Friday, 28 August 2015

What is this Ashley Madison thing all about?

Romans 1:24-25 "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen."

You may have heard in the news recently that a certain online adultery website had its database hacked and exposed.  The name: Ashley Madison - a site for married people to intentionally find other people to have affairs with.  Swaths of people were exposed in their adultery when hackers broke into the information database and leaked it all to the public.  Government officials, corporate leaders, all sorts of prominent figures have had their pants pulled down and a big spotlight shined on what they have been unfaithfully doing to their spouses.  Fetishes, sexual preferences that are not worth repeating, and a host of other shameful information was laid bare before the world.

Now, there could be any number of things you could say about such a ridiculous situation.  But perhaps the most important is what Paul says in the opening chapter of his letter to the church in Rome.

False sex is false worship.  It is idolatry.  It is what someone does when they think wrongly about the Creator - the true God.  It doesn't matter if someone is a Christian or not - unauthorized sexuality, or sensuality or attention given to sexual things even in one's mind - reflects an error in how they understand God.  God is pure and He desires for us to be pure, and when we convince ourselves otherwise we are deceiving ourselves - exchanging the truth about God for a lie.  We have fashioned for ourselves a god we can worship that lets us be fleshly, and lustful and dishonourable to our bodies.  And we are in grave danger.

Now, let me be clear.  ALL of us are included here.  We are all equally guilty of this perversion and falsehood.  It is the natural inclination of the heart of man.  False worship.  False sex.  To make matters worse, sex seems to be the devil's weapon of choice right now.  It is the main headline in the news every night!  Not war, or disease, or economy - but SEX!  Sex with this or that or whatever it is that makes you feel good (for a time).  The world is screaming: Sex is happiness!  Sex is success!  Sex is your identity!

And the world is not even trying to hide that sex is worship.  In Bruno Mars' latest song "Locked out of Heaven" he intentionally uses religious words to describe sex.  And in Hozier's hit "Take me to church" again we have the message - sex is church, sex is worship, sex is god and goodness and blessing.  These songs show what Paul says later in that first chapter, that we "not only do these things, but brag and approve of those who do them."

In other words, do not be surprised.  This is why judgment has been proclaimed against mankind. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And yet, this is also why God sent His Son.  Not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  The groom has come to save His bride (humanity), and what do we do??  We cheat on Him.  We whore ourselves out to false gods, and false worship and falsehood.  All our sins are unfaithfulness - but still we have a groom who comes to make us pure.  We have One faithful to us despite our unfaithfulness to Him.  We have a God who comes to take our judgment.  We have One who is One flesh with us - to take our pain and our punishment and our death.  Even Jesus.  Christ is the One who carried our impurity to the cross - the groom dying for His bride.  The groom cleansing His bride.  The groom sacrificing Himself for His bride that she might live and be divorced from her adultery and sin. 

Thanks be to God that our purity is found only in Christ - as a gift.  Thanks be to God that we are not locked out of heaven.  Thanks be to God that when we get taken to church Christ proclaims His forgiveness to us - not His judgment or anger or wrath.  We have all sinned and fallen short, but Christ has come down in purity to take us home, to wash us clean in His blood and make us His own.  Sex will not save you, Christ will - and He calls you to purity as you wait.  And so the Christian strives and struggles against the world and the sinful nature inside - the Christian says no to unauthorized sex - the Christian looks in faith to Christ - the true God - the Creator blessed and finds rest in Him alone.  May the Lord shape your mind this way, and strengthen you with His Spirit to this end.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Rest without Laziness

The sign read: “Summer is where laziness finds respectability”

I think this sign is true.  It is also sad.  Is this the reason we look forward to summer?  So we can be lazy?  Are we glad we can finally be lazy?  Do we long for it?  And even “respect” it?  This is sad.

Our problem is that we have lost the distinction between rest and laziness.  Rest is good.  God gives us rest.  In fact, you may recall, He commanded it.  He told us to rest because He made us to rest.  We need it.  And we need it IN HIM. 

Laziness is not rest.  It is sin.  It is not leaning against God as your rock, or allowing Him to be your protector and provider.  Not at all.  It is the opposite.  It is the throwing away of the good things God has given you for the false, temporary promise that if you remove yourself from everyone and everything else – then you will be able to recharge, or find peace, or whatever other nonsense laziness promises.  It is a waste. 

Laziness does not rest in God.  It rests in self.  A self which thinks it knows what it needs - yet is wrong.  It betrays God-given rest, and so receives none of its benefits.  It is the unmotivated stoner sitting on the couch.  It is the sloppy drunk in the middle of the day.  It is the one who leaves things dirty.  The one who throws garbage on the street.  The one who doesn’t care. 

Laziness is never respectable.  And we should never give in to it.

How then can we rest?

Rest is a gift.  God gives rest.  The first day after God made Adam, He rested.  Adam spent His first full day resting with God.  God did not expect him to work.  He made Adam to rest with Him. 

This is an incredible reality.  Adam worked from his rest.  He did not work in order to rest later.  He rested first – so He could work.  We have lost this understanding, and we need to get it back.  God gives us rest, so that we are able to work – and if we are not rested – we should not work, but should rest IN HIM so that we can again work as He intends.

This is the whole model of the creation, the resurrection, and the sending of the Holy Spirit!  All of these things God did on the FIRST day.  And the Church has always gathered in the first day because of it.  Christians gather on Sunday (the first day of the week) to rest in God.  To hear His promises.  To receive His gifts of Word and Sacrament.  To eat and drink and rest and stop. 

The Divine Service is where Christ tells you He has taken all of your burdens.  Where your “heavy ladenness” is replaced by His easy and light load.  Where the grimness of your future is overlaid with the brightness of your future in Christ.  God has made Himself your rest in Jesus.  So run to Him.  Throw yourself before Him.  Cast your cares and burdens on Him, for He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.  He is the One who carries our sorrows, and restores us to meaningful vocations as son, daughter, husband, wife, mother, father, friend, neighbour and worker. 

So during summer, and all the time, do not give in to sin, and get lazy in going to church – but run to your true rest.  Hear His promises.  Breathe in His Word.  Collapse on His unchanging grace – that you might be refreshed and recharged for the walk He has prepared for you.  He will always give this to you.  Your Maker knows you, and He is with you.  In His Name, Amen.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Is Jesus gone?

I work in the Royal Canadian Navy as a Reserve Naval Officer.  This past week my Commanding Officer retired from his service and ceased working at our unit.  This was very hard on him.  It meant an end to his work.  And it was clear he had a hard time leaving.

Thursday is Ascension Day.  It is the day the Church celebrates our Lord's ascension into heaven to take His rightful place in the power seat of God.  And this could lead us to thinking about His work in a similar way to my Commanding Officer.  Done.  Over.  Finished.

But nothing could be further from the truth.  St. Luke writes in Acts 1:1, "In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up..."  Jesus is still "doing."  Still "teaching" Luke tells us.

He is not like my Commanding Officer whose service ended.  It was not hard on Him to ascend into heaven, because it did not mean the end of His work.  Jesus took the throne in heaven in order to continue His work throughout the whole world, governing and directing it by the power of His Word.  He sent His Holy Spirit to His Church that they might preach all that He has done.  He is not gone - "Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  Christ is present in His preached Word and Sacrament.  He is still working there.  Still teaching there.  Forgiving there.  Saving there. 

Your Lord does not retire.  He does not slumber nor sleep.  But for you, and for your salvation, uses the preaching of His Word and the giving out of His Sacraments to care for His people until He returns.  May you cherish His gifts and seek Him there.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Where is Jesus?

He's not in His tomb.  That much is certain.

He appeared to His disciples - even 500 at the same time.  We know He is alive.

But where is He?  Yeah, He has ascended into heaven.  He has taken His rightful place in the power seat of the Almighty.  He Himself - the God-man - is the power of God.  But where is He?

The answer is likely to open your eyes.  It is likely to make scales drop from them, as though you have been unable to see clearly until you hear it.

Here's where to start.  The disciples were together in a locked room.  The deadbolt was across the door because they were afraid of being arrested by the authorities and punished for being followers of the dead Messiah who was crucified.

But then - Jesus came and stood in their midst.  Now the Greek here is shocking.  It makes strikingly clear that Jesus had always been there.  He was already in the room with them.  But He revealed this to their eyes.  He was there - but now they could see that He was there.  It absolutely terrified them.

Jesus, the man, is no longer bound by the typical human constraints.  He held back from using the fullness of His power during His ministry.  But now, He holds nothing back.  St. Paul says, "In Him all things hold together."  He writes, "He who descended is the One who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.

Jesus is everywhere.  He fills all things.  But not just as God - He already filled all things as God.  Now, the Lord Jesus fills all things as MAN.  The new humanity.  He descended and ascended in order to make Man new in His own person.  And He fills all things as a man.

What does this mean?  It means Jesus is with you.  Right now.  He is standing in the room with you as surely as He stood with His disciples that Easter evening.  He is by your side.  Watching over you.  Protecting you.  Caring for you.  And no, He does not show you - like He did with His disciples - He does not reveal Himself to you.  He doesn't need to.  But He is there.  You are always in the powerful presence of your loving Saviour, and that is never going to change.

This means big things for us Christians.  It makes prayer so much more special.  Speak to Him there.  It makes living a Christian life, so much more possible.  Jesus stands by your side.  It means you have certainty that when you look upon the altar and hear the Words of our Lord in His Holy Supper, that you are hearing Him, there in the room, promising you directly that He is giving you His body and blood.  And so He is. 

You are forgiven.  You are free and safe and alive in Him.  And He is not going anywhere.  He will be with you to the end of the age.  Speak to Him in prayer.  Study His Word everyday.  For the day is coming soon when you will finally see Him face to face.

Monday, 30 March 2015

What has risen?

Well we know who has risen- Christ is risen.  Jesus Christ is alive though He once was dead.

But that is not the question today:  What has risen?

The resurrection of Jesus is God's eternal proof that the cross really finished things - because Jesus didn't rise for His own sake - but for ours.

When He took on our flesh and was born, God took on our cause.  He saw our human nature all sinful and corrupt.  He saw us dead in our sins.  So He took on our nature to make things new.  Because only He is without sin - without death - and without slavery to the devil.

His crucifixion beat those enemies (sin, death and the devil).  Human nature was punished in Christ.  Human nature has been made pure again in Christ by His perfect life.  But Easter...

Easter is the proof that our human nature has risen in Christ.  Mankind is new in Jesus.  We are alive.  Free.  Safe.  Christ has made a new humanity by His own human life, death and resurrection - and He wants all to be in it with Him - Christ died for all. 

So when you marvel at the resurrection this glorious Easter season - marvel that human nature has risen in Christ - marvel that in Christ you have risen, ascended into heaven and even sit at the right hand of the Father.  Marvel and sing and confess the good news - Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Which is more sad?

Very often in my conversations with the agnostic or the atheist (those who do not believe, or don't know what to believe), I hear them offer a common obstacle to the faith.

"I don't want to be tricked.  You know, what if it is wrong?  How sad would it be to live your life trusting in Jesus if the whole thing isn't true?"

Pride prevents faith.  "I don't want to be tricked."  Being duped would be the worst shot to my pride. 

The problem they fail to see is that you could be tricked either way!  In fact, the Bible specifically says we are being tricked, by the devil, our sinful pride and the influence of the world.  By trying not to be tricked by God, they are tricked by their own sin and the devil's words.

But this isn't even the worst thing.  It's one thing to be tricked, but which is more sad?  To live your whole life trusting in Christ and be wrong - meaning, you simply die and that's it.  OR, to live your whole life trying not to be tricked and be wrong - meaning, you gave up the most precious gift imaginable. 

Think about it.  It isn't all that sad to live for Christ if God doesn't exist, because at least you helped others during the blip of life you had.  BUT, since Christ has risen and offers eternal life, it is so unendingly sad for someone to reject His gift for the sake of an "if".  What "if" He isn't real... but what if He is!?

And here we come face to face with the Word of God, man's reason cannot produce faith.  Man's reason cannot believe in God, for it is entirely reasonable to conclude as we have above - yet man does NOT!  Reason is fallen.  It is broken.  It is curved inward on itself, looking only at "me, myself and I".  It cannot and will never look to the true God in faith, because only the Word of God produces faith.  Only God's Word untwists our minds from looking inward, that we might see Jesus hanging on the cross for our sake.  Here is God's promise:  You have rejected me, but I have accepted you in Jesus.  Look to Him.  See my love for you.  Stop looking everywhere else, and know me alone in the death and resurrection of my Son.  I forgive you in Him.  I save you in Him.  I give you eternal life in Him, and I will never withdraw my promise.  You are engraved into the hands of my Son.

May the Lord give you every confidence in His unfailing mercy this Lenten season and always.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

How does Jesus' entire life foreshadow His last 12 hours?

It dawned on me this morning that everything in Jesus' life, even the early portions of His life - all foreshadow His last 12 hours.  They foreshadow His Passion.  It is like they are clues that the Gospel writers left that point towards why Jesus has come and what He has come to do.  Take a look at the Gospel readings for the season of Lent.

First Sunday in Lent: Jesus is tempted in the wilderness: foreshadows Jesus tempted in the garden of Gethsemane.

Second Sunday in Lent: After following Him for years and even calling Him "the Christ", Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking about death and resurrection: foreshadows Peter vowing to go to death with Him at the Last Supper but denying Him three times at the palace of the high priest.

Third Sunday in Lent: Jesus cleanses the temple with a whip of cords (a scourge), naming His body as the temple: foreshadows His own body being scourged as a punishment for our sin.

Fourth Sunday in Lent: Jesus declares the Son of Man must be lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness: foreshadows His crucifixion.

Fifth Sunday in Lent: Jesus declares the Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for many: foreshadows His death.

These clues focus us on all that Christ endured to save us.  They highlight His Passion for our salvation - His great zeal to save us from our enemies - sin, death and the devil.  And these are not the only clues.  The clues are nearly endless, but during this season of Lent may our Lord set our eyes on His Son, His Only Son, that we may see He held nothing back, but gave us sinners His most precious gift.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Why does it matter which church you go to?

Do you believe in the Lord's Prayer?
Do you believe that it is a perfect prayer given to us by Jesus Himself? 
Do you believe that what our Lord taught us to pray for must be the most important things for us?

Consider the first petition of the Lord's Prayer - the very first thing Jesus teaches us to ask for.

"Hallowed by Thy Name"

Heavenly Father, hallowed be Thy Name.  What does this mean?

God's name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us also. 

How is God's name kept holy?  God's name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.  Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven!  But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God's Word profanes the name of God among us.  Protect us from this, heavenly Father!

Jesus is teaching us that when we consider where we go to church the number one thing we should be concerned about is this:  Is the Word of God taught in its truth and purity at this church?  Jesus is teaching us that doctrine matters.  It is the first thing we pray for.  Pure doctrine.  The pure name of God.   

Furthermore, we are praying that God would protect us from teaching that is contrary to His Word.  Protect us from false doctrine, false teaching and false teachers in His Church. 

So, what does all of this mean for you? 

Don't catch yourself praying the Lord's Prayer and then treating doctrine like it doesn't matter, or that it divides people.  If you do this, you are divided - praying one thing but believing another.  Instead, repent and believe in the free promise of Jesus.  He forgives you for such twisting of His name, and calls you to seek after purity of doctrine.  He frees you to look honestly into His Word and hear what He says is pure and true. 

Each of us makes light of God's Word every day of our lives, but in His mercy God forgives us and calls us to return to what He says, instead of what our heart says or what the world says.  We need this first petition of His prayer to continue to teach us.  We need to keep praying it.  And we need to believe that it is true.  God bless you and attend you as you seek His truth in a place of worship.