Tag Archives: Scripture

Scripture over tradition, yes, no, maybe, what makes me happy?

A very large part of the debate between Lutherans and Roman Catholics was and still is, the importance of Scripture versus that of tradition. Luther and others, Martin Chemnitz in this particular case, felt that the Roman Church was much more interested in elevating the importance of tradition and the ruling of the Church, via the Pope and the Cardinals. This was in reality, probably much more of a hot button issue in the debate than the discussion over indulgences. The debate over the unique and sole authority of Scripture certainly being inclusive of the debate over indulgences.

I’m reading Chemnitz’s “Examination of the Council of Trent” (Part 1 Translated by Fred Kramer, published by Concordia Publishing House copyright 1971). This council was called by Pope Paul III, as a reply to the Lutheran Reformation in 1547. The original intent was to try and reconcile some of the issues, I do believe it was a good faith attempt by the church to examine if maybe, just maybe, Luther might have a point in some areas. The result didn’t come close, in fact it hardened the position the Roman church held before the Reformation.

But as Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon left the scene a new voice stepped in to further the cause of the Reformation and Christianity. Martin Chemnitz wrote extensively and persuasively in order for the Lutheran Reformation to continue to advance Christianity. Well could be if it weren’t for Chemnitz, the Lutheran Reformation might have been a brief bright flash in the Church, only to be repressed by the Roman Church or limited to an obscure corner of the church.

Chemnitz argued that none of the early church fathers had favored the canon of Scripture that had been organized by the church in the 4th century. While there was a time that the apostles and early church leaders did not have canon and had to preserve and pass on Scripture orally, they never intended for that to be the practice. They had written down the books of the New Testament and as much as possible intended all Christians to rely on the written, universally agreed on, books of the New Testament.

Chemnitz writes: “…Irenaeus says: ‘The apostles delivered to us in the Scriptures what they had preached.’ And for what purpose? What use did the apostles want the church to make of this their Scripture? Irenaeus answers: ‘That that which they delivered to us in writing might in the future be the foundation and pillar of our faith,’ namely, of that faith which the church received from the apostles and delivered to her children. Therefore we have in the Scriptures which the apostles delivered to us by the will of God the foundation and pillar of the only true and life-giving faith of the primitive church, received from the apostles. It is called the foundation of faith, because faith is learned, known, built up and received from it. It is called a pillar because through it that faith which alone is true and gives life is proved, confirmed, defended against all corruptions, and preserved. A faith, therefore, which is built up, received, proved and confirmed from any other source than from the Scriptures transmitted by the apostles is not the true, life-giving, apostolic faith of the primitive church. This lies most clearly and firmly in the argumentation of Irenaeus. And later he says that those are heretics who do not agree with the apostolic writings, and he describes the marks of the heretics in these words in chapter 2: ‘When they are proved wrong from the Scriptures, they turn and accuse the Scriptures themselves, as if they were not correct and were without authority [wow! where do we see that today? Everywhere including the churches from across the spectrum who don’t like to get too dogmatic. Basically so much of Christianity today that likes to pick and choose and make it up]. “both because they speak now one way, now another, and also because the truth cannot be found from Scripture by those who do not know the tradition; for (so they say) the truth was not given through epistles, but through the living voice” etc [kind of the same whiney make-believe rationalism of today].

Chemnitz goes on to quote Irenaeus that the apostles had passed on God’s word and did not intend to leave room for tradition and additions to God’s word, that their writings were to be the foundation of the church: “…Irenaeus shows in this statement for what purpose the apostles delivered their doctrine to us in the Scriptures and what use they wanted made of this Scripture in the church, namely, that it should be the foundation and pillar of our faith who have not heard the living voice of the apostles. And he adds that those are heretics who either cast away those Scriptures or turn and accuse them of speaking inconsistently and say that the truth cannot be found in them, unless besides these Scriptures the traditions are added which are treated as having been handed down by the apostles orally.”

Chemnitz put a lot of weight on Irenaeus’ word on Scripture. Irenaeus was a very early defender of the Christian Church, going back to the second century. He was also a leader in opposing the heresies of the period. He took Scripture seriously and did not take lightly any attempts to dilute what was written by the apostles only about 100 years earlier and passed on through the church from all over the Christian world, Asia, Europe, Africa, which generally subscribed to the canon of the New Testament.

 

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

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

I’m going to do it God’s way, by His Word in Scripture

A lot of feedback I get is to the extent, “sound really strict”, “not very loving”, “why are you always quoting the Bible?”. There is a lot of pretty superficial Christianity out there. As a Lutheran pastor I’ve always been taught, to be faithful to what the Bible says, it’s God’s Word that matters. It’s your job to help people understand it, grow in it, live their life in accordance with the Bible, not to make things up. Imagine if we all lived according to the Bible and not just the way we think things should be, the world would be a much better place. Fact is, we are all sinners, even in our best intentions we do things that are messed up and hurt people and hurt our relationship with God. We can turn back to Him for His forgiveness and blessing, or we can keep messing things up, even unintentionally and keep driving each other away. We live so isolated from each other today, we have our superficial relationships, heck we really think we’re friends with someone because they accepted us on FaceBook. No it’s really time to build relationships the right way and not the way the world tells us that we all know inevitably hurts us and other people.

For example, “it’s all about love”. It’s not about “love” in terms of doing what’s right, of being a blessing to others by helping them to really focusing on God, His Word and your neighbor. (I do find it interesting that people will always quote “Love they neighbor”. They seem to forget that Jesus said first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength.”) You can’t really love your neighbor until your relationship of love with God is firm and established. Until you know how to “love” as God wants you to “love”, then you’re really just kind of playing with people.

To many people “love” means, “you make me happy, you do things for me”. (Often those things are give me sex, booze, drugs or just cash, make it easier on us.) Love means what’s doing the best for that person, helping that person be the best they can be and not just an enabler for whatever sin that they’ve become chained to, that’s supposed to make them “happy”. Come on, let’s face it, let’s take a, somewhat, benign sin like ice cream. It costs money, good ice cream gets a little pricey after awhile. It puts on weight, with very little nutritional benefit. It causes much more serious health issues. I know plenty of people with diabetes, yet we’re so consumed with smoking. Smoking is sin too, but get a grip. Too much junk and diabetes will kill you. There’s people all around getting constant medication for diabetes, going blind, losing limbs, dying. Don’t know anyone with lung cancer.

Let’s really love and start holding people accountable to what they should be doing. Being “happy” today, is just a fast track to poor health  and early death. Throw in drugs, booze, lack of exercise. Poor health in general is everywhere, do we really love when we see someone tooting another joint, or doing another in a long line of “16 ounce curls”?

There is so much “me” today and so little in terms of God’s will. We make God to be an agent of our “happiness”  and we really aren’t interested in what God has for us. People would look at my life and think that it might be pretty goofy. Picking up and moving from a place I had grown up in, raised children in, then moved to an unfamiliar place (actually two), far away from family and friends. But I do have peace that this is where God wants me and I am doing what He wants me to do. Way too many people today do what they think makes them happy, but have very little peace, hmmm, how do you think that happens? Telling God to go take a hike in order for me to do what makes me “happy”, then finding out what makes you “happy”, just messes you up. What God wanted for you would make you “happy”, but you just decided “don’t confuse me with the facts” if God wants it, then it’s probably boring or lame, I don’t want to do that.

But yes, in God’s will I do have peace. Doesn’t mean things are easy, we see with the disciples, many people down through history. Things weren’t easy, read what Paul wrote about 2 Corinthians 11: 16-33, he went through more in a few years, then most of us will in a lifetime. He knew God was guiding him and strengthening him, making him a better man and certainly a more godly man, and certainly not a messed up man.

So I do what God guides me to, yea sometimes it’s not very pleasant, there are plenty of times I take shots for what I preach, teach or write. Doesn’t mean what I’m doing is wrong, just means someone thinks it’s ok to take shots at me, even if they don’t have a good reason to, don’t know what they’re talking about. Being faithful in God is not settling for just a “feel good” Gospel, something that makes everyone happy for the moment. Sorry just doesn’t work. The trials and tragedies of life pop up all to quick and then we don’t feel good anymore and it’s all God’s fault. My job is to equip those who are in Jesus in order for them to deal with all the good times, tough times, and mundane, maybe even boring times in order for them to grow closer to God and to glorify Him who provides so much for us. That includes eternal, perfect life in the resurrection, it’s only through Jesus. This also includes being strong and being a Christian example for others. The next time you need to be encouraged and strengthened, you think your local drug pusher is going to help you? No! In the end he’s only going to make it worse. What really works is a strong /mature Christian man or woman (and yes that excludes the “feel good” Christians out there too). Too often we want to be made “happy”, placated like a child. We know that leaves us worse off then we were.

God sacrificed greatly for me in His Son Jesus. I have to step up and live a true life in Jesus, not a life of go-along to get-along. I have to be that example of a mature faithful Christian man. That is what God expects from me, to be faithful in continuing to grow, in following where He leads and not in what I think is “happy”, or what I “like”. Lots of other people look to me for that too, imagine what a great place the world would be if everyone were living that way. But that’s not going to happen because in this day and age it’s all about me and what makes me, what I think, happy. We can’t just continue to “hang” where we are and to be pacified, You aren’t going to find any example of that in the Bible. The Bible is what God wanted us to know about Him. He inspired men to write the Bible and show what is the truth. You don’t see people just coasting along in life, sitting around getting snookered and honoring God. Only those who are strong and faithful honor Him. What you find over and over again is men and women who are pushed to step out of their comfort zone in order to live up to God’s will and not their own. Why on earth do we think we should be different today? Is it because we know we can’t handle it and need to be babied?

You will think what you will, but Jesus made it very clear that many will be deluded, fooled, by wrong messages. That His true disciples will have to deal with the trials and antagonisms of the world. We are seeing Christians being martyred right now, all around the world. Not for “feel good”, but because they know who Jesus is and that they need to serve Him and others even in extremely difficult circumstances. There were more Christians martyred in the 20th century, then in all of history, combined! There’s no “feel good” Christianity there, yet it is only through Jesus that we are saved, some of us do have to suffer to the extreme in order to be saved. It dishonors them and Jesus when we make being a a Christian about “what makes us happy”.

What does honor Jesus, the millions who have lived in Jesus through the centuries, the millions who live around the world? It is being true, faithful disciples of His. Doing what He teaches us in His Word the Bible, and not what other people try to make Him out to be. To follow where He leads us and to what He leads us to do through His Holy Spirit. Jesus said He will tell many to be gone because “I never knew you”. Many who thought that what someone told them to “tickle their ear”, was actually genuinely in Jesus. Someone who tried to make Jesus into what they wanted instead of what Scripture truly says about Him. I know my responsibility as a teacher will be greater and I will be held much more responsible for what I teach. I intend to do all that I can to truly teach God’s Word in the Bible. I seriously fear for those who have to answer to God who ignored God’s Word and made up what they thought would make people feel good, it will be very scary for them.

Our Power as Jesus’ disciples in the Holy Spirit Acts 2: 1-21 May 15, 2016 First St Johns

[for the audio of this, please 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 those who pray come Holy Spirit, come, they said … AMEN!!!

Grace is the most important thing that separates Christianity from the other world religions. All other “religions” impose requirements that their believers must achieve to have, not the assurance of salvation, but the chance to be saved. Grace for a Christian is that God has done everything necessary for us to be saved. As long as we faithfully follow Christ, by being baptized, attending worship, taking His Body and Blood, hearing His preached Word from Scripture, you are saved, solely in Jesus and by what He has done for us. There is nothing we can ever do in order to “earn” grace, receive the free gift of salvation in Jesus.

Another thing that distinguishes Christianity from other world religions is that God, the one and true God, has actually been in the world. God Father and Son are now in heaven. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in glory as our great high priest to pray for us and intervene for us. But Jesus was very publicly in the world, all His major acts, His miracles and teachings, His crucifixion, His resurrection, His ascension, all events that were done in public for all to see. Again unlike the other major religions of the world.

God the Holy Spirit remains in the world, with those who have received salvation in Jesus: ESV 1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, ESV 1 Corinthians 6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

The Holy Spirit is part of us in order to guide us, in order to continually point us to Christ. On this day that we remember as the Day of Pentecost, we often refer to it as the birthday of the church of Jesus Christ, the place where His disciples grow and reach into the world. The word Pentecost is from Greek, “pentokoste hemera” meaning the fiftieth day, which is the fiftieth day after Passover. It was an ancient Jewish holiday known as the festival of weeks. It would certainly be reasonable to construe that the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), jointly chose this day to, again, bring to public attention, a major move of God. On this holiday there would be Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem to observe the holiday. As was read this morning; Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Cretans, Arabians. As it is today, all these people continue to speak much different languages. We see in our first reading the reason why they spoke different languages. Then, as now, there were a bunch of smart guy people who decided they should put themselves at the same level as God. Just relatively recently the world had been destroyed because of the presumption of man. Now man would be separated from each other by language in order to keep them from conspiring together to try to do what Satan tried, to usurp or put themselves on an equal footing with God. Yes, I know, they could not possibly have achieved this end. But the point is that neither Led Zepplin in our time, or these ancient people could build a tower, or a stairway to heaven, but the arrogance of man will often bring quick and direct action from God. At some point God decides to let man just wallow in his sin and let it drag man down to death. Certainly God could have let them build the tower and then it would inevitably collapse, due to their ignorance, and kill many people. Mercifully God chose to save a lot of lives, but to also separate those sin-filled presumptuous people and hopefully keep them from collaborating on more presumptuous, arrogant acts that would also end up in physical or, worse, spiritual death, either way creating separation between God and man. The people continued to sin and act arrogantly. Certainly we see their acts when God Himself comes into the world to give them an opportunity to direct them from their evil, self-destructive ways. God the Son came into the world in order to proclaim as visibly as possible who He is and that He is the only way to life and eternal salvation in Him. As we know, people chose to reject that plea.

That does not mean that the Godhead retreated into heaven and left man to try to figure it out for themselves. Yea, we see a lot of attitude from people, but God continues to do whatever it takes to bring us to Him. And He always does all those things in a very public, very obvious way.

Jesus gives His disciples, then and now, such touching and compelling words of encouragement in our Gospel reading. He’s leaving them, He knows that, they don’t. “ESV John 14:25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. ESV John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The Greek word that is used here for “Holy Spirit” is para,klhtoj( in older translations of the Bible you will see the Holy Spirit referred to as paraclete, the Greek means “helper, intercessor”. John is the only one who refers to the Holy Spirit in this way, it’s not used in the Book of Acts. In the same sentence Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit directly, pneu/ma to. a[gion( while we give it what seems a rather benign meaning, “spirit” the Greek word meaning blowing/breathing, and also wind. This may sound rather charming, it’s very much intended to be very powerful, in terms of the breath of life, yes, life giving. Tell me what the word “pneuma” says in English, here’s a hint, has to do with tools, … pneumatic tools. If you’ve ever used pneumatic tools, you know a compressor pumps hard to build up a lot of pressure so that the tool, that’s connected to the compressor, can perform various tasks, ever been near a jack-hammer working? We’re connected to the Holy Spirit.

The disciples don’t have a lot of context for what Jesus is telling them. They are probably thinking, “aren’t those nice, comforting words”, but at best have a vague idea of Who/What the Holy Spirit is, but on the Day of Pentecost, they would have a very powerful/lifegiving demonstration of Who the Holy Spirit is and just a slight idea of the kind of power the Holy Spirit is capable of.

Raniero Cantalamessa writes: “Origen informs us that the pagans of his day used to challenge Christians by saying: how can one man, who for good measure lived in an obscure township in Judea, fill the world with the perfume of the knowledge of God, as you Christians say, referring to 2 Corinthians 2:14? Origen’s answer was that Jesus can do this because he has consecrated a large number of disciples with the Holy Spirit and sent them through the world, and these devote themselves to saving the human race by living in purity and righteousness and by teaching the same doctrine as Jesus. Thanks to them, ‘the precious oil sprinkled on the head’ of the true Aaron, who is Christ, runs down ‘onto the collar of his robe’, referring to Psalm 133:2, that is, it spreads throughout the body of the Church and, through it, to the whole world.”

“We are those disciples sent throughout the world to spread the ‘sweet smell’ of Christ! To succeed, we too must ‘shatter’ the alabaster vessel of our human nature: we must mortify the works of the flesh, the old Adam which acts as an inner barrier to the rays of the Spirit…”[1]

We have mini-Pentecosts today! Ok, we don’t have 3,000 people being baptized at once. But in each baptism that is done here, we see the power of the Holy Spirit being demonstrated, that someone is being born again in Christ. When we accept someone into membership of the church as we do today, we add a new person to the Body of Christ, His church. It is the power of the Holy Spirit descending on that person, that person, having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit at baptism, is now a living example of the Holy Spirit. They are a container of the immense power of the Spirit, we all are as confirmed members of Christ’s church. As possessors of such power, the question becomes what do we do with that? How do we disciple those who are new in that power, so that both you and they will live that life of power in the world. We have too many cold and timid “Christians” today, we need to be renewed in the pneumous, the immense power of the Holy Spirit to stand as strong and equipped disciples who point the world to Jesus Christ.

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

[1] Raniero Cantalamessa  The Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus p 18

Renewal of a great Christian Church

I’ve been the pastor of First Saint Johns for five years now (wow, I cannot believe FIVE YEARS!) OK, I’m better now, anyway, First Saint Johns really is a great, old downtown, almost cathedral. A place where God is truly glorified and has been for 140 years. It is also the focus on a “Renewal” effort, in order to rebuild a great temple to God.
Due to that I have done a lot of study and experimenting and while this is a message to someone else who is helping on this, I thought I would share this with the blogosphere.
While it might look like First St Johns has been a stuffy, tradition bound church, actually First St Johns “traditions” have been changed considerably in the last five years. While you might assume it has always been a liturgical type of worship, when I started there it was much more a kind of “folksy” as it were, contemporary, really wasn’t feast or fowl. I did not come to First St Johns with an agenda for liturgical worship, but the more I studied and also interacted with other ministries I felt that this is the way we should go. There was a lot of study and thought that went into this, there were no snap decisions and has been handled in a pretty subtle way, partly so that I could learn to do this better (and yea, I have a ways to go). Liturgical worship is not part of my experience, I did not grow up in any particular Christian tradition and my first years were in the United Methodist Church, so it’s not based on an agenda, but in terms of how are we best serving. I certainly could be doing some things in an unconventional way, but there again, I think the repetition of liturgical worship is built in to the worship in order to reinforce the point of the worship for the day. I would agree worship may appear to have a lot “stuffed” in and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go, but I really think a little overkill is more effective and I think it is effective in terms of overcoming years of downplaying Scripture in the church.
There is the issue in terms of using unfamiliar language, I’m not trying to intimidate, with liturgical language. But I think for too long the church has not challenged people, that it has made it easy and not made it something that was something important and God’s glory but that was supposed to be easy and therefore not even worth trying to understand.
I’ve done a couple of worship services, and planning to do it again, that walks through the service and explaining what it was about and why it’s done, something I try to stress for new members also. I really don’t think it’s an issue of “alienating” as much as including people in something that they should come to recognize as something so much bigger, more meaningful, that God does really change lives, His ways are not our ways, be a part of something that is God’s and not something that the church is, again, doing to lower itself into the world, but to raise God’s children above the world.
As I said in my sermon yesterday, worship in a more ancient manner ties us to the ancient church and also as a common factor with Christians around the world. I have seen a lot of current research that finds a desire in people, who, living in a period of such fragility, that we’re in, failure of institutions around us, the desire is for something that is stable, that has survived the centuries, that reaches to a massive number of Christians. Something that is solid, has stood the test of time and will move into the future.
The more we build that, establish that and project that, the more people will realize what they are not getting in their lives right now. During the Pentecost period, we do, mix things up a little. But during the high seasons, I want to emphasize the sacredness of those times and remind people of the important points of Christianity.
The reason why I resist a lot of praise songs is that the emphasis is changed from Jesus to the individual. One of the members of the congregation made an interesting observation (and I’m not really sure he supports liturgical worship), but he said that he’s always counted the number of personal pronouns in “praise music” and the I, me, mine always seem to dominate praise music. Hymns were written to be another way to convey the message of that day’s topic, too much praise music sounds nice, but there seems to be either little teaching or rather superficial teaching. I would very much like to do more with praise music. We’ve been trying to get a First Friday function ramped up to showcase Christian praise, I’d like to do other times of praise music, Erin Bode was at First St Johns a couple of years ago for an evening event. Believe me I love contemporary Christian music music, I have an extensive personal collection.
But it also raises another issue what you and I think of as contemporary Michael Smith, Amy Grant, Michael Card, and what older members think of, Gaither Band, is not what people today think of as contemporary “King and Country” “David Crowder” Modisha, which I also happen to like, but I’m sure you can see that kind of music would not go over big with the majority of people in the congregation. Gaither Band, would not be a big hit with younger members. I really am interested in any suggestions and if it really comes to pass that it would be doable to do a separate contemporary I would certainly consider it.
My reluctance there would be something that other churches have found in doing separate services for awhile, is that it tends to separate the congregation, segment it, instead of bring it together. We may not be able to avoid that since I would very much like to implement a separate Spanish speaking worship, but I honestly believe that at this point, more liturgical worship is what younger people are looking for in terms of stability and other factors that I could go into and would actually unite everyone in one method, vs, doing something that would be more pleasing to one group and would not speak to any other groups.
While I realize that these conclusions are not going to generate a whiz bang. upturn, I do believe that it has stabilized the congregation and given it something that can be shared by everyone and they can bring something that is rather unique into the world as a whole.
One other factor for me is this, I really do have to pick a lane with this church. We have been enormously blessed, and we are in relatively good shape, but we do need to stabilize on a common ground and take that into the world and trust that God is going to use this unified outreach and bless it to His glory and grow His church at First St Johns

Ghosts, spirits, demons

This may seem like kind of a goofy subject, but frankly considering all the supernatural themed shows on television, and a couple of experiences I’ve had as a parish pastor, this subject really should be raised and discussed from a Christian perspective. I happen to agree with the writer, that there are demons in the world, that they do try to convince people they are  ghosts of relatives, friends that kind of thing. OK, goofy, but the demonic wants only one thing, to take your attention away from Christ. So if you get caught up in doing “ghost hunts” through old houses, hey so much the better, keeps you from being a Christian disciples. So consider the following and I certainly would like to hear back from you to discuss further.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Biblical Worldview

by Rick Barry on June 3, 2010; last featured October 28, 2014

Audio Version

Ghosts. What do you really think about them? If someone pushes us, most will admit a degree of love for scary stories. But what about reports of real ghosts, even by sincere Christians? Few Christians seem to know what to think. If we look to the Scriptures, however, we find solid answers, even on this murky subject.

The Fall of Satan

In The Fall of Satan you will discover who Satan is, when he rebelled, and other biblical teaching about this spiritual adversary and his angels.

Both children and adults alike wonder about the existence of ghosts. Some reject the notion. Others insist that ghosts exist and cite experiences—their own or friend-of-a-friend stories—as proof.

But what is a ghost? Although definitions vary, the most common one is that ghosts are the disembodied spirits of dead people that linger on earth. According to tradition, ghosts are invisible but can permit humans to see them.

Of course, either a thing exists or it doesn’t. No amount of belief will cause ghosts to exist if they don’t; nor could personal opinion cause ghosts not to exist if, in fact, they truly do exist. Because a person’s belief in ghosts creates very serious and far-reaching ramifications, it’s a topic that no Christian should ignore.

Classic Ghost Stories

Tales involving apparitions drift down to us from ancient times. Various languages contributed words such as wraith (Scottish), phantom (French), specter (Latin), shade (Old English), banshee (Gaelic), and poltergeist (German).

In ancient Iraq, the Epic of Gilgamesh portrayed Gilgamesh conversing with the spirit of his dead friend Enkidu. Old Egypt left a cryptic tale about the ghost of Nebusemekh chatting with the high priest of Amun-Re. Such stories prove nothing, of course, except that the concept goes back a long way. In fact, even Christ’s twelve disciples fearfully mistook Jesus for a spirit when He appeared walking on the sea at night (Mark 6:49).

Homer included ghosts in his Odyssey and Iliad, and Shakespeare cast roles for spirits in Hamlet and Macbeth. Whether these authors believed in ghosts is unknown. What they understood, however, is that a truly chilling ghost story can grip an audience.

Growing Interest

Yes, ghost stories have been around for ages, and some (such as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol) have become fixtures in modern culture. However, in recent decades the genre has exploded with an abundance of movies (Field of Dreams, The Haunting in Connecticut, The Sixth Sense, as examples) and TV shows (such as Lost and Ghost Whisperer) that depend on spirits to drive the plots. Nonfiction programs such as Ghost Hunters attempt to investigate claims of ghosts using infrared cameras and other devices.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN GHOSTS? THE QUESTION IS HUGE. GETTING PEOPLE TO BELIEVE IN GHOSTS AUTOMATICALLY FORCES THEM TO REJECT KEY BIBLE VERSES.

Does a diet of such entertainment influence anyone? Undoubtedly. In 2006 the Barna Group published the results of nationwide studies involving more than 4,000 teens. The study found that 73% of the youth surveyed had “engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft-related activity, beyond mere media exposure or horoscope usage.” One tenth had participated in séances. Nine percent had visited a supposed medium or spiritual guide.1

The Barna Group’s vice president noted that teens “cut and paste supernatural experiences and perspectives from a variety of sources—from the movies and books they read, from their experiences, from the Internet, from their peers and families, from any place they’re comfortable with.” This is a problem for adults as well.

An astounding find is that only 28% of churched teenagers could recall hearing any teaching at church in the past year that helped to define their understanding of the supernatural. Is it any wonder that so many teens enter adulthood without the answers they need on this topic?

Shadows of Doubt

Most reports of ghost sightings include details that defy logic. For instance, most alleged apparitions are clothed. But if a ghost is the spirit of a dead person, shouldn’t a spirit appear unclothed after shedding his earthly body and its garments? Is one to conclude that pants, shirts, dresses, and medieval armor contain spirits of their own that faithfully cling to the ghost of a person?

Further challenges to logic stem from stories of ghost ships (such as the Flying Dutchman), ghost trains, and similar accounts. Does a vehicle constructed by human hands gain a “soul” that reappears later?

People who listen to ghost stories around a campfire understand that their friends have concocted those tales. The wish to embellish a spooky yarn naturally explains the addition of such silly details as ghostly nightgowns and horse carriages. But what about people who insist they really did see spirit manifestations, clothes and all? Is it possible that some individuals—including sincere, Bible-believing Christians—truly observe supernatural apparitions?

God—the Creator of the universe—offers solid answers to man’s questions. His Word, the Bible, is the foundation for understanding both the visible and invisible world because God is Lord of both the natural and the supernatural. Regardless of whether a question concerns the origin of life or human souls, the first resource to check is God’s Word.

Even new students of the Bible quickly notice that it never portrays souls as lingering after death. (The immediate destination of heaven or hell rules out that idea. See, for instance, Luke 16:22–23, Luke 23:43, and 2 Corinthians 5:8.) Yet Scripture bluntly affirms the existence of immaterial intelligences. Mark 5:2–15 details Jesus’s encounter with a man indwelt by a multitude of unclean spirits. Christ ordered them out but permitted them to enter a herd of swine. In Samaria, Philip preached and “unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed” (Acts 8:7). Later, Acts 19:14–17 tells of a man inhabited by a demon. The sons of Sceva tried to exorcise it, but the man attacked them. However, these aren’t ghosts; they’re demons—fallen angels—governed by Satan (Matthew 12:22–28).

Bible scholar Charles Ryrie noted, “The very fact that demons can enter human or animal bodies shows they can pass through barriers that would restrict human beings. . . . Demons are not humans; neither are they God. But they are superhuman with superior intelligence and experience and powers. To deny the existence of demons is not skepticism; it only displays ignorance. To be unrealistic about their power is foolhardy.”2

Interestingly, the Bible records one occasion when the living appeared to contact the dead. King Saul donned a disguise and visited a medium to summon the dead prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 28:7–21). An apparition that looked like Samuel appeared to the witch—causing her to cry out in fright.

However, this passage doesn’t suggest that séances work, and it absolutely doesn’t condone witchcraft. Some scholars believe that God sent Samuel on this unique occasion.3 But others believe a demon was impersonating the prophet based on the fact that he made some false claims. For example, commentator John Gill notes that the apparition warned that all of Saul’s sons would die on the next day, but some survived.4

Either way, the emphasis is that Saul had sunk so low that he tried to dabble in the occult, which God condemns. The next day Saul died.

Grave Conclusions

No evidence has produced a single fact that should sway a Christian into believing that the spirits of deceased people can loiter on earth. In light of the Bible, the only conclusion is that ghost sightings are either the figments of overactive imaginations, or else they are demons.

In his book The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums, and Psychic Phenomena, Christian author Ron Rhodes states, “People sometimes genuinely encounter a spirit entity—though not a dead human. Some people encounter demonic spirits who may mimic dead people in order to deceive the living (see 1 John 4:1; 1 Timothy 4:1–3). Many who claim to have encountered such spirit entities have some prior involvement in the occult.”5

But why would demons want to deceive the living by impersonating the dead?

As servants of Satan and enemies of God, they would have every reason to cast doubt on God’s Word and its warnings about future judgment. Getting people to believe in ghosts automatically forces them to reject key Bible verses (seeHebrews 9:27).

Do you believe in ghosts? The question is huge. Coming to a wrong conclusion about the afterlife has eternal consequences, and the wrong choice on this side of the grave can condemn a soul to eternal agony on the other side.