congregations. Flocks of people go from church to church in evangelical circles. People leave evangelicalism for Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholics in matching numbers leave for evangelicalism. What is up with that? These are days which are similar to those in the days of the prophet.

Amos 8:11 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the landnot a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east;they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. ESV

The word of God is food and drink for those who love Him. We want to hear Jesus for He is our Shepherd and He promises that we would hear His voice and follow Him and run from a stranger. (John 10:4-5) So when we are given successful strategies for living instead of Jesus telling us we are hopelessly lost without Him dead on the cross we are going to look elsewhere. Today as in the past Roman Catholic’s teach we can and need to live a certain way for God to love us. Evangelicals have left the evangel for much the same teaching. They will proclaim justification by faith alone however; we owe it to God to clean ourselves up. No longer is it taught to live holy lives out of thanksgiving. It is not longer taught to serve our neighbour out of gratitude to God for serving us. We have the mindset that if something is given to us we must return the favour. But God cannot accept anything but perfection. We cannot do anything without some type of self motivation. That is the curse we have passed down from our father Adam.

John 6:66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." ESV

The eternal life we have are in the words of Jesus. Jesus said from the cross “It is finished.” That is what His people are looking for. His words that our sins are forgiven are needed every week for we sin every week. If they are not receiving the words of Jesus in one congregation off they will go to another. It is our prayer that people will find these words for which they seek. God grant that the famine not be complete in our land.
il pastor fide sola christe† Christ our only faithful Shepherd.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Bible is True Because Jesus is True. Not Vice Versa.

During a recent conversation the subject of the bible being central to the faith came up. The scriptures are an integral part of the faith for sure for that is how Jesus is revealed to us. However, it must be noted that many will be quite familiar with scripture and indeed love and trust it in his or her understanding but still have it incorrect.

Acts 9: 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" 5 And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." ESV

Saul indeed loved the scriptures. He could probably quote his way through much of the law, prophets and writings. In his zeal and love for those scriptures he set out to destroy the Jesus freaks of his day. Those cultists of the Way were a plague. Those perverse teachers of lies must be stopped at all cost.

At the risk of putting words in the mouth of Saul if he were to answer Jesus’ original question, which he could not of course, would he have said; “Because the bible says to?” In the law we see there is great blessing for obedience to it. Also the threatening of destruction is the reward for violating it. So he believed he was doing YHWH a solid by consenting to the death of Christians, confiscating property of some and casting them into prison was really what God wanted him to do. After all that is something of which his teachers and contemporaries were in favour. He had Jesus wrong didn’t he.

In our day many profess faith in scripture. Some are making their vocation the study and teaching of scripture and could, like Saul, quote their way through huge sections of it. Many of them could do it in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. But they are getting Jesus wrong and doing horrible things to Christians and saying horrible things about them thinking they are doing YWHW the same solid.

So what makes the difference? How is it that so many scholars will agree on what the words are and mean and still have this stress?

John 5: 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. ESV

One needs to come to Jesus to have life. In addition one cannot understand the scriptures apart from Jesus for they testifiy of Him. And Jesus cannot be come to on our own terms. The Jesus of the bible is not marketable. He is not willing to be manipulated. Christ will not serve on a panel looking to solve the earth’s problems. Jesus came to die on the cross for the sins of His enemies. To redeem them and give life to them. This makes no sense whatsoever to the natural mind. That is how the bible is gotten wrong by those who get Jesus wrong. If a person has Jesus right because he or she received Him as a gift has his or her battles cut out for them.

John 15: 18 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. ESV

Jesus is there with crucified and risen arms to carry us through these dark times of resistance from unbelievers, erring and false brethren. He has stacked the cards against us, brothers and sisters, for His own purpose that we take up our cross and follow Him. What a blessing we have to be able to hear His words of forgiveness and assurance, know we are His because of the waters of baptism and receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of sin and to strengthen our faith and life.

Glory be to the Father and to the † Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Getting the L out. Part 4

Luke 23:34 And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments. ESV

One will never hear a person who holds to Limited Atonement proclaim all those in attendance at the crucifixion of Jesus eventually became believers. The forgiveness Jesus proclaimed on those crucifying Him was not the weak forgiveness we pronounce on those who offend us. This is a strong pronouncement of grace upon those who knew who Jesus is and did the strong sin of having Him crucified. In the act of atoning for the sin of the world Jesus shows it is for all people without exception.

This is hard to understand that God does not hold a person’s sin against them but in unbelief they still die eternally in sin. In trying to explain this Limited Atonement proclaim that the death of Jesus is only for those who will believe. This is tossing one back on him or herself to determine sufficient faith or trust in the faith rather than the Christ in Whom we are to trust.

By pressing upon them with questioning on how one is to know he or she is one for whom Jesus died ultimately works will come into discussion. A couple of acquaintances of mine will say that a believer is noticeably better than an unbeliever. Thin ice is being treaded upon with statements such as that:

Luke 18:10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." ESV

The Pharisee thanks God for a gift He has not given. In this life we are not given the gift of sinless perfection. The same with those who claim works are sufficient to have assurance of pardon are attempting to gaze upon a gift God has not given. In thought word and deed we are constantly falling short of the glory of God. Even if a person skirts specific sins and resists some temptation he or she keeps on sinning even in accomplishing that. The inner brat will always grab onto that and admire it, parade it in front of others as proof of salvation and look to that in their mind as proof of God's forgiveness. God grant people who see things this way repentance and desire to look only to Jesus.

The scripture proclaims that Jesus indeed died for the sin of every person so we no longer need look at how we believe or what we do. God grant that we always look upon Jesus the Gift that has been given for us for the forgiveness of our sin.

Praise to You O Christ. †

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Holy Evil Deed.

Although the works of God always seem unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits. The Heidelberg Disputation of Martin Luther. May 1518

Nothing can cause more controversy than the cross of Jesus. The unbelievers will say “What does that have to do with anything?” It is offensive. It is even offensive to many believers. In order to attract new members many churches have removed the cross from off buildings and from inside the sanctuary. These are crosses with no corpus. Imagine what these folk would think of a crucifix. They would say it is an idol and should not be allowed anywhere near a place of worship.

Genesis 3: 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field;on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." ESV

Perhaps these pastors and those who listen to them and do not challenge these decisions are unaware that they are squarely in the devil’s camp. Even though the cross is horrible and the most heinous of deaths it is defeat of the devil. Our inner brat encouraged by our enemy will resist thinking on this as anything to do with our daily lives.

Yes it can offend the sensibilities of sinners. The dead Jesus shows to us the horribleness of sin. Oh how one loves to excuse it. “Sure I was unkind to that person but do you see how he or she treated me? I feel justified in my actions!” What a faith killer is a statement like that. A refusal to repent will of course open the door to further self justification. This has caused many to forsake finally the faith due to not thinking they need Jesus.

The cross indeed shows us plainly what our rebellion looks like to God. The smallest of sin in our eyes nailed Jesus to the tree. Not the earning of this salvation or the paying back for it constrains us to fight sin. Sin must be hated and resisted at all times out of love and gratitude toward Jesus for His great gift of Himself. When receiving His body and blood He delivers this to us in a real and tangible way. It is at once heart rending and glorious.

May the Name of Jesus evermore be praised. Amen †

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Evil Good Deed.

Popular teaching again tells us that we can please God with our works. God indeed expects Christians to do good works. God expects all people everywhere to do good deeds. These commands are misunderstood to be ones which can be completed by us. Surely we can do good things for others. However, does God accept those actions as holy?

Isaiah 64: 5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.7 There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you;for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. ESV

The above section speaks not of breaking God’s law but of purposeful good deeds. Things done by persons which society would approve. From time to time one will see or hear reports of individuals which give vast sums of money or time in alleviating suffering. This brings applause of men and perhaps it should. Everyone likes to hear applause and be appreciated. In the civil realm this is all good stuff. But the accolades received by those doing these feeds the ego and disqualify these things as eternal merits before God. Even if those deeds go unnoticed and the only congratulations come from one’s own mind it turns what appears good into a plate full of rotting meat before God.

Although the works of man always appear attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins. The Heidelberg Disputation of Martin Luther. May 1518

These deeds anger God. He does good deeds for His creation and does so out of care and love not to feel good about Him self. He pronounces those deeds as deserving of punishment when many would expect Him to reward those deeds. Pride and arrogance is the stock and trade of the sinful nature in all of us.

8 But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. ESV

The proper attitude which the Christian will have is humility. Anything we do is not to be looked on in pride but rather thankfulness for the opportunity to serve. The idea to do something comes from God. The resouces with which to do it comes from God. So all praise and glory belongs to Him in the doing. This is impossible to do completely for we are by nature sinful and unclean.

Jesus promised us the Comforter who would lead us into all truth. He also gives us the perfect righteousness of Jesus because we cannot do anything with proper attitudes and motivations. And the guiltiness we all have due to not meeting God’s requirements He bore in His own body on the cross. Yes. Jesus died for our good deeds as well.

Forbid it Lord that I should boast,
Save at the death of Christ my God. †

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Eyes on Jesus please.

The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness but rather hinders him. Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end. The Heidelberg Disputation of Martin Luther, May 1518.

The other evening in conversation with some friends and acquaintances the subject of obedience to the law of God came up. Many in attendance to this discussion were of the mindset that a Christian has the ability to obey the law of God. Part of this is of course due to the old nature, the inner brat, in all of us who at all times overestimates our holiness. The real culprit in this circumstance is the lack of laying the law down in all its severity. Much of modern preaching no longer or very seldom is centered on Jesus crucified for sinners who by nature are guilty of breaking the entire law of God. What will take place rather are recipes for being a better person.

Matthew 5:17 "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. 18 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. 19 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ESV

Certainly one should always attempt to live according to what would please his or her heavenly Father but at the same time remain in sorrow and true repentance for not doing so completely. The above section Jesus speaks of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and ours must be greater than theirs to enter heaven. Many have looked upon that as saying those men were sinners in the sight of society. On the contrary. Their entire life was given over to law keeping and observing. But the law they were on about keeping was diminished in such a way that it appeared they were keeping it. In addition they would teach the law to the people so it appeared they were keeping it as well.

The same thing happens today in far too many Christian churches. The pastor will instead of show we have no possibility of keeping the law will adjust it so that it appears we do. This is very popular for it strokes the ego of the listener. However, it is a very short lived good feeling if that person is in the habit of prayerful study of God’s word. It does not take much meditation on the law of God to see where one falls short. This will lead to being crushed in spirit and raise much doubt as to even being Christian.

This is the result of Jesus’ finished work for us in His perfect life, death, burial and resurrection not being central to the sermons preached into the ears of sinners. So in this day many will say that Christians need to move on to bigger and better things than that. Lord have mercy! What is bigger and better than God doing all this for us? True maturity in the Christian life one will see how short one falls from achieving law obeying and will instead keep looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith..

God’s peace. †

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Getting the L out. Part 3

John 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! ESV

One thing that is a certainty when you meditate on God’s word is that changes happen. At times totally unexpected and many times unwanted. When we started attending Lutheran services limited atonement was still a strong belief. Several folks assured me that no one is burned alive or even tarred and feathered over such an idea. That fact and my honest faith in Real Presence, Baptism and the forgiveness of sin one receives in them I had no problem continuing on in the Lutheran faith. Howver, I had absolutely no intention of getting the L out of my Christianity.

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world.
Have mercy on us.

Grant us peace!

Chanting the agnus dei each and every service of Holy Eucharist did much to minimize the importance of limited atonement in my mind. Some reformed friends have told me that it is mindless repetition to do such a thing in worship. If it were a statement written by a human such a mantra would be mindless. And if one repeated it by rote without considering prayerfully the words then it would be mindless. However, the Holy Spirit inspired those words both out of the mouth of Brother John the baptizer and being recorded in scripture.

The fact that Jesus answered for the sin of the world certainly goes against the limited atonement category. All one is left with is universal grace which still makes me shudder at times. Old habits die hard I fear. But it is glorious to no longer wonder if Jesus died for me.

1 Timothy 1: 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. ESV

Amen Father Paul! Me too!

Glory to Thee O Christ! †

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Four Points of Holiness. Part 4

Fear is a Christian motive and attitude. We should fear that God will judge us and chasten us. In fact, in this life God deals more seriously with sin in believers than in unbelievers. If we're growing, we will hate sin more but not because of consequences (everyone hates it when it brings bad consequences) but because God hates it. If God isn't dealing with sin in our lives, then we aren't His. Let's deal with our sin so God doesn't have to!

Every religion out there has an angry God who needs appeasement. Either they through so called holy living or sacrifice, attempt to please this God. Unfortunately what passes for Christianity teaches this as well. Even some who would teach justification by faith alone. After justification sanctification which is taught as a responsibility of the believer. The above statement is the last of a four point teaching on holiness. The text for this teaching was the first chapter of St Peter. Looking at the section in previous articles one would see the teacher was extrapolating all this from the command to “Be holy as I am holy.” Yes that is a real command with real consequences for those who do not accomplish this. Because we cannot reach this goal we are all damned to eternal hell with no hope for parole. God’s judgment is final in this, we are toast.

Isaiah 12: 1 You will say in that day:"I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me,your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.
2 "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid;for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation."

The prophet saw how true the fact is that God is angry with sinners over their inability to be holy as He is Holy. We too, with a faithful reading of any part of the bible will see how that God is angry with us. However, He has turned His anger away and comforts us. God Himself has become the salvation for those with who He is justly in hot anger. The true and living God of Christianity is vastly different from the false idol of other religions. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He came not to abolish the law, minimize its harsh and eternal condemnation on us or to show us how to do this for ourselves. He came to fulfill the requirements on our behalf.
After the law requirements were fulfilled we were left with the problem of sin and our identity as sinners by nature. So He had Himself nailed to the cross after a horrendous trial in which He was falsely accused and beaten beyond recognition. While on that cross He lost contact with the Father in something we cannot hope to understand. This was all done in the presence of those for whom He died and they looked upon Him with hate and fiendish delight. In spite of all that going on He had grace upon another who was being crucified justly along side of Him and promised that criminal would go to paradise with Him.

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, and proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. 6 Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. ESV

This is the response we are to have for all that Jesus has done for us. The penalty for our sin has been paid. Yes either we deal with our sin, unsuccessfully and perish eternally, or receive the gifts Christ won for us. In baptism we receive from the water of life the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is reassuring to the utmost when we see in scripture how we fail constantly to achieve holiness. In reflecting on this daily we draw water from the wells of salvation.

He also delivers the goods to us in the Holy Supper in which He comes to us with bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sin. No longer do we have to wait for Jesus to return or somehow magically lift our selves to Him. He repeatedly utilizes matter which He created to interact with us and strengthen us. With broken hearts and crushed spirits we receive these gifts with thanksgiving.

"Wir sind alle Bettler. Hoc est verum." Martin Luther on his deathbed from German and Latin. Translated: "We are all beggars. This is true."

We praise you O Christ. †

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Four Points of Holiness. Part 3

God is an impartial judge. He hates sin in the life of a believer as much as He does in the life of unbelievers. Just because you're a believer, God has not gone soft on it. He hates it wherever He finds it.

The above statement makes a lot of sense and is also part of the sermon. One does not have to be a Christian to believe that. Every religion out there has a god who hates wrong and therefore must hate the doer of wrong. Christianity however, teaches something vastly different. Christianity is ridiculous when one approaches it from common sense perspective. Therefore it is wrong to attempt to teach it from that perspective.

1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. ESV

That is the mind blowing nature of the Gospel. The prophets of old were indeed intrigued by this and rightly so. Those acquainted with a Holy God find it an impossibility to get right with Him. So it is amazing and totally unexpected that God Himself would take sin on Himself and pay the penalty. That is Amazing Grace that saved a wretch like me.

Yes God would hate sin in the life of a believer as much as He does in an unbeliever. But the good news is He does not see sin in a child of His.

Psalm 32: 1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. ESV

Wow is the word that best describes the above passage. Imagine God looking at a poor miserable sinner who justly deserves His present and eternal punishment as having no sin. The thanks for this belong to Jesus who bore all our sin on the cross. He suffered the entire penalty for the sin of all people for all time. When one receives this by the hand of faith he or she can go forth in joy, peace and confidence no longer to worry about his or her relationship to God. This knowledge would cause one to strive against sin and repent of sin that will occur in spite of the striving.

Glory be to the Father and to the † Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Four Points of Holiness. Part 2

Holiness is an inflexible standard. It never changes. Be like the One who called you. God HATES sin and He ALWAYS hates it.

That makes sense doesn’t it? One can find passages of scripture which flat out say that. How does that fit in with Justification by faith alone? The above statement is second in a Four Points of Holiness sermon a friend of mine heard.

"You shall be holy, for I am holy." 1 Peter 1:16b ESV

St Peter quotes a statement which is a command of God. If a person wishes to earn a place with Him for eternity that is what he or she must do. Religion, other than biblical Christianity, teaches that as well. By obedience and sacrifice one can manipulate eternal life out of the god of that religion. Sadly some Christians have this idea that somehow they can earn it as well. Or perhaps remain in God’s favour and not suffer any punishment here or in the next life. Others seek greater reward by striving hard to avoid sin and do extra works for God such as evangelism, teaching Sunday school, attending church services, feeding the poor and so on. Those things are helpful for a Christian and his or her neighbour but do nothing for his or her relationship with God.

To claim to be holy as God is holy would be to do everything perfectly. All would be done with 100% proper motivation. Nothing would remain undone at any time. All thoughts would be perfect. And each and every word would have to be sinless. No one can live in that way. What is more a person could have never sinned in his or her past. God has never sinned.

Psalm 51: 5Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. ESV

Before we even leave our mother’s womb we are sinners. Not guilty of actual sin we are guilty of original sin and alienated from God. The penalty for this alienation is separation from God. Our forbear, Adam, sinned which condemned all who come after him to death. Romans 5:12. However, God became flesh and Jesus was obedient and we are justified before God in His blood. His holy life of obedience fulfilled the requirement for us to be holy as God is holy. By grace God looks upon us as if we never sinned. This is received by the hand of faith which is also the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8-10. Now we have this forgiveness and holiness given to us we respond with doing things for our neighbour and thankful praise to God.

The second part states that God hates sin. Yes He does. It killed those who He created. The admiration of sin will condemn many to eternal separation from God. Those will not repent of their evil deeds whether immorality or self righteousness. God hates it so much He bore it all to Calvary to remove it from humanity. God grant us the desire to cease from sin and repentance when we do sin or trust our ability to be holy.

Thanks be to God. †

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Four Points of Holiness. Part 1

The question often arises; “What are we to do or be about as Christians?” Depending on whom you ask the answers are quite varied. Some say relief for the poor. Yes that is part of it. Others say we are to work on right living to respond to life in ways that are pleasing to God. Yes that would be another part. After all to tell one who is despairing of daily food and place to live to pull them self up by the bootstraps is hardly being Jesus for them. In addition when presented with temptations to jump into it with abandon and figure on being sorry later is not what Jesus had in mind either.

The Apostle Peter pulled no punches when he told us to live as God would have us live;

1 Peter 1: 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." ESV

Now that is as clear as day isn’t it. All we have to do is be as holy as God is and all is well. Many can and do draw that conclusion in preparing sermons and bible studies. In recent conversation with a Christian friend she shared with me four points of a sermon she recently heard. This is the first point of the sermon.

“Holiness is an inescapable calling for every Christian in every area of their lives. It's our chief calling.”

One could reasonably come to that conclusion looking at the section of the epistle posted above. This is reasonable if one did not consider the preceding passage in the first chapter. And stop reading after the command to be as holy as God. A fourth grade education in grammar would point out that the section had something preceding it. The word Therefore tells us there is something that precedes the command. It is imperative to read the preceding verses to keep from falling into the ditch of legalism and false piety.

We have been born again into an inheritance. Inheriting is not the result of any work one does. This inheritance is brought about by the resurrection of our Lord from the dead and is kept in store for us. This striving to be holy is because of being children of God not in order to become more saved, to have more inheritance or to keep from losing it.

If that is not enough St Peter goes on to say that our ransom has been paid by the precious blood of Christ. This is ours by calling on God as Father. What Father would reject a child after he or she has stumbled in his or her behaviour. Stories have been told of parents wanting to suffer the punishment of an erring child. Now of a finite and sinful parent would do this for a child how much more a Holy and Loving God would pity an erring child. This is what God did when He became flesh and bore our sins to the cross. God determined long ago we would always fall short of Him. Jesus fulfilled this holiness for us and it is given to us graciously. Reading on through the rest of the section we see where to go and what to trust when we fail to be holy as God is. Matter of fact the epistle is rather short so nothing should keep one from reading the rest of it.

Some would object by saying that I am advocating careless living. Who on earth would think that way as a true believer and one who loves the Lamb of God? No out of love and gratitude we want to be like Jesus. And when we fail we obey Him by repenting and receiving forgiveness freely and walking on in confidence that we are loved and forgiven.

Glory be to the Father and to the † Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Protestant Purgatory

“What is done in this life echos in eternity.” That is a line from the movie Gladiator in which Russell Crowe portrays a Roman General. It is a call to for one in his or her duty. It rings true in our ears due to that is how things work here on earth. Common experience will show us that if one disobeys traffic laws eventually one is caught and punished. Shirk responsibility at work and kiss any possible advancement goodbye or even your career. Treat your spouse wrong and your marriage suffers. But does that really echo in eternity?

A Christian doing the aforementioned things will have the same possible consequences. Nothing in the Gospel guarantees escaping temporal consequences. During worship in Lutheran churches we confess that we rightly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment because of who we are and how we fall short. A prayer for mercy is said so we do not get what we so rightly deserve. Then the pastor states that due to the cross of Jesus God has had mercy on us and forgives us all our sins. The eternal consequences are gone due to the bitter suffering and death of Jesus.

Recently something I learned about the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory brought this to mind. Purgatory is for dealing with temporal consequences of a person after death. The mistake is often made teaching that it is to do with eternal consequences. The Roman Catholic Church affirms that the crucifixion deals with eternal consequences. Purgatory teaches that one has to finish suffering consequences for what is done in this life before being welcomed to heaven. Perhaps the person came to faith toward the end of his or her life and was not here to do this paying. This of course is a slap in the face of Jesus that what He did on earth was not sufficient as a robe of righteousness for us.

One of the teachings which is old and has gained in popularity is that we have mandated activities as Christians. This teaching says when we meet Jesus we will spend some time answering for what we have done or not done while on earth. This contains a not too veiled threat that our first bit of time with Jesus after our resurrection will not be a joyful one. Rick Warren alludes to that in his book the Purpose Driven life. However, many who have spurned that book have that idea due to the pastor in his or her pastor teaches that in sermons and bible studies. Several times Christians have stated that they are apprehensive about meeting Jesus because of failure to evangelize or some other activity they have led to believe God requires of them. This is false teaching for when we leave this life our temporal consequences have ended and eternal consequences have begun.

What good work can we do that God needs done which He has not already completed? Are there mandated activities for a Christian to do which will make a difference in what happens at the resurrection? Is another person’s eternity really at stake if we do not witness to them? Are we held accountable for missing church or not giving enough money? One of the verses which is referred to in teaching this suffering or shame is the following:

1 Corinthians 3: 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. ESV

At first blush that it does look as if what we do will have some bearing on the hereafter. The fact that we will be in heaven is not referred to in the doctrine of purgatory in Roman Catholic teaching, from Rick Warren or the other preachers of this idea. Our destiny and what we have in eternity is based solely on the merits of Jesus. To say otherwise is to lay a burden on other which God has not laid. Rightly distinguishing between law and gospel will keep one from doing this to themselves and others.

Context plays a key role in biblical interpretation which cannot be over emphasized. Earlier in that section of St Paul’s epistle to the church at Corinth he states he could not address those believers as spiritual people due to divisions in the assembly over himself and another teacher. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Jesus is our foundation of faith not a teacher or pastor no matter how good he is. (vv 1-11) It is a call to unity and not to judge one another and imply because you have a favorite teacher or came to faith under another preacher than I did you are lost. Those who are redeemed have one Saviour who is given all judgment authority and who cares how we carry on toward each other. To Him only do we owe allegiance not to men whom He has called to serve us.

Lord, forgive us when we look too much to the gifts you give us in the good bible teachers and ministers. May we keep our eyes on you and strive to care for one another like you care for us. Amen

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Leah Marie

A few days ago passed what would have been the 30th birthday of one of our daughters. During the pregnancy my wife suffered a complication in which the baby died in miscarriage. This is a devastating circumstance on many levels but especially when one considers as the psalmist declares we are sinners from conception totally guilty and justly deserving God’s temporal and eternal punishment. Psalm 51

Some our family, friends and fellow church members were of the “decision Theology’ mindset. These folks tried to say that because Leah had not reached the age of decision making she was not a sinner. The difficulty with that if she was not a she would not have died for the wages of sin is death. They did not have any bible verses with which to show us this teaching.

Others were of a Calvinist mindset. Part of them stated that she would be in heaven due to being of a family of elect parents. The difficulty with that is the teaching is to the baptized of elect families and being Baptists we did not baptize infants and she was not baptized due to not being alive to receive this. No scripture to be had there either.

Another part was of the opinion even if she had lived she may not have been of the elect and would be lost anyway. This is of no comfort and will lead to wondering if the parents and the children that are alive are elect. One can find a few passages to use as proof text for this position but what we end up with is a capricious God that does not exist. If He did exist who would love and serve Him?

Matthew 19: 13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." ESV

The promise of Jesus is the real answer. He opened heaven’s gates to little children. The kingdom of heaven is given to children whom are unable to choose or understand the doctrine of election. However, he or she is able to passively receive the benefits of the cross of Christ. That is how we adults receive it too isn’t it. He has graciously brought my wife and me to trust Him with the salvation of Leah Marie as well as her siblings who lived, their children and our salvation as well.

Glory be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen †

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Stiff Upper Lip.

Christians are told during times of great trouble to not be concerned because that would be lack of faith and therefore sin. The person saying this is seeking self interest of not wanting to hear of another person’s trouble. Instead of receiving encouragement this leave the grieving one in more distress. This is another example of teaching the grace of God as a spiritual steroid. It is believed that with grace and a lot of effort one can build the character to face tragedy or uncertainty with a stiff upper lip.

Luke 22: 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. ESV

Jesus was looking ahead to His crucifixion taking on the sin of the world and shameful death on the cross. Was He sinning in his agony? I doubt anyone else have been so troubled so that he or she is sweating great drops of blood. No, Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but without sin. He was tempted in this manner for us and His having the temptation and not sinning fulfilled our requirement to endure it perfectly.

Most assuredly when we are anxious sin is involved for we are sinners. But the anxious thoughts in themselves are not sin. The reaction to them will fall short of the glory of God. When Jesus experienced this He did not lose any trust in His Father but it was still very real. That is another of a long line of mysteries of how the Creator of the universe would be the least bit anxious. However, Jesus is God become flesh which in itself is the greatest mystery.

When we receive His true body and blood in the Holy Supper He comes to us in a real way to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith. He is able to do that because of His deep agony, being tried falsely, beaten and being nailed to the cross. We can rejoice to receive the risen Saviour in His meal as he promised; “This is my body broken for you.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sin.” That is always the response of our merciful and gracious God to our sin. You are forgiven.

Thanks be to God. †

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pleasing God.

Jonah 2: 8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.Salvation belongs to the LORD! ESV

This was prayed by one of God's servants inside a large fish. The man praying this was a firm believer in the one true and living God. God said do this but he did that. To interrupt his plans God did a miracle which does not sound all that enjoyable. He was cast into the sea in a raging storm and swallowed by the fish. While inside this fish God brought him true repentance after resurrection. God possesses the quality of steadfast love. For this reason and this reason only He had mercy on Jonah instead of tossing him in hell as was deserved for his rebellion. This has a well known word to describe it; Grace.

Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ESV
With grace which God possesses He regards those who are saved as precious and righteous children of God in Jesus. And as children of God’s family we will do good deeds. What parent while a child is growing up is not impressed by the effort he or she expends learning to talk or walk? If tragically the child was unable to do these things due to infirmity does the baby cease to be the parent’s child? Would loving parents love the child less? No, of course they would not abandon the child or love him or her less. Whatever the child will be able to do will be looked at with fondness by his or her parents. So if earthly and sinful parents can regard a child, falling short of expectations in gracious love, how much more would our heavenly Father regard us in love in spite of our falling short? In our everyday lives when we do the things God has given us to do He sees good work. This may not always be apparent to the Christian. We have no way to measure how much we do because of self motivation or motivated by love for God.

Some groups describe grace rather as a power source or as a sort of spiritual steroids. Steroid is a substance which is injected and makes muscle growth easier by making weight training more efficient. Using this analogy one can see that these Christians will look at the Christian life as more and more gaining ground in the Christian walk by their effort. By practicing resisting temptation which is our duty one assumes more spiritual muscle is being built for the next go round. With this view one will thank God he or she is not like former days and therefore look down on others they perceive as not advanced. Perhaps he or she will fall to temptation, large or small, which was seen as something over which victory had been gained. Doubt instead of pride will set in.

The medieval church at the time of the reformation taught that and still teaches grace in that way to this day. Most people would agree and not be astonished by that statement. What is remarkable is much of what passes as Christian preaching and bible study in evangelical circles would say the same thing. These are churches that either look upon their heritage as the protestant reformation others stubbornly affirm they are of a different heritage. Whereas the papist would show that a person would have to go to purgatory for more sanctification the evangelical would be told he or she can do better and perhaps be motivated by hope for more reward. This is of course caused by a sinner gazing at his or her life looking for confirmation of being saved. We are rather to look outside ourselves for the object of faith in this way stay out of the ditch of self righteousness or despair. We should be crushed and broken hearted over our failings. This is the true reaction of the faithful child of God familiar with and being fed God's word. However, we are given a Brother who is our kinsman Redeemer therefore we need not despair.

Hebrews 12: 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. ESV

Father grant us true repentance for trusting in ourselves for confirmation of faith. Fix our eyes on Jesus and aid us in giving Him all the glory and our trust. In the Name of Jesus. Amen

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Getting the L out. Part 2

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. ESV

In this section Jesus is contrasting Himself with others who came before Him both sent by Him and those not sent by Him. Today we have under shepherds serving churches. Some are good and others not so good. The good ones we can be thankful for but they do not give their lives for the sheep. Only Jesus does that work.

Those who maintain Limited Atonement will look at the above verse and say Jesus died only for the sheep. But that is not what the scripture says. Jesus is talking about Himself not sinners. Yes He gave His life for the sheep but does not say only the sheep and none else. One has to read that into the section due to the preconceived notion of Jesus dying only for those who would come to faith. It makes sense to say that if Jesus died for all humanity all would be saved. However, that is using human reason to answer the question why are some saved and others not.

All humanity is under the curse of the law and Jesus died for those under the curse. The king of biblical interpretation is scripture interprets scripture.

  John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. ESV

In this verse we see world, or humanity again without exception. So one does not have to spend time thinking about how to tell if he or she is a sheep but rather look to the Crucified, trust His promises, eat His flesh in His Supper and live.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Absolution is an Absolute Truth

John 20: 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld." ESV

One of the most blessed events in being a Lutheran is to hear the pastor say at the beginning of worship. “I as a called and ordained servant of the word in the stead and by the command of my Lord Christ forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father † Son and Holy Spirit.” This is after a prayer as a gathered people of how we by who we are break God’s Law and justly deserve His present and eternal punishment. This is in addition to actual sins and sins of inactivity. By this proclamation we have the presence of Jesus through the throat of the pastor into our ears.

In the previous tradition in which I was raised people would meet with the minister for “counseling.” This was mostly modified pop psychology, assurance of forgiveness and then being thrown back on oneself with encouragement to do better. In later experiences in worship we heard the Law of God, assurance of pardon and thrown back into the law to do better next time out of gratitude. For perhaps and hour or even a day one could feel empowered to do better. If one ignored his or her bible, at least the parts that show us the perfect Christ perhaps that feeling would even linger. But if one was honest he or she would see very quickly more falling short. Some do not see this falling short in themselves but rather advancement which in itself is a terrifying thing to consider.

Jesus is our Crucified and Risen Savior not merely an example, cheerleader, life coach or massage therapist. We need Jesus’ perfect life given to us in our baptism each and every day. Baptism is how we know we are in Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28. Through Baptism we know we have His robe of righteousness in the sight of God even if we cannot see it. How else would we know?

God's peace. †

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Getting the L out. Part 1

One of the categories with which a Calvinist will distinguish him or herself is Limited Atonement. This is the L in the acrostic TULIP. This was probably the most difficult for me with which to deal on my way out of Calvinism.

John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. ESV

The above verse shows why a person does not stand condemned while another stands condemned. What it does not say is that a person stands in condemnation because Jesus did not die for him. By nature we are all sinful and unclean justly deserving nothing but God's present and eternal punishment.

The unanswered question is why are some saved and others are lost. The Lutheran reformer M. Luther indicated to attempt to answer that question was to be in error. Why is that an unanswered question? The Lord has not seen fit to tell us the answer. Since it is not revealed on Holy Scripture we need to leave it alone. From the American Edition of Luther’s Works 5:43-50; Luther’s Genesis Commentary, commenting on  Genesis 29:9) Much blank filling and supposing to know the mind of God goes into trying to answer it. Suffice it to say those of us to whom God has shown mercy live in gratitude and humble service to our neighbour.

Thanks be to God. †

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Repenting of Good Deeds

The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.- Martin Luther May 1518

Luke 17:7 "Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and recline at table'? 8 Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink'? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'" ESV

Find God's purpose for your life.

Fill up that heavenly bank account with good deeds.

Contribute to and draw on the treasury of merit.

These are all pleas from various traditions which place a huge emphasis on what one does for God. All of them promise (threaten) a measuring of good works when we meet up with Jesus. The word of God does not give a list of good deeds to do except perhaps helping the poor and needy which is what God requires of all people.

So the laundry list comes out of the mouths of these preachers advising you to give more, volunteer in the church more, attend more worship and bible studies. All of those are good things with which to be involved. But what those preachers do not tell you is that obeying the speed limit is also a good work in the eyes of God. Going to work on time and getting the work completed is a good work. Washing the dishes for the family is also viewed as a duty that God expects. These also can and are being done by believers and unbelievers alike. So what is the difference?

Attitude and motivation is the difference. A Christian will do these things with love for Jesus and with fruit of the Holy Spirit. An unbeliever will not because he or she does not love Jesus nor has the Holy Spirit bearing fruit. In Jesus God's children robed in His righteousness do all sorts of things which please God.

So why would those deeds be mortal sins as referred to by Dr Luther? If they are presented to God as if He needed them. God certainly as creator and sustainer of the universe does not need our good works. He is the originator of good works and gift giving. So how can we hold these up to God and tell Him this is for you because you needed it? Another reason they would be sin is due to mixed motivation. Humans are self centered by nature. The good done for society, employer and family are partially motivated by hope of reward and fear of punishment. That is the way the worldly system operates to keep the sinners from abusing other sinners and the work gets done. The sin becomes faith endangering due manipulation of God as if He owes us for our paltry efforts.

Jesus serves us totally devoid of self interest. God, being God, does not need creatures to fulfill Himself. He does these things for that is His nature. He tabernacled among us and endured the temptation, bitter suffering, humiliating death and glorious resurrection for you. He was not a greater God because of it nor is He more worthy of praise for doing it. Those things were His from eternity past. Now what work can you or I do to match that?

Glory be to the Father and to the † Son and to the Holy Spirit.

The Forgetful God?

Seems silly doesn't it. An all knowing, all powerful and ever present God forgetting something? Yet we have this comforting promise:

Hebrews 8:11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.12For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. ESV

What does it mean that God will not remember sins? Hebrews 8 presents Jesus as the High Priest of the new covenant. This covenant would not require the shedding of animals blood for the remembrance of sin but rather the shedding of the Lamb of God's blood for the washing away of sin. Sin is gone completely and separated from us as far as the East is from the West.

This is the radical difference between biblical Christianity, other religions in the world and unfortunately what passes for Christianity in many circles. Success preachers, purpose dribblers, papists and left behinders all teach we owe God big time for this free gift. Yes we owe Him big time but He asks us to receive this from His hand. These liars will always cast a person back on themselves to see if he or she is saved not point to Jesus' finished work.

The Gospel places no demand upon us. Jesus' perfect life, bitter sufferings, shameful death and glorious resurrection are not to be added to nor can they be improved upon. God, the good deed originator, does not need our deeds. We do not need them to get in good with God. But our neighbour does. With a thankful heart we help our neighbour in our daily rounds partially because we may feel good doing it but partly due to love for God our Father.

Thanks be to God! †

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Living Vine, Fruitful Branches

In Nomine Iesu

I am the Vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Jesus the vine; we the branches. He the source of life, we the ones who live in Him. The image takes us out to wine country, to the rolling vineyards lush with grape vines. Fruitful branches thick with grapes growing on an old, gnarled vine with roots that reach deep into the ground. Jesus is that true vine, the only vine planted by God. His roots go deep down into Israelite soil and God’s covenant promise to David, to Isarel, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all the way back to Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, the place our origin.

The Father, Jesus says, is the vinedresser, the gardner. The guy with dirt under his fingernails and pruner’s clippers on his belt. Watch the vinedresser in action. Watch how he cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, while every branch that does he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. These aren’t random, hacking cuts he’s making. These are selective, strategic cuts, precisely just above a tender bud. He carefully distinguishes green wood from dead wood. He has but one purpose: To make the branch even more fruitful.

Look at an unpruned vine sometime, one that hasn’t seen the pruner for several years. On the surface there is a lot of lush green growth, but deep inside it’s mostly dead wood. And there’s very little fruit on such a vine. Fruit happens on new growth, on buds that have been spurred into action by careful pruning. That’s the first point of this analogy this morning. The Father prunes us for fruitfulness.

Before we can understand this image fully, Iwe need to understand precisely what the “fruit” is that Jesus is talking about. I’m going to invoke the general editorship of the Holy Spirit here, and suggest that “fruit” generally means the same thing, no matter who says it, whether Jesus, John, or Paul. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul says that the “fruit of the Spirit” at work in us through the Word is this: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. It’s a singular fruit, not multiple fruits. This is the fruit I think Jesus is referring to when He talks about His disciples being fruitful branches joined to Him.

“Being fruitful” isn’t about how much work you can do for Jesus or how many disciples you can notch for the kingdom. Jesus isn’t giving His disciples a punch list of things to do. He’s telling them what flows from a heart that trusts Him, that clings to His death for life, that believes His Word: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Fruit happens more or less automatically when the branch is healthy and properly pruned. I have a grape vine growing in my backyard that produces a lot of fruit without a lot of effort. It seems to come more or less automatically. I can’t imagine a branch agonizing over its fruit production, or trying to squeeze out fruit from a dead branch. If the vine is alive, and the life of the vine is flowing out to the branching, fruit happens. it happens so much that you have to thin out the fruit too.

Now if anything impedes the flow of juices from the main vine to a branch, the branch will wither and die and become fruitless dead wood. Dead wood is what the Father’s pruning clippers are after. Going back to Galatians, we might say that the dead wood is our own sinful self which gets in the way of Jesus having His way with us. Paul calls these things the “works of the flesh,” and give us some examples, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, adultery, immoral living, idolatry, witchcraft or sorcery, fighting, arguing, jealousy, anger, selfishness, divisions and the spirit of division, envy, drunkenness, carousing, that sort of thing.

These are the things that Jesus died to take away from us. These are the things we died to in our Baptism. This is what Jesus absorbed into His death and buried in His tomb. These are the dead works of unbelief, of the death of Adam at work in us and in the world around us. “In Adam we die.” These things need to be cut away and burned up. And so the Father prunes away the dead wood, whatever gets in the way of Jesus life flowing through us.

Pruning can be painful. The branch suffers loss and injury. When I prune that grape vine in winter, it’s not a pretty sight. When I’m done, all that’s left are a few short stubs with a couple of buds on each of them. But that’s where the growth comes that makes fruit.

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” we ask. Why do bad things happen to me? Why does God permit tragedy to occur? Why does He let people lose house and home and job and honor? The answer from today’s reading comes this way: He prunes every branch in Jesus that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You’re being pruned, not punished. Pruned by the Master Gardner to produce greater love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control that you could ever imagine.

And that is the experience of many Christians. It isn’t until they experience suffering and loss, until they’ve done some “Job time,” that they discover a depth of love, joy, peace that would have remained hidden. Two weeks ago, a series of tornados ripped through a small town in Missouri and completely devastated the town, including a large church. There was a picture in the paper last week of the congregation worshipping outdoors, in front of the rubble of their church. They set up hundreds of folding chairs set up in front of a large, makeshift altar. They were caring for each other instead of for a building. The tornado had pruned away their property, but a whirlwind can’t take Jesus away, or His Spirit.

You’ve seen it yourself, or maybe even experienced it for yourself. Someone who is basically a wallflower Christian, barely recognizable, distracted maybe, suffers some loss - loss of health, or work, or property. And there’s great grief and sorrow. But instead of shaking your fist at God, or cutting Him off, you turn to Him in your misery. You embrace the loss and accept it. You turn to the Word. You commune more intentionally. You come to confession. And you find that the most difficult and painful times in your life are also the most fruitful, spiritually speaking. There’s room for the implanted Word to grow and blossom. And you find a joy and a peace and a softening of the heart that you can have no other way.

No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. Apart from the vine, it will wither, dry up, and die. “Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.…apart from me, you can do nothing.” That’s the second point. This is not about you, but about Christ at work in you and you living in Christ.

Last week, I was cleaning up a patch of olalliberries in my backyard. Olaliberries are a big, dark, juicy berry. Great on cereal. Mine grow on a long vine tied to the wall. Olaliberries have this nasty habit of rooting whereever they touch the groundm making them almost a weed. I hadn’t done much pruning on them last year, and so many stems had touched the ground and rooted, setting up new clusters of plants. As I was pruning and untangling things, I accidentally cut a long branch at both ends. Here was this perfect branch, with flowers and fruit on it, cut off at both ends from its source of life. I noticed my mistake within about ten minutes, as the leaves began to wilt in the morning sun.

Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. And yet we try. We who ought to know better, we baptized believers in Jesus, yet we try to go it alone. I don’t know whether it’s our rugged individualism or our old Adam. I suspect it’s some of both. We try to have the Spirit’s fruit without Jesus. The unbelieving world certainly does. It has all sorts of programs and religions that promise peace and joy and fulfillment, but can’t deliver, because it’s all up to you in the end. “The energy for change is all inside you,” they say. “You just have to tap into it.” But when you try to tap into it, you find the well to be dry. The truth is there is no diet, no mantra, no exercise that will make you fruitful in the way we are talking about. There is no twelve step program to give you love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These things don’t naturally flow from our hearts. What comes naturally are lies and theft and slander and gossip and immorality and murder and threats. Not the fruit of the Spirit but the sin of Adam.

Good fruit comes from Jesus, out of His perfect, sinless life. Out of His innocent suffering and death. Out of the open, empty tomb of His resurrection. It comes from the life of Jesus flowing into each of you, joined to Jesus. He is the Vine, remember. We are the branches. We are not each vines unto ourselves. We are branches joined to the Vine, drawing our life from Him, our strength, our frutifulness.

Grafted into Him, hanging on to Him in faith, we bear much fruit. Our lives are filled with love, with joy, with patience, with kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and selfcontrol. That’s what Jesus does in us with His Word. Remaining in Him, we hear His Word, we eat and drink His Body and Blood, we hear and cling to His Word of forgiveness. What happens here in the congregation each Sunday morning is “vine and branches stuff.” Jesus the Vine, feeding and nourishing and refreshing the branches to be fruitful.

When we cut ourselves off from the Vine, when we refuse to hear or don’t make the time to read His Word, when we stay away from the sacrament of His Body and Blood, when we refuse the gifts Christ sets before us, why are we then surprised when we feel dried up, withered, fruitless?

Sometimes we barely notice it in our day to day habits. We just kind of slip away, lose touch. We’re not at the Lord’s Table as often, we don’t read the Bible as much, we go through the motions of religion but we’re not hearing. And what happens? We dry up. Faith withers, like that Olaliberry branch cut off from its source of life. We live small, puny, trouble, discontented, empty lives. And it’s all so unnecessary.

God has done everything - embraced us in the death of His Son, baptized us, forgiven us, welcomed us to His table. He grafts us to the true Vine and prunses the unproductive branches. So don’t blame God if you’re all dried out and fruitless. It’s not God’s fault, it’s our own fault. The Vine is always there, giving us life. We’re the ones who cut ourselves off and say no. But Jesus is always faithful, always forgiving, always urging and welcoming. “Come to me. I am the Vine, you are my branches. I will fill you with my life, with my strength, with my forgiveness. Apart from me there is only death and destruction. And the hell of it is that it’s all unnecessary. I died for you. I embrace you in my death. I remain in you, now you remain in me. That’s where you’re fruitful and alive - in me. Not in yourselve, but in me.” Jesus is saying that to each of us here this morning. Remain in me, as I remain in you.

By His Word Jesus remains in us, and by faith that Word we remain in Him. His Word makes us clean, His Word makes us frutiful, His Word shapes our words of prayer. First we hear, then we speak. That’s the order. The Vine comes first, then the Branches. Jesus says, “If my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” That doesn’t give us some magic formula to get whatever we wish. This is no carte blanche guarantee for prayer. Instead, Jesus is saying that when His word has had its way with us, when it has gone into our hearts and struck our minds and our hearts so that we trust Him, His Word will shape every word that comes out of our mouths.

Jesus wants each of us, all of you, to be fruitful, to live large in His life, to live freely in His forgiveness. He desires that for each of you. It’s to His Father’s glory that you bear fruit, much fruit, that your lives be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and that you be His disciples, trusting Him all the way in life, in death. You are the branches; He is the Vine. In Him you are fruitful.

In the name of Jesus, Amen

By permission of Rev Wm Cwirla, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Hacienda Hts, CA

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Obedience to the law of God

The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him. - The Heidelberg Disputation Martin Luther May 1518

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. ESV

So many filthy dreamers abound who proclaim one must work on his or her own righteousness to become acceptable to God or in order to become more acceptable. This takes the forms of the Roman Catholic doctrine, Purpose Driven life and all other success Gospel teachings.

The former is easy to spot. The cry escapes from their lips sola fide is wrong! The law if God is minimized in order to make it appear it is being kept. What he or she has to prove is that not only is he or she holy now but also that he or she has never sinned. This is what is needed to be holy as God is holy.

The latter is much more difficult. These will say one is saved by grace through faith alone. However, now that you are saved you can now succeed over sin completely and over time become better and better. What is not taken into the equation is that one breaking of the law is breaking of the entire law. So from God's point of view one is just as much a sinner as before. This teaching is most attractive for who would not want to please God. Two types of people emerge from this teaching. Self righteous sinner who look down noses on the former life and those who are still living that way. Or a terrified sinner not seeing enough good works or lack of sin to prove salvation.

Eyes off yourself my friend! Look at Jesus only!

Theology of glory vs. Theology of the cross.

The theologian of glory observes the world, the works of creation. With his intellect he perceives behind these the visible things of God, His power, wisdom, and generosity. But God remains invisible to him. The theologian of the cross looks to the Crucified One. Here there is nothing great or beautiful or exalted as in the splendid works of creation. Here there is humiliation, shame, weakness, suffering, and agonizing death... [That] "God can be found only in suffering and the cross"... is a bedrock statement of Luther's theology and that of the Lutheran Church. Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else. A theology that would be something else is a false theology... Measured by everything the world calls wisdom, as Paul already saw, the word of the cross is the greatest foolishness, the most ridiculous doctrine that can confront a philosopher. That the death of one man should be the salvation of all, that this death on Golgotha should be this atoning sacrifice for all the sins of the world, that the suffering of an innocent one should turn away the wrath of God — these are assertions that fly in the face of every ethical and religious notion of man as he is by nature... God Himself has sent us into the hard school of the cross. There, on the battlefields, in the prison camps, under the hail of bombs, and among the shattered sick and wounded, there the theology of the cross may be learned "by dying"... To those whose illusions about the world and about man, and the happiness built on these, have been shattered, the message of the cross may come as profoundly good news.

-Hermann Sasse, "The Theology of the Cross: Theologia Crucis," in We Confess Jesus Christ, Concordia Publishing House, pp. 47-48, 50, 52, emphasis added

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

How many baptisms? Just one.

Baptism of the Holy Spirit, fire and water are one in the same.

In the baptism of our Lord as recorded in Matthew 3 the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in the form of a Dove. Father also spoke and said He is His beloved Son in Whom He has pleasure. In baptism the Holy Spirit makes one a disciple, regenerates and he or she is adopted by being given the name of the Triune God. Thus becoming the son or daughter of God in Whom He is well pleased. Matthew 28:18-19 John 3:3-7 Romans 8:15 Titus 3:5. One is given the merits of Christ and His righteousness thereby God is well pleased with us and looks at our deeds as holy. This is by grace alone and is the act of God upon the person. The person administering the Sacrament acts as a conduit. Like as in preaching the Word brings faith God gives humans the privilege of taking part. 1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Peter 1:23 One should never say a minister, a Christian living the gospel or evangelist saves anyone.

Baptism of fire refers to Christ suffering the penalty of our sin. When one is baptized one is baptized into His death. Romans 6. The fire is the indignation and wrath God has towards sin. Christ suffered this on behalf of the entire human race. One cannot understand the suffering of the sinless God the Son enduring not only the sin which was abhorrent but also the severe wrath sufficient enough to expiate the guilt and make payment in full for all sin of all people of all time. In teaching of His death He refers to it as a baptism and a cup. It could not be referring to the water baptism for that happened earlier. Mark 10 We, of course, do not participate in that baptism for it was Christ alone that experienced that. The disciples did receive persecution and many of them were martyred for the Gospel so in a sense they got a taste of it. To this day some of our brothers and sisters taste of persecution to their death.

God of course is not limited to baptism as a means to deliver His grace. As mentioned earlier one is born of the Word. Many have and will receive this gift by hearing and reading the Word and will not have the pleasure of being baptized. As I mentioned in another thread it is with great assurance one can reflect on this wonderful gift.

God’s peace be with you.