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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, November 27, 2013

Blessings - November 28, 2013 - Thanksgiving Eve - Text: The Apostle’s Creed and Explanations

God gives and we are given to. God gives first. He is the prime mover. In the beginning God created all things out of nothing. Nothing exists that has not been made by God. Thus, even we who are His creation have been given to by Him. We have been given life at conception, new life through Holy Baptism, even eternal life earned and paid for by Him. As Dr. Martin Luther so well states in each of his explanations of the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed that God’s gives. God has created me. “He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” It is Jesus “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death,” The “Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.”
 
As we said, God gives, and we are given to. God has created all things out of nothing so that all that is has been created and given to us by God to use in service to Him in His Kingdom. Certainly we understand that although in the beginning God created all things prefect and holy, because of man’s sin, we now live in a world that is under the curse of that sin so now all things are not perfect, but are imperfect. Yet, all things have their origin in God.
 
God gives. God gives life at conception. Along with life God gives us all our senses: hearing, taste, touch, sight, smell. God gives us a house and a home as well as clothing and shoes, meat and drink, wife and children and all that we have, all that we need to support our body and life. God even gives us each our vocations, that is those roles in life through which we serve Him by serving others, such as husband or wife, mother or father, carpenter or miner, banker or lawyer, doctor or plumber. All these vocations are given by God as He gives each of us gifts, talents and abilities to perform the various works of service in each vocation.
 
To understand how God is the prime mover, the beginning, the middle and the end in all giving to us, let us focus in on and trace how God gives using one physical item from God, that of food and in particular the food of oatmeal as our example. From where does oatmeal come, other than off our pantry shelf. Normally we purchase our oatmeal form the grocery store. But, what does it take for the grocery store to have oatmeal on the shelf. In order for a Grocery Store to function properly it must have an owner who must hire workers who stock the shelves as well as sell the items and keep the store clean and running.
 
In order to stock the store there needs to be trucks which deliverer the good to the store from the warehouse which must also have a staff of employees to make sure the warehouse is properly stock to fill the orders from the stores.
 
The warehouse gets its goods from the factory which produces the products it sends to the warehouse to be distributed to the stores to be sold to the consumer. The factory must have a staff of workers as well as the right equipment and packaging to produce and package the product. The equipment must be built and maintained in order for the factory to function properly, and the packaging must be available to appropriately distribute the product. Both the equipment and the packaging call for their own set of subroutines to function properly. And the factory must have workers to run the equipment.
 
The factory needs raw materials and in the case of oatmeal, the factory must purchase the oats it uses to make oatmeal from the farmer. The farmer must have good seed to plant as well as fertilizer and other farm equipment, workers, water and so forth to grow a good crop of oats. Ultimately the farmer depends on God for good weather and a good growing season in order to produce a good crop of grain.
 
Indeed the Lord blesses us with oatmeal and all we need through the labor and vocations, the gifts, talents and abilities of many workers, and yet we see it all begins and ends with the Lord.
 
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 saying, “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 Corinthians 12:3). 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. 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.
 
So, how are these gifts and blessing from God shown forth in our lives? Paul speaks of these gifts and blessings showing forth in what he calls the fruits of the spirit which he lists in his letters, especially as we read in Galatians. “16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16-26).
 
Notice that Paul first speaks of the opposite of the fruits of the spirit by outlining the desires of the flesh. Certainly we can get a better grasp of the positive when set out against the negative. Notice that Paul shows us how the fruits of the spirit flow from the gifts of the spirit. It is faithfulness that flows out of the faith given by God through the means of His Word and Sacraments. It is love and forgiveness flowing out of God’s love for us and His first forgiving us.
 
When you plant a fruit tree, you take care of it, cultivate it, fertilize and water it. After a while you expect to harvest the fruit of that tree. Likewise, as our Lord has given us all the gifts and blessings He has to give; both physical: clothing and shoes, house and home, meat and drink, family and friends; and spiritual; faith, forgiveness, life and salvation; and as He continually cultivates, takes care of, feeds and waters us with even more gifts, the result is fruits of the spirit. Fruits of the spirit are those ways Christians, given to by God, show forth the faith that is in their hearts.
 
God called each one of us to life at conception. He calls us to faith through Holy Baptism. He calls us to live lives of faith what we call our vocation, using the gifts, talents and abilities in service to Him by serving others. He calls some men into the Office of Holy Ministry. As the Lord has called us and as He pours out His gifts and blessings on us, our response of faith is to live and serve in our vocations as priests in the priesthood of all believers. The work of a priest is to offer sacrifices, and so our work is to offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord with His help and to His glory.
 
How does this look in real life? It looks like faith and doctrine, what we believe, teach and confess, in action. Evangelism or better said, Lutheran Evangelism is basically one living one’s vocation always being ready to give an answer for the hope one has in Jesus, and that answer is given by God through one’s making regular and diligent us of the means of grace so that the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to bring others to faith so they too might be a part of His kingdom and live in Godly vocations as well.
 
In summary, or in other words, God gives life. God gives faith. God gives all we need to support our body and life, physically and spiritual. God gives through means, both physical blessings and spiritual blessings. As we partake of the physical blessings, we grow in our body. As we partake of the spiritual means of grace, making regular, whenever offered, and diligent, taking God’s Word seriously, use of the means of grace, our Lord works through those means to give us the words we will speak when asked of the faith and hope that we have as we live lives as priests in our vocations. God gives, and we are given to. Today, tomorrow, and always we are to give thanks to God for all His good gifts and blessings. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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