Monday, May 25, 2009

Obscuring the Gospel with Good Deeds

Luke 18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 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, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

This man really believes he is pulling it off as far as keeping the law is concerned. The Pharisees were professional law keepers and actually from the outside it did look like they were more holy then everyone else. They were actually paid to do the law keeping in the relatively new religion of Judaism. This is a different religion then that of the forefathers such as Abraham who knew they were declared righteous apart from any law observance.

God was forgiving and counted the faith of those who have gone before us as righteousness. The older testament tells of the downright awful things the forefathers did. Abraham pretended to be brother to his wife out of fear of a pagan king who lusted after her. His faith as ours faltered at that point in not trusting the promises of God that he would be father of many nations. The Gospels show how Jesus’ closest associates were self centered and were always competing to be the Master’s favourites. In addition each of them took a powder at the arrest of Jesus although their intention was to stick by him. St Paul, in the book of Acts is shown to have an unforgiving heart towards Mark and separated himself from Barnabas having a sharp disagreement. Acts 15:36-41.

In the modern USA we don’t have professional law keepers as such. The modern equivalent is any religious person who looks at his or her deeds as making a real difference on how God beholds them. This religious person could be member of any religion with or without a personal deity. In Christianity, which is different then any other religion in the world, we still have our share of Pharisees. This is a total perversion of the faith delivered to us by Our Lord Jesus and his apostles and foretold by the prophets.

We have Christians who are true believers, captivated by pietism, who make up rules to obey in order to not necessarily be saved but it seems to get more on God’s good side. Most certainly we as lovers of Jesus want to live lives of pious behaviour but at the same time not steal any of the glory from Jesus by thinking we add anything to our salvation.

Also we have what are otherwise true believers in salvation by grace through faith who think that grace is some sort of Holy Spirit steroid in order to become better and better. Granted as time goes on and we mature we will recognize former captivating temptation and avoid the outward act. This is most certainly the case however, we can see those who are unbelievers over time have the ability to modify past behaviour. To rob Jesus of his glory in this way actually shows how sinful and fallen we really are so that our good deeds are actually sins for which Jesus suffered and died.

And still another group who will take one of the ten commands and “specialize” in one of them. This usually plays out in worship which gives rise to what is called worship wars or even the fact of showing up in the first place. These are personal preferences of what people find most meaningful and how that God also, of course, requires what is meaningful to them. Therefore he looks more kindly upon them then he would otherwise and they can praise God they are not like the congregation down the street. Granted we need be careful of what we say and do in response to the gifts of the forgiveness of sin which Jesus gives us. Not in order to somehow get more blessing but rather in saying back to God the words he gave us it actually drives home deep into our hearts and minds the blessedness of the true Gospel.

These are some of the ways that even true believers in Jesus will insult and obscure his Gospel which he accomplished by his perfect life, innocent sufferings and death. All well meaning efforts for sure but will produce, due to our sinful nature, a secure sinner. This sinner will never realize what is happening until the law is executed in all its ferocious requirements. Be holy as the Lord your God is holy and if you don’t you are damned!

Luke 18:13 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.”

Here we see the necessary approach to God when going to receive his gifts of the forgiveness of sins. There is always a people who know their true condition before a Holy God. It is realized by them that they are by nature sinful and unclean. That in spite of valiant efforts they sin against our Creator in thought word and deed by what we do and what we leave undone by thought, word and deed. Trusting in the finished work of Jesus apart from anything done by the sinner they can depart in peace knowing that their faith is counted to their account as righteousness. Nothing further is said or needs to be said of the terrified sinner in the parable. Jesus said he went home justified rather than the secure sinner.

It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.*

Serving the Gospel was the calling of Martin Luther not making things up as he went along. The church in his day as in ours was busying itself obscuring the Gospel with works of charity. Sounds good doesn’t it? Works of love. However, one is not truly loving his or her neighbour if only serving him or her in order to get in good with the Creator. This is using our neighbour as a means to an end And treating our Creator as if he is one to buy off with trinkets and bits of our thought up goodness is not loving him and is truly revolting to him as Isaiah stated. Is. 64:6.

*The Heidelberg Disputation of Martin Luther #18.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Master, Master, we are perishing!"

“Does anyone know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”

Those lines are from a song by Gordon Lightfoot called “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” That ship was an bulk freighter in the Great Lakes which sank November 10,1975. I remember seeing that freighter the summer before its ill fated journey. My father used to take us on trips to the lakes to look at the ships which were docked around the shores of the lakes. It was huge indeed. It was assumed to be unsinkable and under normal circumstances that would have been the case. However, living in a sinful creation which is subjected to futility normal circumstance are at times rare.

Luke 8:22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?” ESV

The above event records how the disciples of Jesus got into a boat to cross to the other side of the inland body of water. This had been done before many times with Jesus and as well by themselves out plying the fishing trade. What could be better? A cruise with your rabbi? Calm waters and smooth sailing with Jesus asleep in the back of the boat on a cushion. Jesus as our co pilot as the bumper sticker from years ago used to proclaim.

But then life turns ugly.

The formerly calm waters begin to churn. Waves lap over the sides of the boat. One can imagine in them minds of the disciples the memories of pulling bloated carcasses of fishermen out of the water after such a storm. There is, after all, the real possibility that they could be next. But then Jesus fixed it all. He said "shhh" to the storm like one may say to a tantrum throwing child. That is all it takes for the Creator of the universe to stop the storm. He calmed the water and wind and it was smooth sailing from that point on. It must have been quite a storm for these men had years of experience and were probably not easily shaken. But Jesus saved them and was surprised at the fear they had and lack of faith.

In a routine exam the doctor comes in with a concerned look on his face stating they have found something. This something may be nothing but he wants to refer you to a surgeon to go in and have a look round. After surgery it is reported there is a malignancy which they were able to get all of it. A sigh of relief. Later during an exam another something is found. Another trip to the surgeon who wants to go in for another look round. This time the something had to be left in and a course of chemical treatment is suggested. After that torture it is stated that the cancer has continued to spread and they are sorry nothing more can be done.

Early on a Sunday morning your doorbell rings. You open it to find two uniformed men at the door. They are policemen who are very sorry to inform you that your child was involved in an automobile crash. They apologize as they ask you to go to such and such hospital for identification purposes.

You come home from work and see your spouse sitting in a chair with a very sad expression on her face holding a piece of paper. On that paper you discover that your son or daughter has decided to not wait for marriage to move in with his or her fiancee. This same child who just a short while before was excited to participate in youth group activities and had spoken some of looking into full time work in the church or Christian day school. This same child who was taught the Christian faith from the time of being a wee infant. This child in whom was spent much resources both financial and time to ensure he or she knew who God is and who he or she is in Jesus.

The child of God at that point will possibly look back upon the disciples experience and how that Jesus saved them and wonder. "Jesus solved all those problems in scripture certainly he can solve this!" “Have we not dotted all the I s and crossed all the T s?” “ After all are not all our doctrinal ducks lined up in neat rows?” “Certainly, some of our well meaning friends say, God is trying to show you something in this.” “Master, Master we are perishing!”

We don’t have any promises in scripture that because we have faith in Jesus, and try to live lives pleasing to him, that these troubles will not befall us. Quite the contrary. He has not raised us above the movement downward and futility of this world of sin and misery. What we have are promises that he will see us through. Those disciples with the exception of one later went on to a martyrs death while proclaiming Jesus to those around them. This is special suffering which, like the child leaving home to live in sin with another, is special to those in Jesus. Storms, health deterioration, fatal accidents and family sorrows are common place events to all who live on earth.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. ESV

We do have the certain promise that even when all seems lost Jesus will grant us faith so we may endure these times so that we do not fall back and in rebellious anger cast ourselves away from God into unbelief. The world, our sinful flesh and the devil are busy night and day to get us to deny our Lord but he has promised to maintain us. Jesus himself comes to us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion and forgives our sins and gives us new lives. The real danger is for us, in anger, forsake this gift and also the assurance we have in being baptized children of God. Yes our Lord stands there with crucified and resurrected arms to carry us through. Eventually he will carry us into eternity. We are baptized into his death. He has got us!

In the name of Jesus. Amen. †

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Gifting of Gift Receiving

“Do you have to go the church? No, you get to, you slacker.” That is the opening statement on the God Whisperers website of podcasts on the third commandment.* It is an interesting approach compared to much of Christianity regarding attendance at church services. It is treated as a duty we owe to God. A drudgery that most times we rather not fulfill. This is definitely the wrong approach but is understandable due to each of us believers having an old Adam who wants rules and regulations rather then what God offers.

Exodus 20:8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. ESV

Reflect on what happens at a church which is committed to traditional centuries old liturgy.

The pastor invokes the Name of the Triune God. It is in this name we are baptized and receive two gifts. The forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us so transforming us into his temple. Gifting. Warrant in scripture: Acts 2:38-39

A time to reflect on the previous week and even on ones entrance into the church building on sin which we have done or the good which we have left undone. The pastor then announces the Gospel and in the stead and by the command forgives us all our sins. Again invoking the name of the Triune God in which we are baptized. More gifting. Scripture warrant: John 20:22-23

The sermon begins by invoking the Triune name of God, the name of Jesus or a prayer. In this sermon we hear how we really mess up. It may contain a recount of how the early disciples or forefathers messed up and how we are doing the same. Jesus’ perfect life is presented as the fulfillment of the requirement for us and how it is gifted to us. Then we are pointed to dead Jesus on the cross who paid for our sins. More gifting. Scripture warrant: Luke 24:45-47

The prayers and songs are also a response saying back to God the words with which he has gifted us. This in addition serves to instruct each of us in the gifts we are given in Jesus. Even more gifting. Scripture warrant: Colossians 3:16

The Eucharist is then celebrated. There according to the words of Jesus we are gifted with his body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. One may say “I already have the forgiveness of sin!” Yes but look how much you need it and continually. This gift shows us we cannot out sin grace. Further gifting. Scripture warrant: John 6:53-58, 1 Corinthians 10:16.

91] For the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yea, the only one which we Christians know and have. For though we had the bones of all the saints or all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would help us nothing; for all that is a dead thing which can sanctify nobody. But God's Word is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all. 92] Therefore I constantly say that all our life and work must be ordered according to God's Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this commandment is in force and being fulfilled. **

**The Large Catechism of Martin Luther

Thanks be to you our God! †


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice

Certain phrases appear from time to time in Christian conversation which sound good to the ear but really contradict what is our true relationship to our Creator. One such phrase dates back over 30 years in memory to an adult Bible Study guide we had in church. “Obedience is Better Than Sacrifice.” It was a teaching on Christian behaviour which made some very good points. However, from where did this phrase come? Was this merely a catchy title thought up by the publisher? No it comes from a verse in the Bible:

1 Samuel 15:22 And Samuel said,
"Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.

Stop the press! Was not sacrifice ordered by God? Was this not how the older testament people of God remembered their sin? So how can one say that obedience is better than sacrifice? The answer lies in taking scotch tape and sticking the verse back into the context out of which it is taken. In this we see that God instructed King Saul and the army to utterly destroy the Amalekites including all their livestock. What the people did however, is to keep the choicest of sheep as spoils or war. When called on this the excuse was made that these were kept to sacrifice to the Lord.

Regrettably this verse grabbing and dragging kicking, screaming and bloody has been used to whack Christians over the head with in order to raise concern about his or her good deeds. It is taught to them that of course they are justified by grace through faith but just like an earthly father will appreciate a son or daughter more if he or she obeys in a greater fashion the same with our Heavenly Father. So if you want God to love you more then you better work harder, serve on more committees, teach more Sunday School classes etc. Poppycock! Our Heavenly Father is totally unlike our earthly, finite and sinful fathers. While it is true a Christian will want to do good deeds more and more as time goes on our Father beholds us in Jesus alone and therefore could not be pleased with us no matter how much we do.

Isaiah 60:10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Our Father can only admire perfection. Half hearted or even 99% hearted efforts will not suffice. There is no way for a sinner to do a total selfless work it cannot be done. Don’t even try to cipher what percentage of motivation is out of fear of punishment or hope of reward and how much out of love for Jesus. God knew we could not do this selfless work. His law tells us we cannot meet its demands. He supplied himself to do the doing for us. And had himself nailed to the cross to pay for our self centeredness. It took the selfless obedience of Jesus to please God. God calls only what he does is good as in the creation account.

So in loving kindness he clothes us with the righteousness of Jesus and whatever we do in fulfilling our vocation, where he has located us, is pleasing to him. When we feed our children we please our Father in Heaven. When we arrive at work and do our work as unto him we please our Father in Heaven. What a wonderful peace is available when we with grateful hearts serve our family, friends and neighbours in the peace that we are free from worry whether it is good enough. We are free from the law of sin and condemnation. We can do whatever presents itself to be done. What Christ did for us sinners, for you, is good enough!

Praise to you O Christ! †