Category Archives: Martin Luther

Sola Fide: The Reformation Cry…of a Broken Soul! A Sermon on John 8

church at communion 2Sola Fide!
The Reformation Cry of a Broken Soul!

John 8:31-36

In Jesus

 As God’s grace for us is revealed, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, may we find it easier to depend on Him completely, for we are His people and He is with us!  AMEN!

Not a Battle cry!

As we’ve approached the 500th anniversary of Luther inviting people to discuss problems in the church, I have become more and more upset by what I’ve seen.  I’ve seen some extremism creep in, as some have label Leather not a reformer, but a revolutionary.  I’ve seen that said negatively by some, and some say the same thing with great pride as if we were celebrating something akin to the 4th of July.

As if Sola Fide (Faith alone) was a battle cry, a chant to get behind as we took on an evil enemy, and triumphed by the power of our will.   For some Protestants, the 500th anniversary has become a chance for our touchdown dance.  For some Catholics, we are still the impertinent upstarts who want to destroy the church for whom Christ has died.

But Sola Fide wasn’t a battle cry at first.

It was the cry of a priest named Fr. Martin, who had tried every way possible to be good enough for God, and yet remained broken and in great despair, tormented by the sin which had its talons buried deep into him, and wouldn’t let Him escape,

Until he listened to the words God spoke through the scriptures, the words of the mass, the worship service he led every day since his ordination, and found hope….

as he learned to depend, not on his on work, but on the work of Christ alone.

That is what Sola Fide, the great reformation cry of a broken soul means.

to depend on Christ, no other, to save us from our brokenness, the brokenness caused by sin.

That is why Sola Fide is a cry, a cry of a broken heart that has found hope, and will not let go of it.

The Brokenness of Those Who Trust in Rubbish

A couple of weeks ago, we heard that Paul tossed aside the rubbish he once depended on, what he thought proved he was a good man, what proved he was righteous, godly, holy.

We see that attitude in the people Jesus was talking to today.  They claimed they didn’t’ need to be free from the sin, and the rubbish that they counted on to show them good enough for God.

We were never slaves!

They didn’t remember their own history that well, for scripture tells us these children of Abraham were enslaved by Egypt, (see Exodus), by Midian various Philistine groups (see Judges and the Books of Samuel), by Assyria and Babylon (see the Books of Kings, Chronicles, and the prophets) and eventually by Greece ( see Maccabees) and then, even in Jesus day, hey were the subjects, the slaves of Rome and Caesar.

But nah, they weren’t slaves.

Can you imagine someone who said they don’t struggle with sin at all?  Or worse, that they never sin anymore?

That’s what we are claiming when we say we are good people, or when we say that person or this person is so good, surely they will get to heaven.  When we say that – we are exactly like the people Jesus encountered, the people who thought they were okay with God, that their sin was insignificant.

The True Burden

In the Luther movie we watched last week, Luther’s mentor Staupitz confronted Luther, saying that of all the monks, his confessions were the least interesting!  They were boring because none of the sins were interesting.

Yet Luther felt all too well the distance those sins led him from God.  He despaired of the brokenness.  A book I am reading on his life gave a little more detail. One of those times of private confession lasted over 5 hours, as Luther tried to account for every sin he committed in the last week.  He walked away from that confession convinced that he wasn’t sorry enough, that he missed sins that wouldn’t be forgiven.

I get that.  Part of me doesn’t want to look upon my own sin.  I want to excuse it, find justifications for it, dismiss it as not as serious as it is.  But when I am thinking seriously about my sin, for example when I am up here, and we have those brief moments of confessing, there are times I wonder why God has me up here, heck why He even let me in this place.

Like Luther, it would be easy to sink into despair, to believe that God wouldn’t accept someone a sinner like us.

How I wish we could take sin that seriously, for only one reason.

If we did, how much more would we be overwhelmed by the knowledge that He comes to us, picks us up, forgives of our sin and cleanses us of our unrighteousness.

Then we would know how much God loves us, as He embraces us, prodigals still smelling like the “rubbish” and pig slop we lived in, as He calls for us to be dressed in the best robes. As he tells everyone, my child is home.

hear again Jesus.

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I’m going to rephrase that a little, for clarity

“You are truly my disciples if you depend on my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The Freedom!

Jesus, the Son of God came for one purpose, to free you and I, and every other person from the power of sin.  Jesus dying on cross shattered the hold it has on us. His resurrection comforts us, as the promise is clearly seen.

You are free of that sin, you are cleansed of that unrighteousness,

Depend on that as you approach the altar, confidently as the Book of Hebrews tells us to do, knowing we are in the presence of God who loves us.

Depend on Jesus, trust in Jesus, believe in Jesus, for He alone is our Savior, our Lord, who brings us home to the Father.

And as you cry out, aware of your need, don’t be surprised that knowing He is God brings you peace that passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen!

The Lord Is With You… Even there!!! (A particularly powerful parable)

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Devotional Thought for our days:

5  God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6  And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7  Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.  Galatians 4:5-7 (NLT)

14  Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15  Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin. 16  Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)

80      If you are a good son of God, in the same way that a little child needs to be assured of the presence of his parents when he gets up in the morning or goes to bed at night, your first and last thought each day will be for Him.

Luther saw in this the very essence of Christian theology. God reached down not halfway to meet us in our vileness but all the way down, to the foul dregs of our broken humanity. And this holy and loving God dared to touch our lifeless and rotting essence and in doing so underscored that this is the truth about us. In fact, we are not sick and in need of healing. We are dead and in need of resurrecting. We are not dusty and in need of a good dusting; we are fatally befouled with death and fatally toxic filth and require total redemption. If we do not recognize that we need eternal life from the hand of God, we remain in our sins and are eternally dead. So because God respects us, he can reach us only if we are honest about our condition. So it fit well with Luther’s thinking that if God were to bestow upon him— the unworthy sinner Luther— such a divine blessing, it must needs be done as he sat grunting in the “cloaca.”

It is not what we think of as a holy place, yet it was.

A man who suffered incredibly from guilt and shame, whose anxiety nearly paralyzed him, when it wasn’t driving him mad. 

And he finally had that aha moment while sitting on a toilet. During a particularly hard bowel movement. 

Seriously? Yeah, seriously.  

In a way, it is the perfect parallel physically to what needs to happen to us spiritually.  We might call it thus, “The Kingdom of God is like a good laxative!  We need to get rid of all the crap in our lives, the sin which binds us up!  We try to eliminate the sin’s stench by trying to legitimize our behavior, to justify or excuse it.  We do all things these, and all they do is cause us pain, and grief, and more foul air.  And when God comes to us, all that crap is eliminated. 

We need God to meet us there! And that is what Luther realized God would do, a God who loves His children so much that He will meet us even there. A God who would answer the cry of a child in pain,  a God who would be there for us, no matter what we are dealing with in life.  A God who knows the crap we’ve been messing around in, and loves us enough to set aside the stench and do what needed to be done.

As we realize this, how it changes us!  How it reforms us and the way that we look at life!  How it draws us to Him, to adore Him,, to love Him, to worship Him, even as we run to Him with confidence, assured that he can take care for the crap we cannot deal with by our own reason or strength.

This is our God, cry out to Him in confidence!  Lord have mercy on me! 

And assured of His love and grace, know the relief, the peace that His presence brings!  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 498-500). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (p. 97). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Do We Still Hear Jesus As We Walk With Him?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. 3 The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven.  Heb 1:2-3 NCV

I conversed recently with a pastor who was agonizing over the conflict between his head and heart. Even though this person is a well-trained seminary graduate with an appetite to know and teach the Scripture and has a comprehensive view of the Bible, his heart feels empty and dry. “I’ve even attended to the disciplines of spirituality,” he said, “but they don’t do anything for me. I can’t seem to feel what my head knows.”
Eventually this pastor put his finger on the real problem. “I’ve done everything I can to make myself spiritual,” he said, “but nothing seems to work.”…. (a couple of great paragraphs then this critical one:)

I think this pastor and others like him have a hard time connecting head and heart and, as a result, experience the contradiction between what they know and what they feel for two reasons. First, they situate spirituality in something other than God’s embrace. Second, they look for spiritual nourishment outside of the church and its worship.

Martin Luther, in ch. 2 of his commentary on Galatians, says of this argument, “I believe that if believing Jews had observed the Law and circumcision on the condition which the apostles permitted, Judaism would still stand and that the whole world would have accepted the ceremonies of the Jews. But because they argued that the Law and circumcision were necessary for salvation and established their worship on this basis, God could not endure this and therefore He overturned the temple, the Law, the worship, and Jerusalem.”

To walk in hope is to walk next to Jesus in the darkest moments of the cross when things have no explanation and we do not know what is going to happen next.

With the exception of Pope Francis’s account, I could have quoted the entire readings I had today in the other selections. ( Maybe I am sill to put my words beside theirs – but I need to process these things in my own words, which is the real reason I write these words)

I know all too well the danger Luther speaks of, where we take our practices, the rituals and observances we practice and use them to justify our solution.  Hey, I go to church, therefore I am a Christian!  I study the Bible, I spend time in prayer, I even teach others.  That should get me the deluxe mansion in heaven right?  Or at least make sure I get in the door?

THat leads to the burnout that Webber talks about ( I highly recommend his book The DIvine Embrace – probably 50 times he put into words that which I struggle with experiencing, never mind describing!) in these two excerpts from a conversation with a fellow pastor.  I have been there as well – looking for ways to be more spiritual – pushing myself with devotions, punishing myself with the reading of Leviticus, trying to spend hours, (okay half hours) on my knees in prayer.  I know Paul’s misery in Romans 7, and what is worse – when I did do the things I longed to do, they didn’t sustain me, they didn’t make me stronger in my resistance to sin, they didn’t create in my a super preacher that everyone longed to come hear.

When we try to become spiritual on our own, we will fail, because spirituality isn’t the goal, it is a result, really a by-product of our walking with Jesus. Being spiritual is not about our behavior, it is about hearing His voice, of accompanying Him to the darkness of the cross, because there, our darkness is nailed to it, as we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. That is the point that Pope Francis makes, that Webber shares when he encourages his pastor-friend this,

I counseled this minister whose heart felt empty and dry to cease striving to be spiritual and see spirituality as a gift to contemplate. “Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”

This is why Luther could say that if the Jews didn’t count on following the law for the salvation, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t have taken it away from them. They mistook things that would help them see Jesus, things that could help them walk with Him, for that which proved they were okay with God.

And we do that today, all the time. That’s why some who observe us find our religion empty but still want to know Jesus. The Jesus we know, but try to impress.  We simply need to walk with Him, to delight in His role in our lives, to realize the work He is doing,

For He hears your cry of, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”

And I can tell for sure, His response is heard well in these words, “The Lord IS WITH YOU!”  Amen.

 

 

 

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

 

Christian, Are You This Courageous? Do you have this strength?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for our days:

10 “Stop fighting,” he says, “and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.” 11 The LORD Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our refuge.  Psalm 46:10-11  TEV

A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing; Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great. And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.

This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking through the history, and how it affects the Church today.  Not just my congregation, or my denomination, but the entire family of God’s children.  And what it means to reform.

For example, in my news feed, this morning was a great story of Pope Francis and liturgical reform. If I dare say, it is very Lutheran.  At the same time, there are those who are trying, with intent or ignorance, to divide the church further.  Not in the hope of reform, but in the desire to keep what they know pure.  And in the process, lose what Luther found the greatest comfort in, the love and mercy of God. 

Ninety percent of the time I hear Luther’s classic hymn quoted in green above, it is done with the power and energy of a military anthem.  Full crescendo Organs, loud brass, even clashing cymbals, as if it is a call to battle, something to unite the forces of good behind as we go to war.

Given that it is derived in part from Psalm 46, I am not sure that interpretation is valid.  It is not a mighty anthem, but a recognition that we are not that strong, that we need a refuge, that we cannot have confidence if we are dealing with Satan or the World.  I see Luther, inspired by the Psalm, writing this to a soft broken melody of one who knows despair, who is confused and hurt, and who is beginning to realize his hope is found in the one who was nailed to the cross, the Lord Jesus who is portrayed on the crucifix he sol tightly grasps. I see this as the resolution of a man who has searched for hope, finding it with his last gasp… the music of reeds and deep strings.. as the words are whispered out…. from broken, contrite spirits that are finding refuge… and rest.

We have to have the confidence to hide in CChrist we must depend on Jesus’ mercy and his patience and to seek and find refuge in Christ, who we are united to in our baptism.  

So stop fighting the world, stop striving against the powers of evil, (or those you just think are evil.) Have the courage, the confidence to trust in God.  He is dependable, He is the one who has the victory, and in Him…

we are safe.  we can rest.

TO do so takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength, to stay firmly planted in Jesus, despite every temptation to fight or flee.  It, in fact, takes far more to endure, to wait on Him.  Yet the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For the Spirit works through the church to remind us of this fact.

the Lord Almighty is with you, and God is your refuge.  AMEN!

Martin Luther – A Mighty Fortress is our God

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print

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The Most Needed of Ministries

Tau CrossDevotional Thought for the Day:

57 Then they shouted loudly and covered their ears and all ran at Stephen. 58 They took him out of the city and began to throw stones at him to kill him. And those who told lies against Stephen left their coats with a young man named Saul. 59 While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell on his knees and cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” After Stephen said this, he died.  Acts 7:57-69 NCV

This is the perpetual characteristic of the true church: it not only experiences suffering and is dishonored and held in contempt, but it also prays for those who afflict it and is gravely concerned about their perils.[i] 

It is a necessity that we are reminded that Spiritual Warfare is not battling against flesh and blood, rather, the flesh and blood is what we are called to do battle on behalf of, to help free them from what would keep them away from the gospel.

Yet so much of our literature, so much of our training, so much of our attitude is about defeating the person, bringing them to submission, We have so bought into a competitive lifestyle, that it impacts and drives our ministry.

If we are that competitive if we see our spiritual warfare as against those we differ with, how we will nourish the faith and desire we need to pray as Stephen did?

How will we learn to plead for those who do evil as Moses, Abraham, and Paul would?  How can we begin to imitate Christ, who asked the Father to forgive those who mocked, stripped, bet and tortured Him, even as He died to secure their freedom from sin?

We need to develop this characteristic that is found in Christ Jesus.  We need to develop it not just as a measure of our holiness, but for their sake. As Luther said, we need to be concerned about the perils that the people who oppose us will face, especially the peril that would come if they never find out about God’s love.

This may sound imprudent, or impossible,  It may seem that it is only for saints and the holiest of us, but holiness is not an inbred characteristic.  Nor is the patience and compassion that this kind of ministry requires. Which should give us the key to the ministry.  It isn’t about us being holy enough, it is about realizing the compassion and love of God show to us!  It about trusting in God’s promises more than we fear them, or are shamed by the contempt and dishonor they would throw at us,

It’s the result of walking with God, of sharing in His glory, of realizing the love we treasure would free them.

It would bring about reconciliation.

And when it happens, it is amazing to see, it is wonderful and incredible to see

And so needed.  It is our ministry, to walk with Jesus as He seeks and saves the lost.

Lord Jesus, help us love them as you love them. Help us desire that they would know you mercy, that they would experience your compassion and love, that they would find themselves sharing in your glory, as you claim them as your own. Lord, have mercy on us all.  AMEN!

[i] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 2. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

If You Are Part of the Church, It’s Time to Get to Work: A Call to Love and Service

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The church is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
11  It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. 12  He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13  And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. 14  Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent. 15  Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head. 16  Under his control, all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (TEV)

1         There are many Christians who are persuaded that the Redemption will be completed in all environments of the world, and that there have to be some souls—they do not know which ones—who will contribute to carrying it out with Christ. But they think it will take centuries, many centuries. It would be an eternity, if it were to take place at the rate of their self-giving. That was the way you yourself thought, until someone came to “wake you up”.

The first office, that of the ministry of the Word, therefore, is common to all Christians. This is clear, from what I have already said, and from 1 Pet. 2[:9], “You are a royal priesthood that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” I ask, who are these who are called out of darkness into marvelous light? Is it only the shorn and anointed masks? Is it not all Christians? And Peter not only gives them the right, but the command, to declare the wonderful deeds of God, which certainly is nothing else than to preach the Word of God. But some11 imagine a twofold priesthood, one spiritual and common to all, the other external and limited, and say that Peter here speaks of the spiritual one. But what is the function of this limited and external office? Is it not to declare the wonderful deeds of God? But this Peter enjoins on the spiritual and universal priesthood. In truth these blasphemers have another, external, ministry in which they declare, not the wonderful deeds of God, but their own and the pope’s impious deeds. So, as there is no other proclamation in the ministry of the Word than that which is common to all, that of the wonderful deed of God, so there is no other priesthood[i]

In the ancient creeds, the church is described as “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”   But how often do we look at what those words mean?

One, the church is a unit, a body, whose mind must be Christ’s mind.  Whose work, whether it is hands or feet, mouth or ears, eyes, whatever part, works based from HIs lead. (As we heard yesterday – He is the cornerstone of this body, to which all are joined and measured)

Holy, the church is to be holy, which means to be set apart for a special purpose, one that is sacred.  To be holy means to be embraced by God, and to embrace Him. To cry out for a deeper taste of which we see a small portion of in our salvation.  We are to walk (together) with God.

Catholic,  the church is to be the church of all people, in all places, throughout history.  When this was written there wasn’t the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the myriad of Protestant bodies out there, there was simply the people of God, united by Christ’s blood across georgraphy, across time.  We have a tendency in our fractured body to turn on ourselves, to devour those we think threaten us, rather than love and pray for each other.  We tend to cast those out who, like us, struggle in our faith.

Apostolic, the church seems to forget this, despite the words of Escriva and Luther.  Some want the pastors and priests to do all the work (and then only those on the front line on the mission field)  Others think that only the pastors and priests can do this work. Some don’t even bother with this, thinking that somehow, magically, the kingdom of God will grow into its fullness, without our growing into our fullness as those sent by God to change the world.

Not to make it heaven on earth, but to bring about the change that occurs as people know the love of God for them.  As they start to explore that love as the Holy Spirit transforms them.  This is the life of the church, not matter the label, no matter the location, no matter whether it is 20 people or 20,000. meeting together.

We have been sent by God, we have been given work to do, work that requires us to love people, not just on Sunday morning, but throughout the week. To love those who are friends and family, neighbors and co-workers,  enemies, adversaries and even those who are a pain in the ass.

No one retires from this, no exceptions, we are a holy priesthood.  This is our identiy as the people of God.

Time to wake up and serve those in need of God’s love.

But remember – God goes with you through it all!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 242-245). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

11 For example, Jerome Emser. WA 8, 247.

[i] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 40. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.

The Great Escape That is our Faith

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
13  Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.   1 Corinthians 10:13 (TEV)

As soon as you perceive that you are tempted, follow the example of children; when they see a wolf or a bear, they at once run to the arms of their father or mother, or at least they call out to them for help. It is the remedy which our Lord taught, when He said; “Pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). If you find, notwithstanding this, that the temptation still continues, or even increases, run in spirit to embrace the holy cross, as if you saw Jesus Christ crucified before you. Protest that you will never consent to the temptation, crave his help against it, and continue still to refuse your consent, as long as the temptation continues.
But in making these protestations and in refusing to consent, look not upon the temptation, but only on our Lord; for if you look upon the temptation, especially whilst it is strong, it may shake your courage. Divert your thoughts to some good and pious reflections, for good thoughts, when they occupy your heart, will chase away every evil temptation and suggestion.  (1)

 And this understanding is necessary for the church, so that it may know that God is daily at work in His world and embracing with His fatherly care especially those to whom He has given His Word, and He is defending them, watching over them, nourishing and freeing them from all dangers and troubles, and is unwilling to do anything which would take away anything good from those who seek the Lord, Ps. 34:10

Often times I hear the Bible passage above quoted in regards to the problems of life, that God doesn’t give us challenges that we can’t handle.  As if God wants us to take on the challenges using our own wisdom, our own strength of character, our own power.

But that is not what the passage is about, if we look at the verses that come before and after the passage.  It is a transition sentence, moving us from the sin of those in the Sinai with Moses, who grumbled and overlooked the care of God, and a powerful section about the communion we have with God, as we take and eat His Body, as we Drink His Blood that was shed.

It is the escape God provides, the way past temptation and sin that comes as we trust, as we depend on God to provide for us.  That is our way out, carried in the palm of His hands, carried through death and the cross, through the resurrection and life in the glory of God.

Depending on the truth we hear Martin Chemnitz states so well, that God is at work, and won’t take away anything good from those who look to Him.  It is what St Francis de Sales states as well, that our hope is found as we run to and embrace the cross, looking not at the temptation, but focusing on Jesus, on HIs presence, on HIs love, on HIs mercy.

This is our great escape – through Christ, from darkness to light, from guilt and shame into the very glory of God, from brokenness to being healed and life abundant in Christ. TO have the mindset of Christ, to focus in on the love of God our Father, to explore that love, as the Apostle Paul tells the church to, this is our safe place, our sanctuary, our refuge.

That is why the Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy! ) is such a powerful prayer, for it directs our hope to Christ, where it finds the proof that sustains it.

We must go back, and see where Paul finds that escape, in the communion of people and God.  In the sharing of the Eucharistic (the Blessing) Cup, in the Body of Christ which we share.  In that sacramental meal, we find ourselves so in the presence of God. This sacrament, this time of being with God, is so precious, so needed!

This is Christianity, our religious dependence and trust in God, the path of walking with Christ, being the place where the Spirit dwells, where the people of God are lifted up.

So look to Jesus my friends, and find the escape we all need. AMEN!

(1)  Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

It’s time to come home… coming to our senses about sin and the family of God

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:
17  Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. 18  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” ‘ 20  So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
Luke 15:17-20 (NAB)

985    You strayed from the way and did not return because you were ashamed. It would be more logical if you were ashamed not to return.

Why, Then, is the Law to Be Taught, and What is Its Legitimate Use?
I. That people might learn from the Law seriously to acknowledge both their manifold sins and the judgment of God against sins, namely that they are subject to divine wrath and the curse or eternal condemnation, unless they are set free through Christ, so that they thus turn themselves away from sins, fear the wrath of God, and seek the true physician who alone can heal our weaknesses. Ro 3:20; 4:15; 2 Co 3:6–9; Eze 18:30–31; Mt 9:12.
II. That the Law, written by the finger of God, might be for the reborn a sure norm and rule, showing which works God has prepared, in which He wants the reborn to walk and serve Him. Dt 12:32; Eze 20:19; Ro 13:8; Cl 2:20–23.

He came to his senses. We need to do the same. 

Growing up 40-45 years ago, there was a rule in our home, be back int he house before dark.  We lived on 3 hilly wooded acres in New Hampshire, and darkness fell fast, there was nothing like lingering twilight in the, once the sun went down, darkness descended, and it was a black darkness.  

More than once, I would leave too late to get home before darkness caught me.  Once i remember sitting in the small ancient cemetery (newest grave was 1810 or so) a half mile down the road, fearing what my arrival home would bring.  As a side note, I don’t recommend sitting in a dark cemetery with huge creaky oak trees blotting out the moonlight.

Car lights could be seen, and I feared each one would contain my parents, out searching for their young rebellious, disobedient son. After about an hour passed by, as the night was getting colder, desperation would force me to leave my refuge, and walk my huffy bicycle home. 

As I walked by my neighbors, looking in their windows, I wondered if they knew of my misadventure if my folks had checked with the Stobers and the Zahns.  Eventually, I tried to figure if I could sneak in, through the basement sliding glass door, or maybe through the studio or kitchen door.  But I made it home, and at first hugged, then scolded, then hugged again, I was finally safe, and the anxiety could fade away.

This is how we treat God, whether we’ve run far off, or whether we are hiding deep inside our own hearts as we sit in church on Sunday morning.  St Josemaria tells us our shame should have driven us home, desperately seeking refuge, rather than ensnared us and kept us anxious, cold, hungry and left…. outside, tormented, and scared what would happen when we finally arrived home. 

As a pastor, there is a need for me to teach people that the best place for them to be, when struggling with sin, is in the midst of God’s family.  There, mercy and peace is waiting.  Forgiveness and love will be manifest.  Chemnitz was correct, where the Law serves properly when it moves believers from remaining in sin to remember they are set free from sin by Jesus, and enables them to respond to that mercy and love.  That it shows them they can seek the healing of their hearts and souls, for this is why Jesus reaches out to them.

People need to know that church is a safe haven fro sinners, a place where they aren’t going to be condemned for being snared by sin, but where they will find peace, as others similarly wounded assist them, and help them depend on Jesus.  

This is the church, this is the Father’s home, where we find His compassion.

So come home, enter the warmth and light, and know love and peace…. it’s time.

And if you see me or anyone else hiding behind a tombstone, bring us home too.

For we all get caught in the darkness from time to time.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 2290). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition 
Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Do We Realize an Urgent Need in the Church?


(church at communion 2
(TEV)
Devotional Discussion Thought fo the Day:
1  I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3  striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4  one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NAB)

Not only by the reception of the sacrament but by the words associated with the sacrament the heart will be encouraged to believe and be quickened. For it is in the words that God promises the forgiveness of sins: “This is my body, given for you.” “This is the cup of the new covenant,” is the new promise, the promised righteousness, eternal life, “in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sin.”
Thus they obtain the forgiveness of sins not through any outward act but through the faith which is awakened by the word and the sign.
Also the people are to be taught that this sign has been instituted not only to awaken faith but also to instruct us in love, as St. Paul says in I Cor. 10[:17]: “It is one loaf and it is one body, for we all partake of the same loaf.” We are not to harbor envy and hatred, but each is to care for the other, to help the other with alms and every kind of service which God has commanded us.
This teaching shall be repeated often. For what else is it than dishonor of the body of Christ when we harbor envy and hate and want to show no love and yet want to be considered a part of the body of Christ

First of all, that the Last Supper of Jesus is recognized as the authentic occasion of the founding of the Church: Jesus bestows on his own this liturgy of his death and Resurrection and, in doing so, bestows on them also the feast of life. At the Last Supper he repeats the covenant of Mount Sinai—or better: what was there initiated only in signs becomes here the full reality—a union of blood and life between God and mankind. When we say this, it is clear that the Last Supper anticipates both Cross and Resurrection yet at the same time necessarily presumes them, for otherwise everything would be but an empty gesture. That is why the Fathers of the Church could say, in a very beautiful image, that the Church sprang from the open side of the Lord, from which there flowed blood and water. That is, in reality, only another way of formulating the thought I express when I say: the Last Supper is the beginning of the Church. For it always means that the Eucharist unites mankind not only with one another but with Christ and so constitutes humanity as the Church, thus giving, at the same time, the basic constitution of the Church: the Church lives in eucharistic communities

Some people are afraid of it, for they assume unity means compromise.

Some people are afraid of it because they know that such unity does mean change, and requires us to submit our will, our right to grievances, our resentment and even jealousy to God’s desire for His people. 

Some are simply afraid of it, no let’s be honest, we are afraid of “them.” Of those we’ve been taught to stand opposed to, even as we recognize that we confess the same creeds ( or if we are “anti-creedal – we cover the same ground in our faith statements.)

And yet, in the New Testament, there is a definite call for the church to be “one,” to be unified, to be about the ministry of reconciliation. It is part of Jesus prayer, where He asks the Father to bless us, that we would all be one.  It is a major them in the 2 letters to the Corinthians, and to the Galatians, it is obviously here in Ephesians, and the great passage in Philippians 2 describing in Christ’s ministry to us, is to urge us to unity, to submit our personal desires and even needs to serve those who need it.

Even our enemies, even those we are afraid of, even those who cause anxiety. 

This kind of unity is not worked out in theological dialogues, or debates.  It is not fostered by blogs and vlogs and podcasts.  In fact, those monologs, even ones like this urging unity, don’t foster the unity. 

That is done in the sacraments, where God shows unity not only to be possible, but to be created.  Some will hopefully wet our appetite for such a unity, while I fear far more urge greater division, greater separation because of a false understanding of holiness and purity. 

In our mutual baptism, we are each joined to Christ.  Where we are so united, we share in His death, and in the resurrection.  But even as we individually are drawn to Him, and find that He has united us to Himself, we find we are united together.

We also see it as we kneel and commune, as we share in the body and blood of Jesus together. Where each of us is reminded we are part of the covenant, and we commune with the Body and Blood of Jesus, together.  Here are the words of St. Paul on this,

16  The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. 17  Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (TEV)

It is in these things where we not only encounter God, but are joined to them that we find we are joined.  Where the urgency that Paul observes finds not only hope, but the reality of what it means to be “one, holy (pure/set apart), catholic (universal – there is only one) and apostolic ( the church with a mission, a church that is sent into the word) Church.

A mission that is seen as people look at His church, His people and say, “see what love they have for each other!” and thereby are drawn to Jesus.  AMEN!

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 40. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

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.

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