Tag Archives: faith

The Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus, we don’t “chose” Jesus, He choses us

American Christianity has introduced seriously incorrect concepts into Christianity. One of the most pretentious is how “I accepted Jesus into my heart”. This idea that in the super-mart of beliefs, I was a really great guy and decided to throw one to Jesus. I often wonder if people really understand how prideful and pretentious that sounds and is.

The Holy Spirit chose me, He gave me the understanding of who/what Jesus is and how He saved me. There was nothing left for me to mess up, other than of course I could just reject Jesus, but surely the Holy Spirit would make me realize how stupid that would be.

CFW Walther took orthodox Lutheranism from Europe and brought it to the United States, established the church apart from American Christianity and enabled it to be established in the US so that it could continue to teach and preach true Christianity. In a sermon, Walther asserts the understanding of how we are chosen and don’t chose. I do appreciate his point that while there are many who are “interested” in Jesus/God, they’re not interested to the extent that it runs their life, they’re still in charge and that’s that. If Jesus is not the Lord of your life and you’re not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you are not a Christian. It’s all about God and what He does and nothing about what we do.

“By nature, no person is capable of receiving the Word in his heart. He must be brought to it by the Holy Ghost. As often as an unconverted person hears, reads or examines the Word of God, the Holy Ghost seeks to convince him that he is a great sinner, that he does not stand in grace with God, and that God’s wrath rests upon him. If, through this divine working, the person does not resist the Holy Ghost, his heart is filled with a deep sadness and his awakened conscience provokes anxiety and even terror in him. Then, through the Gospel, a heartfelt longing for grace, help and mercy arises in the person. Oh, blessed is he who experiences this, for this longing for grace is the beginning of the true, saving faith. It begins as soon as the sinner reaches out with longing to Christ, the propitiation of all sins. If such a person remains under the cultivation of the Holy Ghost through the Word of the Gospel, he finally, in faith and confidence, embraces Christ so he can cry out with divine certainty: ‘Praise the Lord, O my soul! For I, a sinner, have found grace. I, a miserable person have found mercy.’ The person who has had such an experience has received the Gospel and come to true faith.”

Essentially, that we as evil, sinful people have no capacity to even know how to truly come to Jesus. Those who pridefully announce it, are sinning in their presumption. Do we “accept” Jesus in our pride and power? No, of course not, we are making it into a sinful effort on our part.

“…whoever has never groaned from the depths of his distressed heart for Christ’s grace and whoever still fails to recognize that a person cannot believe in Christ by his own powers but alone by the working of the Holy Ghost is certainly still without faith. The birth of faith in the soul of a sinner cannot leave him unmoved. Indeed, it is a work that transforms the whole person – from darkness to light, from spiritual death to spiritual life – and brings him out of powerlessness into divine strength.” [I think it is better that in our humility and weakness we are endowed with the power God gives us to truly know him and live our lives in our new birth, in our baptism, in Him. How could we be anything but humble and weak in order to be endowed with God’s strength?] “Luther gloriously speaks about this in the preface to his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans: ‘This is the reason that, when they hear the Gospel, they fall-to and make for themselves, by their own powers, an idea in their hearts, which says, ‘I believe.’ This they hold for true faith. But it is a human imagination and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, and so nothing comes of it and no betterment follows it. Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God’ (John 1); it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Ghost … Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do’ (xvi, xvii).” (translated by Gerhard P. Grabenhofer God Grant it Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther pp 662-663)

Knowing that it is all about what God does in us gives us the assurance of knowing that we are truly in Christ, that it’s been done effectively, correctly and for eternity. Can we decide we just don’t want this? Sure, reject God and decide to do it our way. How do you think that’s going to end up? I always find it interesting when people in such indignation complain “how could a good God send people to hell?” As you can see here, it’s about what people are doing by rejecting God. That than begs the question, who’s sending who where? Obviously people are rejecting God and choosing eternal separation and outside of God that means torment. When it’s all about their “choice”, it’s always bad, when it’s about God choosing, obviously, it’s always good and that’s what we want to go with, God’s choice, not mine.

God’s promises to us in prayer

The last Tuesday of the month is out monthly prayer breakfast at First Saint Johns Lutheran Church. It is a time to lift up prayer for each other, for the church that God has put us in, for our community, any other needs that people bring up. Everyone is welcome, it’s a great breakfast and a really great time of fellowship in prayer.

It is also a time for a little teaching. We can all always use a little more guidance in our prayer/devotional life and I found he following is from Martin Luther which will be a topic of conversation:

“Good prayer that is heard by God has two prerequisites. First, we must consider God’s promise that he will hear us. By reminding him of his promise, we can dare to pray confidently. For God hadn’t asked us to pray and hadn’t promised to hear us, then all people praying their requests together wouldn’t be able to receive even the smallest item.

So no one receives anything from God because of the quality of the prayer, but only because of God’s goodness. God anticipates all of our requests and desires. With his promise, he prompts us to pray and desire these things so that we will learn how much he cares for us. He cares for us so much that he is prepared to give us even more than we are ready to receive or to ask for. Because he is offering us so much, we can pray with confidence.

Second, we must not doubt what the true and faithful God promises to do. He promises to hear our prayers – yes, he even commands us to pray. He promises this so that we might firmly believe that our prayers will be answered. As Christ says, ‘That’s why I tell you to have faith that you have already received whatever you pray for, and it will be yours’ (Mark 11:24; Matthew 21:22). Christ also says, ‘So I tell you to ask and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find, and for the person who knocks, the door will be opened’ (Luke 11:9-10). By trusting in these promises and obeying thee commands, we can pray with confidence.” (Through Faith Alone  365 Devotional Readings from Martin Luther October 30)

As in everything in our relationship with God it is about Him guiding us in prayer, it is about Him leading us in everything. We can certainly lift up inspired, high prose in our prayer, but that’s not really the point. Often we would do well to wait in prayer for the Holy Spirit to move us to understand what we really should be praying for and get on God’s track for us instead of us trying to force our prayer and struggle. God truly is waiting to God us in all parts of our life. That is faith, trusting His leading instead of fussing about what we’re supposed to do.

A Spirit Not of Fear but of Power Matthew June 25, 2017 First St Johns

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 trust Jesus and are overcomers said … AMEN!

I’m sure many of you have had this discussion with your parent, to the effect, “But dad I don’t want to because I’m afraid of this person”. The response was to the effect “you have more to be afraid of me, then of aforementioned person.” I’m sure you’ve had the same thoughts in terms of “I don’t want to do this because I’m afraid of the reaction I’m going to get from someone else” and then come to the realization, I’d better be a lot more afraid of what God is going to think or do then the big monster I’m afraid of will do. I was afraid, [Rodney voice] I grew up in a tough neighborhood, the local restaurant only had broken leg of lamb on the menu.[1] On my street, the kids take hubcaps – from moving cars.”

Jesus makes it pretty plain, sure bad things can happen if you get someone in the world angry, but that’s not going to be anything compared to making God angry from failing to be faithful to His will. In fact whenever I’m in that quandary, after all is said and done, when I look back, I realize that the person/ thing/situation that I was afraid of, was nowhere near as big, bad or ugly as I thought. Furthermore, trusting in God usually results in an outcome I never expected, would never planned. I’m not giving you a Harry Potter incantation or Joel Osteen everything’s going to work out because God has a great plan for your life. He does, but not some Osteen formula. It’s according to the only words that matter, Holy Scripture.

Jesus talks about the one who has “endured to the end who will be saved.” While too many “Christians” have a rainbow and unicorn perception of Jesus, as we see in this passage, through the Gospels and particularly the Book of Revelation, to quote another writer: “The Bible teaches Christians to recognize that the world is a battleground, not a playground.”[2] To take Mr Dangerfield’s quotes, we all grow up in a tough neighborhood. We certainly have the assurance that Jesus will be faithful, that when we trust in Him we will be delivered. It might not seem like it, people do die, people do suffer tragedy, or, at least what we perceive as death or tragedy. We know many cases where we might think that someone has been treated unfairly, but what God has lead that person to do in that trial, that tragedy has, in fact, resulted in genuine blessing for that person, for others that they have served, have inspired, have reached. As Christians we know the ultimate tragedy is to be lost for eternity. While we may suffer in this life, and the reality is that we all suffer in one form or another. That we all have a cross to bear, ESV Luke 14:27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Arthur Just explains: “These are catechumens who have heard the Word, have left family and understand the costs of discipleship. But as they travel with Jesus to Jerusalem, they begin to encounter rejection and persecution…[this] corresponds to the seed that fell on the rock and withered because of lack of moisture, like those who receive the Word with joy but have no roots and fall away in times of temptation, which can include persecution.”[3]

It’s never my intention to, create fear in people. The words we see in the Bible emphasize being aware and faithful. Jesus told His disciples in this passage; “ESV Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” We are saved, we are protected, we are baptized, we eat the Body of Christ and drink the Blood of Christ, we are very much a part of Him, in the sacraments, in the Keys of the Church, His Body that we are very much a part of. We don’t, ultimately, have anything to fear. The same writer: “The Greek word most often translated “overcomer” stems from the word nike which, according to Strong’s Concordance, means “to carry off the victory. The verb implies a battle.” You probably remember the Nike missile, Nike sports gear. Needless to say in war and in sports, the point is victory. To take the simile a little further, the Nike slogan is “just do it”. I wish we, as Christians, understood that motto in terms of our witness to Christ instead of being fearful of rejection and embarrassment. Embarrassed for Jesus? hmmm, sort of where He says: “ESV Matthew 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” When we are unfaithful, and put our trust in the world, and the things around us, just chose to punt, to give in to the world, Jesus is under no obligation to be faithful to us. If by our lives and our witness we demonstrate that Jesus is not important in our lives, why would we have the idea that we should be important to Jesus? Why should He stand up for us for eternity, when we won’t stand up for Him for just a moment in a world that is so temporary, so fleeting, so transitory? I have seen it so often, I chose not to stand up, I chose not to bravely confront and deal with a fraudulent world, but then expect someone to stand up for me and they are outraged that they’ve been left completely exposed. The world loves to set people up, as false witnesses, as Paul writes “to be slaves to sin … for the end of those things is death” (Rom 6: 20..21)

The real emphasis in the real language Jesus uses over and over again, is very much in terms of one who stays faithful, the one who endures, the one who while they are afraid, still endures. Many have the idea that the “brave man” has no fear going into danger. That would infer a really high level of stupid. I’ve seen plenty of brave men and women, people who’ve had to face actual, physical danger. They are acutely aware of the danger, and they are by no means stupid people. By the same token, they realize that they have to overcome and trust their fear because others are relying on them, trusting them to do what is necessary. As Christians we should always trust Christ in the face of danger. We have the guarantees, we have the lock, we know how the story ends, we are going to feel fear, BUT, we are certainly called to overcome. How do we overcome, do we overcome in our own strength? NO! We know the Holy Spirit is with us to strengthen us in those times when we face any challenge and certainly that includes up to and including death. Our trust is this, that what we do for Christ will never be wasted. Too often people talk about someone they perceive dying prematurely or being seriously injured as waste. They only see the here and now and don’t wait in faith for how Christ will use this. If that person has rejected Christ, has actually wasted their life, then we can see the reason why they might have died. I’m sure you can imagine many who simply wasted what they were given. By the same token those who have endured, stayed strong, overcome the trials that were given and still pointed to Christ as the reason, we certainly know and will witness to others and we know the Holy Spirit will use that to glorify Jesus and bring others to Jesus. The Christian church in China will be the largest church in the entire world in about 15 years. This in spite of horrendous persecution and suffering. Those who suffer are very real witnesses to others of the truth of Jesus’ church, of the Christian church and that it does save and they become Christians because they know that they have the promises of Christ of their resurrection to eternal, real life, life and life more abundant! The world cannot come close to such a promise, but takes those who fail to persevere, who will not stand in the strength of Jesus and the world toys with those people, gives them empty promises, kicks them to the curb and walks away laughing. “Overcomers are promised that they will eat from the Tree of Life (2:7), be unharmed by the second death (2:11), eat from hidden manna and be given a new name (2:17), have authority over the nations (2:26), be clothed in white garments (3:5), be made a permanent pillar in the house of God (3:12), and sit with Jesus on His throne (3:21). Jesus warned that holding fast to Him would not be easy, but it would be well worth it.”[4]

Jeremiah’s words have to lift you and inspire you, the promise of who God is and what He will most certainly do: “ESV Jeremiah 20:11 But the LORD is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten.”

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

He has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

[1] source: http://www.jokes4us.com/peoplejokes/comedianjokes/rodneydangerfieldjokes.html

[2]

[3] Arthur Just Concordia Commentary Luke 9-24 p 581

[4] https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-overcomer.html0

Palm Sunday the next step to the Cross John 12 First Saint Johns April 9, 2017

[for the audio of this sermon click on the above icon]

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 shout Hosanna, God save us said … AMEN!

Palm Sunday has been seen by Christians in many different ways. Some to the effect that this was Jesus’ big move, that the people were falling in line and Jesus would re-establish David’s kingdom. Certainly the people that day saw it as such. They are shouting “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” We see those words today almost as a platitude, something you say when David’s Son, Jesus, comes riding in as Zechariah prophesied and seems to be making His political or military move. The people greeting Him see it that way, recall from last week’s readings: “ESV John 11:47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” Even Jesus’ disciples were sure that this was a power play. That Jesus’s being crucified, was a huge miscalculation. Maybe on His part? Who knew, but things just weren’t coming out the way they were supposed to.

To be clear, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the direct, immediate march to the Cross. There is no turning back, there are no backup plans. Maybe some second thoughts, you really can’t blame Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing full well what is going to happen to Him in about twelve hours, at least raising the possibility to the Father that maybe this isn’t how we want to go? But the plan was in place, everything is set.

We see prophecy of the passion going back to David’s time in some of the Psalms He wrote: ESV Psalm 22:7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” Clearly a prophecy of the mockery from the Roman soldiers and the leaders of Israel. Matthew 27:41 is about the mockery about Jesus being King of Israel, that if He’s the Son of God that the Father would surely save Him. ESV Psalm 22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet-17 I can count all my bones- they stare and gloat over me;” Clearly a description of a man who has been stretched out on a cross, nailed to it so that they could plainly see his ribs. David is being shown by God that his descendant, Jesus, is going to be killed in a way that he wouldn’t even know. Crucifixion wouldn’t be used as a means of execution for at least another 500 years after David lived. Yet he writes pretty vividly what we know of the crucifixion of Jesus. “18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” A clear reference to Matthew 27:35. No we can’t know for sure, but in terms of biblical prophecy, no one really questions that Psalm 22: starting with verse 7 is prophecy of the events that we plainly seen in each of the Gospels. The scene had been set over a thousand years ago when David wrote the words of Psalm 22. Yahweh told David quite plainly that his descendant, Jesus, would be killed in a very violent way.

Today is Palm Sunday and we remember Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. The whole Jerusalem community turns out to see Jesus. He certainly has made an impact. John writes: “The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.”(vv 17-18) As I pointed out in last week’s sermon, Jesus had done His miracles in Capernaum, about 117 miles away from Jerusalem. The place He raised Lazarus was about 2 miles away from Jerusalem. Everyone who mattered knew fully well who Lazarus was, knew that he had died and knew that Jesus raised him. Clearly Jesus had set up His notoriety in anticipation of His entering Jerusalem. If nothing else, everyone wanted to see the man who raised another man from the dead. If Jesus wanted to make sure there was a crowd He accomplished that, but soon that cheering crowd would be a jeering crowd, demanding His death which was prophesied 1,000 years before His triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

Psalm 118 and Hebrews 9 is the Gradual for today’s worship. Psalm 118 is referred to as the “Great Halliel” a Psalm of celebration referring to the deliverance of God, and certainly the people of Jerusalem see that their deliverer is now entering Jerusalem: (v 16) “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous” … “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” … “With [tree] boughs in hand join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” (vv 24, 27)

Dr Carl Fickenscher was talking about Palm Sunday on Issues Etc on April 4. He asserted that the crowd is shouting Hosanna, which means “come save us” that this Psalm is a coronation Psalm that they perceive that Jesus is coming to be crowned King of Israel. In fact Jesus is coming to enter into the holy places, the Holy of Holy in the temple. Only the priests could enter the Holy of Holy and that was only once during the year and that was on the Passover. If anyone else entered the Holy of Holies the penalty would be death. Jesus is now entering into Jerusalem because He is the Great High Priest, that by His sacrifice, His death, His blood, that He is tearing down the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies because by His death He has assured eternal redemption for all who are in Him. Jesus knows that He is going to the Cross, to be that sacrifice for the payment of all the sins of the world. The Cross becomes the Holy of Holies for all and He is proceeding into Jerusalem in full view of all in order to proceed to the Cross at the end of the week.[1] Matthew 27:51: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Why from top to bottom? The curtain was 60 feet long and 30 feet high. Certainly a massive curtain and no one would try to tear it from the top. But in this we certainly see that by Jesus’ death, the curtain that had separated man from God was now removed by God and Jesus is now that link to the Father. Jesus goes in to the Holy places by means of His blood and security, our eternal redemption. Jesus becomes our High Priest by becoming our salvation, our intercessor with God the Father at His right hand. People had gone out to see the man who raised the dead and was certainly the man foretold by David, Isaiah, Zechariah, all of the prophets. They thought that He was coming into Jerusalem to save them from the Romans. He came to save them and all of us through history from ourselves and our sins and to deliver us so that we would have eternal life in Him because He died for us on the Cross and then overcame death when He rose from the tomb and was resurrected on Easter morning to give us the assurance who are in Jesus of our eternal resurrection in Him.

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

[1] Dr Carl Fickenscher   “Issues Etc” April 3, 2017

Leaving it all on the course for Him Matthew 5:21

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 have left it all on the field for Jesus said … AMEN!

You’ve heard the interviews after an athletic contest, one of the most common phrases; “I left it all on the field”, basically I gave everything I had in order to win. It can get a little cliché, but by the same token, I have no doubt that each person who says that truly believes it. At the end of that contest; a race, basketball game, matholympics, I gave everything I had, physically, mentally, emotionally in order to win, or at least to do my best. I’ve done races where I expected it to be a little more challenging and at the end upset with myself that I was holding back too much and I could have pressed harder on the bike or the run. By the same token I’ve seen people sprinting to the finish line, giving everything and as soon as they crossed, going off somewhere and literally getting sick right after they finished. No question they exceeded their normal physical ability in order to find that tiny little bit that they had left in order to finish as well as they could.

We certainly see this in so many of the people described in the Bible. King David wrote dozens of Psalms, but if you think he was all about sitting at a desk pen in hand and dreamily wondering how to compose his poetry, you would be mistaken. Most of his prose was about the different ways that he was left it all out on the field for God. David was a powerful soldier, his soldiers followed him into many different situations, they trusted him as a leader who would be there for them, do whatever it took for his men and defeat his enemy. David had no compunction going out on that field and doing what God directed him to do and pouring every last ounce he had into the fight for his men, his country and very much so for his God. David lived his life for Yahweh, there were times when he failed in that and he failed in a way that only a great king and general could fail. As Dr Luther wrote: Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong [or sin boldly], but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”[1] If King David had known about Jesus and written about Jesus, he would have understood completely what Dr Luther wrote.

In a lot of ways that is what Jesus is saying in the Beatitudes, you have to go over and above, you have to leave it all out there. There may even be a physical price to pay. The Beatitudes can be taken in a legalistic way. Jesus is not saying you have to do this, you have to do that in order to be saved. People have told me that they live by the Beatitudes. It’s not about grace, it’s about them and their performance, what they need to do, that God is keeping score and waiting for them to tank, to hit the wall, to not finish the course. If they somehow fail in one of Jesus’ directives they failed to leave it all out on the field for Jesus, they kept some back for their own pleasure, maybe cheated on the course somehow and didn’t completely live up to what Jesus directed us to do.

The fallacy is this, the Gospel doesn’t tell us that unless we are picture perfect, that we have somehow failed and therefore don’t manage to hit the finish line having left it all out on the course for Jesus. The Gospel does say that Jesus who is entirely perfect God and perfect man, something we could never be, a person that we will never be because there was only one Jesus. Jesus absolutely did leave it all out on the course and it was entirely for us, Jesus didn’t do all that He did for Himself. What’s the point? Jesus is the One through whom all creation came into existence, He is perfectly God, all He did was not for Him, but entirely for us. Nothing we can do, can add to what Jesus did for us, not one iota, not one jot or tittle.

Yet, many people are pretty sure it’s about sticking to the letter of the Law in the Beatitudes and that gets you over the line. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be obedient, Jesus said “if you love Me, you will obey Me.” But Jesus knows that we are fallible, that our obedience is qualified by our failings as sinful people in a sinful world. However, for all that Jesus did for us, how can we not strive to be obedient? How can we not strive to leave it all out on the course for Jesus?

Does a completely good, completely holy, completely gracious God want us to pluck out our eye and throw it away if we are not completely perfect in everything? In this day and age you can’t look anywhere that doesn’t offend your eye. The issue is, did you let your eye linger over that which offended? Or did you realize, “hey, this isn’t glorifying Jesus or doing me any good”, and just turn away? That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, in the Beatitudes. He exaggerates to make a point. He might say. “You really want to try to earn your way, this is what has to happen, if your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. I’m thinking, none of us would truly stand that test. That does not, however, minimize the fact that we should strive to avoid things that offend our eye or what we do with our right hand, or our left hand in order to sin.

Marge and I were at Pastoral Leadership Institute immersion this past week, which, ironically is about us and our performance, and driving us higher in Jesus. It’s an honor to be asked to attend, not everyone is, and it’s recognition of the fact that we are striving in evangelism and discipleship and given the opportunity in PLI to push to the next level. It doesn’t makes us more saved, but it does push us to better serve you and the Kingdom of God as leaders of His church.

The Father is not trying to impose unrealistic expectations on us, He is trying to get us to realize that we can’t get there on our own effort. We will fail! We will have plenty of good efforts, being obedient to the things Jesus asks of us, but at some point we will fail to push as hard as we could. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost, that we should cut off our hand. Matt Popovits was one of the speakers, the overall subject was discipleship, which was great, I emphasize discipleship in my ministry. While we are called to be strong and faithful disciples of Jesus, our performance in that respect is not what saves us. The thesis was “How do I measure my worth?” For those who are so sure that it’s all about me and my “opinion”, because my “opinion” is so vitally important! I have bad news for youse, your opinion just doesn’t really matter. Heavens, how can I say such a thing, come on pastor, we all know it’s all about me! It really isn’t. I can tell myself how great and special I am, but despite what I think, it’s not going to get me diddly. Whose opinion does matter? Oh yes, God’s opinion. That is a great thing! By the way, I told Matt I was going to rip him off relentlessly here, he said “fine, go for it!”.

Anyway, Matt talked about “Performacism”, this idea that we measure our worth by what we do, how well we do it, in and of ourselves. Performacism drives you to the following: 1) The fear of and trying to avoid a horrible outcome, a false Hell that you’ve created, that you’re running from in order to make it to an “unfulfilling heaven, that you earn the applause and approval of your peers. That heaven can’t do what you want, doesn’t fulfill your life.”[2] God’s not all powerful, it’s all about you and what you do and more importantly the way you want it to play out. It drives me nuts hearing people talk about heaven as a boring place, “why would I want to end up there”. Heaven is not our ultimate destination, our ultimate destination is the eternal resurrection. We will be put back on this earth in our physical bodies in order to live our lives the way God intended us to live, a world filled with unlimited possibilities and life fulfilling beyond anything we could imagine. Matt points out that Adam and Eve rejected the “Garden of Yes” in favor of the “tree of no”. We make that wrong choice all the time, a garden full of all kinds of possibilities in order for us to indulge in our personal besetting sin.

Matt further observes that we make ourselves a “Functional Savior” that it’s all in our hands whether or not we make it to that amazing eternity. It’s our activity, and accomplishments that save us, so that we are valued by ourselves and by others, because, heavens! in today’s world, it is all about everyone else’s who so precious opinion. We have that problem on a massive scale in our society today and something that our youth get so caught up in, but we’re all susceptible to it. Our self-image, whether our physical attractiveness is valued by others. In a world where everyone’s equal regardless, ya right! Our hypocritical world is just so full of themselves. The fight is to be as superficially attractive as possible to be of value, if you’re not, you might be patronized a little, but just not taken seriously. We see girls today going to extremes because hey the vital thing is to be beautiful, get the right guy, have all kinds of worldly wealth and live happily ever after. Forgetting that despite all our efforts, some, like me, who’ve just been ugly from birth, end up simply being dumped out the other end of life, whether we were beautiful  or not because we no longer meet the standards.

The cut to the chase is this; Jesus tells us that we can do it the hard way, by our own standards, our own worldly, wrong opinions. Or, because Jesus did it the hard way for us, we can trust in Him, that He has done all that’s necessary. Yes, we should leave it all out on the course for Jesus, because that’s what He’s done for us, but never think that is what gets you His promises.

We are so incredibly valued by the Father and there’s not one thing that we can add to that, not by anything we’ve done, not done, or done wrong, but solely who we are in Jesus, so incredibly valued because of who we are in Him and that He died a horrific death in order to save us. For such a huge price and to be adopted into true life in the Father’s family in baptism, we are, each one of us, so incredibly valued and loved. There are those of us who the Holy Spirit is moving to do big things, to serve at high levels. There are those of us who just physically can’t or who are called to do what we feel are humble things. Doesn’t matter to the Father, yes we should follow our calling, but no, we should never doubt how precious we are to the Father and what we are to Him in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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

[1] Dr Ryan M. Reeves https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/ryanreeves/2016/04/20/did-luther-really-tell-us-to-love-god-and-sin-boldly/

[2] Matt Popovits PLI seminar, Cary, NC, February 9, 2017

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.

Faith and Preparation or Worry? Luke 12 First Saint Johns Church Aug 7, 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 know the faith that God has given them said … AMEN!

Our epistle reading today in Hebrews is often referred to as “the catalog of the heroes of faith”. It’s also referred to as the Faith Hall of Fame. People dealing with issues that have been pressing down on their heart. Abram and Sarai have gone decades beyond child bearing years, and they both have heavy hearts, they know that God is aware of their desire, a good desire. It can be a selfish desire. Abram keeps referring to the fact that he wants an heir of his own body to pass all of his wealth to. He has no idea who this child will be, no less that he will ever have a child, but the idea of leaving his wealth to a servant, not someone who will carry on his name weighs on him. God knows the motivation for Abram’s desire and plans that Abram will have that child, but in God’s own time. Abram is about 80 years old, Sarai about 60 years old. God has already done so much for Abram, but as well all do, Abram has put that aside and is looking for the next part of God’s promise. How many times do we do that in our life? I try to keep track of the times that God has answered my prayers, moved me along to where He wants me next. I do that because I’ve come to realize that I forget way too easily about God’s answers to prayer and I remember way to well the prayers that God didn’t answer that I feel He should have. When I look back I realize why God did one thing and didn’t do another, but it’s still very much in my head the other things I think He should have done. I too often take for granted what I have, as if God owed me the answers, but get way too caught up in waiting for other answers, or getting “no” as an answer. God moved Abram from Ur to Canaan. Abram already had wealth and God added to it and gave him land where he could provide very well for himself and the growing number of his family and servants. Abram had power, he had wealth, he had land that God designated just for him. He had no other worries, but he wanted that son and despite the things that had been done for him, Abram decides that God hasn’t been sufficiently faithful. God makes a covenant with Abram, He tries to give Abram every reason to trust in God’s will and not his own. “Do not be afraid Abram. I am your shield: your reward will be very great.” That promise is to all of us who are in Jesus. He went on to promise Abram that his offspring will be greater than all the stars in the sky. God certainly fulfilled that promise since all Christians, Jews and Muslims claim to be descendants of Abram, billions of people. But very shortly after God makes these promises with Abram, after He gives Abram this covenant, this contract, what does Abram and Sarai do? They take matters into their own hands. At that time it was common practice for masters to have children with their slaves, especially if their wife hasn’t had any children. Children were valuable at that time, something we shouldn’t forget, they were the parent’s source of provision in their old age, and it was important that their family continue. So they decide that Hagar should have Abram’s child, which was not part of God’s plan. Instead of being the answer to prayer, Ishmael’s presence caused problems. The Arab people of today claim to be descendants of Ishmael. The descendants of Ishmael, the Arab people, and the descendants of Isaac, the Jewish people have had continual conflict since then. Violating God’s plan didn’t solve Abram’s problem and created problems for hundreds of millions of people since then.

The writer of Hebrews lists out those in the Old Testament who have been notable for their faith. We know all these people who were written about were faithful Jews and are now being presented as great examples of the faith for Christians that God gave them. They all trusted God’s Word, His promises and directions, even under very difficult circumstances.

Dr J Vernon McGee points out that we all want a blueprint. I’ve had this happen to me repeatedly; “ok pastor, tell me what I’m supposed to do and I’ll do it”. Doesn’t work that way, what God trusted to Abram, what he trusted to Enoch, Noah, David, Daniel, Isaiah, Samuel, on and on, these were all very different people, very different times, places and circumstances. The “rules” Ten Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, those are a baseline, what we are expected to follow, but it is always and only through faith that we live our life out according to the Lordship of Jesus. The attitude for is “I followed the rules, so now give me what I want”. The fact is we can’t see what is truly important, we don’t really understand what God wants for our life and how His will is what is genuinely important and will give us the life that is always the best for us. As McGee points out, he likes to have a neat, clear set of directions, makes our life easier. “But in this chapter we are going to find people who went an altogether different route [which is God’s route]. They walked by faith, and that is the way God wants us to walk today.”[1]

Always to eternity in the eternal life of the resurrection. It’s pretty difficult for us to imagine eternity when we just want what we want right here and now. Jesus said: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We would so quickly settle for crumbs, things that won’t last, things that will lose their shine in a very short time and will end up just being junk. So many people do that with their lives. Trade the Father’s good pleasure for the things that are eternally important, for power, wealth, big homes, drugs, alcohol, sex. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” All of us make idols out of the things that we think we should have and they lead us nowhere. Jesus tells us: “Instead, seek his kingdom,” God’s kingdom is promise to all of us who are in Jesus and “all these things will be added to you.” They will be part of all that God is pleased to give us. This doesn’t mean that as soon as we think that we should have these things, well there they are right there for our faithful following. Certainly God does provide as Jesus is telling us all through this pericope. But that He will provide for us on the journey, that He will do what is necessary for us to follow His will.

There was always a “ready boat crew”, the people who would be expected to go on a call at any time, night or day. If one of us was on that crew we would just sleep in our clothes. If the buzzer went off, or if someone came in the room in the middle of the night, there wasn’t time for fumbling around for our uniform, we would just slide off the bunk into our strategically located boots and then rush down to the boathouse to get underway to rescue those in danger. Jesus is telling us that for His people, those He died for, that we should “stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” Be ready to serve, be ready at any time to do what was necessary, Jesus said even in the second or third watch, between about 8pm and 6 am. Not that we should obsess over being ready, sit around constantly worried, but to be aware that He can come at any time; “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” A note for those who think they can predict that time, well Jesus said you can’t. A note for us to be prepared and when we trust in Him, when we have the faith that He gives us, that we are focused on Him and His will. That means we’re not all about what we want next, what will make us happy, what idol we can serve, but being focused on His return and His will for us.

No matter what our circumstance God does provide for us. It will be at a time and in a way that we can never anticipate. Since we can’t anticipate it, our worrying about it doesn’t make one bit of difference and it is always in His hands and as Christians we know in our heart that it will always be to the best result. Even in those times where it doesn’t seem so, our true life is not in this world, Jesus is our Lord and Savior in this world, He is our Lord and saves us to the eternal life of the resurrection. Where He gives us life and life more abundant. The Father knows what we need in this life and we do receive it, but true life is in the resurrection and we who are His need to stay prepared, dressed for that, no matter what our circumstances are in this short and difficult life.

We can get caught up in our “needs” here and spend all our time worrying about it, or as Peter Chrysologus writes: “All this is what that treasure brings about. Either through alms-giving it raises the heart of a man into heaven, or through greed it buries it in the earth. That is why he said, ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ O man, send your treasure on, send it ahead into heaven, or else your God-given soul will be buried in the earth. Gold comes from the depth of the earth – the soul, from the highest heaven. Clearly it is better to carry the gold to where the soul resides than to bury the soul in the mine of the gold. That is why God orders those who will serve in his army here below to fight as men stripped of concern for riches and unencumbered by anything. To these he has granted the privilege of reigning in heaven.”[2]

Worry, anxiety, covetousness are not the ways that the world will see Jesus in us. The world all around us has no hope, no promise, anything they put their faith in will never last and gives no promise of their future. Our Lord Jesus died for us, high and lifted up on a Cross, He surrendered His life for us to give us the way to eternal life, the very visible promise of our life in Him, the world does not have that hope and promise. Ambrose writes: “Jesus indicates that grace will not be lacking for the faithful in the present or in the future, if only those who desire the heavenly do not seek the earthly. It is unseemly for the soldiers of the kingdom to worry about food. The King knows how to feed, cherish and clothe his household, and therefore he said, ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.”[3]

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

[1] Dr J Vernon McGee  “Thru the Bible Commentary Series Hebrews Chapters 8 -13

[2] Peter Chrysologus quoted by Arthur Just editor  “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture New Testament III” pp 211-212

[3] Abrose Ibid p 211