Tag Archives: sin

Tell it to the Church Matthew 18

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, we take this time to remember those who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001 and for the comfort and peace of their families in at this time. We all joined together and said … AMEN!

We lift up in prayer all those in Florida, in the path of the next hurricane, we pray they are kept safe and that minimal damage is done. We thank you Father that the people in Puerto Rico were spared serious damage. We also remember Houston and pray that they continue to recover. Most of us remember well the attacks of 9/11, we certainly know of the war that continues in Afghanistan, although we may not know of a lot of the other activity that has occurred to stop terrorism and to break up and bring to justice those who would murder and destroy for their own purposes, for their own glory and do it in the Name of God. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit does not inflict violence. Only the love of the true God which moves us to know and grow in Him and for those who do not know Him, He continues to move them to focus on Him and His true life here, salvation in heaven and eternal life in the resurrection. Help us to know Him in His love and relationship to Jesus, His Church and His people, in true, everlasting life and love.

Dr Martin Luther writes: “The amaranth is a flower …[which] is easily broken off and grows in joyful and pleasant sort… being sprinkled with water, becomes fair and green again, so that in winter they used to make garlands thereof. It is called amaranth from this: that it neither withers or decays.

I know nothing more like unto the church than this flower, amanranth. For although the church bathes her garment in the blood of the Lamb and is colored over with red, yet she is more fair, comely, and beautiful than any state and assembly upon the face of the earth. She alone is embraced and beloved of the Son of God, as His sweet and amiable spouse, in whom only He takes joy and delight and whereupon His heart alone depends. He utterly rejects and loathes others that condemn or falsify His Gospel.[1]

A couple of times a year we step outside the walls of our stunning sanctuary. We do all we can to share this church and this great monument to our Lord Jesus Christ. To invite our neighbors, family and friends who do not know Jesus and His church. We have been given a great gift, to be saved in Jesus and in that salvation to be a member of His church. Not everyone who is saved is part of such a magnificent testament and monument to Jesus. Too many think that, by choice, a place that is simple and does not have anything to really honor Him or even remind those who are there that this is supposed to be a place to honor and worship our Lord and to show the world how important Jesus is. Too many in our culture today are more concerned with makes them happy, they’re really not concerned about honoring or worshipping Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Until such time, of course, when it’s very obvious that they need God and expect Him, and yes, His Church to be there for them. We who faithfully serve Jesus’ church know how difficult it is to maintain this place of worship and that it may not always be there.

Many love to tell us how enlightened they are because they’ve made up their mind that the church is wherever they decide it should be. The snarky remarks about worshipping on the golf course, at the beach, some have told me drinking or even taking drugs. They claim that is their form of worship. We live in a truly delusional society that thinks it’s all about them and can make reality any way it pleases them. Those are the same ones who when all is said and done; “will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12) The same phrase Matthew quotes Jesus as using in Matthew 13:42, 13:58, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30. “Omaha” Jesus makes it plain the fate of those who reject Jesus and His Church. It is a combo package, you can’t have a church that doesn’t accept Jesus, it’s not a church that will save you. Likewise you can’t have Jesus and not the church. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth, to be in Christ is to be a part of the Body of Christ which is saved to the eternal resurrection. You have to be a part of the Body of Christ, His church.

In two places Jesus refers to His church. “ESV Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And in today’s reading: “ESV Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Despite what today’s culture likes to think, it is plain that Jesus’ purpose was for His church to do His will on earth. Not for everyone to have their own little worship of whatever I want or makes me happy. In today’s reading Jesus makes it very plain that, yes we are to judge. Not in a pharisaical, harsh way, but in a way that is trying to get the person back into a right relationship with Jesus and His Church. That is what excommunication is about. Not to be punitive or flex ecclesial muscles, but to make it plain that someone’s lifestyle; abusing others, undermining Jesus’ church and ministry, sexual sin, coveting after the things of the world, abusing God and His Name, murder, stealing, lying, that all these things are not acceptable in the Church of Jesus and won’t be tolerated. That the person committing those sins isn’t being judged, as much as condemning him or her own self by their actions. The church’s job is to call them to account on their sin and if he refuses to listen to a brother or sister in Jesus, then to three or more, then as Jesus says: “…if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matt 18:18) The church is given the power to judge, as Jesus goes on to say, what we call “the keys of the church”: “whatever you [meaning the church body] bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Whatever you as the church, truly functioning in good faith, good intentions, truly trying to redirect those who by their actions and rejection of My, Jesus’, Church, won’t listen “even to the church”, note the emphasis. Ok, it’s one thing not to listen to your neighbor, or maybe 3 people from the church, but when the entire church, that you won’t listen to the entire church! Ok, then the church in My authority as Lord of the church, tell you that you should treat this person as a Gentile and tax collector. In the context of the time the most damning condemnation one could make. The lowest person in Jewish society at the time was a Gentile or tax collector. Don’t have anything to do with them, except that you reach out in prayer, love and compassion, always doing what you can to restore them to the church.

This arrogant attitude we have today, really idolatry, that is making oneself the object of worship when you claim that “oh I worship on the beach, the golfcourse”. The attitude being that worship, if any, is going to be on my terms, my time, place, emotion. As if God’s supposed to follow you around like a puppy dog hoping that you will deign to privilege Him with your attention. Doesn’t work that way, that is arrogance, self-worship, quoting CFW Walther: “…pious speech without a living and believing heart in one accord is nothing before God except a hypocritical abomination. Christian fellowship is founded on the promise from Christ Himself, as our text makes irrefutably certain. No Christian can say: ‘I prefer to remain alone. Why should I have fellowship? I derive no blessing from it.’ Whoever speaks like this contradicts Christ and questions His faithfulness.”[2] Clearly Jesus means that when two or more are gathered, no one is entitled to set their own rules of worship, and that more than two are intended to come together in true worship.

Dr Luther writes about the church of Jesus Christ: “…She grows and increases again, fair, joyful and pleasant. That is, she gains the greatest fruit and profit thereby; she learns to know God properly, to call upon Him freely and undauntedly, to confess His word and doctrine. She produces many fair and glorious virtues… the church will by God be raised and wakened out of the grace, and become living again. The church will everlastingly praise, extol and laud the Father our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, His Son and our Redeemer, together with the Holy Ghost.”[3]

It is only in the church that there will be everlasting praise of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Only those who have praised, extoled, lauded God in life, will be there to do the same in heaven, and even more so in the resurrection, where we are restored in our bodies to everlasting life in the perfect world that God originally intended for us, to live our life the way we were supposed to live it. Satan, the world will tell any lie to keep you from Jesus’ church, but as Jesus promises: “ESV John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Nothing and no one can give you any hope or promise that truly matters except for Jesus and He does that in and through His Church. Quoting Luther: “…I am not troubled that the world esteems the Church so meanly; what care I that the usurers, the nobility, gentry, citizens, country people, covetous men, and drunkards condemn and esteem me as dirt? In due time, I will esteem them as little. We must not suffer ourselves to be deceived or troubled as to what the world thinks of us. To please the good is our virtue.”[4]

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] Martin Luther Table Talk Bridge Logos edition p 242

[2] C.F.W Walther quoted in God Grant it Daily Devotionals from CFW Walther edited by Gerhard Grabenhofer p 545

[3] Martin Luther Table Talk Bridge Logos edition p 242, 243

[4] Ibid p 241

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.

Only God’s will in the New World of the resurrection Revelation 22: 1-6, 12-20 First St Johns May 8, 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 look forward to the eternal, perfect life in the resurrection and the new world said … AMEN!

I’m not that big into eschatology, end times, I’ve never really understood the point. When God decides to let the clock run out, it’s going to happen, whether I’m ready or not. What does fascinate me, and what it’s all about as Christians, is the eternal world, the new heavens and the new earth. One of my professors in seminary Rev Dr Louis Brighton, is a well known scholar and expert on the Book of Revelation. Dr Brighton is a professor emeritus at Concordia in St Louis, but he regularly did lectionaries on Revelation and I took advantage of taking in his expertise, especially concerning the resurrection. Between Dr Brighton and Randy Alcorn, I have come to a real understanding and appreciation of the resurrection that I never really had as a lay person. The resurrection is the ultimate reality.

We live our lives as Christ’s people, baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We take the Body and Blood of Jesus and are saved, sustained and strengthened to live our lives being nourished by His true Body and Blood. We are confirmed in His church, the Body of Jesus. These are the things the Holy Spirit leads us to do in our very short, difficult, sin-filled life on earth. If we die before the return of Jesus we, who are in Jesus, will go to heaven, will be the church in waiting for the promised resurrection. I know today the word promise is used a little too loosely, promises made but easily forgotten or a quick excuse because our promise is too often insincere and hastily made. So with Jesus we should read the word promise as iron clad/lead pipe guarantee.

There were Jews who believed in the resurrection as part of Jewish doctrine. It was a basic source of disagreement between the two main schools of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees who did not. The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus making a fallacious argument about a woman who had seven husbands “who would be her husband in the resurrection?” Really?! You reject the resurrection because of someone’s marital status in this earth? If you regularly present Jesus to people you will hear a lot of silly arguments and I have no doubt that this was one of many that Jesus heard. His answer made it clear that God had intended our resurrection from the very beginning of time. God knew that we would reject Him and we would have to be removed from the first earthly paradise, Eden. We know that there is a perfect life for us because of the first perfect creation in Eden. Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees emphasizes what our true life will be: “ESV Matthew 22:31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ESV Matthew 22:32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” ESV Matthew 22:33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” Jesus answers them a little more tartly in Mark’s version of this pericope: “”Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? … ESV Mark 12:27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”” Not exactly the oh so delicate Jesus the world likes to make Him. Basically, “you don’t know what you’re talking about because you obviously don’t know Scripture.” Luke has the scribes commending Him: “ESV Luke 20:39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.”” God did not create us to simply pop out of life, He created us so that we would have life and life more abundant. For those who are in His will He did create an eternal world, completely in accord with His being the God of the living.

Jesus took this reference from Exodus 3:6, way back to the second book of the Bible. This is important because the Sadducees believed that only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible were the only valid books of Scripture. Jesus is making it emphatically clear in a way they could not dismiss that it is all about the resurrection. God does not create us in order for us to simply blink away. He creates us in order to live our life in Christ that makes us truly prepared for eternal life in a new world that will only be suited to those in Jesus, because He will be the very present source of that eternal life. As Dr Brighton writes: “…whatever kind of physical life his people will live and experience in their resurrected bodies, God will richly supply their earthly needs as he did with Adam and Eve in the first paradise before the fall.”[1]

Don’t misconstrue, the world is not going to be one big garden with us sitting around eating fruit. God provided Adam and Eve all they could want in their own context. That is what He will do for us in our own context. There has been 5,000 years of recorded human history and the resurrection will be the culmination and inclusive of all that history.

Between Matthew and Revelation there are 41 references to the resurrection.

For those who like to tell us how unfair we are in saying that only those in Jesus will be resurrected, refer to Jesus’ words to John: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and his servants will worship him.” (Rev 22:3) What is accursed? … Everything! Sin made everything in creation, yours, mine, everyone from Adam and Eve to you and me. We are not “good”, we are all accursed, but in Jesus we are saved, we are justified and righteous. Dr Brighton writes: “The theology of the incarnation itself suggests that, as a result of Christ’s redemptive activity and his own bodily resurrection, those in Christ in his resurrection will be restored to God’s original design for humanity’s bodily state and so also the present earth be restored to its original, divinely intended state as the home for God’s resurrected people.”[2] Sorry, but there can’t be a diversity of opinion and “lifestyle” in the new world. There was only God’s will in Jesus through whom all creation came into existence in the original world. There can only be God’s will in the new, resurrected world. Sure there’s a lot of other “opinions” and lifestyles and diversity in this world. But that’s not how God intended in His original creation and it will only be what God intended in the new restored, resurrected world.
Jesus promises John who writes that promise to us: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” “Coming soon” in the context of eternity, even two thousand years after the promise made means pretty much right away. In eternity we will clearly understand how quick and tenuous our short lives were and how even two thousand years in eternity is “soon”. God is a just, completely holy God, we expect that from Him. The problem is we expect Him to be just according to our perspective which is inevitably wrong. We are only just in Jesus. Yes in the final judgment we will have to answer for the things we failed in, we sinned in. The difference between those of us in Jesus and the rest of humanity is that our Great High Priest, Jesus, intervenes for those who know Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus tells John: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Rev 22: 15) Who does that include? Yes, all of us. But in Christ we are cleansed in His Blood, His sacrifice for all who know Him as Savior. For those, who He describes as dogs, who rejected Him, who denied who He is, they are on the outside of the new, resurrected world. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev 22:14) In Jesus our robes have been washed, in His blood.

The resurrection is entirely in God’s will, it will be the restoration of His creation according to His will. His will can only be in terms of His justice, His holiness, His righteousness. Only those who are in Christ will be able to share in that eternal world that is only in God’s creative will. We should do everything we can to emphasize that to all who we meet and point them to the only possible way to that new resurrected world that is only in Jesus. For those who reject and ignore us, we should mourn for those who are doomed and continue to hold them up in prayer that God will have mercy on them and lead them to the only hope and promise that is in Jesus. Go back and read the account of the resurrection in Revelation, it is between chapters 21 and 22. Journal how it will be all about Jesus and not about how the world thinks it should be.

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

[1] Dr Louis Brighton “Revelation” p 631

[2] Ibid p 632

The Lord God is my strength and shield 2 Corinthians

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 that God is their strength and their song, said  … AMEN!

How many times have you just thrown it in God’s face, just like the Prodigal Son? That was exactly what he was doing to the “Father”. Even now in the Middle East to do what he did, tell his father to hand over his share of the inheritance, is still a gross insult. Basically saying drop dead old man and hand me over all your stuff. Way over the top. We really miss that in western culture, this kid was totally out of line. We are certainly all sinners, but what this kid did was just so over the top, just a creep. Yet we are all like him. We’ve basically told God go away, we don’t need You, hand over what is “ours”, as if we have anything that is “ours”. Neither did the prodigal son, right? His father was still alive, the son wasn’t entitled to a thing, and yet …

And yet God is our strength, when we do something weak and nasty like the prodigal, we don’t get punished, we get grace. Bear in mind, there are consequences, it may not be God punishing us, but our sinful behavior always incurs consequences. If I go to someone right here, haul off and slug you right in the head, what’s going to happen? You’re going to call the police. God may not be punishing me for battery, but the police will because a complaint was filed after I belted the person. But in repentance I am still forgiven by the Father.

As Christians, though, we can be as obnoxious as this prodigal is, but it is in God’s strength that we are saved, we are forgiven, we are not only forgiven, but we are still, in Jesus, inheritors of eternal life, there will probably be consequences, but ultimately He still saves us. In God’s strength, He makes us His children in Jesus, He gives us forgiveness in Jesus, He gives us eternal life in Jesus. Some see that as weakness. “I saw what he did and he should be taken away and punished! There can’t be any reward for him! Don’t you know what he did? He deserves to be punished, the sooner the better!”

Is that what happened to the prodigal? After he put his father through all that he did? Insulted him, took his money, went off to a foreign land and spent every last dime? He must have caused his father unimaginable anxiety and pain, how many sleepless nights do you think that father had worrying about what happened to his son? How many fathers do you think might have said: ‘Eh, whatever, can’t believe what that kid did, maybe if he gets whacked around a little he might learn something and if something else happens, oh well.” But our Father in heaven doesn’t do that. In what is an enormous, unimaginable amount of strength, God endures so much because of our gross insults, our shameless flouting of His grace, His kindness, His many/countless gifts. What did the father do when the son came home? He could have taken him out back, beaten the tar out of him and no one would have said boo about it. Many would have expected it.

But no! The father shamelessly runs out to the son, kisses him, calls for a fine new robe, a new ring, and!!! The fatted calf, the most delectable meal they knew! Based on the description Jesus gives us, the Father was a very important and wealthy man in the community. Men in general do not run out to greet anyone. They would have to gather their robes up into their belt, which would leave their legs exposed, unless there was an emergency, men of such importance did not run. Reminds me of a Simpson’s line: “You were running? Unless there were lions chasing you down the road, you don’t run.” It would have been the same for the father in this story. Yet there he was, in a most undignified manner, running out to this contemptable, unfaithful young man, who himself admits he is not worthy to be called his son.

This had to be embarrassing for the father, I have no doubt the next day at the city gate some of his peers, at least, gave him a little ribbing, even downright derision, “what was that little demonstration yesterday? We are the leaders of this city, let’s conduct ourselves with a little dignity”.

That’s something we get way too caught up in ourselves, isn’t it? Our etiquette, proper demeanor. That’s something God doesn’t get too caught up in, our dignity. A lot of times, as in this story, He doesn’t get too caught up in His own, especially if it means the difference between saving us or letting us condemn ourselves. Isaiah was called to some undignified acts, David Peters paraphrases Isaiah 20: 1-3; “In the year that Assyria captured the Philistine stronghold of Ashdad, the Lord told Isaiah, ‘I want you to take off your clothes and walk around naked and barefoot.’ Isaiah did as the Lord commanded and walked around naked and barefoot for three years.”[1] Peters points out that God asks His people to suffer hardship and embarrassment because God in His dignity lowers Himself to us in order to pull us out of the hopelessness and despair we are lost in, in our sin. He doesn’t have to tuck up His robes under His belt and run out to take us in and clothe us and give us wealth and food as He did with the prodigal son, but He does it not just to save us, but to fulfill His promise that we would have new life. Paul tells us; “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Through Jesus and only through Jesus do we become that new creation and then makes us “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” Through Jesus, because of the indignity that He suffered on the Cross, we are put in relationship with God. We are no longer that old man, that lost, sin filled, pathetic hopeless being wandering around, obsessed with the things we think are important, our dignity, our opinion, our self-importance, our obsessive love of self. No! Instead we are a new creation. God the Father has put aside His dignity to run out to us to save us, to reach down from His infinitely high throne in order to save His lost, rebellious defiant creation. Not only does He save us, but He makes us His new creation and He adorns us with new clothes. Remember, a new robe was an extravagant thing in that time. Clothing was very expensive, the material was expensive and each robe was made by hand, a new gold ring was extravagantly expensive, the fatted calf was a costly, precious delicacy in a world where getting enough to eat everyday was a challenge. The Father takes His new creation, what He makes us in Jesus, gives us hope and promise, takes away the indignity of our sin and adorns us to the epitome of what we could expect. How then could we not know in our heart that God is our strength and our shield, even when he could be very righteously angry with us? And because of that, how can we not sing, give thanks and exalt His name because of what He has done for us by giving us His ultimate sacrifice, giving us His perfect, completely holy and sinless Son to die as the only sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. If that doesn’t make you want to sing and shout, then you have no appreciation for that Father who runs out to meet His lost child and is so elated, that His child was lost and now His precious child, you and I are with Him again in the eternal world of the resurrection that His Son Jesus gave us by overcoming death in His resurrection.

Jurgen Moltman writes: “In him the despair that oppresses us becomes free to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become as open and as vulnerable as he was.

What initially seemed so meaningless and so irreconcilable – our hope and Christ’s cross – belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.

Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner – a prisoner of hope!””[2]

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

[1] David Peters  “The Many Faces of Biblical Humor:“ page 200 Location 4873  Kindle version

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, “Prisoner of Hope,” from The Power of the Powerless, English transl. Copyright © 1983 by SCM Press Ltd., reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

God is merciful, but is paying attention Ezekiel 33: 7-20

[for the audio please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who live and turn from their evil ways said … AMEN

We are in the season of Lent, we should reflect on what our life is about all year long and certainly repent at those times when we have sinned and failed God. Reflection, repentance, are the primary focus of Lent. Today’s readings emphasize that. Most of the Bible is very straightforward, very real in the day to day lives of the people it describes. Many people like the mysticism, the mystery of many other beliefs, just for that reason and dismiss Christianity as being a little too prosaic and not mysterious enough. I disagree, the realness of the Bible, from beginning to end, make it totally relatable, real world, it describes the darkness and sinfulness of a fallen world, and it describes in very gritty, earthy ways many of the people in the Bible. There was little mystical about David, Elijah, Peter, they were very manly-earthy-gritty men, even Jesus. The Bible is not about being mystical, mystery, that so many try to make it out to be, but in some respects it is. There are compelling mysteries in Christian theology: The Trinity, the atonement of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection. There are mysteries that we may never understand, but that does not diminish the very straightforward realities of who Jesus is, how we are saved, what the Father does in our lives everyday as we are guided by the Holy Spirit. There are mystical parts to the Bible. Daniel can be, Revelation certainly is, parts of Isaiah. Kenneth Stevenson and Michael Glerup write: “Ezekiel also leaves its mark on the New Testament. The image of Jesus as the Shepherd (Matthew 18: 12-14; John 10: 11-18) finds its inspiration in the prophecy about the shepherds and the sheep (Ezekiel 1: 5-10). Revelation bears several significant traces of the influence of Ezekiel: the vision of the chariot from heaven with the four living creatures (Ezek 40-48; Rev 21-22) … and each book ends with a vision of the new temple.”[1] In our reading today Ezekiel is pretty straight forward, and according to Stevenson and Glerup; “…his teaching about judgment seems at times harsher than the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah.”[2]

Through Ezekiel, Yahweh is pretty tough on Israel and He could be saying essentially the same thing to today’s culture. David Peters writes: “You are no better than the Canaanites. Your father was an Amorite and your mother was a Hittite [reminds me of the Monty Python line Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elderberry –mine] You were such an ugly baby they left you out to die.” (Ez 3: 7-9) Peters goes on to write: “This is pretty rough talk coming from the Lord. God compared them to the people for whom they had the least respect – the Samaritans and the Sodoms. This sarcasm attracted the people’s attention and they protested that God was being unfair to them. God replied, “You say, ‘The Lord is being unfair in his assessment of us?!’ Listen to me! You are the ones being unfair not I.’” (Ez 18:25) In a contest as to who is fair, God will always win.”[3]

The most poignant part of the lessons for me is when Ezekiel takes his foot off the gas in the middle of the reading to remind his audience: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11) Who is the “house of Israel” that God is talking to? … Yes, us, we are Israel. Jesus is Israel, we are in Jesus, even 500 years before Jesus, God, through Ezekiel, is talking to us and almost pleading with us. I don’t want to see people die in their sins, I don’t want to see people lost in Hell for eternity, that is horrible, I want you to fear me enough, to know who I am, what I have done for you and for you to stop resisting and find peace and rest in My grace. God is often practically pleading with us, stop it, get over this ridiculous, rebellious, attitude that only leads to death! We should be in a state of reflection, repentance and prayer all year long, but we have been given this time of Lent to specifically reflect on the reality of the state of our sinful nature. Not as a way to beat you down, but as a way for you to truly live “I am the way the truth and the life…” Jesus tells us. His way, life and life more abundant in the resurrection. The world’s way is sin and death. We may think Ezekiel is being overly harsh, but God, through Ezekiel, is desperately trying to steer us away from our rebellious and sinful nature and find true life, hope, promise and eternal life of perfection in Him. Is there any doubt that when someone repents, stops his rebellious ways that the Father will be joyful? Luke writes: “ESV Luke 15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Because we can’t have it our way, we act as if God is the enemy. We live in a “gotcha” culture. It’s not about what you do, the great ways you serve, the things you accomplish. There are people out there who genuinely think they are serving by waiting in the weeds in order to “gotcha” on the most trivial issues and show what a truly horrible person you are. The world tries to project that mind-set on to God. Nothing can be further from the truth. The “gotcha” God wants is the times when you realize your sin, repent and mourn in ashes over your sin and realize all that He has done to save you and give you eternal life. Is there any doubt in your mind that the Father, on His throne, will be smiling when you realize what has been done for you? Sure He knows who He has saved, but in the middle of the joy of heaven, there will be the Father’s smile of satisfaction, that His plan in that person has come to pass? In the parable of the talents Jesus tells us how our Master, God, “Enter into the joy of your master.” (Luke 25: 21, 23) The world tries to convince us it’s an “us against Him”.

By the same token, He isn’t playing. You want to take the wide road into the wide gate, do it your way? You can’t expect God to be pleased with your destructive behavior. He wants to save you, Jesus came in order to be the salvation of the world. The Godhead knows that most of the world faces destruction, death, the eternal wrath of God, and why shouldn’t they who have rejected God? God takes no pleasure over the death of the wicked, but they made their choice and rejected God. Ezekiel writes: “Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right,…he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ez 33: 14, 15). Through the Holy Spirit, the Father has made the path to salvation quite obvious and doesn’t make us jump through hoops to be in Him, as all other beliefs do. He gives us pure, unqualified grace in His Son Jesus. Jesus did the hard work and the heavy lifting. Jesus died on the Cross the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. God made the road to salvation quite obvious in His Son’s life, death and resurrection. There is nothing we can do to earn it, to justify it, to deserve it, it is given to us to have life and life more abundant.

In our Gospel reading people are asking Jesus if the people who died because of Pilate or an accident somehow deserved such violent deaths because they were bad people. The people asking were somehow “good” and those that died got what they deserved. Jesus replied: “No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Not that a tower will fall on all of them, but Jesus was saying, keep doing what you’re doing and you will all die in your sins, you will be condemned to the eternal fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We do not have a “gotcha” God who is just waiting to condemn us. John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave us His Son to give us a sure and certain way to salvation, everlasting, perfect life in the resurrection. Trust in Him who does so much for us, turn and repent and know that in Him, in His church, in our baptism in Him and in the Lord’s Supper when we eat His Body and Blood, in Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, He has saved you to that eternal life in the resurrection. He wants what is best for you and waits to give it to you. There is no joy in the death of a sinner, there is joy in the man and woman who repents and receives the free gift of grace in Jesus.

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

 

[1] Stevenson and Glerup in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Ezekiel, Daniel” p xx

[2] Ibid p xiv

[3] David Peters “The many Faces of Biblical Humor”

Jealous God?

At the end of the ten commandments we see “for I the Lord your God am a jealous God,”. (Ex 20:5) Deuteronomy 4:24 says “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Woo there “jealous”? Isn’t that a bad thing to be jealous? In some situations, it can be used in that context, but we usually think of “envious”, wanting something that is someone else’s not mine.

We are God’s, He made us, He gave us what we have, He sustains us, everything we have we owe to Him. If then we turn and decide to throw our lives away on other “gods” doesn’t God have a right to angry. We’ve taken what He’s give us and thrown it away for what? The “god” of drugs, booze, the wrongful use of the gift of sex that He’s given us? Do we make power, greed, money, our “god”? As our Creator, our Father when we are reborn in the Spirit, does He not have the right to keep us focused on Him.

“He knows the danger of other gods, how they will lure us away, deceive us and leave us empty.” (Experiencing God Day by Day  Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby p 219) We’ve seen plenty of people who have been swept up by idols such as drugs, greed, alcohol, sex, squeezed dry and then tossed aside like an empty candy wrapper. He made us, did He make us to be wasted like that? No! Of course not. So shouldn’t He be jealous of us and what He has given us.

So many are caught up with “gods” who demand things, giving more money, more time, squeezing you for everything. Sure a church needs time and money to continue to serve those around us, but we do serve. We continue to help others grow in Jesus, true life. Whereas the things of the world continue to breakdown, squeeze life out of us, vs the life that is given to us in Jesus. If you see a “god” who just demands and leaves wrecked lives, doesn’t it make sense to run away from that “god” and to God who builds and saves lives?

God is faithful to us and helps us to be faithful to Him. He is jealous for us and as the Blackabys point out: “…the Lord’s jealousy on our behalf is something that should be precious to us! He has the complete right to our lives. He gave us life, and He wants to protect us from anything that could harm us.” (Experiencing God Day by Day  Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby p 219) We have a omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent all holy, righteous, God who looks out for us, is jealous for us, because as baptized children in Jesus we have been given new life in Him, He is our Father, Creator and wants what is best for us. Jealous? OK, but in the most perfect, secure, life altering and enhancing sense of the world.

God chases after us and that’s a great thing

One of the things that Lutherans emphasize, different from other, as it were, Protestant denominations is that it is all about what God does for us. It is not about what we do, or chose in terms of God. “Jesus knew that because of sin, no one naturally seeks after God. Sinful man’s inclination is to hide from God, rather than to come to him:” (Henry and Richard Blackaby Experiencing God Day by Day p 25) “ESV John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ESV John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. ESV John 1:7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. ESV John 1:8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. ESV John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (from BibleWorks) John talks about man running from the light, avoiding the light. We don’t want to have anything to do with God in our natural state. We are dead in our sins and we don’t want anything to do with the Holy. Go out and mingle in the world a little, people will tell you straight out that they are just not interested in the holy.

It’s not about you walking down an aisle and making a profession of faith. It’s all about how God brought you to Him, gave you the understanding you needed, brought you to baptism and then brought you to an understanding of what you are in Jesus, how you are saved in Him. When we have this new insight into God, isn’t it the Holy Spirit who is moving us to that insight?

Jesus’ teaching (His actual ones, not the ones the world likes to pin Him into) are impossible for evil man to understand. We are lost in sin, we have no concept of the holy.

The Holy brings you into His presence and gives you what you need to understand. That is what baptism starts in our lives. We are drowned in the water of baptism in order to be reborn as that new person in Jesus. At that time as new children in God, we now have the facilities, given to us by the Holy Spirit, to being to apprehend the holy, true salvation. “As you desire to spend time alone with Jesus, recognize that this is the Father drawing you to His Son. You do not seek quiet times with God in order to experience Him. The fact that He has brought you to a place of fellowship with Him is evidence that you are already sensing His activity.” (Ibid)

This is all a good thing. How can we presume to say “I chose God!”? We can’t begin to understand Him in our fallen, evil state. He has chosen us. If I did the choosing, what would happen? In my fallen evil state, I would somehow mess it up, or doubt it, undermine it. When I know that God has done all the heavy lifting, He has made me His son and I did it with no action on my part, totally undeserving of God’s salvation, I have the assurance, the promise of knowing that it’s done right and I am truly saved in Him. Anything else makes me the pivotal figure and that is so wrong and is so bound to dump you hard back into the world.

Know that God saved you, that it’s all about His will, nothing about Yours. When you know that God does the verbs, does all the important things in salvation, we can rest in the peace, assurance and power of God and not sweat if we did something wrong.