Thursday, 11 December 2014

Why does God forgive me?

Have you ever noticed that when people say "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me" (at least in public) they don't really mean it?  And before you think I'm talking about them - like all those people over there - I'm not.  I'm talking about you. 

Honestly, when you say "excuse me" to someone, do you really mean:  "I am at your mercy.  You could totally take issue with me.  You have every right, because I have done wrong.  Please, according to your graciousness, excuse me of this terrible thing that I've done, that I promise to never do again."

No, you don't. 

You probably mean something along the lines of "I didn't mean to do that.  Hopefully your not too offended by my inadvertent selfishness."

We've changed the meaning of the words, haven't we?  We don't really mean "excuse me".  We don't really consider ourselves under the judgment of the other person.  We expect them to politely return our social nicety, and nothing more.

The problem is that this starts to influence the way we look at forgiveness.  It makes us think we deserve it.  Like it is due to us because we've said the right thing, or followed the proper protocol.  Can you imagine what you would think if someone said, "I certainly will not excuse you.  I hold this on you"?  You'd probably think "HOW RUDE!" 

Now, put this whole forgiveness discussion into the relationship you have with God.  Do you think He changes the meaning of words for social niceness?  Do you think He views the process like its some sort of vending machine - put in the right words here and out pops forgiveness? "I'm sorry God.  I sinned.  Now where is my forgiveness?"

Of course not.

In fact, I'm going to say a deeply shocking thing.  You don't have a reason for God to forgive you.  You don't have a reason - so He sent One.  You don't have a reason - so He gave you One - and that reason is His Only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

God doesn't forgive you because you say I'm sorry.  He forgives you because of what Jesus did for you.  Because He died for you.  Because He rose for you. 

God doesn't forgive you because you deserve it - you don't.  He forgives you because that is who He is - a gracious God.  A giving, loving merciful Father that wants to rescue His children from their foolish rebellion.

So don't let people tell you, "You have to confess your sins or God won't forgive you."  That puts the focus on what you do - on your apology.  NO - God declares His forgiveness to you and that is what frees you up to agree!  You are right Lord.  I am a sinner, through and through - but You are merciful.  For the sake of Your Only Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  Forgive me, renew me and lead me, that I may delight in Your will and walk in your ways to the glory of Your holy Name.  Amen.

Don't let the world form the way you understand forgiveness, because your Lord offers it to you now, even before you ask.

Monday, 24 November 2014

What does it mean to be confessional?

My son does this hilarious thing.  Standing with both his mom and I, he will ask one of us a question.

"Mom, can we go to the park?"

When he receives the affirmative answer "Yes, we can," he immediately turns to the other parent (the one not speaking) and repeats the joyful news.  "Daddy, we are going to the park."  (As though I wasn't there for the whole thing.)

At first, this seemed a little silly to me.  But then I realized that this is the purest and simplest way of communicating.  He knows I had heard the news.  But he wanted to speak it.  He wanted to tell me.  He wanted to share in this goodness with me - put it in the air himself - say the same thing that the authority had said. 

This is what is means to be confessional.  To say the same thing.  To confess the good news.  To know that one believes in the heart and confesses with the mouth.  To hear God speak His Word and immediately speak it back to Him.  Christians know that God knows His own Word.  But we want to speak it.  We want to tell Him.  We want to share in His good Word with Him.  Put it in the air from our lips - say the same thing as our gracious heavenly Father.  No, its not the park we get to go to - its His heavenly kingdom.  But we cannot hold back from sharing this good news.

There is another part to this idea. 

Those who are confessional gather and speak/believe the same thing as others in their confession.  They do not worship with those who speak differently than them - that would be like my son getting excited about going to the park with someone who kept saying "We are not going to the park."  It would never happen.  He would quickly find someone else who could excitedly repeat with him "Yeah!  We are going to the park."

What does this mean?

There is a pure and simple way to faith in God's Word - confessing it.  Uniting with those who confess it with you, and sharing it with those around you (whether they confess with you or not).  We are going to the park - the eternal kingdom of our heavenly Father.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Do good people go to heaven?

The most common religious teaching in the world is this very notion:

Good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell.

But good according to who?  According to you?  According to what society thinks is good in 21st century North America?  Who is the judge that determines good and bad?

The Final Judgment is coming.  There will be a Day of Reckoning when all will be laid bare, when the hearts and minds and actions of all people will be exposed and judged.  And we will not be the ones determining what is good and what is bad.  God will.  The One who made us.  The One who placed the notion of right and wrong in our conscience and continually torments it with us.  Because the truth is - we are evil - all of us - we have not been good and we know it - we have not done the right thing - we wrestle inside about it - wouldn't a good person simply do good naturally?  Why the struggle?  Why the effort?

So we twist the rules, the expectations.  We figure God will not destroy all of us.  As long as we appear better than most of humanity, then we figure God will award us over the rest. 

But this is not the judgment.  The Word of God has already made its verdict upon us all.  And the verdict is guilty. 

"None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands,
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.
The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18)

We have so little fear for God's wrath that we fight against this verdict even though we know its true.  We know we don't understand.  We know we don't seek God unless it suits us.  We know we speak deception, that our mouth has uttered bitterness.  We know we get angry.  Yet we deny it all!

Good people go to heaven - but you are not one of them.

Yet this Judge is merciful.  He saw you in your guilt and took action to free you.  He sent His only Son into your flesh to suffer your verdict.  His Son, Jesus, was crucified in your place, taking your judgment upon Himself - that you might live.  Hear this.  Believe it, for He promises forgiveness, life and salvation to those who trust in Him.  You cannot earn this.  You do not deserve it.  Yet He gives it.  He did it for you.  He came from heaven so He could take you there.

There is only One who is Good.  Only One who goes to heaven - Jesus.  Yet you go too - in Him.  Trust in Him.  He is your life and your salvation.




Monday, 17 November 2014

What is Islam?

The events of the last couple of months have generated a lot of varied discussion on the religion of Islam.  But most of this attention and discussion has revealed that most people know very little about what it is about.

Lutheran Hour Ministries (Men's Network) put out a series of short videos a couple of years ago that help provide a basic look at the teachings and history of Islam.  Take a look by clicking the following link, you can pick and choose which videos you would like to view.

http://www.lhmmen.com/studyvideofull.asp?ID=11684&fid=1951&mode=

Monday, 3 November 2014

How do I keep the devil away?

It might be because you feel the pressure of temptation, or it might be because of something more intense, like you are being haunted.  But in either situation the same answer applies.

You don't keep the devil away - Jesus does.

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).  We are helpless against the Evil One.  We are powerless.  He will always overcome us if we try to defeat him on our own.  But that is why Christ comes.

Christ comes in His Word.  A Word He invites you to speak.  His Holy Name He invites you to speal.  His holy blood He invites you to invoke.  Spit God's Word at the devil.  Shout if you have to.  Say it outloud and believe every syllable.  Christ comes in His Word.

Christ comes in His holy washing.  If you are having trouble with evil thoughts, desires or temptations, dive in the cool waters of Baptism.  Remember the promise God made to you there and say it outloud.  The fiery darts of the Evil One must be extinguished by the wet promises of God in Baptism.  And if you are not baptized - GET BAPTIZED!  God wants to protect you with His holy washing, because Christ comes in His holy washing.

This may be a radical change of thinking for you.  You do not take on evil by yourself.  You don't even take on evil side by side with a teammate.  Jesus takes on evil in your place.  He takes it down by dying with it, crucifying it in His own body, ending its power against you.

And Jesus brings His protection - all the benefits of His death and resurrection - through His Word and Sacrament.  So when the devil comes around, speak God's Word, remember His promise made in baptism, trust all that He has said, for the devil cannot endure God's Word.

Monday, 27 October 2014

When is the devil preaching?

THE DEVIL?!?  Preaching?

Pop culture has made the devil out to be a red guy with horns and a pointy tail.  Always with a sneaky smile on his face.  Other parts of culture have taught that the devil wants/does bad things to you - and those bad things usually mean hurting your body or your pocketbook or your family.

But do these ideas come from Scripture?  What does God reveal about the Evil One?

The answer may surprise you - because he is not necessarily out to make life terrible for you, especially not in North America where our affluence has become our blindfold to God's Word.

In fact, the Bible describes Satan with these words - "accuser", "deceiver", "father of lies", "liar", "adversary", "enemy", "masquerading as an angel of light."   You have likely noticed that putting these descriptions together you do not have a cheesy, red suited guy with a sneaky smile.  Instead, you have an intelligent preacher of falsehood who appears righteous and beautiful.  He preaches.  He speaks lies.  That is how he works.  He doesn't want to make your physical life miserable, unless he can use it to shake your confidence in Christ, unless he can also get you to trust his fake words.

So when is the devil preaching?  How do you know it is the devil who is speaking his lies in your ear?

Well, this can be tricky, because he is so crafty.  He speaks through advertisements, politicians, news broadcasts, you name it - anytime words are being spoken in this world, they are either of God or they are of the devil.  (Even the idea that there is some sort of neutral ground, that is not influenced by God or the devil - is his deception).  He will even use God's Word to deceive you, by misinterpreting it, or emphasizing the wrong part of it over against another part.  Here is a list of characteristics in his preaching that you can be on the lookout for.

1) His words oppose God's Word.  Knowing God's Word is your certain defense against him.

2) His words focus you on glory.  Christ came for a cross - not glory - the devil hates this.

3) His words put the focus on you.  What you do - or what you don't do - the devil wants you focused on yourself - not Christ and what He does.

4) His words make promises for your life now.  Christ looked past the shame of this life to the joy that follows, and He calls Christians to do the same.  Any words that speak otherwise are of the devil.

5) His words create self-righteousness or despair.  Either you are a good person, or you have no hope - there is no middle ground - there is no Christ to save you.  This is what the devil preaches.

Certainly this list is not exhaustive, but it is a good start for you to be aware of.  St. Peter said, "Be soberminded.  Be watchful.  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around you like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith." 

In other words, your faith in God's Word protects you.  You resist the Evil One by holding to God's Word.  The devil wants to scare you into letting go of God's Word - perhaps he threatens you with being unpopular, or persecuted for your faith, or less successful than your peers - all of this is designed to make you release God's promises.  But you have the promise of Christ.  Christ defends you.  His Word is your fortress.  Run into His safety and fill your mind with His Word.  Read it, meditate on and speak it back to God - against this the devil has no move.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Why is God called the LORD of hosts?

Yahweh Sabaoth - LORD of hosts (in English)

You've probably heard this expression before, but have you ever wondered about what it means?

The hosts are armies.  Our God is a God surrounded by His armies.  Armies of angels.  Armies of believers.  Yahweh is in their midst.  He is the God who dwells with His people.

But there is something very unique about these armies - they don't carry any weapons!  WHAT!  No weapons!  Well, not exactly - none of their own.  The hosts, God's armies, are priests.  They serve Him day and night in His holy presence. 

But what if someone should attack?  Who will defend these defenseless priests - these people of God?

This is exactly what God wants people to ask - because He Himself is the warrior.  He Himself is the king, the fortress, the defense of His people.  His people don't have weapons because they don't need weapons.  God is their protection, their refuge, their strength, and He will always keep them safe.

Think about it.  This is the picture throughout the Old Testament.  God leads an unarmed mass of people out of powerful Egypt, and when Pharoah's army chases them, He drowns them.  Then He takes them into the Promised Land where the walls of Jericho just fall down.  Then is the period of the judges, where God's people have no standing army!!  And when an army is gathered by God's servant Gideon - God makes them cut their numbers to 300 when they are about to face 10,000.  Why?  Because at every turn, God wants one thing to be clear - He is the One who protects His people.  He fights for them.  He is the LORD of hosts, and His hosts are His treasured possession.  Nothing can harm them - not even death - because He has even destroyed death too.

Today, the LORD of hosts is still in the midst of His people.  He is surrounded by them when He serves them His body and blood, with which He fights off all their sin, death and the power of the devil.  Our liturgy even confesses this amazing truth in the Sanctus, right before we commune - Holy, Holy, Holy LORD God of Sabaoth - (hosts) - Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.  Hosanna in the Highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD.  Hosanna in the Highest!  Christ is with His people.  He is in the midst of us, and He fights for you.  He is your champion.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Why doesn’t good take away bad?

Most people think of righteousness as something determined by an old judicial scale – If I put the good I’ve done on one side, and the bad I’ve done on the other side, which one weighs more?  Am I more good than bad?  Then I’m good! 

This might work for manmade righteousness, for telling (lying to) yourself that you are a good person, but the judgment of God described in the Bible sees righteousness in an entirely different way.  Perhaps a good picture to use would be wet paint.

If white is good, and black is bad, measure out how much white you think you have, and put it on the canvas.  Then measure out how much black you think you have (be honest), and put it on the canvas.  While the paint is still wet, mix all that you are, and all that you’ve done together.  No matter who you are – your own view of yourself ends up gray.  All your white is tainted by your black.

The problem is that God demands purity.  Perfection.  Goodness.  Not good with a little bad – not pure with a little impurity.  Not godly with a little “well I’m human.”  According to your own righteousness, you are dirty, stained, mixed up.

But God saw you in your problem, before you knew about it.  He took action to save you from it before you even asked Him.  And His salvation is something entirely incredible.  God doesn’t save you by making you a good person or by allowing you to have a righteousness of your own – He saves you by giving you His righteousness.  By sharing His perfect, holy, pure Godly righteousness with you – in fact, He covers you with it.  By sending His Son to die on the cross, God has laid Himself over top of your gray painted mess.  He has covered it up with His own perfect canvas, one that is perfectly white, the righteousness of Christ.  You are not reckoned righteous because you are – you are reckoned righteous because Christ is, and He has freely given His righteousness to you by faith.  God no longer sees your gray mixed up slop, instead He sees His only Son, who pleases Him in every way. 

Imagine that, you are completely free – freed by what Jesus did on your behalf.  You no longer have to weigh your good against your bad, you no longer have to worry about your black tainting your white, you no longer are a slave to the work of proving yourself – for Christ died for you.  Now you can do the right thing, simply because it’s the right thing to do – and remain confident that in Christ you have already been saved. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Why aren't all interpretations equal?

When the Bible speaks of faith, it speaks of it in two ways.

1)  "The Faith" - the faith that is to be believed - the objective truth about who Jesus is and what He has done - also called the Creed.

2)  "your faith" - the faith which believes - the subjective trust that a believer has in The Faith (Jesus).

In other words, God has revealed "The Faith," and calls for "your faith" in it.

BUT... something has become terribly messed up these days.  People only ever talk about #2, as though it is what really matters.  There is a teaching which says "As long as you have faith" - "My faith kept me strong" - "Just believe" - but these cheesy clich├ęs can be said by anyone about anything.  They are found in Disney.  They are the slogan for our Olympic team.  They are found printed on rocks and sold in trinket shops.  So let me say this plainly.

"Your faith" is NOTHING - if it is placed in the wrong thing.  Faith is not powerful.  It is not strong.  It is merely what holds onto something else, and if that thing is not "The Faith" - "your faith" is worthless.

Put another way, we should not ask people "Do you believe?" - but "What do you believe?"  It doesn't matter if someone believes in God, if all they mean is that He exists.  What matters is that they believe that when they were dead in their sins and hopeless, Jesus was crucified in their place and having risen from the dead promises them eternal life with Him.

So, let's apply this to God's Word.  God tells us His Word is clear and that we are able to believe, teach and confess it in its purity.  However, there are many different interpretations of the Bible.  And all of the people who hold to these interpretations, believe in them with equal strength.  But "their faith" does not make their interpretation true.  God's people have been mixing His truth with falsehood since the Fall.  It is the most noticeable thing about God's people in every narrative of the Scriptures.  God is able to save them despite their falsehood, but He does not want them mixing things up in this way.

So what does this mean?  According to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd commandments, the chief thing the Christian is concerned about in their relationship with God - is that His Name - His Word - is kept pure.  The Christian desires pure doctrine above all things, because the only way God reveals Himself to His people is in His Word - His doctrine.  When you get doctrine wrong, you don't have God, you have the Evil One.

The beginning of the Lord's Prayer shows this also.  Hallowed be thy Name (Your teaching).  Thy kingdom come (Your Word of power).  Thy Will be done (that I might trust in Your Son revealed in Your Word). 

This is a joy for the Christian.  It means we are pushed back into God's Word all the time to see what is in accordance with it. 

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done

Monday, 18 August 2014

How are all religions the same?

Religions are all the same in one way: they have rules.  Law.  Commandments you must follow.

The assumption is: This is what makes a religion true (or good).

But this assumption is wrong.  We make this assumption because we actually think we can follow the rules.  We are so self-righteous that we think we are able to keep the Law.  Self-righteousness says all religions are the same.

Because the truth is, these commandments are impossible for us.  In fact, they were not given to us to show us how to gain life.  They were given to us to show us how we deserve death.  How the sentence of death against mankind - every human dies - is just.  It is true.

This Law in which all religions are the same is merely preparing the way for the true religion.  The only religion with something OTHER than rules.  And His Name is Jesus.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

The true religion has Law and Gospel.  Law and Good News.  Law and Mercy.  Free, unconditional mercy that is revealed outside and without the constraints of the Law.  What God has done for you in Christ, He did because of Himself - not because of you.  He offers and gives you freedom from the Law, because He is a merciful God.  Because He is the only true God.

All religions are the same because they have rules.  All false religions have only rules.  Only Christianity has the Good News of grace in Jesus Christ.  And here's the truth:  This is what makes a religion good. (and true)

Friday, 8 August 2014

Why is life so hard?

So I just got back from the splash pad with my kids and I went to wash my daughter's hands. 

Now she was having a hard time because she is only 18 months old, so in order to do it I had to take her feet and put them on the counter.  Of course, she realized she had to push up on her feet.  So she began to push - but in order for her not to fly off the counter, I had to push back against her so she could wash her hands.

And I got to thinking, the Christian life is just like this - where a little bit of pressure in the right places actually help us to recognize our need to be cleaned, and also to prepare us to be washed. 

God is working these things out as our heavenly Father.  He is pushing down on us, bringing trials or struggles into our lives at the right time so we can "wash our hands" and if He didn't do it, we would just fall off the counter.  This He does not want.

So, if you are having some sort of pressure or trial that you cannot understand or you fail to see the good in - wait on the Lord, knowing that He works everything together for good for those who put their trust in Him.

What is the price of my salvation?

I believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sin and death, and from the power of the devil...

Not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.

God has bought you back from sin and death.  He has paid the price.  But what is it?  Not gold, not silver.  His own God blood and His innocence - put into suffering and death for you.

When we think on this great price, it is utterly baffling.  We cannot even understand this price.  It is beyond all measurements, beyond numbers, beyond humanity itself.  How could a holy, pure God give His holiness away - waste it, be cursed and become sin, to those who torture and crucify Him?  This is the Gospel - the Good News - News that is so remarkable - so incredibly compelling that it goes beyond telling.  It is simply believed.  No human has thought this up - it is too lofty and its depths are too great.

A cherished Lenten hymn - When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - captures this sentiment in its final stanza.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a tribute far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Nothing can give enough thanks for what He has done - but certainly, your soul, your life, your all is a start.  The final "cherry on top" in the justification of the ungodly is that even your missing thanksgiving - even the lack of praise and worship, prayer and gratitude that should come as a response to His sacrifice - He makes up for with His blood.

He is saving us through and through.  Our sin has truly been washed away in His blood.

How to Read the Bible

Yes I know.

The Bible is the Word of God. 
It is unlike any other book - religious or otherwise.
There are no contradictions in it.
It is truth.  It is light.

But how do I read it?

How do I begin to understand what it means, especially when there are so many different Christian denominations with so many different interpretations?

Here's where to start.  The Bible.  What does Christ Himself teach us about the way to understand His Word? 

Luke 24:45-47 - Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem."

Principle #1) All the Scriptures are about Christ.  This is what is written Jesus says.  The first thing you should be looking for in any verse you read should be Jesus and Him preached.

He says this in other places too.  John 5:39 - "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, but it is they that bear witness about Me."

Jesus. Jesus.  Jesus.  That is what you are looking to see in the words of the Bible.

Ok, what else does God say about how to understand His Word?

Ex. 34:6-7 - The LORD passed before Moses and proclaimed, "The LORD, The LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love... for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

Principle #2) Law and Gospel.  God works in two ways.  Two basic teachings.  You may also call them the commands and promises.  But regardless of their name - God speaks a Word of Command (Law) and He speaks a Word of Promise (Gospel).  And unless you properly distinguish between them, you will get very mixed up reading the Bible.

A Word of Command (Law) is one that concerns your actions, thoughts or words.  It is something man does, thinks or says.  I.E. You shall not commit adultery.  In this word, God expresses the way things ought to be - His justice. 

A Word of Promise (Gospel) is one that concerns God's actions - those done for you.  It is something God does, promises or reveals for you.  I.E. At Jesus' baptism, heaven was opened.  In this word, God expresses the way things are on account of what He has done - His justification - something that benefits those with that believe Him.

Immediately you can see that the way of the Law is a matter of works, while the way of the Gospel is a matter of faith.  The Law condemns.  The Gospel frees.  The Law kills.  The Gospel gives life.  The problem is that when we read the Bible we are more inclined to be reading it to find out what we should do.  We are more likely to look for the Law.  In fact, we tend to try and see if we are doing the Law - if we are righteous on our own.

This is actually the reason WHY there is the Gospel.  To free us from our sin which would have us only look at ourselves and what we need to tell ourselves "I'm good".  God uses His Law and Gospel to kill our self-righteousness and bring us to life again in Christ.  Death and Resurrection.  We are not good.  Christ is.  This is God's salvation, and the only reason He speaks.  We are declared to be good in Christ alone through faith in what He has done - through faith in His Gospel. 

Why does God work this way?

St. Paul tells us. "It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26)

Just and the Justifier.  God alone is Just - yet He has by sheer grace and mercy determined to Justify those who have faith in Jesus and all that He has done for us on the cross.

When you read the Bible look for Christ (#1), and be sure to distinguish what you ought to do (Law) which you have failed, and what Christ did/does (Gospel) which forgives and saves you from your failure (#2).  You'll want to see Christ in both Law and Gospel.

This is a good start in learning how to read the Bible.  This is the revelation.  God says you are a sinner worthy of punishment and death.  But God also says you are righteous for the sake of Christ, and that by trusting in His declaration of innocence, you are free from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.  Thanks be to God.  May His Word be ever opened to us.

Monday, 21 July 2014

How does faith grow?

We told our son that when he turned four he would be bigger.  Shortly after his birthday we saw him at the kitchen table flexing his arms and saying "Bigger.  Bigger.  Bigger."  He was pumping himself up - like a Reebok shoe. 

There are times we think of faith the same way.  We think that we are the ones that can increase our faith or make it stronger.  But this is man's idea.

Faith is a gift of God.  One given by Him, Exercised by Him, Kept alive by Him.  All these things happen in our heart and mind, but the Holy Spirit is the One who is active in this work.

Then how does faith grow?  The way God has revealed in His Word.

You can see it in the Psalms.  A pattern.  A cycle.  It is the cycle of faith growth, or spiritual development.  And it has three players.

The Holy Spirit

The Word (Christ the Son of God)

AND...

Nope - didn't guess it.

The Devil


WHAT!?  Are you sure?

Take a look at how it works.  In Latin its called oratio, meditatio, tentatio - or in English - prayer, meditation, temptation/trial.

Prayer - requests and supplications to God - lead us into His Word for His answer.  After having this seed (Word) sown, the devil comes to try and take it away.  He does this in a variety of ways, most of which make something miserable - whether it is "not having" that thing you shouldn't have (temptation to sin) - or taking away something that you liked (sacrifice). 

The incredible thing is that when we face trial, where are we to go?  To God in prayer.  Our plight pushes us back into prayer, back into God's Word.  The Devil's involvement serves God's purposes - not the Devil's.  But he can't help himself.  God is using him against himself - priceless.

Let's take a look at a specific psalm to see what I mean.

Psalm 13

How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever? (Obviously the psalmist is undergoing trial here)
How long will you hide your face from me?  (Yet he calls out to God in prayer)
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? (Sin is the issue)
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (The unrighteous have it good here - believers wait)
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God (I turn to you in prayer)
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death (I deserve death for my sin)
lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," (The Accuser [Satan] is saying this already)
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. (They are already celebrating in my face - save me)
But I have trusted in your steadfast love (Enter the Word - God's Word of forgiveness has broken in)
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation (Your Word promises me salvation, and I know I can trust it)
I will sing to the LORD (The psalmist has gone from trial through prayer/meditation to thanks)
because He has dealt bountifully with me. (WOW!  The Word of the LORD stands forever - it is your defense - your fortress - your shield - and will always defeat your enemies - those who want to take you into greater sin and death.)

Neat right!  God knows what He is doing.  Just as a tree pushes its roots deeper after a windy day, the Christian pushes closer to God - His Spirit and Word - after trial and temptation.  God is not angry with you - He has open arms of grace, and He calls you into them when you are frightened by the devil, your sinful flesh and death - even when those things speak the truth to you - like you are a sinner, or you are going to die.  The Word of Christ is more powerful and it wins.

So you have no need to flex your arms and say "Bigger. Bigger. Bigger"  about your faith.  Get into God's Word, and pray that Word back to God.  He will sustain you in this life.



What is a celebration of life?

Have you ever been to a "funeral" that they call a "celebration of life"?  What did you hear there?  What did you see?  What follows is my own personal experience at a celebration of life.

It was not a celebration.
People were not happy, nor were they enjoying themselves.  They were all faking it, saying words that they knew weren't true.  Making up hope that they would never have believed only a few days prior.  I heard five different renditions of where the deceased person was.  They live on... "in our hearts" - "in our memories" - "when we do what they loved" - "in our love" and finally someone said -"No one can tell you where they are".

It was a disaster.  Everyone suddenly became an expert in the afterlife, yet none of the speakers agreed.  Everyone was grasping at straws, trying to say something that would give comfort to those still living.  But the more speakers that stood up the less comforting it became, because it was blatantly obvious that everyone was just making it up.  The hostess said at the end, "We are here so that you can make whatever meaning you can from this."  In other words - You are ON YOUR OWN.  It was the loneliest I have ever felt.

Because take a moment to consider some of these claims.  "They live on in our hearts."  Is this said because we know them?  We know what they were like?  What about when we die?  Where are they then?  What about when no one remembers them anymore?  Quickly, what was the name of your great, great, great grandfather?  What was he like?  Does he live in your heart?

"They live in our memories."  And when we forget?  What about when we don't think of them?  What about Alzheimer's?  This statement is fluff.

"They live on when we do what they loved."  The person has become our actions?  Their spirit is in all that we do?  So generations and generations of dead people live on in the behaviour of their descendants?  More fluff.

"They live on in our love."  I honestly, don't even know what this means - does this mean that when I love someone, it isn't just me loving them, it is all my ancestors, anyone I've known and all the people they knew, just piling up in the love of the next person who is alive?  Folly.

And finally, "No one can tell you where they are."  Why?  Because you can't speaker?  Has no one ever come back to life?  Are we all doomed to despair because the one speaking is hopeless?

It was not a celebration - and it was not "of life." 
As much as they tried to focus on life, we had only gathered because of death.  Why didn't we celebrate the life while the person was still alive?  So they could enjoy the celebration with us?  Isn't that what birthdays are?  Life is present.  This dead person was not.  It was not a celebration "of life".  It was a gathering for death.

And here was the real scare.  Every word that was spoken that day glorified the person.  They were "my inspiration."  They were "my savior."  They were "the reason I love."  It was a religious service alright - and the person being preached was the dead person.  I witnessed a large group of people try to make a dead person into a god.  No, this group of people had never been together before - not in one group - not when the deceased was alive - but now in death - god - the person was everything.  It was a praise service to the dead person who "lived in our hearts."

I suppose one of the most incredible things that crossed my mind as I walked away from that experience was that people do everything they can to avoid real religion, real faith, and real beliefs - but in the end everyone is religious.  It is only a question of which god. 

This is what I wanted to say that day.  This is what I had pent up within me, but knew was not the right time to come out:

This person had a Saviour, the same Saviour as the whole world, Jesus Christ.  He alone can tell you where this person is because He is the only One who died and rose again.  He came down from heaven to do this for you, and His death was a punishment for every evil of the whole world - those that you know of, and those in you that you don't know of or recognize.  God sent His Son, and having conquered death, this Son reigns over the enemies of mankind.  He is our King and our Lord, our Redeemer and our Saviour.  He calls you to trust in Him, to believe this message and you will receive every benefit of His gracious work on the cross.  Without such faith, you will remain in this lonely, empty, lostness that you are listening to, and it will result in your death.

Hear this Word.  Turn to God.  He forgives all your sin.



Wednesday, 2 July 2014

How does the Church Year work?


The Church Year is alive, because it is all about Jesus.  His life.  His teachings. 

During the first half of the year, Christ’s earthly life long ago is made real for believers in the present.  It is delivered to them.  Experienced by them.  Imputed to them.  Christmas – new birth in Christ.  Easter – death to sin and new life to God in Christ.  Ascension – returning to God in Christ.

Then, the rest of the year focuses on discipleship – the new life in Christ in which we are living and growing on account of His life.
First - His life (Advent to Easter) - then His teachings (Pentecost).
God keeps believers in His Word (Jesus), and His Word in believers - through the Church Year.  It is how Christians celebrate God’s redemption, from beginning to end and back to beginning again.  All that Jesus did, and all that Jesus said form our new life.  They form our growing.  They form our year.

So when you head to church each week – take notice of where in Christ’s life and teachings you are – take notice of how God is keeping you in His Son.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Where does the Bible come from?

39 books in some Old Testament
27 books in that New Testament.

Where did they come from?  Why were they written?  Why are these the only books in the Bible?  And how do we know they are the Word of God?

The Bible isn't just like any other book.  In fact, it isn't one book - though all its parts speak in perfect unity.  It is the canonized (completed) compilation of God's revelation to mankind.  But how can we be sure?

1)  The Bible isn't flat.  It has high points.  Peaks.  Parts that everything else points back to - or forward to.  For example: The first five books of the Bible, the Torah or Pentateuch, were written by Moses.  Before Moses there were no Scriptures.  God's Word was only spoken, but God used Moses to record His Word.  And this is significant, because all the people of God (the Israelites) KNEW that God spoke to Moses.  They were miraculously freed from the slavery of Egypt because God used Moses.  They were preserved in the wilderness for forty years because God used Moses.  They received God's covenant promise and His Law because God used Moses. 

Moses is reliable, and that is seen throughout the rest of the Old Testament.  All the prophets after him do two things.  They point back to what God said through him - to the Torah or Pentateuch.  And they point forward to the Christ.  This was the test to see if they were authentic.

So not just anyone can come claiming they have a Word from God.  Everything they say is compared against Moses.  Everything they speak is tested - and as God established through Moses - the punishment for speaking falsely in God's Name is death.  False prophets are put to death.

Yet there were many, as there are today.  So another criterion was established for determining authenticity.  Not only did the prophet have to be in full agreement with Moses.  Not only did the prophet have to be speak of the coming Messiah.  All they said had to come true.  Anything he said that would happen - had to happen - or his writings were destroyed. 

This is how the writings of the Scriptures were known to be reliable.  God spoke in advance, and then when His true prophets words came true - those writings were retained.  And about 300 years before Jesus was born the Old Testament was completed.  Closed.  Set as a whole unit.  But the best part is they can still be tested.  The Word is still accountable to itself.  Any part of the Scriptures can be tested against the Torah - tested against the writings of Moses whom God used to establish a people that everyone knows exists.

And this is where it all leads:  "In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." (Heb. 1:1)

God's revealed will - what He wants us to know about who He is, what He has done for us, and what He thinks is good - was all about Jesus.  Jesus is the revelation.  He is the Word.  First He spoke using Moses, then other prophets - but it was all leading to His own coming in our flesh - His own Words from His own Lips.  All the words He spoke through the prophets were spoken so we would know it was Him when He came.  "All the Scriptures bear witness about me" John 5:39.  "Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and Psalms must be fulfilled" Luke 24:44.  Because God is a God who speaks - who communicates - who declares you righteous on account of His own righteousness shed for you on the cross.  This is why the Bible was written - that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His Name.

The Bible is the Word of God.  Your certain, true, reliable testimony from God concerning His Son and the salvation that is found only in Him.  You want to know where the Bible comes from - it comes from God.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

How is being alive like being in a courtroom?

JUDGMENT!!!

How do you get away from it?

Everything you ever do - or don't do - is being evaluated by everyone around you.  Every word about you that comes out of someone's mouth is a judgment about who you are.

"Thank you.  You are kind" - JUDGMENT

"Excuse me, you just cut in front of me." - JUDGMENT

"Why didn't you call me?" - JUDGMENT

Your life is a courtroom.  A fish bowl - and there is nothing you can do to escape it.  Life is forensic.  Being alive is judicial.  Your mere existence requires defining word to be spoken about you - concerning you - upon you.

Think about it.  You are walking down the street.  You pass another person.  Do you say hi?  Do you ignore them?  Do you smile? 

And what about them?  Did they acknowledge your existence - or are you less than human to them?  Did they smile?  Wish you a good day?  You are on the stand - in the courtroom - every breath you take.

So what are you going to do?

Most people surround themselves with people who will tell them what they want to hear (what their itching ears want to hear).  Most people look for "friends" that will justify their every action.  "Oh yeah - you totally did the right thing."  And - "what was she thinking doing that to you, you should be offended."

Mankind is frantically trying to justify himself - to have people declare that what he has done is right.  But we all know it isn't.  We keep changing the rules.  We keep lowering the bar so that we can justify ourselves - and then we point our fingers at everyone else who doesn't do the same. 

The most judgmental people in the world are those trying to justify themselves.

Then there is the Gospel.  God's Word in the matter.  Since everyone is going to make their judgments God is going to issue one as well.

You are justified - in Christ. 

This is His Final Word on the subject.  Stop listening to all the judgments about you - don't believe them - believe Me.  I declare you to be righteous - not on account of your actions, or your words, or your thoughts - but on account of Christ.

Life is a courtroom, dear one - so listen to what the Judge says - I forgive you of all wrongdoing - I divorce your sin from you - grant you full pardon - for FREE - because I have punished Jesus in your place.

Should someone say otherwise - ignore them. 
Should someone suggest you need to justify yourself - show them Christ in whom you are justified. 

And here is the ultimate kicker....

Your Lord knows life is a courtroom.  He knows everyone - even your own self - perhaps especially your own self - are going to constantly speak words against you - either to try to make you justify yourself - or to condemn you for your unjustified thoughts, words and deeds - so He speaks His Word to you.  He sends preachers to sound His verdict to you over and over again, so that you may trust His judgment in Christ - and NOT all the others that are constantly after you.

God does not leave you alone in the courtroom - but comes to your defense moment after moment, day after day by His Word and Spirit.  The eternal decree has been spoken in heaven.  You are forgiven - and His preachers are called to speak it to you regularly that the Spirit may echo it in your conscience.

You need not fear judgment.  You need not "get away" from it.  But run to the One who has taken your punishment and freely says "You are justified in Me."  In His Holy Name, Amen.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Goal vs. Giver

Which one is God - a goal or a giver?

He cannot be both.  He cannot be both the goal of our efforts, and the free giver of goodness.  Either we work to reach the goal and are rewarded, or He gives it to us because He is gracious.

Which one do you think God wants to be?

God is a giver.  He is not a goal.  Salvation is not achieving something - it is receiving something - a gift - Faith!

And yet look at all the false teachings around you...

They are in the Church.  Protestants say "Give your heart to God."  What, I need to give to God?!?  If I give my heart to Him, I will reach the goal?  Goal - not Giver.  And not Christianity.

They are in the world.  Have you heard that song by Pharrell Williams - Happy?  It is the hit of hits right now.  It sets forth your goal.  Happiness.  It is what every mother wants for their children - what Joel Osteen tells you God wants for you.  And so you chase it.  You believe the lie that you can reach it.  That if you try hard enough you can reach your goal - you can be happy.  Goal - not Giver.

And these false teachings are in your flesh.  They are your natural inclination.  Your default.  "I can do it."  "I can make it right."  I can reach the goal.  I just need to try harder.  Try again.  Goal - not Giver.

But you don't need a coach - someone to pump you up to work harder.  What you need is a Savior!  A Giver!  Someone who doesn't stand at the finish line waiting for you to get to Him - but Someone who comes down to where you are in your sin, death and slavery to free you and carry you home.  You need One who can show you where to put your trust.  One who is faithful.  You need a Giver.

And a Giver you have.  Your heavenly Father has revealed Himself in only this way - a Giver.  One who loved the world so much that He GAVE His Only Son.  That He gives Him to you again and again and again - week after week - in Word and Sacrament - forgiving, saving, resurrecting.

Go to church to receive.  Go to church to be fed.  Go to church to be freed.  Because your God is One thing - a Giver.

When people become business...

Have you ever had one of those days, when you were all excited to go to work, you prepared a list of what you were going to accomplish that day, and then you kept getting interrupted - all day long!?!?

When the day ended and you left work your list wasn't finished, in fact, it looked a little longer than when you started. 

In our disconnected post-modern world of technology and loneliness it is so easy to turn people into business.  Work.  Tasks that get in the way of the "real" work you are trying to do.  We don't intend for it to happen, but somehow - over time - people begin to get in the way of what you want to get done.  Your personal productivity is hampered by the people in your life.

It is here I will say STOP!  Hold On!  Wait.

When did people become less important than work?  When did persons - like actual living, breathing, hurting, crying people - get pushed in the widget category?

Here is the News Flash.  People are your job!  It is them who need you - not your computer or your deadline.  People cannot interrupt your work - they come first - they supersede it - they are the reason you do it - any of it! 

The Lord of heaven and earth revealed His will for His creation.  And it is all about relationships.  Your relationship with God, and your relationship with your neighbour.  God does not want you put people second in this life.  He wants you to put their needs above your own.

St. Paul writes, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Php. 2:3)

No, I know, it is impossible.  You cannot do this every moment of every day.  It just isn't in you.  But there is One who can.  Who has!  For you.

Consider Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Php. 2:6-8)

You are not an interruption to Christ.  You are not an item on His list.  You are His treasure - His love - and He has given His very self to save you from your selfishness.  His selflessness has overcome your selfishness - and He frees you - yes, every moment of every day.  All of His work is to your credit, and you will always be His focus. 

Have you ever had one of those days...  

What is the Call?

How do you know God wants to speak through your pastor?  How do you know God wants you to listen the one preaching in your midst? 

The answer is:  The Divine Call

God calls men to preach His Word to His people.  If they do not have a special call to preach, you should not listen to them.  All of the prophets and even the apostles constantly appealed to their divine call when speaking to the people of God.

But wait a minute, all believers are called priests.  Do all then have a general call to ministry?

All who believe are indeed priests, but we are not all teachers.  As St. Paul writes, "Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?" (1 Cor. 12:29) and again "[Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" (Eph. 4:11)  St. Peter explains, All Christians are priests, not that all should function without difference in the ministry of Word and Sacraments, without a special call, but that they should offer spiritual sacrifices.

Yet all Christians have a general call to proclaim the Gospel, to speak the Word to one another, to admonish each other in the Word, to reprove and to comfort.  Likewise the head of the family is responsible for instructing those within the household.  But the public ministry of Word and Sacraments is not entrusted to all Christians in general.  It requires a special or particular call.  As St. Paul writes, "How are they to preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:15)

Ok.  How then does God send men to preach?  How do we know God has called the preacher in our midst?

Certainly God has immediately called men to preach in days gone by, such as the prophets and apostles.  But in these last days He calls men to preach mediately - through the ministry of His Church to whom His has given His Word and Sacrament.  Timothy is the perfect example of this.  He was called through Paul and the other pastors.  He also received the mandate to do this when appointing other ministers in the Church. 

So this is how you know - when a Christian congregation, one that seeks to gather around their Lord in His Word and Sacrament, calls a man to fill this Office of the Ministry in their midst and deliver the Lord's gifts to them.  This called man, called by the Lord through His Church, is the one God has sent to publicly preach.

What a comfort!  A Christian congregation entrusts themselves to the Lord in sending them a preacher, and He works through their call to legitimize the ministry in their midst.  Thanks be to God that He sends preachers to deliver all that His Son accomplished on the cross.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

How do we know what God says?

This is the most basic question of the faith.  It should be as simple as saying, the Bible is the Word of God.  But today many deny this, and most are moving away from Scripture as the sole source and norm of Christian teaching.

You might think this started in recent times, but in reality it has its roots in the middle Ages.  In Roman Catholicism, the sole source and norm of doctrine is not Holy Scripture but in reality the Ego of the Pope, who "boasts that all rights exist in the shrine of his heart."  In the Papacy only so much of Scripture is regarded as binding as the Pope approves and confirms.

The incredible thing is that today most of "Protestantism" has become what they protested in the first place.  Instead of having the Pope's heart determine doctrine, they use their own heart as the source and judge of Christian teaching.  They deny that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and set themselves up as popes ready to determine doctrine for themselves.

Scripture Alone.

This was and remains one of the Great SOLAS of the Reformation - the Great "Alone" Statements upon which Luther returned to the teaching of the Apostles.  Christian teaching comes from the Holy Scriptures alone.  God will not speak to us outside of them.  He has not given us another way of understanding His revealed will.  They are true.  Reliable.  Inspired.  Inerrant.  Eternal.  Authoritative.  Efficacious.  Perfect.  Sufficient for Salvation.  Clear.

Without them we are grasping in the dark.  Without them we are alone.  We are lost.  But God has kept them for us.  He has preserved them for us.  We do not shape them - they shape us - call us - save us.  And God is pleased to give them to us for free. 

Never take the Holy Scriptures for granted.  They are worth more than every treasure in the entire universe, yet they sit on your kitchen table, your bedside table.  Dive in.  Ask questions.  But know that when you read or hear these words, God is speaking them to you.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Why is it Never Enough?

I was working as hard as I could.  Staying up late, working on days off, burning the candle on both ends.  I didn't let my mind turn off.  I was always thinking about my work.  I had a responsibility and I was going to take it seriously.  I didn't want to fail.  I didn't want to let the Lord down. 

And then I got sick. 

Too sick to work.  Too sick to speak.  And everything came crashing down. 

What was I thinking, that I was going to make it?  That I was going to do enough to... to... what?  Keep guilt away?  Keep all the rules?  Satisfy God's perfect expectations?

What was I thinking?  Because no matter what I do.  No matter what you do.  No matter what anyone does - it is never enough.  I cannot do enough, not in a thousand lifetimes, not in a thousand retries.  Not me.  Not you.  Not anyone.

But Christ wasn't anyone.  He was the One.  God's Chosen One.  His One and Only Son, whom He sent to do what we could not.  Christ didn't have to work to keep the guilt away, He came to take your guilt away in His own death on the cross.  He didn't have to run from the rules, He came to fulfill the rules for you in His own perfect life.  Christ lived One lifetime, but did it for thousands.  And where we could never do enough, His Godblood is more than everything - greater than everything - and satisfies everything for all people for all time. 

God offers you forgiveness.  A perfect record.  A free ride in His Son.  Yes, you will continue to do your best in this life, but not for yourself - not so you can satisfy God or keep guilt away - but for the sake of your neighbour.  Christ has satisfied God for you.  Christ has taken your guilt away.  Now you are free to serve your neighbour in love.  You are free to live the way God intended without fear or coercion or guilt.

No, what you do will never be enough.  But Jesus is more than enough, and He is yours by faith.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Lost?

Remember when you were a kid - that first time you turned around expecting to see your mom and she wasn't there.  Do you remember the first time you suddenly realized you had no idea where you were?

We feel like this a lot, don't we?  We get lost.  We lose our priorities.  We wonder if our actions have any meaning.  We even stop caring. 

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke about two men leaving Jerusalem three days after Jesus was crucified.  They had been followers.  But now He was dead.  Though they knew where they were going, they trundled home lost.  They thought Jesus was going to give meaning to their lives.  They thought they had finally found the answer, but then He was crucified.  He was buried.  And there were even rumors that He was alive, but they didn't believe it.  They didn't care anymore.

But then Jesus found them.  Jesus drew near to them.  Jesus sought them out and opened the Scriptures to them about why the Christ had to suffer and die in this way - to atone for the sin of the whole world.

Here was this man - telling them that all these things DID have meaning.  That, in fact, they were the very things that secured true meaning for everything in this life.  After this Jesus made Himself known to them in the breaking of the bread, but quickly vanished from their sight.

Gone was their fear.  Gone was their despair.  Gone was their apathy.  For they were lost, but now they were found.  Found by Jesus.  Found by their Saviour.  Found by their Lord - their God.

The two men immediately went back to Jerusalem.  They knew where they were going now.  They knew their actions had meaning now.  They went to tell the others - all those who had been lost like them.  They had a reason to care.  They had a reason to serve.  And it was their Risen and Reigning Lord.

Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Monday, 28 April 2014

How does Jesus do that?

He rises from the dead without moving the tomb stone.

He appears in a locked room.

He eats food while He is there and...

He disappears at the end.

He appears to hundreds of His followers in many different places in a short period of time.

And finally, He ascends into heaven.


How does Jesus do that?


As true as it is that Jesus is a man, He is also God.  You can imagine this allows Him to do things (as a man) that mankind can otherwise not do.  And in the weeks following Easter, Jesus is on a rampage of glory.  He is purposefully displaying His divine characteristics while maintaining His human ones.  He eats - has His disciples touch Him - then leaves the room in the blink of an eye.  And, as always, Jesus is trying to teach us something.

The Biblical accounts do not describe Him entering - they describe Him "coming" - "appearing" - "revealing that He is already there" - even as a man.  We all know God is everywhere, that He sees all, hears all, knows all.  But because of the incarnation - that is, the Son of God assuming humanity into His person - Jesus is everywhere, sees all, hears all, knows all - AS A MAN!

St. Paul writes, "He who descended is the One who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things."  Let's be clear.  Paul knows the Son of God filled all things before He descended.  Now He fills all things as a man. A human being is in the position of ALL power.  And that human being died for you, rose for you, loves you beyond telling and is always watching out for you.

And mysteriously enough, this is also how our Lord is able to come to His people in His Holy Supper, all over the world, all the time.  Christ has placed His perfect humanity - the new kingdom - the restored, resurrected, sinless, death defeating, Satan shunning body and blood that hung on the cross - into a simple, free meal that He instituted for this very purpose - that you always know He is there for you and your HUMAN salvation. 

Drink deep.  For you drink the life of God.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

What is Guilt?

"Oh, I wouldn't want to do that.  It might make them feel guilty about what they've done."

Have you ever noticed that in our post-modern culture we are often afraid to have our words or actions cause other people to feel guilty?  We think feeling guilty is bad, and that if we cause someone to feel guilty - we have done something wrong.  Like we are the ones who need to guard people from the truth.  Or we are the ones who need to control other people's feelings.  And what's more, most of the time, should someone admit to guilt or imperfection - our gut reaction is to tell them that they did nothing wrong.

But what if they did?  I mean, its at least possible, isn't it? 

Guilt isn't bad.  And it isn't bad to feel guilt.  Guilt is like the fever your body gets when it is responding to infection.  Guilt is the way your conscience reacts when it knows something is wrong.  Oh!  Something isn't perfect - release the guilt pheromones. 

Your conscience is trying to protect you from harmful sin by making you feel guilty - but in today's day, the moment you speak of this "fever" you are having - everyone around you tells you "You shouldn't have a fever"  "You shouldn't feel guilty."  "You've done nothing wrong."  What does this do to your conscience?  To your health?

Here is the news flash.

You are not in control of other people's feelings.  If the truth makes them feel guilty - they are supposed to feel guilty.  (This is not a licence to hurt people's feelings.)

You are not to guard people from the truth.  If the truth makes them feel guilty - they are supposed to feel guilty.  (Again, not a licence to hurt people's feelings.)

But Guilt isn't BAD!  Christ has taken the guilt of all people!  He has been punished for it, and promises forgiveness.  There is only one way to get your "fever" to go down.  Hear Christ declare you righteous and forgiven on account of Him.  Hear God say - yeah, you did this or that - you thought this or that - you said this or that - but I forgive you.  His Word is the Tylenol that cuts the heat.  His Promise is the truth that overcomes the truth of your guilt.

So instead of telling someone - "You've done nothing wrong" - say - "You are forgiven.  Jesus died for you."

Monday, 7 April 2014

What is Confession?

When most people hear the word "confession" they think of one thing.  The Roman Catholic, get in the booth, clutch your rosary, prepare for penance confession.  But this caricature is robbing Christ's Church of a whole variety of gifts.

The word confession actually means "say the same thing."  There are many things we confess and not all of them are sins.

For example: We make a confession of faith.  That is, we say the same thing that has been handed down to us by the apostles.  We confess the Apostles Creed.  We say the same thing as them.  We say the same thing about Jesus - who He is and what He has done for us.  That means we confess the Gospel!!!

We also confess our sins.  That is, we say the same thing about ourselves that God has said about us in His Word.  God was the one who said - you are a sinner.  Our confession simply joins our words with His - simply says what He says and agrees that this is true.  Confession isn't some big, scary monster that the caricature presents - it is agreeing with God outloud!  It is saying, "Lord, you are not a liar.  What you have said of me is true, I am a sinner and I deserve nothing but punishment and death."  Ahhh... but confession has two parts the Catechism says.  First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.

After we "say the same thing" as God about our sin, He declares us forgiven of it through His sent one, His pastor.  God wants us to say the same thing, so He can say something different - something new.  He wants us to hear His Gospel - so that we too may confess it!  He is making us into little christs, those who walk around saying the same thing as Him.  Whether sin or grace.  So confess!  Confess your sin to hear God's grace.  And confess His grace - this faith He has given you as a gift.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Why have the Lord's Supper every Sunday?

Christians tend to gather on Sunday, because it is the Lord's Day - the Day Christ rose from the dead.  But what do we gather for?  Why do we come together?

Christians come to be in the presence of their Lord, and we believe that Jesus is present with us in His Word and Sacrament.  And not just in the "He lives in my heart" sense - but in the real sense - in a reality we perceive by faith.  We know He is there to give us His gifts - forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.  We know He is there to wash us in Baptism, speak promises to us in His Word and feed us in His Supper.  We gather to be with Jesus.

This is why the earliest Christians always celebrated the Lord's Supper every time they gathered.  It was why they gathered, because they believed that Jesus - their Lord who had ascended into heaven - was present with them in this Supper He instituted for His Church.  This is the most substantial way He comes to be with His people.

Think of the Lord's Supper as a kiss shared by husband and wife.  The minute you have to place rules on how often, the kiss loses its affectionate force.  But no one would ever say, "I think we have kissed enough," or "That kiss will have to do for the rest of the day."  No one says, "How often do we have to kiss?"  Instead we ask, "How often do we get to kiss?"  Let's face it, we kiss and get kissed as often as we can (at least when there is peace...hehe).

And with Christ there is ALWAYS peace.  Because the Lord's Supper is more than a kiss from God.  It isn't merely something we want - it is something we need.  It is the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation in, with and under the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  It is God's New Testament for His people - His New Covenant Promise that we are reconciled - and this reconciliation - this Oneness - is in the blood of His Son.  So let us not ask, "How often do we have to commune with our Lord?"  But "How often do we get to commune with our Lord?"

Friday, 21 March 2014

What is the correct interpretation?

There is an expression that has become extremely popular in the last decade, one that you know very well.

"Well, that's just your interpretation."

It doesn't give certainty.  It doesn't communicate truth.  It doesn't offer the correct interpretation.  All it does is throw doubt into the situation.  Confuse things.  It reminds me of the garden of Eden, when the serpent asked Eve, "Did God really say...?"  My dear Eve, are you sure you aren't interpreting it wrong?  (Notice the double negative)

Do you see the deception in this question, in this statement?  Nothing is added.  But certainty is removed.  When someone says, "Well, that's just your interpretation," they are not saying "The interpretation is this... because of these reasons."  They are simply saying, "I don't like what you are saying, so I want you to feel like what you are saying is only true for you.  I want to remove your certainty."

Here's the million dollar question: Is there a correct interpretation of God's Word that is true for all people of all times and places?  God certainly thinks there is.  And He says we can know it, believe it, confess it to others.  He has not given us His Word so that we stumble around in the dark, but so that He may draw all people to Himself.  There are true interpretations and there are false interpretations.

Then, how do you know which is true and which is false?  So many people will throw their hands up in the air at this point, as though they don't know how to do this.  We do it with everything else in life, but when it comes to God's Word we suddenly feel like it is impossible to do.  It is not.  Because God has spoken His Word in a real language - that has real rules - and real plain meaning. 

The reason "various interpretations" arise is because people read wrong, they bring their own ideas to the plain text and "look" for things.  We all do it, but it is important to know how we do it.  This is most evident in the post-Reformation era where all the various denominations (confessions/interpretations of teaching) have sprung up.  The post-Reformation era was the Enlightenment, in which, for the first time, "man was the measure of all things."  People were influenced by philosophies not present when the Bible was originally written - yet they brought these philosophies to the text of Scripture.   We can trace how those secular philosophies continue to impact a denomination's tradition and interpretation of Scripture to this very day. 

Let's look at a household example of how different interpretations arise.

Mom: "Clean up the dishes."
Child 1: "Mom wants us to clean up the dishes."
Child 2: "No, Mom is telling us she wants us to clean up the dishes, AND we are able to do it."

Ok, these two children have a slightly different understanding of Mom's words.  The first child has taken the plain meaning of her words.  We ought to clean up the dishes.  But child #2 has added something - ability - we can clean up the dishes.  Evidently, child #2 has brought this to the text, because the plain meaning of the words "Clean up the dishes" only communicate the ought.  The can is assumed.  For whatever reason, child #2 wanted to interpret the words this way.  It is not the basic meaning of the words.  Should Mom have wanted to communicate what child #2 "heard" she would have said something like, "You are able-bodied and have no other responsibilities, and I know I can count on you to clean up the dishes.  Please do so."  It is certainly possible Mom also assumed they could do it - but that is not in the words.  An assumption made on both sides is the epitome of bad communication.

The example seems silly, I know, but I used it because it is a real discrepancy that different Christian denominations have over the text of Scripture.  Certain interpretation traditions assume human ability into God's commands.  They cannot imagine how God might want to communicate what ought to be happening, even if it can't happen right now.  Like the frustrated parent that wants their one year old to speak with words so they know what they want!  Not going to happen, no matter how much you want it...haha.

What does all of this mean?  Words matter.  The words of the text matter.  What do the words say?  The plain meaning is always the truth unless the context can prove it is otherwise.  So read your Bible.  But don't look for the social problem in the text.  Don't look for the agenda.  Look for the plain meaning - what is good in faith - because Christ is speaking there.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

What am I afraid of?

I can't!

Well, why don't you...  I CAN'T!  I just can't.

You know these words and so do I.  They are the words we use when we know we're supposed to do the right thing, but we find ourselves unable to do it.  I can't.  I can't be in the same room as that person.  I can't bring myself to tell the truth about what I've done.  I can't go back to that place.  I just can't.

These words are almost instinctual.  They are like the reaction you get when your wound is poked.  They come from deep within, almost without thinking.  Something lies hidden deep down inside of us, something we are trying to protect.  Something we react to like an animal caught in the corner.

Because the truth is we are afraid.  We are afraid of something.  These words declare our fear.  But do we know what it is?  Could we put our fear into words?  Or are we afraid to?

Do you want to know what I'm afraid of?  This is what I'm afraid of.  I am terrified that when I look into that dark, hidden place inside me.  When I stop defending it like a cornered cat, and actually look at it, I will find something I hate.  In fact, my true fear is that I know I will find something I hate, so 'I can't' bring myself to look at it.  I want it to stay in the dark, where nobody - not even me - can see it.  I'm not afraid of the dark.  I'm afraid of the light.  I'm afraid that when the light hits it - and I see it - I will have to acknowledge that I deserve to die.  That I truly am despicable.

And it is here that Jesus meets me.  Not to expose me.  Not to condemn me - for I am already condemned.  But to save me.  To love me when I know no one should.  He Himself said, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:16-17).  At the exact point when I know I deserve to die, Jesus says "I'll die for you."  At the moment when I know I am despicable, Jesus says, "I love you anyway.  I'll clean you up.  I'll be your light.  I'll take your fear."

"This is the judgment," Jesus said, "the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:19-21).  I don't need to be afraid to expose my darkness, because Jesus has taken it to the cross.  I can come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that Jesus has done this for me.  That God Himself is my light.

Too many Christians are concerned with their own righteousness.  Are we trying to protect our self-righteousness, or are we confessors of the truth "I am a sinner, whom Christ has forgiven"?  Let us give God the glory and cover our own unrighteousness no longer - let us instead be covered by Christ - covered by His blood - covered by His light, for that is why He came - for you.





Monday, 10 March 2014

What makes the Bible unique?

How would the typical person react when they hear you regularly read the Bible? 

The Bible?!?  Why would you read the Bible?  What makes the Bible so special that you would actually read it instead of other books?

Take a look.

This "book" is unique in its continuity.  It is written over the span of 1500 years.  It has 40 different authors from 40 different generations from all walks of life: kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, herdsmen, poets, statesmen, scholars etc.  It is written in different places, from the wilderness, to a dungeon, to a palace, to a remote island.  It is written during war.  It is written during peace.  It is written in times of joy.  It is written in times of sorrow and despair.  It is written on three different continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.  It is written in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.  It speaks of hundreds of controversial issues that even in our own generation would never be agreed upon - and yet the Bible speaks with one, unified voice as though written by one author (say the Holy Spirit?). 

This "book" is unique in its circulation.  It has been read by more people and published in more languages than any other book - even languages that are no longer used! 

This "book" is unique in its translation.  It has been translated and retranslated and paraphrased more than any other book in existence.  By 1966, the whole Bible appeared in 240 languages with one or more of its books appearing in 739 additional languages - totalling 1,280 languages. 

This "book" is unique in its survival.  The Bible, compared with any other ancient writings, has more manuscript evidence than any 10 pieces of classical literature combined!  It has been persecuted, burned, outlawed, destroyed only to come back in greater circulation.  It has been criticized, doubted, said to be "on its last days" hundreds of times over the millennia and remains easily defended by scholars to this day. 

This "book" is unique in its teaching.  It is the only volume ever produced in which is to be found a large body of prophecies relating to individual nations, to Israel, to all the peoples of the earth, to certain cities, and to the coming of One who was to be the Messiah - that can actually be shown to have been fulfilled.  It stands alone in historical accuracy and age.  It is the only document to outline ethnic and linguistic complexities in such a seemingly "modern" way.  It speaks frankly and honestly of the sins and errors of the people, something not found in any other histories, not even the biographies of today. 

This "book" is unique in its influence on surrounding literature.  "If every Bible in any considerable city were destroyed, the Book could be restored in all its essential parts from the quotations on the shelves of the city public library."  "It is evidence of His importance, of the effect that He has had upon history and presumably, of the baffling mystery of His being that no other life ever lived on this planet has evoked so huge a volume of literature among so many peoples and languages, and that, far from ebbing, the flood continues to mount."  There are more Christians today than at any other point in history. 

No - this doesn't prove the Bible is the Word of God.  But it does prove the Bible is unique.  It does prove that is SO extremely different from every other volume ever produced that if any person was truly concerned with truth, it would be the obvious first place to start, and perhaps the only place one ever need go.

Read your Bible.  Hear the Word of God preached.  Ask your pastor questions about anything you read or hear.  Because the Lord has revealed Himself to mankind from eternity and His unified message still speaks to those who have ears to hear.  And the best part - His sole purpose in speaking - the only reason the Bible exists is to deliver you the promise of forgiveness, life and salvation won for you in His Son, Jesus Christ.  You are forgiven.  It is true.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Why is Baptism important?

Well, I believe in Jesus.  Why would I need to be baptized?

There are many people nowadays that may have this sort of attitude when it comes to the gift of Holy Baptism.  What does Baptism give me that I really need?

God has made promises.  But how do you know they apply to you?  Who are you that the Holy Promises of God should also include you?  Here is the eternal refuge of Holy Baptism.  All the promises of God are poured upon you in the water and Word of Baptism.  When that water touches your body, immediately you are certain - God has promised these things to me.  Personally.  This IS faith.  The devil might attack my faith and make me doubt whether I believe.  My sin might rise up and make me feel dirty and unworthy.  Death may stare me in the face and cause me to fear.  And in all those moments, the Evil One will press hard to take Jesus away from me.  But the One thing he can never change is that God has washed me in water and the Word.  God's promise that I am His child, forgiven, justified, sanctified in the Name of Christ and by His Spirit, will always apply to me - because I got wet.

So God has given you baptism as the place you can forever return to Him.  He has put Jesus in the water.  He has given you a place to drown your sin, to cast off old Adam's works, and emerge new in Jesus.  No matter what the devil may throw at you, or whisper to you, or remind you of - you may always say in return, "I am baptized!"

But I believe in Jesus.  Why would I need to be baptized?  How about another look?

Jesus said, "Unless you are born of water and the Spirit you will never enter the kingdom of God."(John 3:5)  Jesus tells us baptism is necessary.  Yes, God can save those who have not been baptized, those who have not had the opportunity to be baptized (like the thief on the cross), but that is not what He wants.  God commands us to be baptized.  He has given us baptism for this reason.  To save us (1 Peter 3:21)  Faith responds to that command in faith - it gets baptized. 

He also said, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."  The certainty of this Word is for those who believe and are baptized.  They will be saved.  There is also certainty for those who do not believe.  They will be condemned.  But where is the certainty for those who believe, but are not baptized?  What!?  They won't be condemned?  That is the best we can contrive from these words.  And here is the kicker - how do you know that you believe?  This is what the devil will immediately throw at you in any moment of weakness.  Well, I believe that I believe.  But how do you know you believe that you believe?  Faith becomes faith in faith - not in Jesus.

But God has given us baptism.  New birth.  His Spirit.  And He wants us to run to it.  The Devil cannot go there - all he can do is tell people that they don't need it.

In closing hear the words of St. Paul to Pastor Titus, "[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-7)

Grace is free, offered to you in the Holy washing of Baptism.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

How old is the earth?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  When was that?  How long ago was it?

There is a lot of confusion these days about Science and Religion.  Can they exist together?  Do they complement each other?  There are those who see there is no problem between the scientific observations made in the last fifty years and the truth of the Bible.  Then, there are those who want Science to be the end of Religion, their sword for being rid of God's judgment.

On account of this, the question of the Earth's age is often used to "debunk" the Bible, because man's observation makes it very clear that "billions and billions" of years can be seen in the universe.

But there is something that few people are willing to observe in the Biblical account.  When God created Adam, how old was he?  Did God make a zygote, or a fertilized egg?  No.  Adam was created as a full grown adult.  If a group of scientists had come at that moment to test Adam's age, though he was only one day old, they would have observed that Adam was 25 or something.  He was created with age.  The same is true for the whole creation.  How old do stars need to look in order to be full grown?  What about trees?  Rocks?  God made everything with man in mind.  He wanted the light of the stars to reach Adam's eyes.  He wanted the trees to bear fruit and feed Adam and the animals.  The reason things look old, is not because they are old, it is because they were made with age (precisely so they WOULD look old) - just like Adam.

There is nothing to fear in Science, because it belongs to God.  It is the observation of God's things, and it brings Him glory.  However, the truth of God's Word must remain first, because no matter what things look like to man at a given moment in history, the truth of His Scriptures will be shown in their entirety to all on the Last Day.  Thanks be to God for revealing Himself to us in His Holy Word, and may He give us faith to rest in His unchanging truth.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Why did God give me a conscience?

The moral compass.  Heaven's courtroom.  There are many names for our conscience.  But what is it for, and how does it work now that everything in this world has been broken by sin?

Your conscience is sort of like an umpire in baseball.  It is observing all that is happening in your life, and it calls what it sees.  Ball!  Strike!  When you think sinful thoughts, or speak sinful words, or behave in an ungodly manner, your conscience calls it for what it is.  Similarly, when someone else does something to you, your conscience makes sure you know - Strike! 

But sometimes the umpire is wrong.  Baseball fans loath when this happens, but it happens all too often.  The pitch comes in and the umpire says "Strike", but it was WAY outside.  The same is true for your conscience.  Your conscience can get broken and it can be wrong.  This happens when the Evil One and sin have their way with you. 

Think of the first time you did something wrong, and how badly you felt about it.  Your conscience was working.  But the second time, the third, eventually, after repeating the same wrong, you don't feel as bad, and before you know it, you don't feel a thing where you used to feel guilty.  Your conscience is broken. 

But this is where God wants to interject.  He wants to pinch hit.  He wants to set Himself up at home plate, and hit every pitch that comes flying in.  Whether its your failings - forgiven, guilt removed.  Or its the offensive behaviour of your neighbour done against you - forgiven, offense removed.  Christ has made things new.  He has been "hit by the pitch" so that you don't get struck out.  He has been "hit by the pitch" so you don't hold your neighbour's wrong against him.  And He has knocked the ball out of the park so that you win, even when you should lose.

Christ has established His Church.  He has sent out preachers to speak to your conscience as often as possible.  To speak into place this pinch hitter, this Christ, who protects you from guilt and shame.  And not just your own guilt and shame, but the wrongdoing of your neighbour.  You no longer have to see how your neighbour is wrong - now you can see that Christ has forgiven them too, and He calls you to do the same - to forgive them and to help them.  This is why we keep hearing His Word preached, so that our conscience doesn't overwhelm us.  So that our overwhelmed conscience doesn't hold anything against our neighbour. 

Let's face it, the pitch is too fast for us.  We don't know if its a ball or strike, and there is no way we can hit it.  But Christ has already accomplished His victory on the cross.  The game is already over - and though it is still being played in our conscience - He comes to us in His Word and Sacrament over and over again to show us how it ends.  You are forgiven.  Freed from guilt and shame and fear.  See your pinch hitter.  Watch Him crank it, and pray that He is all you see.  In Jesus' Name, Amen.