Welcome

Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer

Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Justified by Faith - October 31, 2010 - Reformation Sunday - Text: Romans 3:19-28

Happy Reformation Day! And so again, this year, as last year and as I will continue to do every year, I greet you with what I consider to be wonderful words of greeting. And again I confess, right from the start, that Reformation Day continues to be one of my favorite holidays. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the re-forming of the church, and specifically, the church of Luther’s day. Reformation Day is the day we celebrate the work of God through the man, Dr. Martin Luther. Notice, we do not worship Martin Luther. We do celebrate that God the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments, moved Dr. Martin Luther to recognize the false and misleading teachings of the church of his day. God worked through Dr. Luther to show us that a person is not saved by works of the Law, rather a person is saved by grace, through faith in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. That alone makes this a most precious day to remember.

In our text for this morning, the Epistle lesson, Paul gives us a lesson to help us get a fuller understanding of the proper distinction between the Law and its purpose and the Gospel and its purpose. Paul begins with the Law and its purpose, we read, “19Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (v. 19-20). According to Paul the Law serves the following purposes. One of the purposes of the Law is to silence us. The Law is to keep us from bragging or boasting about our good works, or what we think are our good works. After all, it is hard to brag when all you have to brag about is how you are responsible for the death of someone, especially when that someone is your own God.

Another purpose of the Law is to show us that we are accountable. Through the Law we understand the we are responsible for ourselves. Does this ever smack right in the face of our society today?! How often do we read or hear about people who have won lawsuits for their own negligence, if not out right stating at least implying that they are not responsible for themselves. The most famous case was the lady who spilled the hot coffee on herself. Other examples include the guy who road his bicycle at night wearing dark clothes and without any lights and sued because he was hit by a car. Of late we have heard about the young man who wanted to sue the fast food industry because he was obese. We could spend a lot of time discussing how we do not like to be held accountable for our actions in this country, yet, we do not want anyone telling us we cannot do whatever we want to do. In our text, Paul tells us that God, through the Law, reminds us the we are accountable, He will hold us, each one of us, personally responsible for breaking the Law.

Which brings us to one more stated purpose of the Law, that is that the Law is given to show us our sins. One quick check of our actions against the ten commandments will suffice. I will be quick and brief, but I just want you to get the idea. Have you ever placed your hope in yourself or the things of this world, misused God’s name, neglected not only to be in church, but to hear and do according to what God says in His Word? Have you ever disobeyed anyone in authority over you, thought hateful thoughts, called someone a name or hurt them in any way, lusted after another person, thought about stealing, borrowed without returning, committed vandalism, said anything bad about someone, even if it was true, thought you wanted something so bad you would steal for it, have been discontent with your circumstances or possessions? If you have done any one of these things, then you have broken, not one but, all the commandments. Ouch! And our punishment was to be death, eternal, spiritual death.

Thanks be to God that Paul did not stop with the Law. Our text continues with the Gospel and its purpose, we continue reading, “21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (v. 21-22a). Here I must say we do not count the number of purposes of the Gospel. When it comes to God’s gifts, especially His gift of the Gospel, we are reminded that God gives the whole lot of His gifts and He gives a whole lot more. I know I have said this before, at least I have mentioned it in Bible Class, but the fact of the matter is that God does not do fractions, that is God does not do math. God does not give us some of His gifts now and some later. He gives us all His gifts now and even more of them later. One of the purposes of the Gospel, then, is to bring us righteousness, which comes from God. Our righteousness, our right standing before God, does not come from within ourselves, it is not a self-righteousness, rather it comes from outside of us, it comes from God. Think about it this way, would you rather be self-righteous according to your standard of righteousness which might not cut it before God, or would you rather be righteous according to the standard of the person who is judging your righteousness?

Another purpose of the Gospel is to make our righteousness known to us and that is done through the Law and the Prophets. Here the Law and the Prophets are the whole Bible and it is through the whole Bible that God makes His righteousness known to us. We might say it this way, the Bible is one of the means that God has of giving us His righteousness.

Another purpose of the Gospel is to show us that our righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. Here we are reminded of the importance of our faith. But let us not misunderstand faith. We must recognize that faith is not something we do. Although the Gospel continually speaks of the necessity of faith, it does not do so in the sense of demanding faith as a good work, rather it does so in the sense of an invitation extended to all people to be given the promises of God. Notice that I did not say receive. I believe there is a subtle difference in the wording of “receiving” and “being given to.” To say that we “receive” from God, very subtly implies that we are doing something. Whereas, to say that we “are given to” by God takes all the onus off of us and puts it entirely on God as the giver and makes us the passive ones who are being given to. Remember, the whole value of faith lies not in who has faith, but in the object or basis of faith. Faith in self earns hell. Faith in Jesus and His work on the cross alone earns heaven.

Moving on in our text Paul tells us how the Law and Gospel work together, we read, “For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v. 22b-26). The Law shows how we have completely failed, that we have fallen short of the glory of God. The Law shows us our complete damnation. The Law does not save, it does not move us to anything but despair, or it leads to self-righteousness, which is why we never want to hear the Law by itself. This is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform in the church of his day. There was a confusion of Law and Gospel, such that one was taught that forgiveness could be earned and even must be earned, or it could be purchased for a price, namely for a certain amount of money. Anytime it is stated or even implied that there is anything we need to do or even can do to pay for some or any of our sins, we are simply saying that Jesus’ work on the cross was not sufficient for our sins. Again, this is what Dr. Luther was trying to reform.

The Gospel shows how God freely lifts us up and makes us one with Himself. The Gospel shows us our complete salvation. The Gospel saves and moves us to do good works to the glory of God. However, the Gospel must never be heard by itself either, for if we hear the Gospel without the Law then it becomes worthless. Think about it this way, if we do not hear the Law, if we do not know that we sin, then why would we need a Savior, thus the Gospel is worthless. If we are taught and told over and over again how we are good people and how we can be good people, then why would we need a Savior. Our hearing, which comes from the Word of God, must reflect that Word which proclaims Law and Gospel. It must also reflect God’s Word, such as the words of the Close of the Commandments, which show us that God’s Law is but for three or four generations, whereas His Gospel is for thousands of generations. Always the greater emphasis on the Gospel.

The Law and the Gospel work together to show us the importance of Jesus’ atonement, or at-one-with Himself sacrifice. Jesus died for all sins of all people of all time. Our text calls them those sins committed beforehand unpunished. This reference is to the sins of the people before Jesus came. Their sins were literally unpunished until Jesus came to the cross. Their sins were punished in Jesus on the cross, as were our sins and the sins of all people of all times and all places.

All of this, the Law and the Gospel are meant to show God’s justice. When we talk about the word justice we do mean a legal act on the part of God, by which He places in us, makes us possessors of, a rightness which was not ours, which we did not earn, which we do not deserve, which we did not merit. In other words, we do not receive what we deserve, eternal damnation in hell, rather we receive what Christ has deserved for us. In our world today we might just say, praise the Lord that we do not get what we are entitled, hell. Rather we get what Christ is entitled, life in heaven.

Finally, Paul tells us how we are to respond to God’s gift of Law and Gospel. Yes, even Paul, in good Lutheran fashion, answers the question, “What does this mean?” We read,“27Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (v. 27-28). Paul begins by reminding us that we are to respond to the Law and Gospel by humbly being given the gifts God has to give to us. We are not to boast which includes holding anything back from the Lord as if we have any part in obtaining the gifts that He has to give to us, in other words, thinking we are doing God a favor by coming to worship and Bible class, thinking we are doing God a favor by putting some of our earnings into the offering plate, thinking we are somebody because we are members of St. Matthew Lutheran church, especially if we are members in name only and do not take part in the whole life of the church, or simply thinking more highly of ourselves rather than thinking of ourselves as servants of the Lord.

Paul reminds us that we are to recognize that we cannot save ourselves. All of our offerings, all of our good deeds, all of our prayers, all of our time, all of our anything will not save us. Only all of Jesus’ work on the cross will save us. How true, how humbling, and how wonderful! Jesus did it all, for us, because of His great love for us.

Paul, then, reminds us that our response to the Law and the Gospel is to humbly give thanks to God with our fruits of the spirit. We are given God’s gifts and show that we have been given His gifts by our actions, by our living in peace, in joy, in patience, and so on. We are given the gifts from God by boasting only in the cross of Christ, recognizing that we are justified, are made right before God and have access to heaven by faith apart from our observing the law.

Reformation Day is an important day, not because of some man named Dr. Martin Luther, but because of God’s work through this man and because of His work through the means of grace, through the Word and the Sacraments, through which He daily and richly works to strengthen us in our faith, to remind us of our forgiveness and to remind us of our salvation. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reformation

October is a special month. October is the month we celebrate the beginning of the Lutheran Church. Of course I am referring to our celebration of Reformation Day on October 31. Dr. Martin Luther was not the first one to recognize problems in the church, but God used his words to set off the reformation. God’s timing is always right and true. The new world had been discover in 1492. The printing press had been invented by Gothenburg. Luther had been studying God’s Word and the Holy Spirit had been working on his heart.

When Luther wrote his 95 theses, these statements of faith were written simply for discussion among his educated peers. They were written the Latin which was the language of the educated and they were posted on the town bulletin board, which was the church door. The church was a prominent fixture in those days as people went to the church several times a day for morning, noon and evening mass. Little did Luther know that his words would be translated into the language of the people, German, and quickly printed and disbursed, thanks to Gothenburg’s printing press. And remember, Luther still did not completely understand what we believe, teach and confess as Lutheran’s today. His theology continued to “evolve” as he continued to study God’s Word, this “evolving” theology is why people will ask if a Luther statement was and “early” Luther statement or a “later” Luther statement.

The reformation brought a renewal of our understanding of a proper distinction between Law and Gospel. It brought a purer understanding of justification by grace through faith alone, apart from works. It brought us the Lord’s Supper in both kinds, that is that we now partake of the bread (body) and the wine (blood). It helped us understand that we can never enumerate our sins because we sin so often and so often we sin without even knowing it. And it gave us a liturgy that we can read and understand as it was now given in the language of the people, no longer simply in the Latin so only the priests could understand it.

As we celebrate the Reformation we would do well to keep our history in mind, lest we should be doomed to repeat it. The attacks of Satan on the Lord’s Church today continue to be similar attacks to the Church in Luther’s day. The Christian church in America continues to move away from sound Biblical Doctrine to that doctrine which itching ears wish to hear (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The Christian church in America continues to move away from sound Christian Doctrine to following the tolerant ways of the culture in every decadent sense of the word. So, as we celebrate the Reformation of the Church we pray that the Lord will continue to preserve His Church and will keep us steadfast in the fight for what is meet, right and salutary, for what is the truth according to God’s Word so that His Word and Church may remain.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Covenant or Two?

Did God make one covenant with the world, or two covenants, one with the Children of Israel and a separate covenant with the rest of the world? Did God make one covenant a covenant of grace and one covenant a covenant of works? In order to answer those questions we must go back and follow the covenant(s) and the giving of the covenant(s).

The best place to begin is the beginning, Genesis and the first giving of the covenant, or the giving of the first covenant. In Genesis, immediately after Adam and Eve sinned, God stepped in and gave His first covenant promise, the promise of a Savior, a Messiah who would take care of the sin of Adam and Eve. To Adam and Eve God said, “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” (Gen. 3:15). Notice that at this point in history there is only Adam and Eve, there is not a Jew and a Gentile. This covenant, this promise is being made by God to all people of all places of all times.

Moving on in history, following the flood and the tower of Babel, we get to the point where the Lord moves to reiterate His covenant and to narrow the family line through whom the covenant will be fulfilled. Out of all the people of the world God chose Abram, whose name He later changed to Abraham. “1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:1-3). Notice again, this is not a new covenant, but this is a narrowing of the line of the fulfillment of the covenant as the Lord says that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

To Abraham’s son Isaac God promised, “3bI will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. 4I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, 5because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:3b-5). Notice again that this was not a new covenant, but was a reiteration of the narrowing of the covenant that through the Seed of Isaac, “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”

Next, to Jacob, Isaac’s son, God promised, “13And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:13-14). Notice again that this was not a new covenant, but was a reiteration of the narrowing of the covenant that through the Seed of Jacob, “shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

When we move into the New Testament, we hear John the Baptist say to the Pharisees, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9; cf. Luke 3:8). This is not a covenant of DNA, but a covenant of faith and grace.

Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, said, “39They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did” (John 8:39-40). This is not a covenant of works, but a covenant of faith and grace, the same as the original covenant given in the Garden of Eden.

And finally, Paul, speaking to us Christians says, “6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom. 9:6-8). And he goes on to say, “7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:7-8). We are not children of Abraham by DNA, by genetics, by birth, but by faith. Paul echos God’s Word in Genesis, to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is on covenant that God makes with all nations and that is the covenant of grace, beginning with Adam and Eve, being fulfilled in Jesus, and being ours by God’s grace, through the faith which He gives to us.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Striving with God - October 17, 2010 - Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24) - Text: Genesis 32:22-30

A couple weeks ago we talked about the struggles we face in this world, struggles that are not caused by God, but struggles He allows to happen, yet struggles through which He always works out the best for us, especially in drawing us to Him. We had a great example of this happening just this past week with the rescue of the thirty-three miners in Chile. As each miner was rescued he praised God for his rescue. What will be interesting to see is if they have truly had a change of heart. Remember, a change of behavior will only last a while if there was not true change of heart. This morning in our Gospel reading Jesus encourages us, especially in times of struggles, to pray, to keep on praying, to pray without ceasing. In the Epistle lesson, Paul encourages Timothy and us today concerning our struggles and how we are to turn to the Lord, especially through His Word in times of struggle. Paul’s words are quite contemporary as we see in our world today that the time has come “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (v. 3-4). And how do we meet the challenge of the struggles of this world? By “continu[ing] in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v. 14-15). And he encourages also through the Word to “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (v. 2).

With that said, concerning our own struggles, let us look at Jacob’s life and his struggles. Remember, Jacob was born second after his twin brother Esau and was given the name Jacob because he was grabbing the knee of his brother at birth. The name Jacob means “knee grabber,” and the other meaning of his name, “he supplants” was an indication of what would happen later in his life, that of supplanting or taking his brother’s place.

Jacob’s twin brother, Esau was born first and so he owned the birthright, and the right of the firstborn which meant that he would receive a double inheritance at the death of his father. This inheritance Esau bartered away to Jacob with a bowl of stew. Later, because both Jacob and Rebekah knew that Jacob was the child chosen through whom the line of the promised Messiah would come, and not trusting and waiting on the Lord, they rushed in to take the blessing of the right of the first born as well and this right they acquired through deception.

Because of what Jacob and Rebekah did, because of the threat from Esau on Jacob’s life, he left town in fear. Jacob went to live with Rebekah’s brother, his uncle, Laban. While he was there he worked for and earned two wives, as well as accumulated sons, camels, sheep, cattle, and much more. More than twenty years have past and now Jacob is returning to town, but instead of returning in poverty, he is now returning in wealth. The Lord had richly blessed him and it is time to return to his homeland.

As we move to our text, Jacob is preparing to meet his brother. Because of his fear of his brother, who, the last time they saw each other, was breathing threats of murder, Jacob believed his brother still was out to murder him and so he was taking no chance of having his entire family murdered. Interestingly enough, I guess he had forgotten God’s promise of blessing, and how could God bless him if he was not alive. Anyway, he separated his family and sent gifts to Esau to appease him, verse twenty-two, “22The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had” (v. 22-23). His idea was if one group was caught, the rest might still escape.

After he separated himself the Lord appeared to him, verse twenty-four, “24And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him” (v. 24-25). How can it be that Jacob, a mere man, wrestled with God and prevailed? Our only answer to that question is because God allowed it to happen. God allowed it so He might bless Him.

Picking up at verse twenty-six,“26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered” (v. 26-30). The Lord, the pre-incarnate Jesus, wrestled with Jacob, allowed him to win and then blessed him and restated His covenant with him.

What does this mean? The First Commandment tells us that “we should have no other God’s before us.” Luther explains this to mean that “we should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” In our text we see that Jacob trusted in himself more than he trusted in God, which is idolatry. When we look at our own lives, how often it is that we trust in ourselves instead of trusting in the Lord. We may not be blatant, coarse idolaters, worshiping stone or wooden statues, but we do have a propensity to being more subtle idolaters, fine or refined idolaters, placing our trust in other things instead of worshiping the one true God. We tend to put our faith in ourselves, in our abilities to earn for ourselves, in our abilities to reason for ourselves. We tend to think that we are self made people and that we have earned our own rights and our own way in this world. We truly have a great tendency to trust in ourselves rather than to trust in the Lord.

I would encourage you to take some time to look at your life, with sober judgement as Paul reminds us. Where and how do you use your time, your talents and your treasure? If you truly want to know what is important in your life, look at your life. Do not simply think that by saying your faith life is most important, that it is. The devil has done a great job deceiving us and convincing us of things that are not necessarily true. The devil would have us say that our faith life is most important, then he distracts us into so many other things that we have little or no time for our faith life, but since we have said our faith life is most important, then we rationalize that it is. Again, if you want to know what is most important in your life take the time to recognize where you spend your time, how and for what you use your gifts, talents and abilities and where you spend you treasure, then you will know for sure, what is most important to you.

As Paul encouraged Timothy to stand firm in the faith so I would encourage you to stand firm in your faith. Doctrine is important. What we believe, teach and confess is important. It is the Word of God and the Word of God alone which is able to make us wise for salvation. We are living in a day when people are running after those people who will tell them what they want to hear and we can always find someone who will tell us what we want to hear. You know I cannot simply tell you what you want to hear, but I have been called by God, through you to tell you what God knows you need to hear. And what God wants you to hear is the encouragement to be in the Word, to believe the Word, to make regular and diligent use of the Word which alone is able to make you wise to salvation.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus, through the parable of the widow, encourages us to pray without losing heart. If there is nothing else we might think we can do, it is that we can pray. No one can every stop you from praying, because even if you are not praying out loud, you can always pray in your heart and mind. Jesus encourages us to pray to Him and know that He is indeed just and righteous and he will hear and answer our prayers and we can be sure that His answer will be according to what He knows is best for us.

This morning we have Jacob’s example. Just as Jacob was imperfect, so we are imperfect. Just as Jacob often sinned and placed himself and his faith in himself before God, so we are imperfect and we often have more faith in ourselves than in the Lord. And just as Jacob struggled with the Lord, we struggle with the Lord. Through his struggling with the Lord, the Lord strengthened Jacob for the trials that lay ahead of him. So likewise, as we struggle with the Lord, He strengthens us through our struggles to help us to face the struggles that lay ahead in our own lives. And we have God’s continuing promise that He is with us always, even to the end of the age.

What a great God we have. What a loving God we have. God loves us so much. God created us to love us. God redeemed us because of His love for us, bringing us back into a right relationship with Himself. God gave us life at our conception. God has given us new life through the waters of Holy Baptism. God gives us forgiveness of sins through confession and absolution. God strengthens and keeps us in faith through His Word and His Holy Supper. Although we may suffer from the struggles, the trials and tribulations of this world, God loves us and works out the best for us in any and all circumstances, because of His great love for us.

God loves us so much. God loves you so much. God’s desire is for us that we cling to Him, that we pray to Him, that we trust in Him above all things, including ourselves. God’s desire is that we fear, love and trust in Him above all things so that through our struggles we might be drawn closer to Him and strengthened in our faith. May the Lord so work in your life that you do say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Inconvenient Inconsideration of Convenience

It is my understanding, and forgive me for failing in my research, but supposedly Alexander Graham Bell, after inventing the telephone, said that he could see every city having one telephone. I guess he did not think too much of his invention. Would he not be surprised if he came back today to see that, not only does every city have a phone, but just about every person has a phone.

I do believe that the world is a better, maybe even safer place because so many people have cell phones, after all, if there is an accident, one need not look for a pay phone, because someone certainly has a cell phone and is probably already making a call. And cell phones are not simply phones, they can be used to take pictures, videos, surf the internet, send e-mails, text messages and more. How did we live without them? What would we do without them?

Not too many years ago, when the cell phone industry was young, and cell phones were very expensive, as well as very large, it used to be that a person was a big shot if they had a phone. Today you must be a big shot if you do not have one, because you are important enough to let other people take the calls. So, all in all, we have come a long way with our cell phones.

The problems is, I believe that our cell phones have had some negative consequences. One such negative consequence, especially in the “sport” of texting, is that people have lost the art of spelling and the technique of grammar. Of course, computers are no help since they either correct your spelling and grammar as you go, or at least make you aware of a spelling or grammar problem. At any rate, I believe that our technology is hampering our education.

As for our own personal safety, an unintended consequence of the convenience of the cell phone is the fact that, although we may believe we can multitask, the truth is that when we are attempting to do more than one thing at a time, only one of the things we are doing is getting the most attention and the rest are getting only partial attention. The consequence of this is seen in the worst case scenarios of people driving while talking on the phone and worse while texting or surfing the web, which makes for dangerous driving.

But there is still something even worse, an unintended consequence to the convenience of having a cell phone, I believe is that we have become more and more rude, maybe not consciously, nor on purpose, but I see it is happening. It never ceases to amaze me to see one person of a couple talking on the phone while eating out. Not only is this rude to your immediate guest, but to those around you who are trying to have a nice quiet dinner as well. Or how about walking through a grocery store and having someone speaking to you, and you respond only to find out they were talking on their phone. And then, when they are checking out, not paying attention to the cashier, but to their business on the phone, while everyone else in line has to put up with waiting for them to get their business done so they can get their business done. And finally, the fact that, unless you are willing to turn your phone off at times, you can be bothered at any time or any place.

As for me, I will keep my phone. I will use it when necessary. I will keep it on vibrate when speaking with others and ignore it until an opportune time to give the caller my undivide attention as the one with which I am conversing. And if at all possible, I will refrain from allowing my phone to distract me while driving. I ask that you would do the same.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Clarifying Heterodoxy

The following short answers are given to clarify orthodox Biblical teaching compared to some of the prevailing heterodox or not complete orthodox teaching that are prevalent in our world today. Longer answers to these questions can be found in other writings in this blog.

There is only one God, we simply call Him by different names. There are many religions in the world.
Basically these are one heterological misstatements. In the first place, the attempt to ecumenise the world into one religion by suggesting that we all worship the same god, we simply call him by different names fails at the most important point. At no time do those who suggest we all worship the same god talk about or discuss the fact that the God of Holy Scripture, the one and only true God died and rose. Even those in the cults of the Jehovah’s Witness and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints fail at this point. The fact of the matter is that the one true God declares in His Word that He took on human flesh, human sin, suffered, died and rose. As John relates his vision, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).

So, actually there are basically two religions in the world, the religion of man and the religion of Holy Scripture. The religion of man is a religion based on one’s character, on one’s good works, that is a person does good and is saved. The other religion is the religion of Holy Scripture which is a religion of grace, of God doing and man being done to, of God giving and man being given to. God gives faith, forgiveness and life. God gives and stirs a response of faith.

Children cannot believe.
To say that children cannot believe is akin to saying that people who speak a language you do not understand do not believe simply because you cannot understand what they are saying. Children can and do believe and this fact can be seen from infancy. When a nursing mother puts her child on her breast, the child knows and believes that mother is giving it something good to eat or If you ever put a bottle to an infants mouth it shows its faith by sucking on the bottle. As a child grows a little older and is spoon fed, the child shows its faith by its opening its mouth when the spoon is put to its mouth, expressing faith that it believes it will be getting good food to eat. Even if a parent is looking the other way, a child will leap into its parents arms believing the parent will catch it. Children can and do believe but they simply do not express this faith in the same way as an adult, primarily because they do not speak the same language, however, their body language and their words prove otherwise. Why do you think Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Luke 18:17). The inference being believing as a little child.

One must understand what is happening in order to make a valid Baptism.
When a person takes a pill, say an aspirin, do they always know how it works? Usually not, yet, the medicine works anyway. How much more does God’s medicine work, even if and especially if we do not understand how it works. Baptism works, because it is God’s work. Peter tells us, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). His comparison is to the Ark in which God saved eight people through the flood, yet the words are clear, “Baptism saves you.” Baptism is running the show. Baptism is doing the doing. No one can baptize themself. One is baptized and in one’s baptism God is saving the person being baptized.

Yet, the next objection is the objection of how much water must be used. When one looks up the definition of baptize (in the Greek) it means to wash, in any way, either a ceremonial washing such as simply a dripping over of water on the fingers, to an actual emersion of the body to wash it. Interestingly enough, Mark, speaking of the ceremonial washings of the Pharisees, not always were things immersed, just look at what he says, “and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches)” (Mark 7:4). Are we to believe the immersed their dining couches?

The fact of the matter it that Holy Baptism is a gift from God which corresponds with circumcision of the Old Testament. Holy Baptism is that sacred act through which God washes a person and gives them faith. It is God’s doing and so we may be confident that He does it right and He gives what He gives to save us.

Grace is something we do for God.
“Grace is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.” That statement is true! “Grace is what God gives us because . . .” That statement, no matter how you fill in the rest, is false, because grace does not carry any conditions. If there are conditions, there is no grace. Grace is what God is doing, what God is giving. Grace is God running the show. Grace is God running the verbs. Grace is what God does for us while we are sinners and His enemies (Romans 5:8, 10).

One must choose God or accept Him as their Savior.
One analogy that is very fitting is the following. When you were a child in grade school and you went out to recess with your friends, suppose you decided to choose teams in order to play kickball. Suppose, also, that your best friend was one of the captains and you chose to be on their team. Did it really matter that you chose to be on their team? No, what mattered was that they chose you to be on their team. Likewise, it does not matter if we choose Jesus, but that He has chosen us. Even Paul reminds us, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Now, a lot of people would agree, that it is Jesus who is choosing us, but then go on to tell you how they have chosen Jesus, dedicated their lives to Him and made Him Lord of their lives, by being obedient to Him. Which moves back to our attempting to take credit for what God has already done, given us faith, forgiveness and life. Why can we not simply let God be God and give Him glory for what He gives?

Holy Communion is an ordinance or a symbol.
Is Holy Communion an ordinance, that is simply a religious rite, or is it a symbol, that is a symbolic act, or is it more, a sacrament, a mystery? Does something happen in Holy Communion? Does God do or give something through the means of Holy Communion, or is this simply a right in which we do something for God, act out what He did some 2000 years ago.

First, let us ask, what does God need from us? Does God need for us to act out what He did some 2000 years ago? And if He would need for us to do this, why? Does God need anything from us, as if we would have anything to give to Him, that He did not first give to us. Here we might remind ourselves that the reason God created us was to love us and give to us.

So, if this is not something we are doing for God, then certainly it must be something He is doing for us and giving to us, even if we may not understand how He does it, see Holy Baptism above.

Now we have been referring to this meal as Holy Communion, which implies that this is a unionizing meal. Perhaps we would do better to call it the Lord’s Supper emphasizing that it is the Lord’s meal, that He is the Host and the meal and that the main thing is not a communion, but the main thing is the eating and drinking and the forgiveness of sins which He gives.

In His words of institution our Lord took bread and said He was giving His body. He took the cup of wine and said He was giving His blood. So, what we believe is that there is bread and body and wine and blood. How? Because He says so. And when He gives us this meal, He says we are to do this, eat and drink so that it is a remembrance, that is, not simply something that comes to mind, but is truly a participation. In other words, when we partake of the Lord’s body and blood, in, with and under the bread and wine, firmly believe that we are being given His body and blood, we participate in His life so that His life becomes our live, His perfect life is accounted as our having lived perfectly; His death becomes our death so that His eternal spiritual death penalty in hell is accounted as our suffering; and His resurrection becomes ours so that we know that we too will rise again.

Again, the main thing is the eating, the drinking and the forgiveness of sins. And extra benefit is this communion, that is that we confess that we truly believe the same thing.

God created us to do something for Him.
Really? What does God need from us? Really? God who created all things out of nothing, God who created us and gave us life? God who has everything and given us everything, what does He need from us. Now, if god were an idol, we would need to do for him, because he would not be able to do for himself. But, our God is the Creator God who has created us and given everything to us. God created us to love us, to give to us, to do for us.

God needs us to worship him.
Really? Again with the thoughts of our greatness and God’s lack of self esteem. Let us look at this logically and realistically. God created all things out of nothing. God create me. God give me life, faith, forgiveness, salvation, etc. God gives me gifts, talents and abilities. God give me a job, and all that I need. I am born with nothing and I take nothing from this world. Really, what does God need from me, nothing. I need everything from God.

But what about worship? When we define worship as what we are doing for God, God’s worthship of our exalting Him, does God really need or desire us to worship Him? God neither needs nor demands our worship. As a matter of fact, worship is not the best word to describe what God desires on Sunday morning. God’s desire is to love us and to give to us, to do for us. And so the best way to describe what happens on Sunday morning is “divine service.” God serves us on our Sunday morning. First and foremost God does for us and gives to us. He gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. And He does this giving through the means He has given to give us, His means of grace, His Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution and His Holy Supper. And the great thing is that He even stirs in us to respond by living lives of faith. And this living a life of faith is the best worship of our Lord.

We are all ministers.
The heart of this thought is that for me to be important, I need a title or role, especially some spiritual title or role. The problem with this is the focus, from God doing the doing to our belief that God needs something from us, or that we need to do something to gain God grace and favor. The fact of the matter is that there is only one office of Holy Ministry and that is okay.

Better than being ministers is the fact that we are all priests in the priesthood of all believers. The pastor or minister is not a priest. A priest offers sacrifices and the pastor or minister does not. As priest, we offer our lives on a daily basis as living sacrifices to the Lord and this fact is what stirs in us great joy in our response of faith to our Lord and all that He has done, does and continues to do for us.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Righteous Shall Live by Faith - October 3, 2010 - Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Habakkuk 11-4; 2:1-4

“How long, O Lord?” “Why do you make me see iniquity?” “Why do you sit and let evil happen?” How often do we question the Lord in our own lives much like Habakkuk in our reading for this morning? How often do we wonder if the Lord really cares about us and what is happening in this world? Let me assure you this morning that it is okay to ask God questions. Certainly He is a big guy and He can take care of Himself. And much like our parents do not stop loving us when we ask questions, nor does our Lord stop loving us when we ask Him questions. As a matter of fact, our questioning the Lord is something of a show of faith. When we question the Lord, we acknowledge that He is the One in charge. But, I would be remiss if I did not say, let us be careful that in our questioning the Lord, we do not fall into the temptation to despair, to blame and despise Him, lest we lose faith and life.

Normally we look at the other lessons and how they might tie in with our text. This morning both the Epistle and the Gospel lessons tie in somewhat as they speak about the struggles we have in life and the fact that God works through these struggles to strengthen and keep us in faith. And even more in the Gospel we have Jesus’ warning that we are not to be the person who is bringing struggles and temptations to others. He also warns us not to think more highly of ourselves especially concerning what we perceive to be our own good works, because more often than not, our good works are only what is our duty. Perhaps as we look at our own lives we might ask if our lives are encouraging or discouraging others in their faith and faith life.

Getting to our text we begin with Habakkuk’s complaint, verse one, “1The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (1:1-4). Habakkuk’s complaint is that there is violence throughout the land and it seems to him that the Lord is doing nothing about it. It seems to Habakkuk that the Lord is simply sitting idly by and watching from a distance.

Habakkuk’s observation is that the wicked have perverted justice so that might makes right, in other words, the one who wins the battle is right whether they are right or not. Habakkuk is troubled because it seems that God is tolerant of iniquity and wrong, things such as destruction, violence, strife, and contention and that He is doing nothing about it. The king of Judah cannot enforce God’s laws, and God is not enforcing His laws, so there truly is no justice.

Habakkuk questions, when will God answer and bring justice? Habakkuk recognizes that even though the world is in chaos, God is still in charge, God is still in control and his desire is that God would step in and bring vindication, justice and peace, and that God would do so soon.

Our text continues with God’s response, verse one of chapter two, “2:1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. 2And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. 4Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith’” (2:1-4). Habakkuk begins by telling us that he will take his post and watch. He will be patient. He will pray to the Lord, offering his petitions and then he will sit and wait to see how the Lord will answer his prayer, take control of the situation and do what is right.

And the Lord answered Habakkuk and instructed him to write His words for all to read. The Lord is giving Habakkuk a vision and he is to write down the vision he is seeing. He is to write it so that any who read it will understand what is written.

Probably the most difficult part of the Lord’s message to Habakkuk is the fact that the fulfillment of the vision will happen in God’s time. And God does not tell Habakkuk when that fulfillment will take place. This is not the first time we have God speaking, promising and letting His people know that His time is not their time. Yet, God’s timing is perfect timing so the events will work out when He knows it is best according to His good and gracious will which is always best.

It is in the last words of our text that the children of Israel and we get our encouragement. Know this, “the righteous will live by his faith.” How is it that the righteous will live by faith? Martin Luther thought these words meant that in order for a person to stand righteous in God’s presence he had to live a righteous life, which is why he struggled so much with his own sin and his constant need to confess every little sin he confessed. Yet, that is not what God is saying as Luther finally figured out. That “the righteous will live by his faith,” means that one is made righteous and given righteousness by God’s grace. It is God who makes us righteous and He does so by giving us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.

Thus, that “the righteous will live by faith,” means that faith shows itself in its righteous living, in other words, because we have been given faith, because our sins have been paid for and are forgiven, because of all that God has done, does and will continue to do for us, because of God working in and through us we do live lives of faith.

So, what does this mean? As in Habakkuk’s day, so even today wickedness seems to have its way in our world. Just turn on the television, open a newspaper, read a magazine, listen to the radio and we hear story after story of the wickedness that seems to be running rampant in our world today. Nation is fighting against nation. There are earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and so forth that are destroying cities and killing people. There are terrorist attacks. Idolatry, theft, sexual immorality, stealing, coveting, gossip, lying, and killing, are the order of the day throughout the world.

Just as Habakkuk noted in his day, so even today, sin abounds and it appears as if God is watching, “from a distance.” We might well ask, how can God allow for all the sinful perversions that are taking place in the world. How can God be tolerant of what is happening, especially to the treatment of His own people, to Christians around the world who are being persecuted and martyred for their faith.

As Christians we too cry for justice. We cry, “How long, O Lord?” We question God concerning the inequities of the world and yet, our questions are not blaming nor doubting, but are questions acknowledging that we know that God is God, that He is in charge, that He is in control, that all things are in His hands and that He and He alone is the one who can help us.

At the same time, we know that God, in His Word reminds us that He will have the last word, but we need to wait. God’s timing is perfect timing. Time and again we are reminded to stop and wait on the Lord. Time and again we rush in and do it our way and then wonder why things got messed up. How difficult it is for us to wait especially when we believe God is not doing anything and that we know best. Yet, we have God’s confident word, to wait.

I believe the most important words of our text for this morning are the words Luther himself struggled with, the reminder that “the just will live by faith.” Here again, as I said a few weeks ago, this teaching on justification is what sets us Missouri Synod Lutherans apart from all the other religions and denominations in the world. Just listen (well, really, don’t listen, but if you do) to the evangelical movement, to the TV preachers and so forth. They will tell you how you must live a just life, how and what you must do in order to be just in God’s eyes. They believe themselves to be doing what God commands so they believe when they have done all they believe needs to be done. They believe the Master will serve them rather than demand they serve Him since in their eyes they have done their duty. They so burden you with the law that you may end up feeling like Luther, in despair with no hope until you too realize that for “the just to live by faith,” means that we are made just and right by God, by His grace, His undeserved love for us, through the faith He gives. It comes from outside of us, not inside.

We are members of the family of God by grace through faith, given through the means of grace. At our baptism God put faith in our hearts. God gave us forgiveness of sins. God wrote our names in the book of life. We can remember our baptism, the fact that we have been baptized and know for certain that God got it right, that we are just and righteous in God’s eyes because He makes us that way. It is not about us and what we do. We do not look inside ourselves. It is all about God and what He has done. We look outside ourselves. We look to Jesus who paid the price for our sins. We look to God who has given us faith and who keeps us and strengthens us in our faith.

Ultimately, we live by faith, living as priests in the priesthood of all believers, yet this is not a have to but a want to, a get to, a response of faith that is given to us. As we live in our vocations, as we live lives as priests, offering our very lives as living sacrifices for the Lord, as we serve others so we are serving the Lord, as a response faith.

God is a just God, punishing sinners. We may not always see the punishment of sinners in this world, but we will see it on the last day. Yet, God is also a merciful God. God’s desire is that no one will perish. God is not slow in His return as some count slowness, but rather, He is patient in not wanting anyone to perish and so He is giving enough time for as many as possible to come to faith. And so, as He is patient, as He is waiting on us, so we are patient and we wait on the Lord. Yes, it may be difficult, more so at some time than at another, but we do wait and while we wait we live. We live in the joy of knowing that God has given us faith, forgiveness, life and salvation, that God has made us just and right in His own eyes and that He stirs in us to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Catechetical Devotions

It is October and as advertised, Catechetical Devotions will be coming soon (I said they would begin in October, but I did not specify what day, sorry). These devotions will appear one a day and will expound the six chief parts of Luther's Small Catechism. I am going to send out some more PR to hopefully boast the hits for these devotions. Also, if you would like to PR these devotions on this blog, know that these devotions were written a while back and as I have been rewriting them, I have been attempting to update them, especially theologically. Yet, know that they are, for the most part, written from a less "profound," less "theologically astute," younger me. Yet, again, I have attempted to correct my earlier theological flaws.

Check in as these devotions will begin soon!

May the Lord richly bless you!