Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two Clocks are Counting Down for Each of Us

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law. Galatians 4:4-5

Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with Thee, and his limits Thou hast set so that he cannot pass. Job 14:5

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father knows. Matthew 24:36

An anonymous giver put this ornament in my in-basket. It counted down to midnight on Christmas Eve. This reminds us that God set a real countdown to the birth of Jesus counter in motion when in Genesis 3:15 He promised this blessed event. Galatians 4 tells us that when the time was just right (fullness of time) Jesus was born as the God-man to redeem us, i.e. buy us back with His precious body and blood from sin, death and devil. Thus, this counter we no longer need, only as the one kindly given me this Christmas to help us celebrate this blessed event.

A second type of counter remains for each of us, however. It is counting down the remaining time we have in this world and body. Only God knows what is on our personal counter. He is in control of it. Thus, we must redeem the remaining time so as to follow Jesus our Lord to eternal life.

There still remains a third counter, one which is counting down the time until the Lord's return. And only He knows what is on this counter! Anyone who suggests they have figured out what it records are lying. NO ONE KNOWS! Except God!

Don't let either of these counters run out before you believe in Jesus Christ as your redeemer from sin. Peter asks a wonderful question regarding our own personal counter and the end-of-the-world counter: "What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God?" 2 Peter 3:11b-12a He answers: "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." 2 Peter 3:17-18

Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 Could Be Your "First Christmas" Together!

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2b
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself, bright and pure
Revelation 19:7,8

Many of us have precious Christmas ornaments which depict the First Christmas together as Husband and Wife. It is wonderful year after year as this ornament is taken out of its storage and hung on the tree to remember the blessed marriage and its continuous blessings.

Such is the marriage of the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, to His bride, the Holy Christian Church. Yes, the Lord likes to make great and frequent use of this reality of humans being wed to the bridegroom Jesus and in preparation for the wedding feast in heaven to come, e.g. Ephesians 5:25ff. The bride (all believers in Christ) is cleansed of her sins and clothed in Christ's righteousness which He earned for them by His holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death for the covering over of all sins. Thus, "it was granted her to clothe herself, bright and pure."

God proclaims such high honor to every human for the Christmas message as first announced by the angels is "good news of great joy that will be for all people (emphasis mine). For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11

If you've never embraced this good news for yourself, never believed that Jesus is your Savior from sin, then "This Christmas" could be your First Christmas Together with your Bridegroom, Jesus. As the Apostle Paul exhorts in the 2 Corinthians passage: "now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation." Believe it, it's absolutely meant for you!

For the rest of us who celebrate many years married to Jesus in His brightness and purity, we rejoice each year at this time, knowing He came to redeem us. It is truly the season of peace and glad tidings of great joy!

Merry Christmas 2010!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Look Up! Redemption Draws Near!

Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

Luke 21:28

Believers are not dreadful of Jesus' return, nor will it be secret, nor will He return to setup an earthly government. No, He will return as He ascended and every eye will see this (verse 27 "and they will see the Son of Man coming").

So, the admonition here by Jesus is that when we see the signs that His coming is eminent, i.e. earthquakes, wars, apostasy, etc., we should not be fearful, but rather be comforted that the Christian's redemption is near!

The straightening up and lifting of your heads refers to opposite reaction of the unbelievers who are frightened and concerned about the end times' signs and would rather shy away from them rather than take them as positive sign of something great waiting to appear: Jesus' return!

The signs are all there as they have been since the earliest days of the Christian church, so any time at any day the Lord could return. We wait in anxious excitement for His day, prepared for it by the covering over of our sins by His precious body and blood given and shed for them, knowing that life in the presence of the Eternal One will commence soon. We have no reason to fear the cosmic display of signs but rather look up to see the Christ, who will return to take us home! Amen!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Precious Snow From Heaven

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10,11

Recently, there were several blocks of the shopping mecca on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, CA which had snow making machines on store stops pouring down snow for a wintry Christmas scene. Much like this false snow is so much of the words which people live by today: artificial, not the real thing. They don't succeed is delivering what we really need.

Human souls do not live by physical food alone but by every Word that proceeds from God's mouth. Both Moses and Jesus speak this! (Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4) This Word from God's mouth is none other than the inspired Word of God recorded in the Holy Bible which points humans to the Word Incarnate come from heaven to save us from our sins!

We do live by this Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, who came to suffer and die for our sins. Believing this, we have life even if we physically die! (John 11:25-26) His First Coming to sacrifice Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and thus makes peace with the Father is truly something to feast upon.

Luther wrote this magnificent Christmas hymn "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come" speaks of this in fifteen glorious verses. I'll share but two of them: "From heaven above to earth I come, To bear good news to ev'ry home; Glad tidings of great joy I bring, Whereof I now will say and sing. ... This is the Christ, our God Most High, Who hears your sand and bitter cry; He will Himself your Savior be, From all your sins to set you free." (verses 1 and 3)

There are so many artificial words of promise out there that are just like fake snow. They aren't the real thing and won't deliver. But Jesus delivers! This is God's purpose and it will succeed. May it succeed within your heart this Christmas and all seasons!

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Army of One Came to Rescue Us at Christmas

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Hebrews 2:14,15

Many still rejoice and celebrate the birth of Jesus but for none of the reasons He came to earth. It is not about human conceptions of peace on earth but about the peace that surpasses all comprehension, the destruction of the power of sin, death and devil over humans.

This babe of Bethlehem expressly and repeatedly says that this is the reason He came, to redeem us from our slavery to sin, to pay the ransom price with His Holy body and blood that we might not fear death anymore, but know that even though we die, we will live with Him in blessed Heaven forever!

So, it is only appropriate at Christmas and every season of the year, we celebrate, rejoice and take to heart Jesus' first coming to save us from sin. Even more so, we now look forward to His Second Coming (Advent) when He will judge the earth based on whether they believed in what His first Coming was for them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Sweet Smell of Gospel Triumph

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifest through us the the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death; to the other an aroma from life to life.
2 Corinthians 2:14-16
How great an aroma to smell a roasting turkey this time of year? It is truly one of those great aromas in the likes of coffee brewing and bacon frying. It fills the nostrils with such a pleasing aroma.
Not so the aroma of our sin before the Holy God. It fills His nostrils with the stench of disobedience and law breaking. He can't stand to be around it and does and will eventually preclude it from reaching His eternal presence.
There is only ONE way to get rid of the stench of our sin: believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He took all the sin of all times into Himself and paid the price for its stench by being punished sacrifically for it on the cross.
Those who believe in this saving Gospel have their stench covered over by the beautiful aroma of Christ crucified for their sins. Those who refuse to believe this Gospel, have their sins' stench wreaking to the high heavens.
Thus, we thank God at all times and places for the Triumphal Procession which carries on in the preaching of His Gospel, a magnificent and fragrant aroma to those "being saved" but an aroma to death to those who "are perishing." We must say here further that any preaching which adds to or subtracts from the pure preaching of the Gospel stink it up to where it no longer removes the stench of sin, i.e. no longer saves. (see Galatians 1 on this)
This "scandal of particularity" of Jesus Christ being the ONLY pleasing aroma to forgive sins is offensive/scandalous to those who "are perishing" because it is Particular. But to those who are "being saved" it is the sweetest smell in all the world. And God agrees!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Just Be Yourself?

But that is not the way you learned Christ--assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:20-24

We hear it said often, "Just be yourself! Be true to self!" We never learned this from Christ or His Word. We hear it from our sinful flesh and the devil and the world. This old self was a slave to sin and could never nor would it ever listen to the truth. It had no choice before conversion to do anything but be true to its sinful self. (see Romans 3:9-18) However, not so we who have been "renewed in the spirit ... created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness." Our God given faith by grace has given us now a new self, who can and should compete with the old self still lingering around and be renewed each and every day in Christ Jesus. This new self wars against the old self (see Romans 7) and must be defeated and corralled each and every day. (see 2 Cor. 4:16)

Daily in our confession of sin and turning to Christ for forgiveness, our lives are Gospel led to live now for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us on the cross that we might continue in His righteousness and holiness purchased and won for us and given to us continually in the means of grace. By this and this only do we live "The New Life" in Christ, by Christ and for Christ!

So we are not about being Ourselves, letting the old self rule. We are about the New Self, created and led by the Gospel of Jesus Christ in righteousness and holiness.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Our Record Won't Get Us In

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

Psalm 130:3-4

If we humans could be see the long legal record of our legal offenses of breaking God's law, we would be in despair because not one of us could stand on the Day of Judgment when an accounting for each of us must and will be given.

But the Psalmist does not stop here! He knows and then proclaims that with God there is forgiveness, so he comforts himself not in himself but in God's grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ paying the price of our legal debts and canceling out the punishment.

Thus we can continue to be in complete awe of such a God! Our hope and trust and life is in Him who died for our sins and lives to forgive them. Thus we stand in His mercy, forgiveness and justice.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jesus Came to Save Sinners

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.
1 Timothy 1:15

Why do so many not get this, that Jesus came to save sinners, not all the other things which we hear that He supposedly came to accomplish? We hear that He came for other things. e.g. as a great moral teacher and example to show us how we should live and treat each other and leave the world a better place, or to save the politically and socially oppressed. I believe it is because they are not yet spiritually able to discern that they are a sinner who needs the blood of Jesus to cleanse them from this transgression. This is only spiritually discerned by those born of God's Spirit. (1 Cor. 1:10-14)

This proclamation of God's desire to save all humans (1 Tim. 2:4) is why we preach this Jesus as the only Savior from sin to all people. The truth is that we are all sinners. See here 1 John 1:8-10. And the further truth is as expressed in 1 Timothy 1:15 that Jesus came to save us by His perfect fulfillment of the Ten Commandments and His perfect sacrificial death for our breaking of this Law. This salvation is obtained individually and personally as each of us are brought to belief or faith in Jesus' salvation for eternal life. (1 Tim. 1:16)

That is why the Apostle Paul says that he preaches only this salvation found in Jesus and Him crucified for sinners in 1 Corinthians 1:2:2. For this is the only mediation and Mediator between sinful humans and The Holy God. (1 Tim. 2:5-6) He alone paid the "ransom" necessary to buy us back and free us from sin's condemnation.

Once God gives us faith in this salvation from our sins in Christ Jesus, we are then and only then free to have access to God (Romans 5:1) and peace and joy and the confidence of eternal life in our hearts. So, this trustworthy saying is so important and vital, that Jesus came to this world to save sinners of which each of us could and should argue with the Apostle Paul that we are the foremost.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Is There A Higher Justice For All?

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
2 Samuel 11:27b

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love...
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight
Psalms 51:1a, 4a

Why do we naturally sinful human beings think we can get away with murder, adultery and other atrocities against God? Literally, these were the offenses against God that King David committed with the Bathsheba affair as recorded in 2 Samuel 11. He was negligent in his duties as king leading the Israelite army, he physically took another man's wife and committed adultery, than as cover up had the man murdered. Did he truly think God wasn't observing all this. The chapter ends with this summary statement: "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord."

What we are surprisingly show in this whole affair however is the compassion and mercy of God as he sends the prophet Nathan to confront David and secures the confession and absolution which results, with such admission and faith in God's forgiveness found in Psalm 51.

There David correctly surmises and proclaims that his real sin, real injustice was against God and only God. Here we can be sure David was thinking First Commandment. All breaking of God's law inherently involves First Commandment breaking, of forsaking what the only God would want us to do and abstain from.

David also correctly surmises and proclaims that God is able and willing to blot out all David's transgressions and ours in Jesus' sacrifice. Sin truly confessed as against a holy God and forgiven in Jesus Christ, His Son our Lord brings forth the joy our Thy salvation as expressed in Psalm 51:14: Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness." Amen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Scepter of Righteousness!

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of righteousness.
Psalm 45:6

We don't see many scepters these days, except at formal events such as university and seminary graduation ceremonies where an official leads the procession with the scepter. It shows the authority to do the bestowing of degrees and awards.

How much more the authority of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus, to go bestow upon us His righteousness! The author of Hebrews quotes this verse in Chapter One, Verse Eight, to prove that Jesus has the scepter above all created beings, including angels. This scepter thus extends over all beings, and it is forever and righteous.

Thanks be to God that this authority is of righteousness. This is what God wants to bestow upon all humans, the righteousness of King Jesus! As verse 4 expresses it: "In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!" And none more awesome or righteous than the sacrificial death and resurrection upon the cross to free mankind from sin, death and devil. This King is truly awesome in His deeds on behalf of sinful mankind.

This scepter of Our Lord goes before us in victory each Lord's Day as He leads us in procession to cast our sins upon Him and in return He gives us His righteousness. As Psalm 45 continues on in verse 7: He is anointed for this very purpose!

How truly wonderful and comforting to know that the scepter of Our Lord Jesus Christ is about imputing His righteousness to we the penitent, believing members of His kingdom. Alleluia!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Greater than John the Baptist?

"Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 11:11

At first glance, this passage seems very difficult to understand. How can Jesus at the same time refer to John the Baptist as the greatest and then turn around and say that the least of those in heaven's kingdom are greater than he?

Many potential explanations have been given, but only one seems consistent with Scripture. Matthew 13:16-17 points to those believers who will see and hear all the miracles of Jesus, especially His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins.

This fits well, since John the Baptist was a mighty prophet who did no sign miracle but rather proclaimed God's Word with power and strength, a mighty Voice in the Wilderness! As the Elijah of the Old Testament learned, God is not necessarily in the mighty wind or tumbling earthquake, but in the still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11,12) Mighty men of God such as John the Baptist were such not due to their greatness, but the great things that God did through them. Here Jesus informs us of this greatness, the preparing the way for the Christ which God accomplished through John.

We in the New Testament church have heard all the mighty miracles and words of this Christ which announce the kingdom of God come to earth to save men from their sins. Those such as John the Baptist did not see nor hear all these marvelous things of Jesus Christ! Not that their faith in His coming is any less than ours, but only we have been blessed to see through spiritual eyes the consummation of Jesus' saving work.

The members of God's kingdom thus have high regard and honor for John the Baptist and understand what Jesus is offering to us in this text. The words of the hymn "When All the World Was Cursed" say it well (verse one); "When all the world was cursed, By Moses' condemnation, Saint John the Baptist came, With words of consolation. With true forerunner's zeal, The greater One he named, And Him as yet unknown, As Savior he proclaimed."

Monday, October 4, 2010

All Should Be Interested In the One Who Controls Death

Lord I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.
Matthew 8:8-9

Should not everyone be interested in the One who controls life and death? The one who can raise the dead to life everlasting? The centurion in Matthew 8 is! He easily relates to Jesus who has authority over human affairs, especially death and life and so requests healing for his sick servant. Just say the word! And Jesus did! And the servant was healed at that very moment!

So are we who believe in Jesus as this centurion did. We believe He is the Lord of life and death and controls them simply with His speaking or withholding the words of forgiveness of our sins! Jesus had such a reputation that excelled in speaking with authority; it happened just as He said! This centurion trusted that when Jesus said it was so, it was.

As the famous Christian John Chrysostom wrote: "For he came indeed seeking for his servant bodily healing, but he went away, having received a kingdom ... For because the centurion showed great faith and lowliness of mind, Christ both gave him heaven, and added to him the health of his servant."

This is all about salvation by faith in Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sin. It is all about what Jesus did in His perfect body to redeem us from the curse of sin and snatch us from the fiery hell to an eternal heaven by His speaking it so.

He continues to speak such miraculous faith where His pure gospel is preached and His saving Sacraments are administered according to His mandate. We are interested! Keep us ever so trusting in Him who has control over death and life.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Do Not Be Distracted from the One Thing Needul

But Martha was distracted with much service.... the Lord answered her: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled concerning many things, but of one thing there is need.
Luke 10:40a, 41-42a

The familiar story of Mary and Martha is illuminating how many things in our world we can and do get distracted from the one needful thing: time in God's Word. Like the young boy whose mind is not on his schoolwork but on dreaming out the window, all of us get our spiritual vision blurred with so many other things that are not as beneficial and motivational to our life in Christ when not fully supported and fueled by our constant consumption of God's Word.

We are not what we eat physically, but what we consume spiritually! So we have need to constant be eating the best of God's Word correctly understood and applied. As Jesus stated in Luke 4:4 (quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) that we truly live on not physical bread "alone" but on every word that proceeds out of God's mouth. This is the needful thing and yet so many skimp, if not starve with so little of study of God's Word in their regular diet.

For sure better nutrition should be for everyone, that we intake the proper foods to keep our bodies functioning as created. So how much more should we not be concerned about spiritual nutrition?

Find a Bible Study in your midst where faithful, true pastors who are constantly in God's Word feed you. They constantly sit at Jesus' feet like Mary (Luke 10:39). Divinely served in this way, they in turn are in position to serve Jesus in their vocations and calling.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Divine Warning on Getting it Reversed!

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own sight! Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right! There, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel."
Isaiah 5:20-24

God warns each of us: Don't get it confused, good and evil and your own innocence and arrogance and self-esteem. But the argument always comes from the unbelievers, how does anyone know what is good and evil? The answer easily and clearly is from the Holy Bible.

Confusion and distortion of God's truth comes clearly from a person's rejection and despising of God's Scriptures (verse 24). They don't like the truth, they don't like their evil exposed! See John 3:16-21, especially verse 20. When one no longer believes in a final individual judgment there is a turning away from any clear moral distinctions. Do what you want in love they cry! Don't judge lest you be judged, they incorrectly throw Matthew 7 at us.

Evil is each of us, naturally the sinful humans we are. We cannot do the good demanded by God to be in His Holy presence, Leviticus 19:2. Thus, we need someone who can meet the demands of the law for us and also be the sacrificial punishment. This is none other than "the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ"!

Praise be to His Holy Name, that we who are by nature evil are declared good because of Christ's goodness! We hear of such marvelous Good News in the hearing of His Word. How sweet and rich it is to our ears! Don't get it confused!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Selective Forgetfulness of God's Word

Righteous are you, O Lord,
and right are your rules.
You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me,
because my foes forget your words.
Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
Psalm 119:137-140

Certainly we all can relate to moments when we practice "selective listening," hearing only the things we wish to and ignoring or neglecting the intolerable. In the same vein, people are "selective remembers." They choose to remember only the parts that they can agree with and be supportive of, and forget the disagreeable.

So it was with the Psalmist here in Psalm 119. His zeal for God's Word is stated because of God's attribute of righteous as well as the words which He revealed to mankind. He reflects that there is a class of people which will always be irritated by God's Word and thus they practice "selective remembering" of it, ignoring what doesn't sit well with them and contending against God's thoughts and ways.

Even in spite of this opposition to God's Word, the Psalmist declares that the testing of God's Word is like refined metal ("well tried" verse 137) and thus is even more precious to him, thus inspiring and motivating even more intense study, trust and application of God's Word in his life.

These verses were in last week's Introit made me remember just how precious and refined truth God's Word is, even bringing forth opposition from its enemies, which does not discourage God's people, but like the Psalmist increases our "zeal" for it, because at the heart and center of all of God's revelation is the marvelous salvation found in Jesus Christ, the Word of God Incarnate, made flesh. Even more reason why we diligently, faithfully are into God's Word, inwardly digesting, studying, applying and sharing its precious truths!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Is There Chance? Not in Salvation!

And take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you return to Him as a guilt offering in a box by its side. Then send it away that it may go. And watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth-shemesh, the He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we shall know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance."
1 Samuel 6:8-9

Does anything happen outside of sheer chance or coincidence? Is there a divine force behind anything? Both of these positions surely have their supporters in our day. In Samuel's day, the diviners of Philistine tested this concerning getting rid of the captured Israelite ark of the covenant and its subsequent rash of tragic events, i.e. the shattering of their god Dagon and the tumors which occurred with wherever the ark was placed. So they devised this test to determine if these results were from Israel's God Yahweh (the LORD) or just by chance. Take some cows never yoked before and yoke them to wagon holding the ark and let them take whatever path they choose. If they go back to Israel via Beth-shemesh, then we will know that this God Yahweh is behind everything. If not, then it is sheer chance. The cows went straight to Israel territory.

Whether chance is an active agent in the world can remain an open discussion but not where salvation is concerned. God doesn't leave this to chance! He is always active in the world to confront, convict and convert humans of their idolatry to trust and believe in His plan of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. This story from 1 Samuel demonstrates that God is serious about God's holy things, in this case the ark of the covenant. In our time, holy baptism and the Lord's Supper might be examples of where individuals do not give them their proper reverence as the holy things of God by which He saves people and keeps them saved. God took no chances in sending Jesus to be the ransom for our sins and paying the complete price for them. He also takes no chances in sending preachers to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of these sins in Jesus' name!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Word of the Lord Grows!

And the word of God continued to grow and to be multiplied.
Acts 12:24

This is one of three times Luke uses this phrase in Acts, the other two being 6:7 and 19:20. Many of us pastors likely were touched by this in reading Martin Franzmann's famous book: "The Word of the Lord Grows" whereby he uses this theme and Acts to navigate the New Testament. So, I know of no more fitting way to unload what this phrase means than the opening words of that great book:

"The word of the Lord grew"---three times in the Book of Acts Luke uses this sentence to sum up a period of the history of the first church. These words are a telling expression of the Biblical conception of the divine word. Our Lord Himself compared the word with a seed that is sown and sprouts and grows: "The seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:11). The word of the Lord is a power and is active; it "prevails mightily," as Luke puts it in one of the passages just referred to (Acts 19:20). Paul speaks of the Gospel as "bearing fruit and growing" (Col.1:6), and Peter speaks of the "living and abiding word of God" as an "imperishable seed" (1 Peter 1:23).

This "living and active" word (Heb. 4:12) is therefore a force in history; it "speeds on" in the world and "triumphs" there (2 Thess. 3:1), in time and place and among men; itis enmeshed in events, tied up with the world, and it involves people. The word of God is God in action; for God is not a lecturer but the God who is "working still," as Jesus said of His Father, and of Himself the Son (John 5:17). God is the Lord of all history, reveals Himself by His mighty acts in history, and the word which He gives to His prophets to utter interprets those acts and makes them an enduring force in the world. "

May this wonderful, powerful, salvation granting Word of God grow in each of us, then may it multiply and spread from us to all parts of this earth for His kingdom's sake., that repentance and the forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jump Before It's Too Late

Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, 'It shall be well with you'; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, 'No disaster shall follow you.'"
Jeremiah 23:16-17

How tragic for eternity would it be to finally discover that you have been trusting, listening and believing what a false pastor has been preaching and teaching to you? You see, from the outset God says there are true pastors (prophets) and false ones. There have always been those who claim to speak for God and then speak not what He gave them to speak. This is what Jeremiah is talking to us about.

Certainly pastors want to be liked by their laymen and want success in their congregational statistics, but ultimately this is not the determining factor in whether or not they are true pastors. If they speak what God tells them and are not afraid to correct, rebuke those who will not hear it, then they are God's prophet (pastor), the one He speaks through.

It is not easy to listen continually to God's word of Law which condemns us and prepares us to repent and seek forgiveness of our sins through the Gospel. However, many today will not have this truth spoken to them, as in Jeremiah's time, so demand and associate themselves with false pastors who will tell them what they want to hear and refrain from telling them what God wants to speak to them. (see 2 Timothy 4:1-5) The temptation is great to tell people everything is okay between them and God when it is not. The temptation is to ease up on the practice of God's Word in the congregation when it offends longtime members and newcomers alike. But the true pastor continues to speak all of God's Word, Law and Gospel, and applies it properly in distinguishing what each person needs, given their response to God's Word.

The current church scene reminds me of the proverbial "frog in the boiling water" story. Many who should be jumping out and finding a new church where a true pastor will tell them all of God's Word remain in churches where false prophets continue to tell them all is well with God and them when it is not. The heat is rising for both false pastor and member who won't challenge and correct the false pastor or who likes what he says and doesn't say. So they remain, content and happy, with the rising heat of God's anger escalating.

The following from Wikipedia speaks of this well known saying and the various opinions as to its accuracy. Whether or not it is true, the image still remains valid for those who will follow a false pastor of all of God's Word and those who will not challenge and finally jump out of these false churches. For Christ's sake and for the salvation of those who always remain faithful to the truth.

"The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.[1] According to contemporary biologists the premise of the story is not literally true; an actual frog submerged and gradually heated will jump out.[2][3] However, a variety of 19th century research experiments suggested that the underlying premise is true, provided the heating is gradual enough.[4]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Relabeled as Enemy Because Told the Truth?

Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Galatians 4:16

The Gospel lesson for the Sunday just past was a startling one, Jesus asking the question if we think He came to bring peace on earth? He answers, NO! I came to bring division! Made me think of this passage in Galatians where the Apostle Paul is appealing to the churches in Galatia who have been drawn away from the Gospel to a false, distorted gospel which will not save (Galatians 1:6-9) These false pastors have dishonorable intentions for those whom Christ had saved through Paul's preaching and were now in spiritual peril due to this false gospel preaching and the Galatians acceptance of it.

Paul was always a rigorous proclaimer and defender of the pure gospel (see Galatians 2:5,14) because he knew that it meant literal life and death for eternity. To have the precious Galatian believers put back under the law and be stripped of their salvation under the pure gospel was gut-wrenching and agonizing for Paul.

It was a contest for followers, and Paul seemed to be losing. But then the question must be asked: who truly loses in the end? Those who don't continue to believe in the pure gospel of the forgiveness of sins for Christ's sake, the answer from Scripture comes. For a clear and magnificent presentation of the gospel which Paul preached, see 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. So whether an angel or Paul or a false preacher preaches a different gospel than this, he is cursed to hell eternally and all those who buy the lie. (Galatians 1:8-9)

Will this kind of gospel strictness and purity endure people to a preacher? Paul says that's not the point. True gospel preachers are not about pleasing people over pleasing God. They are slaves to the pure gospel and its defense and proclamation. (Galatians 1:10-11) Even when it brings division between those who formerly called themselves pastor and people, now it turns to "enemy." And only because Paul spoke the truth to them!

May the Lord make us ever cautious and careful to discern what is the true, pure gospel by which we can only be saved. May He also make us enemies of those who distort the precious gospel and thus rob people of eternity!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Merciful Potter and His Clay

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump, one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
Romans 9:20-21

God the Creator certainly has the right over people, His created. Certainly He is free as the potter with His clay to do what He wills, but he always does so with mercy. That is the message here in Romans 9:15 "Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy."

No human will ever be able to stand before God except be it for God's great mercy found in Christ Jesus. God's mercy to us poor sinners to give us the Spirit to be able to put our trust and faith in Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection for the forgiveness of all our sins is pure mercy. Just as clay is not aware of all the intricacies of its shape and contours at the hand of the potter, so we humans are not aware of all the intricacies and contours of God's dealings with human sinners. Election, predestination to being called to saving faith in Jesus is a mystery in that we do not understand fully why some are chosen and others not. We simply as the clay leave this in the hands of the potter, our Creator God. For the present at least, this is not in our capabilities nor concern as the clay, the created of the Lord.

His mercies are new and fresh for us everyday in Jesus Christ our Lord! We thank and praise Him for it by which we live as the redeemed forever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Listen to Strangers!

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.
John 10:2-t

Isn't it a shame, a true shame, that we have to teach the young people of our time to not listen to strangers? Sheep of the time of Jesus were so conditioned also not to listen, not to follow the voice of other than their shepherd. Shepherds in the Near East of that time typically led their flocks in front with their voice, rather than drive them from behind.

Likewise, the flock of Jesus, His believers, follow only the voice of The Good Shepherd, Jesus, who speaks for Him by undershepherds who properly handle His Word and speak what is given them to speak by Jesus. Following a man who speaks what Jesus gives him to say is "following Jesus!" And likewise, the opposite holds as well: "the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me." Luke 10:16

Granted, this is a very difficult teaching of Jesus for many to accept in our time, but nonetheless, it is Jesus' mandate and command not only for pastors but for Christians as well. Don't listen to strangers, pastors who do not clearly and consistently speak the word of God. Many of our time unfortunately do not even believe anymore that the Bible is to be equated with God's Word. They believe such a thing is impossible to a modern mind. They are strangers! They are not to be listened to, nor followed! Even when it satisfies our culturally, marketing conditioned ears to accept their words (see 2 Timothy 4:3-4), they are not the words of The Good Shepherd Jesus. At the heart of all of His words are the precious crucifixion and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 24:25-27) The one who purports to speak for Jesus will always speak these saving words to the flock!

Jesus' followers will not and do not listen or follow strange words that do not ring true with Scripture and its center of Christ crucified for sin. They have this intimate dependency on Christ's words as God the Son does with God the Father. They are linked this way for eternity!

"O Word of God incarnate, O wisdom from on high, O truth unchanged, unchanging, O Light of our dark sky: We praise You for the radiance That from the hallowed page, A lantern to our footsteps, Shines on from age to age."
Lutheran Service Book, Hymn #523 " O Word of God Incarnate" verse one

Friday, July 30, 2010

Always Green & Growing or Withering Away

And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither, and in whatever he does he prospers. The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Psalm 1:3-4
Just getting back from a glorious vacation with my daughter and son-in-law and grandkids to Northern Michigan. The hot weather was enjoyable due to the lakefront and all that the water afforded us in cool refreshment, recreation and the lake breeze at night. All along this lake's banks were trees with their roots deep down into the water and they were green and doing well. Notice, however, in the upper right quadrant of the photo of some of these trees, there is another tree which has no leaves and is dead protuding up out of the living tree.
This reminded me of Psalm 1 and its sharp contrast of the righteous and wicked. The righteous delight is in the revealed Word of God and they soak it up into their spiritual root system. (verse 2) The result? They will be like trees planted by streams of water and will never have withering leaves.
Not so, the wicked. They are withering and being blown where the wind blows and because of this, they will not stand in the judgment, they will perish, they will be divorced from God's presence and care in heaven. They resist the Lord's grace and mercy found in His Word and they rebelliously choose not to set their lives' foundation upon His Word of truth and life.
More to the point, the righteous are green and thriving because and solely for the sake of Christ who was crucified upon the tree of Calvary for their rebellion and thus they abundantly thrive and live in His forgiveness and righteousness.
This first Psalm clearly contrasts the only difference that matters in people: are they living and feeding off the precious Good News of Christ's love and redemption for them found in the Gospel? The righteous believers are and they have living waters flowing in them beginning at their Baptism which will never cease for eternity. (see John 7:37-38)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Restore the Roar!

Yahweh (the LORD) roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem
Amos 1:2a

I just heard of a person that admitted that for most of his early life, he only gave one ear to the Lord's speaking to him. He didn't find His Word relevant or important at all for a time. He needed to be woken out of this spiritual slumber. He needed the Lion's roar to wake him up spiritually and bring him back to the Lord.

The lion roaring here in Amos is Jesus, much as C.S. Lewis correctly portrays him as Aslan in the well done Chronicles of Narnia. Too often, however, in our times, the church wants to tone this roar down, to clip the nails of this roaring lion and take the edge off His message of the seriousness of His promises of Law and Gospel. In other words, their message too often doesn't tell people their plight under the law and the wonderful solution in the pure Gospel.

Certainly, the problem we each have is our inability to do the law that God requires, perfectly with pure motivation, all the time without fail. This causes us to look elsewhere for a solution, a savior, a redeemer. This is none other than the Lion sacrificed for our sin, as Lewis portrays so wonderfully in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection on the cross is the true antidote for what poisons us from God's relationship.

May we not resist and disdain when God roars at our spiritual laxity, intolerance and giving only one ear to His Word. Open our lips O Lord to your truth that we may be saved!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Heartburn, Biblical Style!

"And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?"
Luke 24:32

If God does not open the soul of sinful humans to understand His Word, then we would never understand or comprehend the wonderful message His Word conveys. Without the gracious intervention of the Holy Spirit, our hearts would remain cold to the truth of Scripture. This, the Bible says, is because the Words of God are spiritual and only revealed through God's grace through the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)

These disciples who encounter the Risen Lord that First Easter had their eyes opened to Jesus' passion for them only when He so does this that very day, verse 30-31. Vanishing from their sight, they speak that their hearts were burning, being filled with peace and joy now learning and understanding from Jesus that His crucifixion and resurrection were for the forgiveness of their sins. (24:26-27)

This same Lord continues today to open eyes and hearts through proclamation of His Word in preaching and teaching so that hearts are burning knowing for sure that their sins are forgiven by the faith given to them to realize that this Christ, this Messiah, Jesus fulfills all that needs to be fulfilled to redeem us from sin, death and devil. As this is the heart of the entire Bible as Jesus here teaches, we too must teach this same permeating Good News, so that hearts may burn with the peace and comfort this sweet grace provides.

So we thirst, we hunger for those moments where are hearts do truly burn with joy and thankful wonder at the gracious words of forgiveness for sinners in the precious Gospel of Christ Jesus. We yearn for study of this Word and we yearn for its pure preaching so that our hearts and lives may be filled with God's grace and mercy found in Jesus, our Savior.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Out of Many, One" or "Out of One, Many?"

E pluribus, unum (Out of Many, One)
Great Seal of United States

Per inoboedienticum unius hominis peccatores constituti sunt multi, per unius oboeditionem iusti constituentur multi
Romans 5:19 (from the Latin Vulgate Bible)

Our great country just celebrated another birthday! God bless our native land, long may she ever stand! E pluribus, unum! Out of the many, one! For generations, this Latin motto was truly believed to be precious of our country, that out of many different peoples immigrating to its shores, it became one country with one resolve, one language, united in its great beliefs and sacred rights.

The Bible in Romans 5:19a describes a similar event, but in this case extremely negative and damaging, here translated into English: "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners." Through Adam's original sin, all subsequent humans have the inherited slavery to sin and thus are under its curse.

Thanks be to God, there is a second Adam who is talked about in the second half of this verse, Romans 19b: "even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." This blessed Second Adam, the One, is none other than Jesus Christ as Paul makes perfectly clear in Romans 5:17, saying that: "If by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ."

Through the means of grace, Word and Sacraments, believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life and become the "many" spoken of in this verse.

So thanks be to God for the wonderful "E pluribus, unum" of our country! May it continue to be so! But thanks be to God even more for the blessed "Unius oboeditionem iusti constituentur multi."!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Univeral Salvation by Grace Through Faith? Yes!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.
Titus 2:11

This passage speaks of the teaching of Universal Grace or Universal Salvation or Universal Atonement. It is not the only place that this teaching or doctrine is clearly taught in the Bible, see 2 Cor. 5:15,19; 1 Tim. 1:1q5; 1 John 2:2 and 2 Peter 2:1. God's plan of salvation clearly appeared in Jesus Christ and His holy life, death and resurrection for the atonement, the acceptable payment, for all sins. And this as Titus declares was by Grace!

However, this does not lead to the unbiblical teaching of Universalism, that in the end all will be saved. For while Universal Grace is taught by the Bible, so is Individual Salvation by Grace Alone. This is especially taught in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Many reject one of these biblical teachings, i.e. Universal Grace or Grace Alone because they do not make sense in a human logical system. On the one hand, followers of John Calvin believe that God saves the elect, the predestined by grace alone, but do not accept Universal Grace because of the unbiblical teaching of Double Predestination. On the other hand, believers in the Free Will of humans deny Grace Alone for salvation but uphold Universal Grace.

Both teachings, Universal Grace and Grace, must be believed and maintained, not because they are not logical. They must be believed and maintained because Scripture teaches them. The righteous live by faith in God's Word, even if it seems to cause logical problems. God's ways and thoughts do not match up with human ideas, systems and thoughts, as Isaiah 55:6-11 proclaims.
"The word of God will stand forever." (Isaiah 40:8b)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Choose A Christian Wife or Husband!

A woman with strong character is a crown to her husband,
but a shameful woman is like rot in his bones.
Proverbs 12:4

Dr. Andrew Steinmann in his excellent new Commentary on Proverbs remarks on this passage: "In the context here it is probably intended more as advice to a young man in choosing a wife than as advice to women as to which course to choose in life. (A shameful woman probably would not worry about the effect of her actions on her husband, so this proverb would not be meaningful to her.) However, it can instruct both the Christian man who is looking for a wife and a Christian woman who desires to enter into a successful marriage."

So what does it mean, this woman of "strong character?" From the other two places it is used in the Old Testament (Ruth 3:11; Proverbs 31:10) we can say that it refers to this woman having faith in the triune God and His salvation in Christ Jesus crucified for her sins.

Thus, the young man here in Proverbs 12 is wise to look for a woman with a strong Christian faith as he has, and likewise this would apply to the woman's search for a Christian man. But is this high on the list of young people today of things they desire in a spouse? It should be at the top, for everything else pales in comparison!

The apostle admonishes them to "not be unequally yoked" (2 Corinthians 6:14), i.e. not to be married to someone who doesn't share the same faith and worldview as they do when entering into marriage. This certainly supports what this proverb is proclaiming, that those wishing to enter into God pleasing marriage have this oneness in Christian faith high on list, if not at the very top. For when they do, they know that God will truly bless this marriage to their mutual joy and to His glory!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Lie of "Much Less Than" & "Much Greater Than"

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Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven--for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
Luke 7:47-48

Recognize these mathematical signs? They represent "much less than" and "much greater than." Do they apply to human sinners? Can any human say that they sin "much less than" another human sinner naturally? Can they say that they keep the law of God "much greater than" other human sinners naturally?

This is the point of the story here in Luke 7. Jesus is exposing the lie of this Pharisee and all others who would apply this "degree of sin" analysis to himself in comparison with other humans. He does not see himself on the same sin condemnation as this woman of the street who obviously is "much greater" a sinner than he, and "much less" a doer of good than he. Jesus condemns such a "self-righteous" attitude which is a lie. The Bible teaches that rather than a "less than" or "greater than" comparison between humans sin record, it should rather be an "equals" sign. Paul clearly teaches this quoting from the Old Testament in Romans 3:10-12 "as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

So Jesus contrasts these two types of responders to His Law and Gospel by the love that they have for Him in mercifully forgiving their sins. "Her sins are many, have been forgiven, because she loved much. And the one to whom little is forgiven loves little." Those who believe they have any spiritual good apart from Jesus' forgiveness will love Him little, while those who recognize and confess their sins are many and great love Jesus much because He forgives all their sins through His holy, innocent, bitter, suffering and death for them upon the cross.

Why love Jesus much? Because He first loved us much and died for our sins that they might be forgiven! (1 John 4:19) Allowing His Word of Law to condemn us as the sinners we are through and through on our own and then to allow His Gospel to forgive each and every one of them for Christ's sake permits us as this woman through faith to depart in peace, knowing we are saved.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Yoked to Jesus We Have Blessed Rest

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-29

Yokes such as the one pictured linked two animals for the task ahead. Jesus' usage of it here in Matthew 11 is in reference to the demands of the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. To be under the demands of God's Law for sinful humans from conception is a heavy burden, an impossible burden for us to accomplish. When we labor under its unending demands of holiness it gives us no rest for our conscience, our soul.

But yoked to Jesus, He carries not only the heavy load of fulfilling the Law's demands perfectly for us, He in fact suffered the punishment for our not keeping the Law. This is what the Bible calls the Gospel. This yoke then removes the Law as the central place in our souls and lives and places it, yokes it, to Jesus and His Gospel, where it is truly easy and light and restful.

As Martin Luther wrote about this: "The yoke that Christ lays upon us is sweet, and His burden is light. When sin has been forgiven and the conscience has been liberated from the burden and the sting of sin, then a Christian can bear everything easily. Because everything within is sweet and pleasant, he willingly does and suffers everything." Luther's Works, American Edition 26:133.

Oh, how blessed to be yoked to Jesus and His Gospel, for then and only then do we have rest for our burdened souls. Free and yoked to Jesus to serve in His vineyard, the Holy Christian Church.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

People Lack Basic Knowledge that Ox Have?

The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
Isaiah 1:3-4

Animals, for example ox, are intelligent to recognize that their owner cares and provides for them. However, God's people lacked this basic knowledge. And not just here in the case of the people who Isaiah prophesied to, but even in Jesus' time as John's Gospel proclaims: "He (Jesus, the Word) came to his own, and his own people did not receive him." (John 1:11)

Could it be the main problem in 2010, that people do not recognize that the true God, the God of Bible cares for them and provides for them? Certainly, as the description Isaiah spoke of in 1:4 still applies to all human sinners by nature from conception: "they have forsaken the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged." We think we have so much knowledge and technology that believing in a God who loves us and sent His Son Jesus to die for our sin is nonsense. But is it? Does it not all start with recognizing that we are the wonderful creations of the Creator God? That we are totally dependent upon Him, who controls the heavens and the earth and everything on them? That He has our best interest at heart? That He longs to save each of us through believing in the Good News of Jesus, the Holy One of Israel, who suffered a poor, bitter death on the cross so that we may have eternal life in heaven? (Isaiah 53)

Just a few verses on into Isaiah chapter one, the prophet invites: "Come now, let us reason together, say the LORD; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." This magnificent reversal is only through hearing God's Word that we by nature do lack the basic knowledge that we do not and cannot keep God's Law, but that Jesus kept it for us (Galatians 4:4-5), and the Gospel proclamation that believing in Jesus' sacrifice for our sins, we are heirs of heaven and eternal life. (Galatians 4:6-9)

God gives us the knowledge necessary to know His love, care and forgiveness of all our sins in Jesus Christ, the Holy One of Israel, through His Word and Holy Sacraments. He takes our worthless, unknowing hearts and lives, and makes them His precious vessels to be His own dear children, forever!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Angels & Our Salvation

It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
1 Peter 1:12

The "them" that Peter is here referring to at the beginning of this verse are "the prophets" in verse 10 who longed to find out all the particulars about the Coming Messiah or Christ, and His sufferings and glories (verse 11). This great mystery and revelation of God were truly things for angels to look at. This prophesying by these Old Testament prophets was about none other than the Incarnation and saving work of Jesus on the cross. The Greek word used here and translated as "look" is suggestive of an intense interest in the work of redemption, the whole plan of God's salvation being unfolded in time and space and history through Jesus Christ.

How amazing that Peter states that beginning with the apostles, the eyewitnesses of this marvelous, mysterious plan of reconciliation being achieved in the Life and Passion of Christ is now being made manifest among us! We, the heirs in the chain of receiving this eyewitness testimony to Christ and His salvation have had our spiritual eyes opened to the glories of this forgiveness wrought in the life of Jesus crucified for our sins. And this opening of our eyes to this glorious Good News is through those who preach it to us by the Holy Spirit.

And this magnificent plan of salvation of which we are apart of is truly things which the angels who worship at God's heavenly throne intensely are interested in! For "he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Peter 1:3-5

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Blame Game

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Psalm 51:4

The Blame Game! We each and everyone one of us are good at it. Much of the time, we put the blame everywhere else but where it should be, on us. We further naturally do not see nor perceive that the shame and blame that we experience when we sin is against "none other" than God.

This truth is captured so remarkably in this confession of David's affair with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 11-12) Certainly he had sinned not only against Bathsheba, but her husband Uriah, the military commander Joab, the Israelite army and the entire country of which he was king. How and why then could he confess: against You, God, and You alone, have I sinned? Because sin against our neighbors is at the same time sin against the Creator of all of them whom not only created them but placed them in our world for us to love and care for. In the end, we are answerable to Him.

Thus, David rightly declares that God is justified in that God is always in the right against sinful humanity and that sinful humanity is always in the wrong before a Holy God. God's judgment in the manner is always true and just and fair. The Apostle Paul quotes this very part of the verse in Romans 3:4 in support of God's faithfulness: "Let God be true though every one were a liar."

Thanks be to God though that this judgment of sin is not the final declaration for David or the rest of us in Psalm 51 (Law) but that there is abundant Gospel here for the absolution of sin against God, e.g. verse 1: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions" or verse 7: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" or verses 9-10: "Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities, create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."

We know that such mercy, such love, such purging, washing and blotting out of sins is only accomplished and received by faith in the sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension and faith in this Good News of Jesus Christ. Such blessed restoration, renewal in the forgiveness of sin for restores the likes of sinful David to the God against whom the sin has been committed when confessed and believed to be sacrificed for in the name of the Son of David, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What's Your Spiritual IQ?

And he is the head of the body, the church.
Colossians 1:18a

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

Intelligence is certainly a God given gift to those who have the capacity to learn about God's magnificent creation and understand its complex and glorious workings. It is truly an awesome and powerful thing, but it can be used either for the good of humanity or to its detriment. Such intelligence, however, is not nor can it even begin to understand God and His ways. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, stubborn fools despise wisdom and discipline," says Proverbs 1:7.

Spiritual wisdom, or intelligence if you will, is also a gift of God through the Holy Spirit which enlightens the sinful heart with spiritual thoughts of true wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). And this spiritual intelligence is that Jesus is our wisdom, our salvation, our Lord and Savior from sin. This makes disciples of Jesus Christ wise to salvation and eternal life. So they follow Jesus by listening and believing in His Word, not their own thoughts and understanding.

By faith Christians know that their own inner voice and that of the most highest IQ's in the world cannot give them the forgiveness of their sins, the comfort and joy of knowing they are at peace with God because of Christ, nor can they lead them to heaven above and its glories. These only come through trust in Christ and His Word. It does not promise that this path will be smooth and obstacle free. It does promise that it will reveal the right direction and destination, even if bearing one's crosses is necessary to get there.

As one commentator put it so well: "True wisdom consists of listening to God, even when his word goes against what we might think is best."

Monday, May 3, 2010

In Jesus, All God's Promises Are Yes!

For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us... was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many be the promises of God, in Him they are yes.
2 Corinthians 1:19,20a

There is someone who when He speaks a promise, always fulfills it as he promised: Christ Jesus. All of God's promises find their fulfillment, their Amen, their Yes, in Him.

What are some of His promises to us? I forgive you all your sins (Absolution). I baptize you in my Holy Name to make you my beloved child and an heir of all my kingdom (Baptism). I give you my very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, for the unity of the church (Lord's Supper).

It is said that Luther's turning point and the Reformation's start was when he discovered in God's Word in 1518 that when God speaks words of promise, they are just that: deliver what is promised in Christ Jesus! As in the Christmas story from Luke 2:11 "To you is born this day a Savior!" He had promised it long ago and He delivered.

Jesus is the reconciliation for everyone, having made peace for warring, rebelling humans against God by the sinless one becoming sin for the sinful (2 Corinthians 5:19-21). Thus, God gives His ambassadors (pastors) to speak this message of reconciliation, this peace Jesus earns and now distributes through speaking the promises fulfilled in Christ Jesus!

Trust that all promises to restore you to our Holy God are Yes, Amen, Fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sheep Need The Good Shepherd

And when he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark 6:34

All humans are to be compared to sheep, who without The Good Shepherd continue to go astray, each to his own way, and this leads to eternal death/separation from God and His blessings and protection. (Isaiah 53:6, John 10:26 and Proverbs 14:12) It is not flattering at all to be compared with sheep, for left to their own ways they end up either consuming poisonous food or water or being consumed by predators. Thus, the need for a Good Shepherd who can provide both wholesome food and water and protection.
The bible is full of such imagery of humans being sheep who have gone astray, each to their own way and thus in need of a Good Shepherd. This is none other than Jesus, who identifies Himself as such especially in John 10: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
Jesus' sheep are called by their name and placed into His flock at baptism through the power of His Holy Word and are kept following His voice only to eternal life. (John 10:22-30) There are only two flocks in reality, the flock who follows the devil and the flock who follows Jesus, The Good Shepherd.
Pastors are placed among the flock of the Holy Christian Church to shepherd Jesus' flock and lead them to eternal pastures so wonderfully espoused in Psalm 23. These under shepherds (see 1 Peter 5:1-4) speak on behalf of the Good Shepherd and speak not what the sheep want and like to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4) and Jesus' sheep will not follow one of these false shepherds who will not speak the whole counsel of God's Word, nor warn and protect them from predatory teachings. (John 10:4-10) It does all come down to the pure teachings of the Bible, as Jesus in Mark 6 does just that after proclaiming that these sheep without a shepherd need to be fed, so he had Bible Study with them. (Mark 6:34b)
Following the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, His sheep from the moment of faith have the life He came to give them (John 10:10, 28) and enjoy His goodness and mercy all the days of their lives, dwelling in His house forever. (Psalm 23:6)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Miraculous Food Of Eternal Life

Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal. They said therefore to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." John 6:26-29

Some humans spend all their time, focus and energy on temporal things, and little if any on eternal things. This is what Jesus is always trying to teach us. He did that right after He fed over 5,000 with a few bread loaves and fish. This caused many to follow Him across the Sea of Galilee, not to learn more of eternal, spiritual truth but to have their bellies filled with a fine miracle meal again. So, Jesus confronts them on this, and urges them and us to focus more on what endures to eternal life than to our temporal needs.

And when He says "work for the food that endures to eternal life" He is not insinuating that we humans have to do something to earn either partially or completely eternity, but He clearly teaches that this is "given to us by the Son of Man." This He sums up by the miracle of faith which is given to us by His Word and Sacraments that we believe in Him who God does all the work necessary to save us: Jesus' perfect life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins."

Superficial hearing of His Word occasionally or even habitually will not achieve the eternal life we all desire, only believing in this Son of Man crucified and raised for our righteousness will grant this miraculous gift. And this believing is of a continuous nature!

Truly the physical food we eat is also a miraculous gift as one of our Creator God's blessings, but it does not endure to eternal life. For that, only spiritual food will do! The soul food which God gives in His Word and Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) are unto life eternal, producing spiritual life now and to eternity in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Trust in God's Will? The Cross?

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 9:12

A Lutheran pastor tells the story of one of his parishioners, whom whenever the Pastor prayed with him would make the sign-of-the-cross when it was prayed that God's will be done. This was as this man lay in intensive care after open-heart surgery.

However, when this man's daughter visited him, she would dispute this by telling her father and the pastor that he be assured that God would heal him. The pastor recalled about this that the man seemed to take no comfort in his daughter's will but always made the sign-of-the-cross. This man knew and took comfort that our confidence in God's love and will for us is not in whether he will or will not heal us at times, but rather that in the Cross of Christ we were truly healed: "By His stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5d) This pastor wrote of this incident: "As much as parishioners may want to see the hand of God in nature's beautiful sunrises, moving stories of conversion, or success in parish programs, it is in the cross of Christ and in bearing their own crosses that God chooses to reveal his heart to them."

Lying in intensive care totally dependent on the medical staff and equipment certainly can make us feel weak and helpless. But let us remember as this man did continually, in the weakness of our sin, Jesus became the punishment for them that we may be strong in faith. We learn and sing of this when little: "We are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me!" He loved us on the cross!

So, by making this sign-of-the cross when in weak and trying situations, we entrust ourselves to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us and the One who promised to never to leave us nor abandon us, but take us where He went, to heaven forever!

Blessed dependency on a more intimate and deeper reliance upon Jesus Christ, who meets our sin and suffering in His cross and empty tomb. Amen.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Resurrection of Jesus: Sense or Nonsense?

And having returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. And they were the Magdalene Mary and Joanna and Mary, the mother of James, and the rest of the women with them. They were telling these things to the apostles, but these words appeared before them as nonsense, and they were not believing them.

Luke 24:9-11

These blessed women are vital in Christianity. They were the first evangelists, as they are the first to announce the Resurrection of Jesus. They had followed Him with their own finances (Luke 8:3) and watched the crucifixion (Luke 23:49). Now, they who were the first to view the empty tomb and hear the angels' proclamation that Jesus is risen. Subsequently, they repeat this amazing news to the apostles. The grammar here of "they were telling" suggests that this telling was being repeated to the apostles.

The apostles' reaction? Nonsense! The Greek word for "nonsense" (leros) has a ring of male superiority in it, and it forms the basis for our English word "delirious." In any case, these apostles were not buying into any resurrection account, at least not yet. They have not been blessed by the Holy Spirit to incorporate these events of crucifixion and resurrection into God's plan of salvation, although Jesus had repeatedly taught them this.

No one can incorporate the historical facts and spiritual significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus for the sins of the world without the Spirit of God providing the understanding, acceptance and faith in them. The Apostle Paul teaches this in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. Martin Luther taught this same essential in his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed: "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith."

Thanks be to God that He enlightened the apostles to come to faith in the Resurrection. They bravely turned the world upside down then with their preaching of Jesus crucified and raised for the forgiveness of sins.

And we, who have also been enlightened by this same Gospel to believe in the cross and empty tomb for our eternal life, continue to tell the Good News of the Lord's death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins till His return. So, we continually pray that the Spirit would open the spiritual ears and eyes of unbelievers to join us as Jesus' blessed people.

Christ has triumphed! He is living! Alleluia!