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Show Me the… Works?

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

18  But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” James 2:18 (TEV)

Since faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must also produce spiritual impulses in our hearts. What these impulses are, the prophet shows when he says (Jer. 31:33), “I will put my law upon their hearts.” After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses.

Even more upsetting, the devil can take your best works and reduce them to such dishonorable and worthless things and render them so damnable before your conscience that your sins scare you less than your best good works. In fact, you wish you had committed grievous sins rather than done such good works. Thus, the devil causes you to deny these works, as if they were not done through God, so that you commit blasphemy.

That is why it is important to learn and practice all one’s life long, from childhood on, to think with God, to feel with God, to will with God, so that love will follow and will become the keynote of my life. When that occurs, love of neighbor will follow as a matter of course. For if the keynote of my life is love, then I, in my turn, will react to those whom God places on my path only with a Yes of acceptance, with trust, with approval, and with love.

In the movie Jerry MaGuire, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character lashes out Tom Cruise’s character with the phrase, “show me the money!” Except it is not about money. It is a plea for Tom’s character Jerry to show how important the relationship is, that it isn’t just about the money that can be made from negotiating a deal.

Inside the Christian faith, our actions often speak louder than our words. They testify as to whether the words we say are true, or whether we are those who call out “Lord! Lord!” and yet don’t have a solid relationship with the Lord, in fact,t hey don’t have a relationship at all.

It is not about our works, it is not about the obedience, it is about the relationship. Works simply testify that the relationship exists. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, we think with God, we feel with God, and love follows as a matter of course! That love causes action, it creates the work, but the work is never apart from the presence of God.

We know we aren’t saved by works (the Lutheran phrase based on Ephesian 2:8-10) and there is nothing we do that merits salvation, it all depend on the grace of God which precedes anything (which is the way the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent put it in Session Vi chapter V)) Yet the faith that depends on God for salvation will result in praise and worship – the latter being what we do with out lives.

Luther’s concern in the green text above must be heard, if we are to understand his version of “Faith Alone.” He isn’t denying the believer can do good works, or encouraging them to not even bother with the idea. Our good works, done in communion with Jesus Christ, are to be encouraged, extolled, and the glory given to God, whose light we are simply reflecting by those works. An attitude that denied this, that caused us to view the our good works with disdain Luther considered influenced by Satan!

As the Apology to the Augsburg Confession puts it, these works are the result of the impulses the Holy Spirit puts on our hearts. This doesn’t sound like we are denying that the Christian can do good works, does it?

And that is the point we need to clarify, that we need not be afraid of trying to do something the Holy Spirit is driving us towards. It my be simple, like holding the hand of someone struggling with old age and being feeble. It may be sitting and reading the catechism with a child, helping them to know God’s love. It could be something different, like heading to Africa or Asia on a mission trip. It could be… well, you fill in the blank. What is God calling you to do?

Then do it, and we can both rejoice in the faithfulness of God, who is close enough to you to put that idea on your heart, and give you the desire and ability to see it through! AMEN!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 124.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Spirituality, ed. Philip D. W. Krey, Bernard McGinn, and Peter D. S. Krey, trans. Peter D. S. Krey and Philip D. W. Krey, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 212–213.

Joseph Ratzinger, 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), 276.

Faith in Action IV – Come Close

church at communion 2Faith in Action:  Comes Close
James 3:13-4:10

IHS

 May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ draw you closer to them, and overwhelm you with love and peace, as you help draws others in!

Divided Loyalties

Have you ever been caught between two friends who are fighting?  Both whom want you attention, who want you to be on their side?

What if one has been a longer friend, who you have had a lot of fun with over decades, and the other, while a close friend, is somewhat newer?

But what if this newer friend is the one who is right?

That is the picture we see in the apostle James’s letter this morning.  Even as he urges us to draw close to God, he recognizes the draw of the world on us,

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world

This divided loyalty is something that creates trauma, that causes us more problems, yet the hold of the world on us is so strong, even though we know how broken it is.

It so challenges the relationship we have with God, it so prevents our drawing close to God!

The Struggle with Zeal….

James talks about the world’s ways using primarily two thoughts in this passage.  Bitter Jealousy and ambition.

Bitter Jealousy is described as sour, or poisoned zeal, a desire to chase after something for the pleasure it brings. The second problem is related to it, the ambition that drives us to get what we want because we want it.  It is a word that is used to describe mercenaries, those who do what they do only for the rewards that they will receive.

Not for love, not out of honor.  Just for what they get out of it.

No wonder James calls such things worldly, unspiritual and even demonic.

He even notes this self-centeredness can influence our prayers when we pray for what will give us pleasure, what we want and desire.  As our desire grows, we find ourselves justifying what we do to get what we desire, eventually we don’t even consider the cost.

For what we desire demands our loyalty, and we find ourselves involved in a war….

And remember, James isn’t writing this to heathen unbelievers, he is writing it to believers, those struggling to live life in a broken world, torn between God and that world.

He is talking to us.

And we struggle with being caught between the world and God all the time if we admit it.  It isn’t just about pleasure, it can be about seeking comfort, or security, or happiness, when those things are more important to us that God, or other humans.

We see this all the time in the lives of others, especially those who think different than us, as we oppose them, not interested in justice as much as being right.

So how do we break free of the grasp the world has on us?  How do we break free of the sin that so easily ensnares us?

The Healing Humility found before God

I think most would suggest that James is teaching that the hope is found in the humility that he mentions a few times in this passage. Particularly these two places
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes

13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom

And

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you.

Yet in both these statements, humility comes not from our work outside of God’s presence, in the first it comes from understanding God’s ways, and in the second place, it comes as you are before God, as you are drawn close to Him.

This is where our hope is found, this is where the power of sin, driven by our desire for what we want is broken.

For it is when we experience the love of God, that real humility comes into play, as we stand in His glorious, wonderful presence. When we realize He loves us, that is when all else falls away, and we simply and humbly find that with Him, we can dwell in His merciful, loving peace.

For what else is there, standing in front of God, but realizing His love and peace?

Prodigals Lifted up!

It is from there, simply in awe of His love, that God’s will makes sense.  His desire that we would love each other, and even those who drive us crazy.  It is there we can see the needs of those around us and find ourselves responding to them way before we respond to our own wants and desires.

It’s that kind of thing I saw in the eyes of one man this week, whom the church provided a stack of gift cards for, who was amazed that we would care for him, and his family.

That is what happens when our loyalties are less divided when we give up being prodigals and come to the altar, when we come home. As God sees us before Him, in awe of His love, humbled to be in His glory… and He lifts us up as He gathers His children to His side.

As we wait for that day, I pray you come closer and closer to God, as you realize that you dwell in His peace, the peace that is beyond explanation, as He guards our hearts and minds!  AMEN!

There is More to Salvation than Justification

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.     Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8  This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone.    Titus 3:4-8 (NLT)

Article VI: Of New Obedience Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.  ( The Augsburg Confession:  The Chief Articles of the Fatih)

For all of this, I must thank Him, praise Him, serve Him and obey Him. Yes, this is true!
Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained, Under: “Part Two: The Creed”.

In these days following Easter, as we move towards Pentecost, the readings in my devotionals, and the assigned readings for church describe a major shift in the lives of those who trust in God. They don’t change; they are changed.  They aren’t simply justified by faith, as if that is the end of their salvation, they are also sanctified, set apart in a holy relationship, described as the New Covenant between God and His people.

I think as a church we do a disservice.  At the time of the Reformation, Lutheran and some Reformed churches has a balance between Justification and Sanctification.  While we were absolute that nothing we do merits our salvation, that there is nothing we do to justify ourselves before God, there was a change that He did to us.

In the green and blue quotes above, from the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism, this change is made clear and absolute.  It is necessary to do good works,  and We must thank, praise, serve and obey Him.  There is no option allowed in those words

Change happens. Change will happen. We are not saved by faith alone as if that is all that salvation is; it is to misrepresent Luther and the rest of the evangelical Catholic reformers to indicate that is so.   They knew what would happen to us in the relationship we have with God; the New Covenant spells it out, as clearly as it spells out the assurance of Christ’s work in redeeming us.

So how does this work?  How much effort will it take to change?  How mandatory is it?

Regarding mandatory, I think Luther and Melanchthon and the words necessary and must make it clear from Lutheran theology.  The quote from ROmans 12,  Paul pleads with people to let God work this our lives, just to give ourselves into His hands (which is where we belong anyway!) and let the Spirit mold us, working through us.

Paul will also tell Timothy to keep teaching about God’s work transforming us, and the Spirit overwhelming us, for that will result in our devoting ourselves to doing good.  That is the key to this, our grasping, not just with our mind but with heart, sou, mind and strength what it means to be in Christ, to have the Spirit dwell within us.

As we pray, as we learn, as God reveals Himself to us, in us, He transforms us.  We become His masterpiece, a divine work of art.  This is the promise God makes to us in His word.

So it makes no sense to argue about works or to call those who teach what God is doing pietists.  Some need to be corrected gently, that they realize the change is made in us, rather than we make the change.  Often we aren’t even aware of it, as the sheep in Matthew 25 were unaware when they ministered to Jesus.  Love and ministry become more natural, more of what needs to be done.  The sacraments become dearer, these active, covenant renewal moments, when the grace of God promised is delivered, whetting our appetite for the feast when all become completely transformed when all are welcomed home into the presence of our Father.

Look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, look to Him as the Holy Spirit transforms you from glory to glory, Look to Him, know HIs love, hear His promises, and let His word direct your thoughts words and actions.  And if you fall, confess it, let His absolving cleanse your heart, and continue to journey with the God, who loves you.

AMEN

 

 

We pray and plead with you…”Do You Job!”

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
3  For we remember before our God and Father how you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (TEV)

9  The servant does not deserve thanks for obeying orders, does he? 10  It is the same with you; when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty.’Luke 17:9-10 (TEV)

12 We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory.(1 Th 2:12 NLT)

92         Every Christian has the duty to bring peace and joy to his own surroundings on earth. This cheerful crusade of manliness will move even shrivelled or rotten hearts, and raise them to God.  (1)

“Do your job”  – Bill Belichick

This week a couple of Patriots players commented that their coach rarely compliments people, and that when he does, it really really means something to them.  It’s not just someone trying to be nice, or trying to motivate them, the praise is sincere and they are worthy of it.  They might not even think what they did was that noteworthy, but Coach noticed it.  Often it is just that they obeyed his instructions to “Do your job.”

Some people make a big deal of living a life in tune with Jesus, reflecting his love  Some will argue that such is a mandate, that we aren’t saved unless we reach that level of perfection.  Others will point out that it is wrong to tie works to salvation, works to being required to have faith.  They are so afraid that people would think they saved themselves that to teach anything as what we should do puts them into a frenzied panic.

Yet we don’t see that in the writings of St. Paul to the churches, especially this church in Thessalonika. We see a prayer that encourages and applauds living life in harmony with Jesus.  We see Paul plead with people freed from the Old Covenant Law to live a life in a manner consistent with what God created and recreated them to be. It is the understanding St. Josemaria had when he talked of our joy and peace transforming even the most shrivelled of hearts.

It is simply what we do.  It is a response to God asking us to “do our job.”

Do what you are created to do.  It’s not miraculous, though it requires a supernatural dependence on the mercy of God.  It is not special, it is just ordinary.  It is serving, ministering to the needs of those God puts in our path.  And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more it becomes, unnoticed.  It is just our life, and we encounter it with the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life!  

This is the life described in Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12-14.  A life lived, affected deeply, far more than just consciously by God’s work in our baptism, and in those times where we commune with Jesus’ Body and Blood.   When we are in awe of His love and His presence, when the Spirit has us focusing on Him, there is a mystical transformation that occurs, as God conforms us into His image.

And so we pray, and plead with you, do your job, confident that God will work in you, even as He planned.

So go, “do your job!”

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 599-601). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Conversion of Faith and The Transformation of Our Works

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day
18  But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” 19  Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe—and tremble with fear. 20  You fool! Do you want to be shown that faith without actions is useless? 21  How was our ancestor Abraham put right with God? It was through his actions, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. 22  Can’t you see? His faith and his actions worked together; his faith was made perfect through his actions. James 2:18-22 (TEV)

10 For, as Luther writes in his Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, “Faith is a divine work in us that transforms us and begets us anew from God, kills the Old Adam, makes us entirely different people in heart, spirit, mind, and all our powers, and brings the Holy Spirit with it. Oh, faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, so that it is impossible for it not to be constantly doing what is good.
11 Likewise, faith does not ask if good works are to be done, but before one can ask, faith has already done them and is constantly active.

This conversion must be taken as an initial one, yet sufficient to make a man realize that he has been snatched away from sin and led into the mystery of God’s love, who called him to enter into a personal relationship with Him in Christ. For, by the workings of divine grace, the new convert sets out on a spiritual journey, by means of which, already sharing through faith in the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, he passes from the old man to the new one, perfected in Christ (cf. Col. 3:5–10; Eph. 4:20–24). This bringing with it a progressive change of outlook and morals, must become evident with its social consequences, and must be gradually developed during the time of the catechumenate

It is seen to be one of the most divisive arguments in the history of the church, and it has been since the days of the Apostles.

It was one of the core issues that resulted in the Reformation, and in the Counter-reformation.  It is more than semantics, yet there is a part of the argument that I am not sure is always necessary.

For what God has put together, we cannot divide.

The quote in Green above is from the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord.  A document that is part of the confessions of the Lutheran Church. The underlined verse is clear. One who has been given life by the Holy Spirit, converted from death to life, does work.  They are not optional, even as they are not always willed.  They occur in the nature of the one who depends, who trusts, who has faith in Christ. They occur just like breath in a mammal; they are life. This is not debatable, it is not an option.Faith cannot be separated from works.  So confident were the early Lutheran scholars that they followed that quote with this.

Whoever does not perform such good works is a faithless man, blindly tapping around in search of faith and good works without knowing what either faith or good works are, and in the meantime he chatters and jabbers a great deal about faith and good works.

That doesn’t quite sound like works are non-essential to the Christian life, but then scripture doesn’t claim that either.

This is the journey that the quote from Vatican II’s Ad Gentes (the mission of the church) discusses.  The works, affected, no transformed by the Holy Spirit, cause a change in how we view life and the world, and the moral system by which we live in that world.  Again, it notes that while works are not the cause of conversion, conversion results in the journey being taken, and Spiritual growth occurring as a matter of the life of the believer.

This is of course what James is talking about, and the pattern of Paul’s letters.  The need for conversion, God converting, quickening bring us to life as we are united to Jesus, and then the impact of that on our lives.  An impact the empowered, guided and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, as it works in the community of believers.  And good works become as undeniable as the breath we breath.

My we rejoice as God works in the lives of His people, as the Holy Spirit empowers us to do and will what brings joy to our heavenly Father!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 552–553). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

On Monday, Will Our Work Reveal our Love?

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day

2  We always thank God for you all and always mention you in our prayers. 3  For we remember before our God and Father how you put your faith into practice, how your love made you work so hard, and how your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ is firm. 4  Our friends, we know that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 (TEV)

There are also statements about Thanksgiving, like the beautiful statement of Cyprian about the godly communicant, “Piety distinguishes between what is given and what is forgiven, and it gives thanks to the Giver of such a generous blessing,”4 That is, piety looks at what is given and what is forgiven; it compares the greatness of God’s blessings with the greatness of our ills, our sin and our death; and it gives thanks.”

It is part of the greeting of the letter, the opening words before Paul gets to the “serious” matters which caused him to write to the church in Thessalonika.  Maybe that is why we rush by them and don’t really hear what Paul is saying to the people of God.

I was asked by a friend if I had ever written on these three verses, any devotion, and as I looked at them, I realized their significance.   What Paul has seen revealed in these people, as he considers what drives them, why they work so diligently.

Work that was done work that the people put themselves into, not just a little, but with everything they were.

Not because the law said they had to, not our of a sense of obligation, or even pious obedience.

They did their work, and they put their faith into practice because of love.   Love is what drove them to do what they did, to serve and make visible that they were slaves, not of their own passions, but yoked with Christ to the passion of the Father.   A love born out because we see the incredible way in which God loves us, the love seen as we contemplate His work, His mercy, His forgiveness and His love for us.

A love that is born out of the hope given to us, as Jesus in revealed in our lives.  As the Holy Spirit testifies that the Father loves us and chose us to be His kids.  What an incredible thing!  We are God’s; He loves us!  Because of Christ’s promised work in our lives we have hope!

Knowing this strips away from us the anxieties, the fears, the sense of failure, freeing us to look on one another and love each other, not just with words, but with careful thought and action.  Christ’s presence in our lives causes us to replicate His love for us, as we love each other.  (Other being every member of humanity)  We see them as He sees us, broken and in need of healing, but still the people God desires to call His own.

And so we work, diligently, not for a reward, not because we have to, but because we have been loved…. and it has changed. us.

May others see in us, what Paul saw in the people of God who were gathered in Thessaloniki.  Seeing our faith put into practice, the love that makes us work so hard, and the hope we have is Jesus, may they come to glorify the Father as well.

Amen!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 263). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.


An Advent Lesson: The Desperate Need for Spiritual Growth

Devotional Thought of the Day:

18  Write down for the coming generation what the LORD has done, so that people not yet boFeatured imagern will praise him. Psalm 102:18 (TEV)

1  That is why we must hold on all the more firmly to the truths we have heard, so that we will not be carried away. 2  The message given to our ancestors by the angels was shown to be true, and those who did not follow it or obey it received the punishment they deserved. 3  How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation? The Lord himself first announced this salvation, and those who heard him proved to us that it is true. Hebrews 2:1-3 (TEV)

16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

136 Therefore we also hold that the keeping of the law should begin in us and increase more and more. But we mean to include both elements, namely, the inward spiritual impulses and the outward good works. Our opponents slanderously claim that we do not require good works, whereas we not only require them but show how they can be done.

450      You need interior life and doctrinal formation. Be demanding on yourself! As a Christian man or woman, you have to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, for you are obliged to give good example with holy shamelessness. The charity of Christ should compel you. Feeling and knowing yourself to be another Christ from the moment you told him that you would follow him, you must not separate yourself from your equals—your relatives, friends and colleagues—any more than you would separate salt from the food it is seasoning. Your interior life and your formation include the piety and the principles a child of God must have, to give flavour to everything by his active presence there. Ask the Lord that you may always be that good seasoning in the lives of others.  (1)

The Psalm that starts off this devotion has been ingraining itself into my brain for the last few days.

We’ve been given this great treasure, the gospel that we have been entrusted with, this promise of salvation, this revelation of the love of God.

Not heeding the warning in Hebrew, we neglect it.  Sometimes we avoid it, we don’t spend time reading it, we think that the church service on Sunday is enough, even though that 10-45 minutes sermon barely scratches the surface.  It is one of our greatest treasures, as it reveals that which should mean the absolute most in our lives, the love God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has for us.

Maybe we neglect it because we are to busy with theology, too busy doing ministry, to busy being evangelists (or at least pretending we are on-line)   We as pastors study it, but sometimes all it is, is studying it.  We don’t become part of it, and therefore our people do not as well.

The keeping/treasuring of the law that Melancthon speaks of, results in spiritual growth.  Growth in both the desire deep in our hearts and it becomes visible in our actions.  St Josemaria describes the same things as interior life and doctrinal formation. Of knowing we are with Christ, that in our baptism, that relationship that unity is there.  It may sound odd to be “another Christ”, but that is what we are, called into a relationship and sent into the world, appointed and yes anointed bearers of the Holy Spirit.

But missions, or our apostolates cannot happen without the relationship with God, without the time treasuring the height, depth, width and breadth of His love for us.  Without growing deeply, not by academic study or memorization for its own sake., but by learning by exploration of His love, walking with Him, losing ourselves in the relationship so that our ministry is our lives.

This isn’t a Lutheran thing, or a Catholic thing.  I could add quotes from Wesley, from Spurgeon, from Lewis, from pentecostals and charismatics and baptists. I included them because of recent conversations.

We need to grow, and the way we do it, is not by exercising the body or mind, but the heart.  By learning of God’s promises  and faithfulness, of experiencing His love.  That very love causes a hunger, a desire, and an appreciation for the very means of grace.

this is what it means to be a disciple – and it is what we need to be doing as His body.

Godspeed!

(1)   Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 126). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1722-1730). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It isn’t Faith or Works…. or Faith versus Works…

Devotional THought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

1  Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. 2  I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. 3  Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. 4  And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. 5  The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had: Philippians 2:1-5 (TEV)

1  So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)

18  All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)

 

 

Walther wrote: “Luther, you know, taught that good works do not save a person, but only faith, without good works. From this rejection of good work, papists draw the inference that Luther must have been a wicked man because he taught that to get to heaven, man should only believe and need not do any good works. However, that is by no means Luther’s doctrine. Luther taught the exact contrary. True, he did not say that, to be saved, a person must have faith and, in addition to that, good works, or love; but he did teach that those who would be saved must have a faith that produces love spontaneously and is fruitful in good works.  

The progressive identification of the soul with Jesus Christ, which is the essence of the Christian life, is carried out in a hidden way through the Sacraments.3 It also needs an effort from each one to correspond to grace: to know and love Our Lord, and to have the same dispositions as he had.4 The aim is to reproduce his life in our daily conduct, until we can exclaim with the Apostle: Vivo autem, iam non ego: vivit vero in me Christus,5 it is not I who live, it is Christ who lives in me.

I could have provided so many more quotations from scripture, so many more from Luther, Walther, Pieper or from Benedict XVI and Francis.

Recent Conversations on this topic exploded into my mind as I read the quote in blue this morning from the Introduction to the Forge, by Josemaria Escriva.  The day before I had found the quote in green from CFW Walther’s (first president of my denomination the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).

Yet despite such things there are people that argue that works have no place in the Christian life, since we cannot save ourselves by them,  Theospeak – they do not merit our salvation.  There are others who say unless we break our backs in proving our holiness, that there we cannot be saved.  The first want to reject works because they smack of pietism (that we are Pharisees if we insist on good works) , the latter want to reject faith because they see it being antinomial. ( that being free of God’s law means we can do whatever the h&ll we want!)

In both cases, these arguments nullify the work of God in our lives.  The first denies the work of God through the means of grace in sanctifying us, in His setting us apart to be His special people.  That in setting us apart, He is transforming us, that the Holy Spirit is changing our hearts and minds to reflect the nature of Christ. Such a change should be reflected, not only in our actions, but more importantly in our attitudes towards our neighbor, toward “those people”, toward the ones who are our adversaries, or just antagonize the hell out of us.

But the transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is done, as the quote from the Forge says, in a hidden way. As God comes to us, through the word and sacraments He takes up residence in us, He delivers the blessings promised, (see Ez, 36:25ff)  He strengthens our trust in Him – the trust which causes us to correspond to this work.  We begin to desire His heart, we begin to confess our sins, and receive absolution, we begin to desire the Lord’s Supper-the Eucharist more and more.

it is subtle, yet it requires much of us.  Sometimes we want to rebel, to correspond less, or even not at all.  It is then those very same sacraments, especially Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Confession and Absolution come into play even more.  For as Jeremiah learns during his rants against God, God’s love it to wonderful, God’s mercy is to extravagant, God’s presence cannot be denied. We are transforming.

So stop all the arguments trying to divide faith and works.  It is a division God doesn’t intend.  One isn’t just the result of the other, for that still puts the emphasis on us.  Both are the result of God coming to us, saving us, granting us faith and repentance and replacing hardened hearts and minds with the presence of the Holy Spirit.   A presence that is undeniable and that we desire more and more in our lives.

To Him be glory for ever and ever.

Amen!

(1)  Thesis X, Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, CFW Walther

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 138-143). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Are You Still Getting Paid for Sin?

Why Are You Still Being Paid…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
For the Wages of Sin?

In Jesus Name

May you know in the depths of your being, that incredible gift of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the freedom from sin, satan and the fear of death, and the gift of eternal life!

That’s it?

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you worked so hard you were physically and emotionally exhausted?  Where you were so tired you couldn’t get up to walk to the refrigerator to get something to drink?

When you finally got home, kissed your spouse, hugged your kids, patted the dog (at least you know you did those things, not sure which thing to whom! ) sat down and fell asleep?

And then, you wake up, realize your paycheck is still in your pocket, you open it up and wonder…. “that’s it?”

That’s all I get for breaking my back, for losing my hair over this job?

I ought to go look for another one.  There has got to be something better out there… something less exhausting, something with more of a reward, something that gives me some sense of satisfaction, some sense of life.

Now let’s say that you are offered the position of a lifetime, you are to replace the president of Microsoft, or Apple computers, or become the new head of the I.R.S.  Your salary won’t be 6 figures, it will be 8……. A 30 hour work week, and that includes your own staff that does your nails, combs your hair, flies you to Hawaii in your own personal jet….gets you front row tickets to the Spurs, Patriots and Red Sox games…

After taking a week to think it through, you aren’t sure, and so you ask for a month, and for some reason you still aren’t sure…..

Wait – why wouldn’t you take that job?

Well, my bet is that is what you are doing spiritually these days… because I know I am doing it too!  Matter of fact, that problem goes all the way back to St. Paul, and the church in Rome!

We have to stop collecting the wages of death, and allow God to give us life!

Why are still collecting death?

As we look at this passage of Romans, we see this point in each paragraph.

In verse 12 and 13, Paul begs us,

12  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
Romans 6:12-13 (ESV)

In verse 16 he Says,

16  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16 (ESV)

And in verse 21, Paul reminds US,

21  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
Romans 6:21 (ESV)

What don’t we understand about this?

Yet we freely give in to envy, to lust, to hatred, to gossip about each other, to selfishness.  We forget the needs fo those around us, and focus on our wants.  We even disregard what God says, choosing to think what we want, thinking what we know is right, doing what brings us momentary pleasure?

We should be receiving Holiness, Righteousness, the Ability to do the things that take us this way…

Paul has spent an entire chapter telling us to live so hindered, so in bondage to sin is unnecessary.  In the next two chapters, he will describe this war even more,  For he fights it as well.  Paul knows what it is, to do the things we know are sin, and do not want to do.  He knows the heartache of wanting to do what is right, but failing to do it, over and over.

He started by saying we died to the power of sin, and satan, and the fear of death in our Baptism, when we were united to Christ’s death and resurrection,  He will say in chapter 8, again referring to our being united to Christ, that there is no condemnation for those of us in Christ.

Here he says,

“present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” Romans 6:13 (ESV)

and

17  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18  and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. Romans 6:17-18 (ESV)

and

the free gift of God is eternal life….

You see, this justified, sanctified life that we have, isn’t by our power, it isnt’ lived by our strength.  It is found in dwelling in Christ, in realizing His work, in keeping our eyes on Him, and realizing He lives in us.  It is found in being quiet, and listening to the Holy Spirit.

It is realizing what happened to you in your baptism, what is given you at this altar, it is the reason we have joy and hope, the answer we have when others wonder why we can have hope, in the midst of this exhausting world.

It is the same power at work in us, when we look around us, and see the needs of others for Christ, and do everything we can, even more than we can, sacrificing to help them see Christ revealed in their lives.  That same power, as we are focused on Christ that enables us to serve the hurting, the broken, whether they don’t know Jesus yet, or whether they’ve known Him for 30 years, or 80.

For we all struggle, for we all do battle with sin, and all need to be re-focused on God’s work in our lives, as He counts us righteous, as He works through us, to see His greatest desire come pass, that all come to repentance, to realize that He is their delivered, their Lord.

As we realize that those who serve Christ, aren’t just counted as slaves, but as His friends, (John 15:15)  As we become adopted children of God the Father, co-heirs with Christ.

This is why we don’t continue to dwell as if we’ve earned death as our paycheck, as if we are still slaves, employed by the firm of Sin, Shame & Guilt LLP

Know my friends, that this is God’s plan for you, that you would see Christ. That would know Christ, that you would love Christ…..

And then look back, and see that God has used you, to bring to others, that incredible peace you know, the peace of God our Father, in which you dwell in Christ, your hearts and minds secure in Him.  AMEN?

 

Why Works are Necessary to Faith…?!?

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

22  But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23  For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24  You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25  But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. James 1:22-25 (NLT)

 1  Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2  Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Romans 6:1-2 (NLT)

8  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT)

 

 Another of the elders said:  When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered then he goes round and round, turning the mill wheel But if is eyes are uncovered he will not around the circle of the mill wheel.  So too, the devil if he manages to covered the eyes of a man can humiliate im in every sin.  But if that man’s eyes are not closed, he can easily escape the devil.  (From Celtic Prayer Book,, 6/18, Aiden Readings)

355 Sooner or later, those who do not wish to understand that the faith demands service to the Church and to souls, invert the terms, and end up by having the Church and souls serving their own personal ends.  (Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1642-1644). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

For centuries, the church has argued about what role we play in our lives as God’s people.  TO be honest, I find the arguments tiresome, and most of them end up with their own distortion of the truth.  Some would pit Paul against James, some, but looking at the above passages, there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference.  Some get it wrong by saying there is no work at all involved in faith, and they misquote passages like those that say all work is like filthy rags, or that all have fallen short of the glory of God.  In doing so, they forget the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer.  They forget the transforming work of God in our lives.  On the other side of the pendulum swing, there are those that say we must work to earn  our salvation – that unless we work alongside of God we aren’t saved.

Within the sphere of Lutheran Theology – some would deny that there is a “third use” of the law – that there is a line that we should adhere to, as those who trust in Jesus Christ.  They would say this is a violation of our understanding of the proper tension between law and gospel, forgetting that we don’t preach the uses, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that not only applies the uses, but as He transforms us, equips us with the charis to be used in service to others.

In this I really like the words from my devotional this morning, and our being portrayed as a bunch of stubborn oxen or jackasses. (which we pretty much are)  We just plod along, focused on what is before our eyes. If we are focused on Christ, we work, we do what we are led to do, we walk in faith and do that which God calls and chooses us to do.  We are led – and we do the things that we do… focused on Christ. (see 2 Cor. 3:16ff, Titus 3 etc)   Our service is about what we need, it isn’t about our glory, it isn’t about what others do, it is just what God calls us to do.  Heck, we might not even know it.

The other option is to remove the focus on Christ, to be overwhelmed by all the options for sin, to have the eyes blinded to Christ, but open to everything else. Then man believes everything is about his, about His pleasure, about His life.  Church becomes what is pleasure for him, rather than what is best.  That’s why we see pressure being put on the church to turn a blind eye to certain sins, like sex outside of marriage, or gossip, or any other self-centeredness and self idolatry.

But if our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the sin which ensnares us loses its grip – and we find ourselves being transformed by the Spirit.  This results in works which please God – a necessary by-product of faith.  Works don’t save us, they don’t produce faith or faithfulness, they are simply evidence of our trust in God.

So when the world is tempting you, when you are overwhelmed, remember your focus on Christ, encourage others to keep their eyes on Christ as well.

AMEN…

 

 

 

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