Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Christian and the Problem of Sin…and Hope


Discussion thought of the Day:

15  I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate. 16  Since what I do is what I don’t want to do, this shows that I agree that the Law is right. 17  So I am not really the one who does this thing; rather it is the sin that lives in me. 18  I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. 19  I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. 20  If I do what I don’t want to do, this means that I am no longer the one who does it; instead, it is the sin that lives in me.
Romans 7:15-20 (TEV)

11  In union with Christ you were circumcised, not with the circumcision that is made by human beings, but with the circumcision made by Christ, which consists of being freed from the power of this sinful self. 12  For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13  You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins;
Colossians 2:11-13 (TEV)

7  But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. 8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9  But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:7-10 (TEV)

The problem of sin is one that has stalked mankind since the beginning.  

We may try to hide it, sure that people won’t see through our careful concealment, our spiritual camouflage.  We may deny it, or let it rip our souls to shreds. It is there, lurking, stalking us.

As pastors, we see its effect in our people, as they struggle with every aspect of life, from work to marriage to raising their children. I’ve watched it nearly destroy a church, and I know it has destroyed churches and even denominations. We’ve watched it destroy our brothers in ministry, and yes, we know its dark powers all too well.

Yes, sin is a problem in the church, and being a real church means we try to deal with it. We can’t really hide it, denying it and the bondage it puts people in is.. well asinine in that we are committing people to hell on earth, and hell eternal.  We cannot camouflage it and hope it blends into the background. For in all of those options we see the warning of John, indicating that we make God a liar. 

So how does a Christian, whom we teach has been cleansed of sin in baptism (see Ezekiel 36:25ff, Titus 3:2-8, 1 Peter 3, Romans 6 and Colossians 2) struggle with the fact that they still sin? How do we find comfort knowing t  How do we find comfort in the wrongdoing that has been done to us as well, that we will fall prey to Satan and commit a sin, or two, or twenty?  For sin and unrighteousness paralyzes us, it inhibits our faith, especially when Satan tries to convince us the pain is real.

Note:  When talking about sin and wrongdoing, it is important to note that the sin is our wrongdoing, and the wrongdoing John mentions is the wrongdoing, the sin done to us.  When we are declared righteous, when we are purified – both are dealt with.  Yet there is a struggle.  For we don’t always see this done and we live with the pain of sin.

In talking this over with a  friend, and thinking through the passages above, and of note the underlined sections, I came up with an analogy. 

I had a friend who lost a leg, and he often talked of (he never complained) of phantom feelings in his missing limb.  Sometimes it felt like it was asleep, or it itched, or it even caused him great pain as it felt like it was cramping.   The feelings were not “imagined”, they were documentable and real. Sensory nerves were firing, motor nerves were wanting to direct movement.  The brain registered it all.

The symptoms were real, the effects on the body were real, the source?  It wasn’t real. It was cut off completely, removed, and thoroughly as something is removed in a circumcision.  This paradox defies explanation. 

Spiritually, the paradox is much the same.  It may seem like sin controls us, the actions, the results appear much the same as they did before our “circumcision.”(  I love Ezekiel 36 on this – as the Spirit removes our stone dead heart and replaces it with one living, and home to the Spirit)  That sinful nature died on the cross – that is God’s promise.  Surely our sin was forgiven, and the sin of the world was stripped away from us, as if God somehow combined a brillo pad with ivory soap… and could scrub us, without damaging us.

So why does it still feel like we can’t stop sinning?  Why is there despair that is so deep, and so powerful that it could be labeled a black hole?

It’s that paradox again – the phantom power of sin, the illusions that the demonic can try to cast.  Yes we still sin, yes we still don’t do what we should and do what we shouldn’t.  Yes, there are days we feel like a wretch, and our ability to condemn ourselves will run high. Where we wonder if there is hope, if we will ever be righteous and holy and good.

It is then we have to realize the power of spiritual circumcision – that the sin we are battling is the cause of the sin. (this is NOT and should never be an excuse) The way to defeat it is to go and confess, and hear God has forgiven us, to hear that He has healed us. That He has purified us. That He has cut away this sin, and though we feel its effects, its pain, it itching… it isn’t us.

We live in Him. 

Dealing with the phantom pain then becomes realizing how real it is, and isn’t, and running to the one who confirms it isn’t, and letting His promise mean more than our struggle. To trust Him, to depend upon Him, to let Him support us, even as we walk through life, missing that which would have destroyed us, but for His action, His love.

This is our life… in Chirst.

Knowing He has had mercy, even as we cry out fo it!

God’s peace to you, forgiven child!

Politics, Hard Decisions, and our Faith


Devotional Thought fo the day:

 But these men pressed the king. “Keep in mind, O king,” they said, “that under the law of the Medes and Persians every royal prohibition or decree is irrevocable.” 17 So the king ordered Daniel to be brought and cast into the lions’ den.* To Daniel he said, “Your God, whom you serve so constantly, must save you.” 18 To forestall any tampering, the king sealed with his own ring and the rings of the lords the stone that had been brought to block the opening of the den.
19 Then the king returned to his palace for the night; he refused to eat and he dismissed the entertainers. Since sleep was impossible for him, 20 the king rose very early the next morning and hastened to the lions’ den. 21 As he drew near, he cried out to Daniel sorrowfully, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you serve so constantly been able to save you from the lions?” 22 Daniel answered the king: “O king, live forever! 23 My God sent his angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not hurt me.b For I have been found innocent before him; neither have I done you any harm, O king!” 24 This gave the king great joy. At his order Daniel was brought up from the den; he was found to be unharmed because he trusted in his God.  NABRE, Dan 6:16–24

509      To be able to judge with rectitude of intention what is needed is a pure heart, zeal for the things of God and love of souls, free from prejudices. Think about it!  (1)

I will admit – I don’t have the purity of heart, and not enough zeal for the things of God, and while I try to love souls, there are days this isn’t an option.

If we were back in the days of Darius and Daniel, I can hear the FB and Twitter comments blasting this King, trying to force him to release Daniel, calling him names, and crucifying him in the media for doing what he did. Or the opposite – for not dealing with Daniel severely enough.

They didn’t see his sleepless night, his mourning, His brokenness.

If we were there, we would see someone in power doing that which we know he should not have done.

His heart wouldn’t have mattered, only his actions. His only hope was in the God Daniel trusted, only then could the king know peace.  He wasn’t Darius’s God, yet.  Darius would praise him, indeed, order his entire country to praise the God of Daniel 

26 Then King Darius wrote to the nations and peoples of every language, wherever they dwell on the earth: “May your peace abound! 27 I decree that throughout my royal domain the God of Daniel is to be reverenced and feared:

“For he is the living God, enduring forever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, whose dominion shall be without end, 8 A savior and deliverer, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who saved Daniel from the lions’ power.” NABRE Dan 6:26-28

This is a lesson for us, for our tendency to judge before we know; before we see the big picture, and the heart of the man in authority  Before we realize that God is at work, as promised>  We need to pray for our leaders, for the decisions they have to make, that they may not want to make.  Even the decisions we disagree with, and find evil in our view.

We can only do this if our faith is in God, even as Daniel’s trust was.  Only if we are convinced of His promises can we endure, or watch others endure their own lion’s den.  Its not our faith in the Darius, or even in the Daniel, it is God’s reliability we are talking about here…

The God who restores things that are broken, from governments ot leaders, to our own souls.

Trust Him, know He will deliver us… and be confident in His work in you.   DOing such will leave in you peace… free to love, to serve the Lord.  AMEN!

 

(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1938-1940). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Forgotten Furnace Prayer….Is One We Need to Guide our Worship/Liturgy!


Devotional Thought fo the Day:

26 “Blessed are you, and praiseworthy, O Lord, the God of our ancestors, and glorious forever is your name. 27 For you are just in all you have done; all your deeds are faultless, all your ways right, and all your judgments proper. 28 You have executed proper judgments in all that you have brought upon us and upon Jerusalem, the holy city of our ancestors. By a proper judgment you have done all this because of our sins; 29 For we have sinned and transgressed by departing from you, and we have done every kind of evil. 30 Your commandments  we have not heeded or observed, nor have we done as you ordered us for our good.  NABRE Daniel 3:26-30

481      Take a good look at the way you behave. You will see that you are full of faults that harm you and perhaps also those around you. Remember, my child, that microbes may be no less a menace than wild beasts. And you are cultivating those errors and those mistakes—just as bacteria are cultivated in a laboratory—with your lack of humility, with your lack of prayer, with your failure to fulfill your duty, with your lack of self-knowledge… Those tiny germs then spread everywhere.  (1)

Perhaps I had read the Bible passage in red as a child, as I grew up in the Catholic Church. I know I haven’t recently, for I usually use protestant (evangelical) translations of Scripture, which have a few differences in the Book of Daniel.  The passage has been there, and Luther quotes it several times. I have to admit, as I read it – I came to love it, it resonated deeply and pointed me to Jesus.

I find it remarkable, as the three men are sitting in a furnace, and they are heating it up, that they pray in this way.  Their prayer doesn’t start with calls for vengeance, or even a call for deliverance.  They aren’t calling God to blast their enemies.

It starts with their confession – and the acknowledgment that God has every right to punish them for how they turned their backs on Him.

In the midst of their trauma, in the midst of being tortured and persecuted, the three men turn to God and admit they are guilty, and God has every right to punish them. They even recognize that the commandments are for their good, to guide them in life that is lived well and full.

They didn’t obey; their people didn’t obey.

They deserved God’s judgment, and they recognized it.

So they turned to God, confessed their sins and depended upon His character, His mercy, His love.  Assured of His mercy, the second hymn will be a joyous song of praise – sung in the presence of the Son of God.

How we need this spirit to be replicated in us today.  That when oppressed or persecuted, when struggling we recognize that we deserve much worse, (this is our confession)  we are then encouraged to depend on the mercy of God to deliver us ( the sermon), and then have a celebration in the presence of the Son of God (isn’t this what communion really is?)

Rather than striking out at those we perceive to be our enemies.  Rather than calling down God’s wrath upon them, rather than trying to justify ourselves, what if our first reaction was to pray that we be forgiven.  What kind of joy would come from this?  What sense of serenity found in Christ Jesus?   To be rid of the germs our guilt and shame, and the beam that blocks the vision.

What an incredible prayer (I highly suggest reading the entire thing) What an incredible statement of dependence on God, and the effect of it on life.

May we learn to pray and worship this way…even in the midst of the fire…

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1834-1838). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Hope Generated in His Promised Plans: A sermon on Psalm 138…


The Simple Christian Life – Love, HOPE, FAITH

Hope Generated in His Promised Plans

Psalm 138

  † I.H.S.

May this message about the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ increase your hope and expectation of God’s role in your life!

 Abraham:  Blinded

Even though the sermon is based on the Psalm – I want to start with the Old Testament reading about Abraham.  God is talking about hiding His plans from Abraham, and there are days I wonder if the Trinity hasn’t had the same conversations about us.

Not that God is going to do something like he did through Abraham with us. I mean, having a kid at 100, or when Kay is 90?  Maybe that is Al and Shirley’s task?  Carol and Chuck’s?

But what about this idea that we don’t know the plans God has for us.  TO be honest, I am personally struggling with that one right now.  God, I don’t understand what You are doing, it doesn’t make sense!

You see that in the psalm as well – when at the end of praising God, when at that end of realizing that God has saved us while realizing that God will work out His plans for our life because His love is faithful.  The psalmist then pleads…

“Don’t abandon me. (remember) you made me.”

I get that… and yet.. the entire Psalm speaks to the fact He will not.

There, we can find the truth that helps us, when we don’t have a clue about what God has planned for our lives.

The answer is profound, and it will give a profound hope, an incredible expectation of what God can and will do in our lives.

Even after the praise – Even after the climb

I am going to shift for the moment, to the end of the Gospel of Matthew, to a seen that didn’t make sense to me when I first realized what it says:

16  Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17  When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18  Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Matthew 28:16-18 (NLT)

They had seen him crucified, they spent significant time with him after the resurrection, and it said that some of them still doubted.

Just like the Psalmist.

Just like me when I am at a convention, or when I am struggling with not knowing which way life will twist next. When I don’t know the plans He has for me, and to be honest; I wonder if the plans are truly good and right.

Because of the sin of the world, because of my sin, because of the brokenness of everything, trusting, expecting, depending on everything to turn out right is a challenge at times. Sometimes it isn’t even about sin; it may be that we are simply tired.

Like the 11, some of us doubt,

It’s not new; it’s not something that will result in your condemnation, or in God abandoning you, even though it seems at times like He has, or He might or He should.

Just because you don’t know his plans, doesn’t mean that what He has planned for us is horrid or evil.

So how do we cope when we don’t know his plans, and this leads to doubt?

Back to the basics – He rescued us -why would he waste us?

We go back to what we do know, what we count on.

God.

Who He is.

Seven times his name, His personal name is used in this passage.  Eight more times David uses pronouns directly talking to or about Him.  2 more times he references the name of God.

We have to hear these things for ourselves.  Let’s read them together

  • You answer me
  • Your unfailing love and faithfulness
  • Your praises (backed by your name – who you are!)
  • You answer me
  • You encourage by giving strength
  • You will protect me
  • You reach out your hands
  • Your right-hand saves me
  • Your faithful love endures forever.
    and,
  • You made me.

 

The very reason we praise Him, along with Kings from all over the earth is that we Hear His words, we understand His care for all – especially those of us who are broken and humbled by life. They need to hear Him, and they shall, for this is His desire.

This is the reason we have hope in life, why we expect that at the end of our days there is life everlasting.  This is why we know that as we walk through this life – we hear Him.  For we are people who are people who are His priests and kings.

Behind the plans, God has made His nature, the very same nature we see backing up the promises He made and kept in the life and death, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Like Abraham, and even more closely, we walk with God, His Spirit dwells within us, His voice resonates in us because He is with you.

Which is why we do what he did,

Hear the words again,

I have singled you out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord, by doing what is right and just.

Does that sound like this?

19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

We, those who God has made plans for, who are blind to them, and sometimes doubt, have the same call – to help all of Abraham’s children of faith, not matter Jew or Gentile, to hear His voice, including the answer to the last cry of the Psalmist

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)


He won’t abandon us; He is with us… This is most certainly true.  AMEN

What We Can Learn About the Missio Dei from the Blues Brothers…


Devotional Thoguht of the Day…..

1  With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it. 2  My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief 3  for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them.
Romans 9:1-3 (NLT)

Jake:  Me and God, We got an understanding
Elwood:  We’re on a Mission from God. 
(from the movie, “The Blues Brothers)

466      The enemies of God and his Church, manipulated by the devil’s unremitting hatred, are relentless in their activities and organization. With “exemplary” constancy they prepare their cadres, run schools, appoint leaders and deploy agitators. In an undercover way—but very effectively—they spread their ideas and sow, in homes and places of work, a seed which is destructive of any religious ideology. What is there that we Christians should not be ready to do, always with the truth, to serve our God?  (1)

They claimed to be on a mission from God, a mission to save the home, the orphanage they grew up in so that others would have a place. 

They did what they had to do, or perhaps what they thought they had to do.  With little option, they got the band back together, did a little touring, and raised the money that it took, even though they broke a few laws along the way. They raised the money even though it meant they would suffer, that they would serve time.

I am not advocating breaking the law, but I see the same desire, the same passion in Paul’s words to the church in Rome.  He grieved over the fact that they didn’t know Jesus, that they didn’t have the peace of God.  They were cut off from life and hope, from dwelling in the presence of God, because either actively or passively they rejected Jesus.  They denied Him.

This grief was so intense that he indicated he would even take their curse, which he would be willing to be eternally cut off from God; if that is what it took for them to be reconciled. Jake and Elwood understand and would approve – they were willing to do time in the Illinois State Pen, and based on the movie – several times their efforts brought them close to death.

Josemaria asks us a similar question – what is the that we should not be ready to do, always with the truth, to serve our God?

Is going to jail a possibility?  Yes

Is jumping a drawbridge?  Of course!

Is playing the blues, dancing like a fool, wearing a thin blue tie and a cool hat?  If that is what it takes.

Is dying?  Yes

Though we can’t give up our salvation, that desire can and should be there, if we see a friend, or an enemy, who needs to know God’s love!  

Is enduring poverty?  What about enduring being the victim of crime?  What about being humiliated? Yes and Yes and yes.

After all – we got an understanding with God.  He loves us.

And therefore we are on a mission from God.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1780-1785). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

What “Faith Alone” Does Not Mean!



Devotional Thought of the Day:
20  But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21  assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. 25  Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:20-25 (ESV)

17 On the other hand, it is correct to say that in conversion, through the attraction of the Holy Spirit, God changes stubborn and unwilling people into willing people, and that after conversion, in the daily exercise of repentance, the reborn will of man is not idle but cooperates in all the works which the Holy Spirit performs through us.
18 9. Likewise Luther’s statement that man’s will in conversion behaves “altogether passively”5 (that is, that it does nothing at all) must be understood as referring to the action of divine grace in kindling new movements within the will, that is, when the Spirit of God through the Word that has been heard or through the use of the holy sacraments takes hold of man’s will and works the new birth and conversion. But after the Holy Spirit has performed and accomplished this and the will of man has been changed and renewed solely by God’s power and activity, man’s new will becomes an instrument and means of God the Holy Spirit, so that man not only lays hold on grace but also cooperates with the Holy Spirit in the works that follow.

426      Today once again I prayed full of confidence. This was my petition: “Lord, may neither our past wretchedness which has been forgiven us, nor the possibility of future wretchedness cause us any disquiet. May we abandon ourselves into your merciful hands. May we bring before you our desires for sanctity and apostolate, which are hidden like embers under the ashes of an apparent coldness…” ”Lord, I know you are listening to us.” You should say this to him too.

There is, within the church today, a sense of defeatism.  The church seems to be dying in America; it no longer serves the community as a place of peace, a sanctuary from the world.  It is no longer the place of people set apart to a life walking with Christ.

This is happening, even as American seminaries are be asked to influence the training of pastors in places where the growth of the church is exponential, and that scares me, for what if what we teach them is what has caused our churches, liberal and confessional, traditional and contemporary to diminish in size, and in effect?

I can’t speak to the denominations and movements I know not of, but I can speak, and will speak to those I know well.

In our situation, there is a strange misunderstanding, a problem with one of our prize confessions, the cry of “Faith Alone”, and how it has morphed into something it never was.

It was about conversion; some people think it is about the entirety of our life.  They take another summary of theology – we are simultaneously sinners and justified – and it and what has developed is a theology that there is no need for spiritual growth, there is no need for being transformed into the image of Christ, for growing in faith and holiness.

We see them come to faith, find their seat in church – and leave them there. We remind them their sins are forgiven; we tell them to trust God for their salvation, but we fail to encourage them to live life with Christ.

But as you see in blue above, the early Luther’s never meant that sanctification was optional, that serving alongside Christ was just for a chosen few, that the rest could be passive in how they live life, that a signed check was good enough.

We are meant to be instruments, means of grace as we share the gospel given to us via God’s word, and the sacraments that are tangible means of that grace. Every Christian, growing in faith, seeing themselves set apart to be used by God, interceding and ministering to those who are around them, loving them as CHirst loves us.

Are we going to be perfect?  Nah>

Are we still going to be occasionally wretched?  It’s possible, even probable and in my case. definite. But that shouldn’t stop us from being drawn to the cross, abandoning ourselves into the hands that were crucified, into the life that we died with at the cross, and are raised to, quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit – which raised Christ from the dead.

It is time to return to encourage holiness, to encourage people to live as God intends, as one, holy, called together and sent into a broken world people.

Faith Alone- yes it saves – and brings us into a journey with God -where it sees us made into a holy people…people that can bring God’s healing to a lost and broken world.

Lord, I know you are listening to us, breathe on us, and cause the embers of our desire for your mission and our holiness rage into a holy inferno.  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 472). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. Formula of Concord: Pt 1 Epitome II Free Will

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1637-1641). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Ministry Of Reconciliation: A Great Untapped Power…


Devotional Thought of the Day:

35 They will say, “This once-desolate land has become like the garden of Eden. The cities once ruined, laid waste and destroyed, are now resettled and fortified.”s 36 Then the surrounding nations that remain shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt what was destroyed and replanted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken: I will do it!  (NABRE Ezekiel 36:35-36)

24 Suppose, now, that the invitation (to confess our sins and receive absolution) were changed into a command that all beggars should run to the place, no reason being given and no mention of what they were to look for or receive. How else would the beggar go but with repugnance, not expecting to receive anything but just letting everyone see how poor and miserable he is? Not much joy or comfort would come from this, but only a greater hostility to the command.
25 In the same way the pope’s* preachers have in the past kept silence about this wonderful, rich alms and this indescribable treasure; they have simply driven men together in hordes just to show what impure and filthy people they were. Who could thus go to confession willingly?
26 We, on the contrary, do not say that men should look to see how full of filthiness you are, making of you a mirror for contemplating themselves. Rather we advise: If you are poor and miserable, then go and make use of the healing medicine.  (1)

That is the way you are, too, he says; that is the way you are interiorly, if we look attentively at ourselves we shall know that this is true. We are interiorly stunted and crippled. We lack interior strength because we live only exteriorly. “Everyman”, who abounded in health and life, was interiorly completely crippled, but he did not know it. In his efforts to draw all life to himself, he had failed to learn what life truly is. There appears now on stage a second female figure, who teaches the dying Everyman how to pray again. Thus faith helps to give strength to his works. Supported by faith, his works can move, and he, too, can move—to move along the right, the true road to salvation. Faith gives him from Christ’s strength what Everyman does not have of himself.  (2)

A pastor or priest sits, and hears people unburden their lives, and we see a miracle happen.  Those crushed by guilt and shame are healed, they are made whole.  They are restored.

We can often see it with our eyes, yet the perception goes far deeper, as the grace of God bursts from their hearts and souls through their eyes.  It is such a thing that Ezekiel describes as he calls watching a once desolate land become the garden of Eden. Or a city laid waste, that has been restored.

Pope Benedict wrote of it as Everyman learning to pray again – the line of communication between God and man cleared of all that blocks it from our inattention, as guilt and shame are flushed away, and we can live again. Luther talks about it as a great treasure, this healing medicine of hearing God speak.

But we would rather look in the mirror and see the filth; we would rather look at works, poor and feeble, no better than filthy rags. Because we’ve let confession (and I mean the entire church) and the precious words of absolution be neglected, we struggle to believe them, to perceive the grace we should look for, the guarantee of mercy we should desire!

This is why pastors and priests must return to teaching about this precious sacrament.  So that its power to heal and restore people no longer sits unused, misunderstood, untapped.  Our people need to have this – they need to be able to share the joy of their salvation, to celebrate that God isn’t far off, but in Him we still live and move and have our very being!  This is amazing grace; this is proof of His unfailing love… these words of absolution, these glorious words that we are free…

God is merciful, the world needs to know this, you and I need to know this.

As we are absolved, let our awe turn into praises and celebration, as God throws us a feast, and as we know we are welcomed in His presence.  AMEN!

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 460). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 233–234). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

* ( DIsclaimer: While it may be true that some in the RCC in Luther’s day are accurately described in his comment, the priests of the Roman Catholic Church I know and admire urge people to go, not just out of obedience, but because of the joy that awaits them as Christ assures them of His forgiveness – there are such pastors in every church body, even as there are those who would deny people of the joy of reconciliation)

It’s Time to Get Up, and Know you are Free from Sin!


Devotional THoguht of the Day:

1  Jesus got into the boat and went back across the lake to his own town, 2  where some people brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a bed. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the paralyzed man, “Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” 3  Then some teachers of the Law said to themselves, “This man is speaking blasphemy!” 4  Jesus perceived what they were thinking, and so he said, “Why are you thinking such evil things? 5  Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6  I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!” 7  The man got up and went home. 8  When the people saw it, they were afraid, and praised God for giving such authority to people.
Matthew 9:1-8 (TEV)

15 Note, then, as I have often said, that confession consists of two parts. The first is my work and act, when I lament my sin and desire comfort and restoration for my soul. The second is a work which God does, when he absolves me of my sins through a word placed in the mouth of a man. This is the surpassingly grand and noble thing that makes confession so wonderful and comforting.

In Luther’s Large Catechism, we see the words in blue above, as Luther exhorts (begs) his people not give up the blessing of confessing their sin. Only a man who himself experienced the overwhelming crushing weight of his own sin, and the relief he knew writes in such a manner.

Luther’s relief is found all over his works, and he gets a bit testy (okay even violent) toward those who would deny people as broken as he was/is the hope he found and the healing he experienced.

His explanation nails it, our confession and absolution is far more about the absolution that we receive, that we so desperately need, than it is about the crap we drop in the presence of God.  We may fear seeing it revealed, we may fear the surgery that removes it, what St. Paul calls the circumcision of the heart. We may even consider it impossible, a task beyond our ability.

Yet, the emphasis is not on the confession, but the cleansing.  The work is not ours, it is the work of freeing us from the darkness that consumes us. That can even physically inhibit and paralyze us, as the man experienced in the gospel reading. But Christ’s death, and the authority given to Him by the father shatters those bindings, those things that trap us.

The blood of Christ, which binds us to Him, already did this, as He hung on the cross and declared we are free from sin, and even while we get up – perhaps for the first time, His Spirit quickens us, strengthens us, restores that which had decayed and been destroyed by sin.

We need to stop buying into the lie that confession is difficult, a duty that is one that burdens us and breaks us.  It is a moment of incredible promise, a moment of being found in the presence of God, in peace that may be completely unfamiliar – but yet is home.

A little further down the section, Luther emphasised this again,

22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

This prayer, this desire for mercy needs to be seen as a treasure, not because of the words we say, but because of the words said to us in love.  That changes our plea from one of desperation, to one of expectation, as the glory of God surrounds us, and we dind His love is still deeper, higher, broader and wider than we could have ever thought.

This is our God. We are His….gloriously his. 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 458–459). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Confronting Spiritual Apathy & Indifference


Discussion Thought fo the Day: 

1  So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. 2  For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4  And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.
Hebrews 2:1-4 (NLT)

1
 God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it.
Hebrews 4:1 (NLT)

67 Surely it is a sin and a shame that, when he tenderly and faithfully summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, we act so distantly toward it, neglecting it so long that we grow quite cold and callous and lose all desire and love for it.
68 We must never regard the Sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it?  (1) 

Luther’s stance on communion here may be shocking to some.  To avoid the Lord’s Supper is simply sin, it is shameful!

I hope it is!  I hope it shocks us out of our lethargy, out of the apathetic attitude we have toward being the church, the lethargy that diminished our desire to be gathered around the altar of the Lord, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for us.

The very summons Luther notes, as Jesus draws us to Himself, as He summons us, and would dwell in us, and us in Him is the word used in Greek, which we translate into the word “church”. Ekklesia!!  Thos called out, those called together!  The people of God created in the work of Christ’s obedience in life and death, as we are cleansed and set apart into an incredible, intimate, wondrous relationship with God. A relationship beyond our ability to comprehend, as we dwell in His presence, and are promised His glory!

As church growth theorists and church planters and revitalizers study churches, the one thing that can’t be studied is the source for our life, this “being called”, this being the church.  We want the answers to why churches are in decline in America, we want answers to stem the tide, and the answer is simple….

Take and eat…

Take and drink…

Celebrate the union, the wedding of Christ and His bride, those called to Him, those drawn to Him by His love. Those who are united to His death and resurrection in the sacraments, especially the feast that celebrates the work, the offering being completed.

But the Church, since the days of the Enlightenment, since the days where rationalism has become the dominant philosophy, has set it aside.  We have lifted up the sermon higher than the reading of the gospel, nevermind the feast that is our foretaste of the Feast that will come when Christ returns.

We’ve neglected this salvation, of celebrating it, choosing instead to sit on the sidelines, describing it as if we were announcers at a sporting event.   We’ve neglected it, even as we justify celebrating it every other week or once a month, less it loses its meaning?   I even heard a man justify denying people men who would serve the people of God this precious blessing, because once people only were given the Lord’s Supper once every other month,  and they were very glad they got it that often!

If it is shameful and sin when we fail to celebrate this great salvation,  is it any less sin to not tremble with fear when we think of people who do not experience this relationship?  How much more should we tremble when we realize we have put man-made rules in place that prohibit and blocked people from experience Christ’s presence?

My friends, I leave you with this thought from Luther, describing the need of humanity for the Lord’s Supper,

72 If you are heavy-laden and feel your weakness, go joyfully to the sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort, and strength. (1) 

encourage others to go with you, for they have the same need, a need that will be met there in Christ. 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  Large Catechism: Fifth Part – The Sacrament of the Altar

The Hope and Healing I Need….You Do as Well!


DevotionalDiscussion thought of the day:
15  I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 17  Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (NAB)

But suppose you say, “What if I feel that I am unfit?” Answer: This also is my temptation, especially inherited from the old order under the pope when we tortured ourselves to become so perfectly pure that God might not find the least blemish in us. Because of this we became so timid that everyone was thrown into consternation, saying, “Alas, I am not worthy!”
56 Then nature and reason begin to contrast our unworthiness with this great and precious blessing, and it appears like a dark lantern in contrast to the bright sun, or as dung in contrast to jewels. Because nature and reason see this, such people refuse to go to the sacrament and wait until they become prepared, until one week passes into another and one half year into yet another.
57 If you choose to fix your eye on how good and pure you are, to work toward the time when nothing will prick your conscience, you will never go.
it continues…
61 People with such misgivings must learn that it is the highest wisdom to realize that this sacrament does not depend upon our worthiness. We are not baptized because we are worthy and holy, nor do we come to confession pure and without sin; on the contrary, we come as poor, miserable men, precisely because we are unworthy. The only exception is the person who desires no grace and absolution and has no intention to amend his life  (1)

The one thing that kept me going this week could be described with words from a sermon illustration of Tony Campolo, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s a comin!”   Except for me it was more like “It’s Saturday,Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, but Sunday’s a comin!”  It was a seriously rough week for me, not just physically, but spiritually. And my level of depression was significant, as I observed a depth of brokenness of the church, ( rather in the group of churches I am a member of)  I had not seen before, and I could do little about it.

Let me be honest, I had done what I constantly encourage others not to do, what I tell them often to remember.  That God is with you, that He is your refuge, your sanctuary, your peace.  At times I stopped looking forward to Sunday, stopped looking forward to sharing in, participating in the incredible blessing that nourishes us, that reminds us that nothing can separate us from Christ.

He has given us His Body, His precious blood, He has drawn us to the cross, that our dead, dried out bones can find life.  We have entered into a relationship with Him, where He binds Himself to us in the New Covenant. He doesn’t expect us to heal ourselves, nor does He expect us to be serene when we come to the altar, when we fall at  His feet. 

In a way, I suppose seeing the brokenness is a good thing, for it drives me back to the cross.  After this week, I cannot take my own righteousness for granted, nor that of the church.  We must seek the healing that we need, a healing that is found only in the presence of Christ, the one crucified so that our we could join Him in death and rise again with Him (see Romans 6 and Colossians 2)

And so I look forward to that point, 24 hours from now, when I will hear the people I shepherd utter those incredible words, “and also with you”. (for my RCC friends – and with your Spirit) and I will taste and know the goodness of the Lord.

He is our hope, our refuge, our healing, our ever-present help in times of brokenness.

LORD, HAVE MERCY!

 
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 453). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.(from the Large Catechism:Fifth Part: The Sacrament of the Altar)

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