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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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Part Two - Spiritual Blessings

Part Two - Spiritual Blessings
God gives, and we are given to. God gives us all that we need for the support of our bodily lives, all we need, not necessarily all that we may want, because we can always want more. And yet, God gives even greater gifts. His greatest gifts are His spiritual gifts, those gifts and blessings that are given, freely given and that give eternal life. Very often we speak of the fact that God in Jesus rescues us from sin, death and the power of the devil. We speak of the fact that Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection defeated sin, death and the devil. We speak in terms of Jesus giving us the strength to resist the unholy three of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. We speak of the fact that God gives faith, forgiveness of sins, life in this world, eternal life, salvation, strengthening of faith and so on. So, the question we might ask ourselves is this, “How does God give us these gifts and blessings?”
 
The answer to “How does God gives us these gifts and blessings?” is that He gives them through external means, in particular through the Means of Grace: the Holy Word of God, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Confession and Absolution. God’s usual way of working with us, of giving to us is through means. God’s unusual way is directly. Now certainly we know that after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, after the day of Pentecost God gave His apostles the ability to perform signs and wonders, to do miracles, and this ability was given as confirmation to attest to the words they were proclaiming. Yet, as the apostles died, so did the ability to do such signs and wonders.
 
Again, God’s usual way of coming to us and giving to us is external, through means. His unusual way is internal, directly. To direct one internally, that is to direct a person to look inside himself to find the answers to life’s questions leads either to despair because all we find inside ourselves is a sinful nature, or it would lead to self and works righteousness because a person might actually believe s/he could live by the demands of the law which, according to our conceived and born in sin nature, is impossible. And so we are directed to look outside ourselves. We are directed to the external means of grace. It is through the very means of Grace, the very means of God’s Word, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Confession and Absolution that God gives faith, forgiveness, life and salvation.
 
Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11:
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore 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. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Notice that Paul does not encourage us to look inside ourselves, rather his words are an encouragement to look outside ourselves to look to God the Holy Spirit. As he says, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” It is God the Holy Spirit who works externally through the means of His Word and Sacraments, in particular Holy Baptism to give us faith and to stir in us to say that Jesus is Lord.
 
Our doctrine, what we believe, teach and confess, determines our practice, how we live out what we believe. As momma used to say, we “Practice what you preach.” So, how does our doctrine look when we say that God gives His gifts through means? First and foremost God gives faith, and the faith He gives He usually gives soon after birth through the waters of Holy Baptism when water and His name are put on us. It is through these simple ordinary means that God does great and extraordinary things, namely giving us faith, forgiveness of sins, and writing our names in the Book of Life.
 
If we were not baptized and given faith as a child, certainly God works through the means of His Holy Word. The Holy Spirit working when and where He pleases works through our reading and hearing of the Word of God to give faith, forgiveness and eternal life.
 
Jesus purchased and won forgiveness of sins on Calvary. He distributes that forgiveness through His Word as well as through Confession and Absolution. When we confess our sins we hear the most beautiful words in the world, “Your sins are forgiven.” Those are the most beautiful words in the world because with sins forgiven we know we have life and salvation. And yet, God also distributes His forgiveness through Holy Baptism and through His Holy Supper.
 
If we were to be pointed inward, to look inside ourselves, to look internally for the gifts of God, we would live life looking for some inward sign, some manifestation of, perhaps being “slain” in the spirit, being able to do signs, wonders, even miracles. We would be disappointed, even in despair if we were not seeing such inward manifestations thinking that we are doing something wrong. Our worship service would be a time for spiritual manipulation, a time to be worked into a frenzy until we might “feel” something, even anything that would make us “feel” like we have been given something from God. Certainly to have an inward focus would mean pointing to ourselves, and the bottom line is that then we are indeed our own gods and idols.
 
Focusing on the means of grace looks like Divine Service, that is it looks like God’s service to us, first and foremost, and second would be our response of faith. Focusing on the means of grace means being reminded of our Baptism usually through an invocation. It means confessing our sins and hearing the words of absolution, wherein and through which the gifts of forgiveness are distributed and given to us. It means hearing God’s Word read and expounded. It means speaking back to God the very words He has given us to say through the words of the liturgy, not some man-made bit of pomp and circumstance, some rhyming poem or ode, but speaking God’s Word. It means being given God’s gifts through His Holy Supper wherein we partake of our Lord, participating in His life, death and resurrection. And it means concluding the service with God having His name put on us again.
 
Notice how our doctrine informs our practice which teaches our doctrine. Notice how God’s gifts are distributed through our practice which flows out of our doctrine. Notice how these all tie together and are the very means through which our Lord gives to us the gifts and blessings He has to give.

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