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?


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.