Tag Archives: Blood of Jesus

Justified and sanctified in Jesus

I have been asked on a regular basis if Lutheranism is Christian. For all the denominations and “independents” and so many of these faux attempts at Christianity, YES! All of these other denominations and other presumed attempts at Christianity came from Martin Luther. In fact if your non-denominational “pastor” has any training at all (so many don’t and just presume to hand out a shingle calling themselves a church) but if he has any grounding in genuine Christianity he will, on a regular basis, quote Martin Luther. Dr Luther is the one who called out and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman’s were right on one score, you open up Christianity, and you risk having a lot of presumptuous people thinking they know the drill who will pose themselves as “Christian” teachers and preachers. On the other hand the Roman Church was so wrong on many counts and we see those errors seeping into Reformed Christianity. Mainly in terms of “works-righteousness”. That is the idea that while Jesus saved us, you still have to do a few things to get you over that line into salvation. Make no mistake, we can reject our salvation. But as one Concordia seminary professor puts it, “God does the verbs”. That is God does what is necessary for us to be saved, there isn’t one thing we can add to what Jesus did for us to have salvation. It’s either all about him and nothing about me, or salvation doesn’t happen. There is also what is called antinomianism. That is that the Law doesn’t have any effect on Christians, we can go about and do just whatever we want and because of the grace of salvation, we’re forgiven of everything while we just flout God’s Law. There is no sin that Jesus didn’t die for. That doesn’t mean we can just go off and do whatever we like. There are consequences to our sin and at some point God decides that you really don’t have the fruits of the Spirit and that you’re just not really saved.

The point of this blog, though, is about the Lutheran teaching in terms of how our salvation is worked out. So for you who like to play at being a Christian, take some serious note here. We are saved because we are justified in Jesus. Justified, coming from the root word “justice” that we are completely innocent, completely guiltless because Jesus paid the price of our sin by dying on the cross. He took the punishment that we should have in order for us to be free of the guilt of our sin.

We are also sanctified, from the Latin “sanctus” completely holy, set apart, totally God’s man or woman. Again, that is only because we have been clothed in the holiness of Christ because of His sacrifice for us. If we are not completely justified, if we are not completely sanctified, and the only way that can happen is in Jesus, then we can not be saved. We cannot die and come into the presence of a completely holy and innocent God, God the Father of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest Lutheran teachers, was C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church in the United States. I’ve started a book by Concordia Publishing House which is a collection of Walther’s writings in a daily devotional, translated by Gerhard Grabenhofer.

Walther writes: “Justification happens in a blink of an eye. As soon as a sinner, in despair, recognizes his sin and desires grace and redemption, God speaks a word in heaven and justification takes place.” ( p 670) Walther wrote in the mid 1800s and I really like the style of writing from that period and Walther doesn’t disappoint. Likewise, he doesn’t pull any punches.

While we are immediately justified in Jesus, there is a process of sanctification, of growing in holiness. “Sanctification, on the contrary, does not happen suddenly. It occurs gradually and it continues until the end of our life. Justification is immediately perfect. Each one who is justified instantly receives the full forgiveness of his sins, the complete righteousness of Christ, and a new status as a child of God. Sanctification, which follows justification , begins weakly and grows until death, but it never comes to perfection.” ( pp 670-671).

Having said that I would point out that while we are, hopefully, always growing in sanctification, when we die as directed by God, the Lord of our life, we come into His presence completely justified, completely sanctified, completely righteous, but not due to anything we’ve done, only due to what Jesus has done for us. In baptism we become that new child in God, therefore we become completely justified. Baptism is the “new birth” in Jesus. We become completely saved in Jesus. Yes people are baptized, then become as lost as anyone else in the world, through their own bad choices. But not because God failed them in anyway, they chose the way of the world, and the way of the world is sin, death and eternal condemnation in Hell. Sure, lots of people would like to amend that and make it according to their own plan, but this is God’s plan and that’s just the way it’s going to happen. You can continue to live in your little world of denial or realize that the only Lord of life is Jesus and He has revealed salvation to us and that’s the way it’s going to be.

Walther writes: “Perfection for the Christian is the clear recognition that he is imperfect in himself, but nevertheless perfect in Christ Jesus”. For those who think that they’re “all that and a bag of chips”, don’t need Jesus, ok, how’s that going to work out. While you’ve made an idol of yourself, because you think you know what it’s all about, the only way to eternal life is through Christ. You can make it up, but it’s pure fiction and you’ve basically told God “yea, not really happy about your way, I’ve got a better idea”. You may think it’s better, but without anyway to save yourself, again eternal condemnation. Harsh? Not really, we want to know how to be saved, but when we get God’s way and decide it just doesn’t work for us, well it’s God’s way or no way and you’re not god, deal with it.

“When a person is justified, God generally lets him taste the sweetness of His grace in order to draw the sinner from the world to Himself. At this point, many a beginner in Christ thinks he is rid of the world, sin and Satan. but if that were truly the case, it would not be long before such a person became secure and proud. Therefore, our faithful God removes the sweet feelings of grace and power from most of His believers and from that time on, He bestows such blessings meagerly and allows His Christians to grow in humility. When a person becomes truly poor, he must daily beg God for everything and adhere to Jesus’ word of grace so he is not lost. He also comes to realize that God’s work of grace in sanctification is revealed in the fact that his spirit continues to struggle against his flesh. If he feels that sin rages in him, but something else in him prevents sin from gaining dominion over him, this moves him to prayer and to the word of God.If he succumbs to sinful temptations, he goes to Jesus and prays to Him for forgiveness. Such a person is not dead, for a dead heart no longer beats.”

“We have been reborn into true life in Jesus in our baptism. We were dead in our sin with the rest of the world, now we have true life. When we are given that new life, we become completely righteous in Christ and as a new child in Jesus we begin the journey of Christian maturity in our sanctification in Jesus.” (pp 671-672)

This is what is truly important about being saved in Jesus. We can get into a lot of mushy, pointless, emotionalism, or we can understand that we are sinners, that our only salvation is in Jesus and only through Jesus do we become justified and sanctified and truly fit to be made a child of God and to be in His presence and to live in the resurrected, eternal, perfect world that God had always intended for us.

Picking a Fight with Jesus John 8: 48-59 First St Johns

[for the audio version click the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know and are creations of, saved by, sustained by and inspired by the all-powerful eternal God-head said, … AMEN!!

“Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” At least for the guys, there were things that you could say on the playground, or wherever for that matter, that if you were looking to pick a fight you would say this. Straight to the point, these are fighting words in first century Israel. Same kind of principle on the playground, or in a locker room or in a bar. Kind of in the same vein with someone saying something about your girlfriend/wife, mother. The people who were confronting Jesus at this point were looking for a fight. They had people in His time, as now, who had nothing better to do then go out and look for fights, and many of the people who confronted Jesus were just those kind of people. They were just looking for a fight and they saw Jesus then, the same way many people see Him today, sort of a cream puff, a Rabbi therefore He must be a Poindexter/intellectual, because bullies like nice soft targets and that’s what these people were, bullies and that is what Jesus encountered so many times in His incarnation.

Now bullies expect their targets to pretty much just turn and run, this kind of mentality really can’t cope with reality, they’re not about to get into a deep discussion. They are the ones who today who sit around and smoke marijuana, drink too much alcohol, and just want cheap amusement. That is a lot of the world. They had no idea what they were talking about, probably didn’t even know who a Samaritan really was, or a demon for that matter. But Samaritans at that time were, in popular opinion, the most contemptible, dirty, inferior, any kind of pejorative you could label them with, that was the Samaritan to the Jew.

Samaritans are part of Scripture in a few instances and always labeled with a negative connotation, or they feel themselves are somehow low-grade. Recall the woman at the well. Samaritans really did not have the kind of animosity towards the Jews that the Jews had toward them. So the woman at the well, John 4, was surprised that Jesus would even acknowledge her existence, let alone talk to her or, horrors!!, touch His water with her hands. Jesus, obviously, didn’t feel that kind of animosity toward her, and she became one of the earliest evangelists for Jesus.

These guys picking a fight with Jesus and they feel justified because obviously Jesus is not one of them, another sure sign of bullies, and they can’t tolerate anyone who would be so obviously different. Ya, much like the world today. Talks a good game, doesn’t know what they’re talking about, just trying to pick fights in order to look good with their little gang, but has no intention of getting caught up in any kind of deep/intellectual discussion. They can’t function at that basis and they’re just not going to.

This is Trinity Sunday, the day when, if it’s not clear yet, we make exceedingly clear just who Jesus is. Jesus is God, God the Son. He is one of three of the infinite, transcendent, immutable, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal God head, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All of them God, all equal and individual and all in unity in the Godhead, one God. There is nothing more powerful in the universe, then our almighty God! So when Jesus is standing in front of the town buffoons or when we are reading His words 2,000 years later, the Creator of all creation is telling us what we need to know. If we treat Him patronizingly and just kind of play around His words, we are playing with fire and moving ourselves away from Him who is all powerful, moving away from relationship with Him and moving toward giving the world the same power that He, the Great I AM, really has. When we trust the world’s power be it in business, education, government, entertainment, we are trusting in something that will not only fail us, but will lead us to destruction. You can do that, but it’s simply the fast track to Hell. When, not if, the world fails you, it will leave you bitter, angry, and lost, out of connection with the real God.

You will have discussions with people to the effect that Jesus never said that He was God. That is nonsense, it is a completely disingenuous denial of what Jesus said. For those kinds of discussions, this is one of the passages that you can refer to.

The men who sat down to hammer out the Athanasian Creed had to contend with the same disingenuousness that we deal with today. The difference is that they wrote this in 325 AD, the Christian church had only just become the official church of the empire, but there were still plenty of people around who believed in all sorts of different gods/idols and there were even all sorts of people who called themselves “Christians” who were all over the map as to who Jesus was/is.

There were a lot of oddball ideas even for Christians. For example there should be a chart in your bulletin, it’s in Latin, but all it says is that Pater/Father, Filius/Son and Spiritus Sanctus/Holy Spirit, are/est, in the middle, God. They are non-est, not the other person of the God head. There are some people out there today who try to make the case that each person of the Godhead is their own individual trinity, making it into a twelvinty, I guess.

At this point, 325 AD, something we talked about at the Men’s Network breakfast yesterday, Constantine had reunified the Roman Empire and had made Christianity the official religion of the empire, this was over all the other belief systems of the time and there were a lot. Was Constantine a nice, all-on board Christian man? Ehh probably not, he was, eventually baptized, his lifestyle was not that of the exemplar Christian. Many would say that it was a pragmatic, even cynical move on his part to make the empire unified in Christianity. His mother, Helen, was a devout Christian woman and many would claim that she kept him in line. Point is, that, perhaps, thinking he could make the empire more unified, he finds that there are all sorts of flavors of Christians who are just as contentious with each other as with other beliefs. Since Constantine is, effectively, the head of the empire’s church, he decides he doesn’t want the conflict and forces the real Christians to sit down together and hammer out the tenents of their beliefs in order to unify Christians. That kinda/sorta worked to his purposes, but more importantly it did motivate the Christians of that time to really work out what being a Christian was and more specifically, based on Scripture, articulate who Jesus is, that He is true God along with the Father and Holy Spirit. You will find another insert that gives you the entire Athanasian Creed. You will see how much they tried to define, the finite trying to define the infinite, the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The reason we have this passage for Trinity Sunday is to, again, point you to one of many passages where Jesus does declare Himself to be God. While He doesn’t straight out say “hey I’m God and you guys need to get with it”, He does make references that to first-century Jews say, without question, “listen, I’m God.”

Any good Jew of the time would, without qualification, say that he was a child of Abraham. Ok, that’s fine Christians would say that they are in the spiritual line of Abraham too. Jesus, however, says sure Abraham is great, but Abraham was only a man. In fact, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” Woe, wait a minute Abraham lived about two thousand years before Jesus, how could Abraham know about Jesus and why would Jesus dare to presume to claim that Abraham rejoiced about Jesus’ day? There’s only one way that could happen and that is if Jesus had been there with Abraham, told Abraham what was going to happen and knew his reaction. The only being that was capable of doing that was …? God! But to make extra special sure that the Jews He was talking to, knew exactly what He was talking about Jesus said: “”Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Dr Paul Arand gives a good explanation: “But what does it mean for God to say ‘I AM’? Often this is translated as Lord. And rightly so. He is the one who rules, He is the one who rules over all things. There is none who is like him. But why is there none like him? And why does he rule over all things?… It is because he is a more powerful god than all the others?”

“Here is where we need to connect the dots of the narrative. Why is God Lord? Why is he the ‘I Am’? Because he is the Creator! Here we would do well to remember that in Scripture, the title ‘God’ is not a reference to an abstract deity or a philosophical concept of ultimate being or anything like that. It is always rooted in a narrative. … To put it bluntly if you created everything … you are God.’ … So to confess that Jesus is God is to confess that he is the Creator of all things. And for that reason He rules all things.”[1]

You have to understand what is being said between Jesus and His antagonists in terms of first century, Jewish Israel. Not in the context of 21st century English speaking Americans. The people Jesus was talking to knew exactly what He was saying, the penalty for blasphemy was stoning and that is what they started to do, stone Jesus. Jesus made it perfectly clear to them that He was saying He is God, without any doubt. I lived before Abraham, Abraham knows who I AM, and I am calling myself by the name that God told Moses. I AM God! Jesus is God, the Trinity is the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Creator, sustainer and savior of all creation. On this Trinity Sunday go back to those journals, look through John’s Gospel, Jesus makes other references like this. Remember those references, because someone will come to you and tell you that Jesus isn’t really God, how will you answer that person?

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Dr Charles Arand   “Concordia Journal   Spring 2016 p 139

O Sacred Head and Heart now wounded Luke 22, 23 First Saint Johns March 20, 2016

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, and all those who thank and praise God for the Passion that Jesus suffered for us and our salvation said … AMEN!!

Our sermon series for Lent has been based on the hymn “O Sacred Head Now Wounded”, composed by one of the great Lutheran hymnists Paul Gerhardt, according to Wikipedia is based on a Latin poem written by Arnulf of Leuven sometime around the 12th century. While we know the physical wounds that Jesus experienced, the flogging, the crown of thorns, dragging a rough wooden cross over His beaten back, being nailed into that cross, being lurched up into the air and left to hang from that Cross. But more than that were the wounds that were inflicted on His heart, the emotions, the wounds that cut us deeply, as the series said those wounds that are inflicted by those we trust, or those who aren’t satisfied with just physical wounds but want to cut right into our very being, humiliate and debase us. Jesus suffered physically and surely felt the pain of what His disciples did, or failed to do the night before He was crucified.

We talked about the wound of betrayal. Yes, Jesus knew who would betray Him, it didn’t come as a surprise. Jesus wasn’t sitting at that table in the Upper Room thinking “didn’t see that coming”. He talked about the son of perdition and how that man, one of the twelve, one of His closest followers would betray Him into the hands of the world, of sinners. Quoting that sermon: “He had traveled many miles and shared many meals. Here was a wound that weighed down our Lord’s sacred head and brought Him sorrow and grief that compounded the weight of sin He bore upon His cross.”[1] As you will see in our Living Last Supper presentation, Jesus will tell His disciples that; “One of you will betray Me” and each of the disciples asks the question; “Is it I Lord?” Jesus knew this time was coming, but I can’t imagine that lessened the cutting hurt He endured to have it finally happen and see a man who was so closely associated with Him, quietly slip away from the table and slither out of the door, trying to leave unnoticed by the other disciples. I don’t know how Jesus reacted, but I have to believe He was hurt deeply. I know if it was me my heart would sink in my chest and there would be a huge lump in my throat.

The next sermon was titled “The wound of apathy”. He and His disciples have finished the Passover Dinner. Jesus has left them with one of our greatest gifts, The Lord’s Supper. The next day Jesus will be the perfect sacrifice, for them, for us, for all Christians who know that we receive His true Body and Blood in His Supper. He has just taken the bread, “…and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My Body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Right after He makes this new covenant, this new promise, gives us this new hope that we would have the incredible privilege of taking His true Body and His true Blood, that our bond with Him would be very much spiritual and very much physical, that the nourishment we would receive from His Body and Blood would be the only nourishment that would preserve our body and soul, the only nutrition that keeps us strong in body and soul, immediately after one of the most profound moments in His ministry, in the history of all man, He reveals that “…the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.” We know the passion that He suffered physically, but we don’t really think of the passion in His heart, but that injury inflicted on Him right after He promises that His Body and Blood would strengthen and sustain our souls, His Body given for us His disciples. Then Judas slinks out the door: “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” Wow, guys, were you listening? It’s happening NOW! Is it that everyone has gotten a little too comfortable? They’ve ignored all the warnings He’s given them, that this would happen and there they are cluelessly chirping away about who is going to be the greatest? I can imagine how I would feel. “What is wrong with these guys? Have I just been airing my lungs out here? Have none of you been paying attention?” Yet, how many times do we forget what Jesus has told us and frisk merrily on our way, happy in our own little denial?

He knows it’s only a matter of hours, they go back to their sanctuary at Gethsemane. Hey it’s been a long holiday, we’re all bushed, what’s Jesus do? All the other guys are sacked out all around us and Jesus is schlepping Peter, John and James away. “My soul” He says, “is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.” Is that really too much to ask? “Guys this is it, in a few hours I will be experiencing unimaginable agony, stay with Me and pray, support Me while I pray in these final hours.” Just doesn’t sink in, Jesus goes and prays that He doesn’t want to go through the physical, emotional and spiritual agony that He knows is coming. He is so consumed that He is sweating drops of blood. But He trusts His Father’s will and goes back expecting His closest friends to be up waiting for Him in expectation. But they’re not, it’s just like any other night and they don’t even seem to try to stay awake with Him in His time of agony.

Now it is completely obvious what is happening. Jesus has been hauled away by soldiers and Jewish officials, taken to the high priest to be judged. All of His disciples have scattered or hidden. At least Peter did follow, at a distance. He’s trying not to be noticeable, but I can imagine Peter is still trying to figure out what’s going on, what’s going to happen. The same Peter who declared: “Even if I must die with You, I will not deny You!” (Matt 26:35) Peter makes this manly declaration to Jesus, but when it really counts, confronted by a little serving girl, a woman, Peter not only denies the Lord, but curses at the ones suggesting that he knew Jesus at all. Jesus knew Peter denied Him. He was brought outside, escorted right past Peter and looked at Peter, not with scorn, but with disappointment.

Perhaps at this point Jesus is so emotionally and physically wounded that the taunts and mockery of the Roman guards don’t really sink in. He hasn’t been with them, but He does know Judas, Peter, John, James, the ones who have failed and abandoned Him. But to know fully well who you are and why you’re there and to have a bunch of louts laughing in your face? The world still treats the Lord that way and if we think about it, there are times we do too.

The final wound is not something we, any of His followers inflicted, but because of the things we did, the sins we committed, the atonement for all of our sins, hanging on the cross, in the dark, with all of the sins of humanity on His shoulders, our completely holy, completely perfect Father has to turn His back on His Son.

God will not let our sin, our black ugly failings soil Himself. The Son has now become the perfect sacrifice, the propitiation of all our sins and His broken Body, which now bears all of that sin so that it may be forever forgiven of those who know Jesus as their Lord, but the Father in His perfect, holy nature will not bear that sin and has to turn away from His perfect Son. Hell is that place of eternal separation from the Father. For those who choose their own way and reject God, God allows them to have their way and eternally separates them from Him. In addition to the physical torments of Hell, is the torment of being eternally cut off from our only Hope and Promise in the Triune God. But Jesus suffers that separation, for the sin of all of humanity.

Yes on this day we remember how Jesus is welcomed into Jerusalem as the King, because He is the King. King of all creation, Lord of Lord, He who will be at the right hand of God the Father. But five days later, subject to unimaginable physical and emotional torment, brought on by the sins of all of us here, all of mankind. Our eternal life is bought for us by Him, who through Him put us back into relationship with the Father, who when we sin, when we fail to live our life in Christ, the Father only sees His beloved Son, our Savior Jesus the Christ. By His stripes our sins are healed and three days later He will rise to defeat death and to give us the promise of true, eternal life in the New Creation, with Him as our only Lord.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Lent sermon series Concordia Publishing House

In such a fragile world, let’s focus on eternal life Jude First St Johns Nov 22, 2015

[for the audio please click on the above Sound Cloud link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are ready to be used to truly save lives, to eternity said … AMEN!

We are again talking about eschatology, end times, I seem to run into different people over and over who have this fascination with eschatology. But there are “end times” when God will decide that the world will come to an end. And there are end times when someone dies now and dies to eternity, who does not have a saving relationship with God and is forever lost and condemned, they have had their “end time”. You can talk about the end times that Jesus tells us in the Gospels and in the Book of Revelation, but for those who die without being saved in Jesus, their end time happened when they died. I don’t understand this fascination, to me, the end of time, the final judgment, Armageddon, are all about the fragility of life. We just do not appreciate how much of a miracle it is for us to be here, to be what we are, to do what we do. The human body is so fragile, relatively slight changes around us can limit us, cripple us and even kill us. Yet we survive pretty well, considering how much could go wrong with us, the vast majority of people are healthy, death is unusual. But when we talk about end times, I think back to how very fragile we are and also to the fact that despite all my physical limitations, as complicated as the human body is, how easy it would be for something to go wrong, that our Creator, Glorious God keeps us strong, in body, mind and spirit and if it wasn’t for Him, we would be living day to day, in terror of the evil in the world. The Holy Spirit protects us from that evil.

St Jude writes: “But you beloved, building your selves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire;”

While serving in the Coast Guard I had a number of times when I was reminded of the fragility of life. One time started out as a foggy, cool, quiet Sunday morning and the Search and Rescue buzzer going off. It was really foggy, you couldn’t see more than ten – fifteen feet ahead. There is a lot of low water around the station and you just can’t go flying out of there even in a serious emergency, because there’s just too many areas that you can ground the boat. When there’s only about fifteen feet of visibility, it’s even more difficult and we had to pick our way out of the harbor. A small commuter airplane, the husband was the pilot and the wife was a stewardess missed the runway at Logan Airport. The airplane went right into Boston Harbor. The husband was very lucky. He was ejected out of the cockpit and a lobsterman, who just happened to be working on a Sunday morning, which they don’t usually, heard him calling out and the lobsterman picked his way over to the man and pulled him out of the water. Even in the middle of the summer, the water north of Cape Cod, of the Gulf Stream is cold, you don’t want to all of a sudden find yourself thrown out of a plane and into the water. While it was tough on the husband, the wife was trapped in the fuselage and at the bottom of Boston Harbor. I was driving the boat, while two other crewmen were in the back tending to the husband, he had been pretty battered. I had already dealt with a lot of death and injury, but for some reason this one hit me hard. I’m concentrating on trying to pick my way back into Boston Harbor, to the base in Boston to transport the man to the hospital as quickly as possible, but I also became preoccupied with the wife in the cold water, at the bottom of the harbor. I remember at one point having to choke back tears to focus on driving the boat and avoid hitting anything in the fog. It really hit me, this is a couple that just wanted to be back in Boston in the morning, enjoy the city, had no other expectations than to have Sunday brunch and enjoy a day off. The husband did survive, but the wife didn’t make it.

If I could have articulated the passage in Jude at the time, it would have really hit me. I didn’t know if this woman was saved, if she knew Jesus as her Lord, if she knew that Jesus died for the sins of the world, her sins included, in order to restore us to the Father and save us to eternity. St Jude’s quote really hits home and is convicting to me and should be convicting to all of us who are in Jesus: “…save others by snatching them out of the fire…” I had the privilege of serving for 29 years, full-time and part-time Coast Guard, I had many opportunities to “snatch people out of the fire”. I participated in saving many lives. But I and all of you here today, have an opportunity to “save lives” in a much more significant way. Anyone that I was involved in “snatching from the fire”, may have been saved that day, but will, eventually, die. We all will. But the issue is will any of us die and then be in the presence of the Lord? Or will we die for eternity? You have the opportunity with so many of those around you; family, friends, those you work with, your neighbors, to genuinely save lives. It might sound more exciting to plod through the fog to pull someone out of the water and save them from physical death. But it means so much more to save someone from eternal death and all of you here, young, old, strong, not so strong, regardless of education level, work status, marital status, you can save people to eternal life in Jesus. Someone can be saved now, will grow old, sick, infirm, and die without Jesus and be lost eternally. Or they can be saved now, and have the promise of the eternal resurrection. Eternal life in the perfect world, to life that God intended for us at the beginning of creation. We have the promise in today’s Gospel lesson, that at the end of time, when we see the stars falling from heaven and the powers on earth and in heaven be shaken, that the Son of Man, Jesus will come in the clouds with great power and glory, that He will send His angels to gather His elect. Who are His “elect”? You and me, those who Jesus chose from the beginning of time to be saved in Him. We don’t know who those elect are. How do we know that we are elect? We are baptized in the all powerful Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are confirmed to be members of His Body, His church. We take His Body and Blood to strengthen us in our relationship as new creations, sons and daughters of God the Father. That we are forgiven saints, restored in our relationship with the Father. We hear His preached Word as we are doing right now, that reminds us of that relationship and our responsibility to live our lives in the world, right now, to reach those who the Holy Spirit is guiding us to reach. We can be the greatest life-savers, that even if someone’s physical life ends tomorrow, what we did to witness to Jesus and show them salvation and eternal life in Him, that their lives will be saved to eternity and to true life in the resurrection. That is true life-saving and we get to do that every day we are in this world to serve our Lord and Savior Jesus. Isaiah writes: “My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples…” (Isaiah 51: 5) God comes nearer to us every day and His righteousness will triumph over the evil of the world. The Father has promised us salvation in Jesus, He who died to pay for our sins. But He also promises there will be a judgement. For those in Jesus the verdict will be true life eternal. For those not in Jesus, the judgment will be eternal separation from God in Hell. Take some time this week to think and write about the lives you could be saving to eternity.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

Confession or separation and from whom

Unconfessed sin isn’t fooling anyone. God certainly knows, and come on those around you? They know. Unconfessed sin also separates us, from each other and from God. God knows, but since you have chosen to suppress, conceal, downplay, dismiss, your sin separates you from a perfect, holy God. Hasn’t a child, spouse, someone close tried to ignore unconfessed sin with you? Can’t you sense a very real separation from that person until you come to grips with that person and their sin. As a fellow sinful being we can kind of understand that, and God certainly understands and forgives, but can’t you still sense the distance, separation, even barrier it has created?

Mark Buchanan points out in Peter love covers a multitude of sins. Sure we get it, you are forgiven, Jesus died for that sin. Pastor Buchanan points out “Love can’t cover over what pride or shame covers up.’ He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.’ (Proverbs 28:13) (Your God is too Safe p 170) Last I checked pride is sin, aren’t we compounding the original sin or subsequent sin? Sin does create separation and barriers: “If anyone is going to love you and if you are going to love anyone the way Scripture exhorts and commands, you’re going to have to show someone the real you. The real you will have to stand up. You’ll need to confess.” (Ibid)

I really like how Pastor Buchanan expands on what this separation and barrier of unconfessed sin creates. Are we Christians, loving not just each other, but those who may even actively oppose us? And not this phoney, shmaltzy, cheesey love. Love is genuine put it on the line, up to the point of sacrificing your life for the best and betterment of someone who truly needs you to stand up for them? How can we truly be the Body of Christ, to trust our lives, to truly be a part of the integrated Body of Christ, if we let sin, pride separate us. We still need to use discretion, as I pointed out in my last blog, there is someone who you should trust with high confidence. Your Pastor. At least as a Lutheran, your pastor has a high level of training, is under the seal of the confessional, which is still recognized under secular and canonical law, who cannot discuss anything with anyone else that you discuss with him. As you grow in relationship with other Christians, sure you should be much more open with them. But remember your pastor has a lot to offer, including: “as a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ I tell you, for Him, that you are forgiven.” You want an authority figure on the matter, who is better suited than your pastor?

But Buchanan presents the perspective of a regular practice of unconfessed sin: “The first is that Christian fellowship becomes a masquerade – a game of hide-and-seek, of pretense and jargon, with no real life and no real depth. We end up investing so much in the appearance of holiness that we miss the substance of it. We end up so preoccupied with saving face that we fail to live in God’s saving grace. We walk around with insecurity and fear: If you really knew me, you wouldn’t like me. The Only reason you like me is you don’t really know me.” (Ibid)

In other words, a phoney Christian life. I have gone into churches where there’s a lot of phoniness, there’s no real Christian confession, just as Buchanan points out; “pretense and jargon” and that is just not a healthy place to be. You can almost cut the subterfuge with a knife. It’s almost suffocating. In a congregation where  confession, trust, openness, smacks you right in the face like a crisp, winter seabreeze, it’s bracing and challenging, and it’s also refreshing and just makes you want to push right in and get more.

“But confession and true fellowship are deeply joined. John in his first letter makes that explicit. He writes, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1: 8-9).”  He goes on to note that: “…When we walk in the truth and in the light, we have real fellowship … not among perfect people, but honest ones, people willing to deal with their imperfections. Otherwise we have a country club, not a church.”

“That’s one consequence of a people without the holy habit of confession: Our fellowship becomes a shallow, gaudy, fickle thing, a nonfellowship, an exercise in faking it.” (Ibid pp 170-171) And isn’t that sin? Aren’t we called to fellowship? Aren’t we called to be genuine? It’s not easy and I doubt I will ever be “good” at it. But that’s not an excuse for me to avoid striving for it either.

Let’s do everyone a big favor, start to truly live that Christian life in confession. Let’s start trusting those clergy that God has give to us in order for us to grow closer to God, instead of all the pretense and baloney that we substitute instead. Let’s do our best to grow in our relationship with fellow Christians. Yes, we have to maintain some discretion and common sense. But at least keep pushing the boundaries. Can you get burned? Yup, but it won’t be on you, you will be living the life in Christ, it will be for that person who failed in your trust. Pray for them and for all Christians who can’t step up in maturity and move on as a faithful Christian disciple.

Confession, bone deep honest with God, with His minister

Dr Martin Luther did not post his 95 Theses and then be pursued for the next 30 odd years to have the baby thrown out with the bath water. He had problems with the Roman Church, but it was not about liturgy or Biblical practices, it was about abuses that arose from the Roman Church adding to the Bible. Communion, baptism, confession were not an issue, Luther had no problem with these because they were Biblical. He did have problems with the ways they had become corrupted, but not with the biblical principals.

However subsequent “reformers” chose to dump those practices that they just did not like. Not that they were unbiblical, they just didn’t like practices such as understanding that baptism meant new birth in Jesus. They just did not like that the bread and wine in communion, were the actual Body and Blood of Jesus, they didn’t like the idea of confessing to another person, even though the Bible is pretty clear. It frankly seems as though those who come through Reformed Christianity or other avenues that only seem to emphasize personal preferences, or personal improvement in order to further their own lives, come to the realization that the spiritual practices of Christianity do have a much more profound meaning and do what is far more important in our lives, build our relationship with God.

Mark Buchanan is very much in the Reformed Christian branch of Protestantism, an ordained Baptist minister and well known author. He also quotes Richard Foster, a Quaker, definitely not Lutheran!  In his book Your God is too Safe (p 166) “…Protestants became so scornful of the Roman Catholic practice of confession that we dropped it altogether and ended up creating churches of smiling, laughing, savvy people who are dying on the inside and too afraid to let anyone know. First Church of the Whitewashed Tombs. This, too, bypasses the real issue of spiritual growth. Rather than bear fruit, we’ve tended to paint it on and hope nobody notices that we have no real roots or sap to grow fruit anyhow.”

Full disclosure, I would have to concede, that even though Lutherans retain the confessional, corporate and individual confession, they don’t really practice it. When I was at seminary, graduated 2010, the seminary chaplain held confession every Wednesday. Out of about 500 students and maybe 100 professors, staff etc, he said that he had about 25 people attend confession, about 5% of the possible population. I was one of the 5% and found great benefit in personal confession. Lutherans talk confession, but actual practice, eh… not so much.

Lutherans do practice corporate confession, meaning at the beginning of every worship, we have confession, agreeing we are sinners in need of divine forgiveness and then I announce that as “a called and ordained servant of Jesus Christ and by His authority I forgive you all of your sins.” So I’m sure many feel that the base is covered.

Pastor Buchanan goes on to say: ” Confession is when we quit all the deal making, the sidestepping, the mask wearing, the pretense and preening and we get bone-deep honest before God…” (p 167)

“…In order to present our real selves to God, we need to be honest with ourselves about ourselves and honest about ourselves to at least one other trusted and godly person.” 

I submit, being a person that has to learn all about the subject, has been trained to listen, has taken an oath to never discuss anything that has been confessed to him, called the “sanctity of the confessional” which is even recognized under the law and would be a reason to discharge me from the ministry should I violate that sanctity, that maybe you want me to be that “trusted and godly person.” Puhlease do not get some goofy idea that this feeds some prurient interest on my part. Nothing could be further from the truth, hearing someone’s confession is not something that I relish or look forward to. But I see it as a responsibility. As a pastor I am going to be held to a higher standard in the final judgment and I am not going to be put in the position of being asked, “it would have helped people to know that you offered regular confession, you had the opportunity to do it, why didn’t you?

While Dr Luther did not have a problem with confession, he did have a problem with how the Roman church did business conducting confession. I will readily stipulate that because the concept of confession has been undermined and frankly trivialized by the Roman church (to wit, go and say five Hail Marys and the stations of the cross, come back and I will forgive you), that has allowed most to simply dismiss it as a relic of a past church. As a baptized Christian you are forgiven, we have that assurance when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper. Yes you are forgiven. Jesus died for all your sins. Your works do not add to your forgiveness.

Having said that Pastor Buchanan quotes Richard Foster (please note that Mr Foster is a Quaker, again not a Roman Catholic with an agenda, or Lutheran for that matter.):

“The person who has known forgiveness and release from persistent, nagging habits of sin through private confession [that is, to God alone] should rejoice greatly in this evidence of God’s mercy. But there are others for whom this has not happened. Let me describe what it is like. We have prayed, even begged, for forgiveness and though we hope we have been forgiven, we sense no release. We doubt our forgiveness and despair at our confession. We fear that perhaps we have made confession only to ourselves and not to God. The haunting sorrows and hurts of the past have not been healed. We try to convince ourselves that God forgives only the sin; he does not heal the memory. But deep within … we know there must be something more. People have told us to take our forgiveness by faith and not call God a liar. Not wanting to call God a liar, we do our best to take it by faith. But because misery and bitterness remain in our lives, we again despair. Eventually we begin to believe either that forgiveness is only a ticket to heaven and not to affect our lives now, or that we are unworthy of the forgiving grace of God.”

I’ve had men tell me “I don’t confess my sin to men.” Well tough guy that’s not biblical, it’s just not. James’ epistle 5:16 clearly states: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” Ya, you may think you have it altogether, but honestly, those are the type of people that end up with all sorts of additional problems that they allow to come between themselves and God. The manly thing to do? I did it. Sit across from someone who you can trust and say I need absolution, I need to know from someone I can trust (your pastor) that I am forgiven. If you want to go into detail I will certainly listen and help you. I do not, however, need to hear the detail. I do not even need to hear the particular besetting sin. But if you are in any doubt, or need assurance, your pastor will sit across from you and provide that. That is at least for those churches that provide for confession.

Listen, tough guy, you want to be tough? Stand up, admit your sin, know that you are forgiven, go back into the world and truly live the life in Christ. Frankly the biggest cowards I’ve seen are the ones that can’t stand up to their sins, to those they’ve sinned against and of course that is always against God. Who refuse to know that they are forgiven and will know how to live his life truly in Jesus. Ask yourself can you really continue to live a life that is as Pastor Buchanan describes: “in churches of smiling, laughing, savvy people who are dying on the inside and too afraid to let anyone know. First Church of the Whitewashed Tombs.” Ya know, going through the motions, doing the “right” thing, knowing that you are just living a farce, never really dealing with your relationship with Jesus and your fellow man, just making it up. Wow, this is from guys who would tell me how much they can’t stand phonies. Ya, really dude? Take a look in the mirror.

Let’s all be real, strong men (and women), deal with the things we need to deal with, with someone we can trust. Get in their with your pastor, tell him what’s happening, get the assurance that you are forgiven in Jesus, maybe some objective guidance as to how to move on from a besetting sin, put it behind you and grow in your relationship with Jesus. Sorry guys, you are nowhere near as smart and tough and savvy as you think. I know that, because I know I’m not. Let’s get real together, move on as men together and do some real stuff. Then we can really smile, laugh and be savvy and show the world what it really means to be a Christian man.

We are His saints, enriched by Him Matthew 5 All Saints Day First St Johns Nov 1, 2015

[For the audio of this sermon please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are saints in Christ said in a spirit of celebration and joy … AMEN

I am going to paraphrase Paul: “To the church of God that is in York, Pennsylvania to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1: 2-6)

Paul goes on to say to his brothers and sisters in Corinth as I would like to express those same sentiments to my brothers and sisters in York: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1: 7-8)

As His Saints we win and we didn’t do anything. Because He’s overcome, we have overcome. We have overcome the world. We have overcome death. We couldn’t do any of these things ourselves. While we like to think that we are so strong that we can achieve whatever we are confronted by, deep in our hearts we know we can’t. Why do you think that there is so much fear, anger, angst around us? All of these people who know perfectly well that they just can’t confront the world. They hear the lies of the world all around them and they try to believe them. They have to. Why? Because there is nothing else for them to believe. So they accept that they are somehow gifted, strong, personally endowed with some skill that is going to enable them to make it. But when you ask them what that looks like, how did they get there and for that matter, where is there? You get bewilderment, you get frustration. They don’t know. The world’s told them a lie, that they are somehow special. But they don’t feel special, they say they are. Students in the United States today rank way below the rest of the world in math, language, science. But they do rank first in one thing, in self-esteem. They feel good about themselves. But when you confront them with the reality of what that means, they have nothing. They are somehow special, but special how? They don’t know. Those around us today can’t perceive, or maybe more accurately don’t want to perceive anything past the next event. “Well let’s see what happens after the World Series. Let’s see what happens after the next election. Let’s see what happens after the next Federal Reserve meeting. Sure we wait to see the outcome, then what happens? Pretty much where we were. Nothing much has changed. We cling to the latest stock market numbers, and then we watch as our IRA’s, our financial future drop again. We think we have a way to make money on the stock market, we might even have a little success, then the market closes and we just spent money without lifting a finger. That affects the Christian and the non-Christian. But we have Jesus to cling to. He has overcome the stock market, the housing market, the GNP, the President and the Congress.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” That’s us! Ours is the kingdom of heaven. It might not “feel” like it right now. Another thing that separates us from the world? It’s not about our feelings. It is about what Jesus has done, what He continues to do. It’s His promise of heaven and eternity. Things might not be that great for you right now. We all know perfectly well that there are Christians all over the world who are very much suffering for their witness to Christ. You see that last verse in our Gospel reading? “…for your reward is great in heaven…” We have all had days and will have days, when we don’t feel so great, when everything’s going wrong, the future looks doubtful. Are there times when we’d like to give up? Sure! But because we are saved the Holy Spirit doesn’t give up on us. Why? We are His, we aren’t allowed to give up and we won’t because the Holy Spirit saves us from ourselves. The world does not have that promise, believes Satan’s lies and gives up, gives up in the form of drugs, alcohol, sex, money, power. They honestly believe this will save them, but we all know, and they know deep inside too, it will make them slaves and condemn them.

As a saint, as one who is saved in Jesus you are saved, you have the promises of Jesus, you have new life in Jesus, you are a special, holy, sanctified person, completely saved in Jesus and the Father’s special child and you didn’t do anything to be any of that. God chose you, He saved you, He recreated you in baptism, He lifted you up from the waters of baptism a new creation in Him. He gives you His own Body and Blood. His ministers share His saving, life restoring word with you. You received all this. You should praise and glorify God for what He’s given you. But none of that is yours because of your praise or worship, it’s yours because God gave it to you in your baptism in Jesus. Randy Alcorn writes: “What God made us to desire, and therefore what we do desire if we admit it, is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ [His Saints]: a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth. Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans. It’s not that we want something, so we engage in wishful thinking that what we want exists. It’s the opposite – the reason we want it is precisely because God has planned for it to exist. As we’ll see, resurrected [saints] living in a resurrected universe isn’t our idea – it’s God’s[1]

For those He has separated, not our choice, His decision. That’s something that we take to the bank. If Jim makes a decision for God what does that mean? Well did I do it the right way, did I do it at the right time? I’m fallible did I make some kind of mistake? It isn’t on me, I am hagios I am holy, separated. You and I are made to be a completely new and different being because Jesus redeemed you and me, He died for you and me, He paid for all of our sins and now we are made perfectly clean and holy. I am made to be completely acceptable to God because of Jesus. The Holy Spirit led me to be baptized and in that baptism I am cleansed from the sin I was born in and the sins I have committed in my life and made to be that new creature, His saint. Then as a part of His church, the Body of Christ, I am given His Body and Blood to strengthen me in Body and Spirit, to be newly cleansed of my sin, renewed in my Spirit. All because of what He did for us, nothing of what we did. We therefore have that assurance that because God did it that it’s done, completely right, totally in His power and none of it in ours. There can’t be a mistake, because of that we have complete assurance that Jesus is the Lord of our lives, in this worldly life and in the true life that is eternal and perfect in the resurrection. Journal about it for the next week, what does it mean to you to be a[gioj completely clean in Christ, how does that compare to what you see in the rest of the world, why is this a reason to give thanks, to praise and glorify our Savior Jesus Christ?

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Alcorn, Randy   Heaven  pp 7-8