Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Practical Faith in God

Posted: August 28, 2019 in Uncategorized

practical

Practical Faith in God

My childhood autumns in Florida hold precious memories — believe it or not, taking out warmer clothing, hot cocoa, harvest moons, cool crisp air, bon fires, a well-stocked pantry, and best of all—FOOTBALL! I love it.

The autumn of life is a strange mixture of nostalgia, blessings, and potential. It yields the harvest of seeds we’ve sown throughout life and braces us for colder days to come. When life’s autumn arrives, we look back and better understand the way God led us; but we still have work to do—the best and fullest. It’s a good transition time.

“Autumn” occurs only once in the Bible. In Jude 1:12, where false teachers are compared to “trees in autumn that are doubly dead, for they bear no fruit and have been pulled up by the roots,”  implying that the true teaching of God’s Word must be fruitful, and autumn should be a fruitful season, the most abundant of the year. How can we take advantage of our autumn?

The seasons come and go, and our focus is to be on the God who remains unchanged and unchanging. “LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2)

There’s a lot of unwelcome change in our world. Moral and societal changes brother us most when we turn on our television, the internet, or look at the newspapers. We’re painfully aware that our kids are growing up in a world far different from the one we knew as children.

I remember living in Arizona, especially the valley of the sun – Phoenix; the surround vistas are awe-inspiring.  The plants are so green, the cactus thrives, and you can see for miles (when there is no pollution alert).  The time of year I’m remembering is autumn, if you want to call it that, the air can be crisp and cold.  The evening dew bursts forth and slaps your face with the fresh scent of the moist ground.  Then, before you know it, the green desert starts to turn yellow, and withers to brown when the first 100-degree day hits. Everything, including humans look for shade and relief from the heat of the sun.

When things get hot for us, when things start to wither around us and turn bad where do we go for relief?  What is one to do?

We are to turn to God and trust in Him. Why is that?  The reason is that even if we have family, friends, or co-workers to share our problems with, we still must rely totally on God. Everything we experience, we experience on our own. If you think about it closely, at the end of the day, we don’t have family, we don’t have friends, and all we have is God. It is you and God. Faith in God gets us through to Him Who gets through to us. God gives us what no one else can possibly give us, and that is strength and hope.

Is there a lesson here? Yes. Here is the lesson: who we have a relationship with, what we have or don’t have, has no bearing on our faith in God or in our relationship with Him.

Life can beat us down hard, and we have to deal with it the best way we can. It will either make us stronger by faith in God and trusting in Him to care for us, or it will take us down into the pits of despair because we allow it to dominate and control us. Sometimes we try to be noble, or stoic, and think we can handle everything on our own.  We all have to deal with life in our own way, behind our own eyes, from which no one else can see or experience.  Growing strong out of these lessons is the only way to go. There is no other way to go, except down into the depths of weakness and self indulgence.  Faith in God will keep us out of the grim depths of despair.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

The Bible teaches that in all things we are to give thanks.  We are to thank God for the bad situations that happen to us, and not just the blessings He bestows upon us. In prayer, however, we are to thank God for being there with us through it all.  I’ve learned something deeper about faith and being grateful to God.

It is that God gives us the strength and hope to carry on.  We are to thank God for Who He Is and all of what He has done for us, mostly for sending His Son Jesus Christ to be our Savior! I believe God allows tragedies, death, disasters, illness or calamity in our lives. He allows it and He is there when it happens and is there when it is over, and is there when we are healing from it. He is our source of strength, courage, healing and vitality.

Andre Crouch wrote a famous and moving song about trusting God, It goes like this, “Through it all, through it all…I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all…I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

Through it all, He gives us faith, hope, and love. Through it all, He bestows upon us His mercy, His compassion, and His grace.  Through it all, He gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation – His salvation. Though it all may be a mystery, He saves us, nonetheless.

May God bless your September!

 

Pastor Gary +

 

What Is A Lutheran?

Posted: May 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

Luthers Rose

By Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

As a refugee – or casualty – of many different kinds of churches and religions before I became a Lutheran, I find the Lutheran Church uniquely satisfying.  It has the good parts of all of the other kinds of Christianity.  And its distinctive qualities zero in on what is most essential in the Christian faith.

One of my relatives said, “You Lutherans are just like Catholics.”  Well, not really, but sort of.  Like Catholicism, Lutheranism is sacramental.  Lutherans really believe that this material world can convey spiritual reality.  In Baptism, physical water effects a spiritual cleansing.  In Holy Communion, we really believe that Jesus Christ is there and that when we eat the bread and drink the wine we are receiving His body and His blood.  (Yes, that is a mind-blowing concept, and my mind is blown every Sunday, to my great benefit.)

Like Catholicism, Lutheranism is historical, in solidarity with the Christianity that goes back throughout the centuries.  This means that Lutherans, like Catholics, tend to worship with some version of the ancient liturgy.  We do not have to, strictly speaking, but in my case, once I got used to it, I found it more meaningful and even more emotional than any other kind of worship I had previously experienced.  (The words of the liturgy are pretty much all taken from the Word of God, so no wonder.)

Also like Catholics we draw on the rich spiritual heritage of the Church through the ages, including the church Fathers of ancient Rome and medieval writers such as St. Bernard of Clairvaux.  We keep denying that we “broke away” from Rome, insisting that we were just trying to reform things, only to get kicked out!  What needed reforming are things like the papacy, ritualism, indulgences, legalism, and extra-biblical add-ons to Christianity.  But Lutherans do not throw out the baby with the holy water.

Yet my Catholic friends consider us Lutherans arch-Protestants.  And indeed, Lutherans possess everything distinctive about Protestants also.  For example, Lutherans emphasize the Bible as much as any Baptist preacher or evangelical Bible study leader.  Orthodox Lutherans believe the Bible is inerrant, the ultimate authority, God’s personal revelation to human beings by means of human language.  We even ratchet that up:  the Word of God is also sacramental, conveying God’s grace to those who hear or read it, scaring us to death by the severity of God’s Law (bringing us to repentance) and comforting us to life by the love in Christ’s Gospel (bringing us to faith).

Speaking of that Gospel – the Good News that Christ died for our sins and offers salvation as a free gift – Lutherans preach it and cling to it, just as evangelicals do.  (The word Evangelical comes from the word evangel, meaning “good news,” which is what Gospel means.  The term Evangelical originally meant “Lutheran.”)

Again, as with the Word of God, Lutherans ratchet up the concept.  Many Protestant Evangelicals today see the Gospel mainly in terms of their conversion, that is, when they first became Christians.  Having accepted the Gospel a long time ago, they now assume that Christian life is about following God’s Law.  Lutherans, though, see the Gospel as something that we need every day and every moment, so that we are always repenting and experiencing Christ’s forgiveness, receiving Christ every time we encounter His Word or receive His body broken for us and His blood poured out for the remission of our sins in Holy Communion.  Our response to the Gospel is faith, and the Christian life has to do with growing in faith, which, in turn, bears fruit in good works and love for our neighbors.  But Lutherans are, indeed, Protestants (a term also first applied to Lutherans.)

We are different, perhaps, in our emphasis on the freedom of the Gospel, so that we do not get hung up on extra-biblical pieties and moralisms that characterize many conservative Protestants.  For example, some evangelicals are shocked and scandalized to find that Lutheran congregations may well serve beer at their church dinners!  Other Evangelicals find the “Lutheran beverage” refreshing, especially because instead of feeling guilty about it, they can enjoy it as a gift of God.

Lutheranism exhibits the best parts of the different varieties of Protestantism.  When I was in college, the Evangelical campus ministries that I fell in with were torn with controversies between Calvinists, Arminians, and charismatics.  For me, Lutheranism fulfills them all.  Like Calvinism, Lutherans believe that we are saved by grace alone, that God does absolutely everything for our salvation; but whereas Calvinists push that notion into the logical extremes of double predestination and limited atonement, Lutherans, understanding the Word and Sacraments as Means of Grace, believe that potentially anyone can be saved because Christ died for all.  Like Arminians, Lutherans emphasize God’s love and the universality of Christ’s sacrifice; but whereas Arminians focus on the role of the human will in both salvation and in the possibility of moral perfection, Lutherans, with a more radical view of both sin and grace, stress the role of God’s will rather than our own.  Like charismatics, Lutherans expect a direct experience of the supernatural and direct contact with the Godhead.  But finessing the dangers of spiritual subjectivity, Lutherans find God’s charisma (the Greek word for “gift”) in His gifts of the Word – in which the Holy Spirit is present – and the Sacraments, in which Christ is miraculously, supernaturally present.

For me, Lutheranism represents a wholeness of Christianity, embracing the most salient features of Catholicism (including Eastern Orthodoxy) and Protestantism (including its various sects).  This, of course, means that Lutheranism will be attacked from all sides (Catholics condemning it for being protestant, Protestants for being Catholic, Calvinists for being Arminian; Arminians for being Calvinist; charismatics for being dead).  And frankly, it means that Lutherans will attack all of the others for what they leave out.  Part of the unattractiveness of Lutheranism for some people is its theological combativeness.  But it isn’t that Lutherans have the only truth, though some may seem to act that way.  Lutheranism has actually helped me to appreciate other kinds of Christianity.  But the Lutheran synthesis depends on a delicate balance that must be defended at every point.

Lutheranism, of course, has its own distinctive elements that can pretty much be found only in Lutheran churches.  These could be held in other churches, but they usually cannot be found among non-Lutherans, even though they go into the depths of the Christian mysteries.One is the Lutheran focus on Christology.  Martin Luther said that we ought not to think of God apart from His incarnation in Jesus Christ.  We often think of God the Father as an abstract idea or as an amorphous being far above the universe who looks down on human suffering.  But God has become flesh.  Not that Lutherans deny the transcendence of the Father or that we believe in the Son of God only at the expense of the other persons of the Trinity.  But God the Father has revealed Himself fully in Jesus.  To see the Father, we must see Jesus.  As Jesus told Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)  So our knowledge of God must be mediated by our knowledge of the man Jesus.

One of the main reasons some people do not believe in God at all is the problem of the evil and suffering in the world.  How could there be a God who looks down on all of the world’s evil and suffering and does nothing about it?  Notice the assumption:  God is a transcendent being who “looks down.”  What if God actually enters this world of evil and suffering?  What if, somehow, he took all of that evil and suffering into Himself?  What if this incarnate God suffered the just penalty for all the world’s evil?  What if this allows for a cosmic forgiveness?

This, of course, is what all Christians believe that Jesus accomplished on the cross.  But few Christians, oddly enough, apply Christology to the problem of suffering.  This brings us to another Lutheran distinctive:  the theology of glory versus the theology of the cross.  We would expect God to come down as a mighty king to be victorious over His enemies, to answer all of our questions, and to solve all of our problems.  Instead, God came as a baby to an unmarried mother who laid Him in a cattle trough; he was homeless; He was executed by torture.  The incarnate God set aside His rightful glory for a cross.  In doing so and by rising from the dead and then ascending to His glory, he redeemed us.  By the same token, we want the way of glory – and so we expect all of our questions to be answered and all our problems solved – but we, too, have to bear our crosses.  Ironically, in those times of our own weakness, suffering, and need, we find that Christ has taken up our crosses into His.

It has been said that American Christianity has no theology of suffering.  Consequently, we assume that suffering is meaningless, and if we suffer we cannot bear it, to the point of thinking we must be outside of God’s favor or there must not be a God at all.  Lutheranism, to its great credit, has a theology of suffering.

But it also has a theology of everyday life that brings satisfaction and joy.  One of the most helpful things I have learned since I became a Lutheran is the doctrine of vocation.  To realize that just being a husband, a father, an employee, and a citizen are all callings from God, that the day-to-day tasks that all of these entail are holy before God – that was a revelation to me.  Not only that, but God is working through human beings to bestow His gifts:  he gives me my daily bread through farmers, bakers, and cooks; He protects me by police officers; e heals me by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists; He proclaims His Word and gives me Christ’s body and blood through my pastor.  And somehow, He is working through me.  He created new life through my wife and me when we had our kids.  He has taught young people to write through me in my job as an English professor.  All of these vocations have the same purpose:  to love and serve the different neighbors whom God brings to us in each of our multiple callings.

I used to think that I served God when I did church work and that everything else was just living or making a living.  Now that I am a Lutheran, I know that in church God serves me through His Word and Sacraments and that He sends me out in my different vocations to live out my faith in love and service to my neighbors.  He is still present, though, even in the mundane, ordinary routines of life, working through me and serving me through others.  That gives my life purpose and a meaning that I never realized before.

One more distinctive:  Lutherans talk about “the chief article,” “the doctrine upon which the Church rises or falls.”  That refers to the teaching of justification by faith, or to be more technical, justification by grace through faith in the work of Christ – in other words, the Gospel, the Good News of salvation through Christ.  In Lutheran theology, everything goes back to this.  Baptism is Christ saving us.  Holy Communion is Christ giving us His broken body and His poured-out blood for the remission of our sins.  The Bible conveys God’s Law, which brings us to repentance, and His Gospel, which brings us to justifying faith.  The Trinity is a unity of three persons, which enables us to say that God is love, and because He loves us, He saves us.  Jesus is true God, because only God could bear our sins and save us like He did.  In vocation, we are, to use Luther’s words, little Christs to our neighbors as we sacrifice ourselves in love and service, just as Christ did for us.  This “chief article” holds Lutheran spirituality together.  It also holds life together.  I never realized that until I became a Lutheran.

 

OneBaptism

Or “What Does It Mean to Crucify Christ Again?”

Martin Luther called Hebrews 6:4-6 a “hard knot” in the Bible, because it seems to deny repentance to those who sin grievously after joining the church. In the third century, a schism formed because an elder in Rome, Novatus, denied restoration to lapsed Christians on the basis of these verses. Many Christians who read this passage are struck with fear, wondering, “Does this apply to me, since I have backslidden in my walk with the Lord?” The text reads:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Note that the reason given for being unable to repent is specified in the second half of verse 6: they crucify again the Son of God and hold him up to contempt. What could this possibly refer to? Many years ago, St. John Chrysostom (a powerful preacher in Constantinople who died in the fifth century) suggested that it referred to being baptized a second time. Other students of the Scripture have followed Chrysostom, and although his view seems less common today, I believe it carries significant weight. Here are three reasons—contextual, exegetical, and theological—that  “crucifying once again the Son of God” is a reference to attempting to be “baptized” again after committing apostasy.*

Contextual Evidence

Hebrews was written to a church that had members who were considering leaving the faith behind. They had taken the “new members’” class, been baptized, participated in the life of the church, but the pressures of persecution were making some in their number reconsider the Christian faith. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author encourages these believers not to let go of their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). The word “confession” used here indicates a public act of allegiance (cf. 1 Tim. 6:12); and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting reference than baptism. Throughout this letter, the Hebrews are encouraged to cling to their baptismal hope which centers on Christ. Furthermore, there very well may be a reference to baptism in 6:4 where the author speaks of being “once enlightened.” At least from the 2ndcentury onward, “enlightened” was used as a technical term for being baptized. If we couple that idea together with an allusion to the Lord’s Supper immediately following (tasting of the heavenly gift), it isn’t difficult to see that baptism is in the foreground of this book, and especially chapter 6.

Exegetical Evidence

In verse 6, crucifying the Son of God again is parallel to holding him up to contempt. The word used by the pastor here is rare in the New Testament, in fact, this is its only occurrence! It means to disgrace someone in a public manner. The people described in Hebrews 6:4-6 experienced in a powerful way the ministry of God’s word and Spirit (they were baptized church goers who had an intimate knowledge of the Bible). If they were to abandon it all, and then sign up again for the new members’ class and seek to be baptized a second time, that would be a public disgracing of Christ, as if his initial promise in baptism was insufficient. A person is either born again or they aren’t, but you cannot be born again – again. Continually hardening yourself to the gospel after years and years and then ultimately rejecting it (as some in the Hebrew church were dangerously close to doing) leaves one in a graceless situation (cf. Gal. 5:4). Indeed, later this pastor will say that if we reject Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, there’s no other sacrifice left for us that can atone for sins (Heb. 10:26).

Theological Evidence

When we understand what baptism is, theologically speaking, it becomes obvious that Hebrews 6:6 alludes to attempting to be baptized twice. In Romans 6:3-6, Paul taught this about baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

In baptism, we enter into Christ’s death and resurrection by faith. We are crucified with him. We can only be once enlightened because Jesus died once for the sins of the world (Heb. 7:27; 10:10). Perhaps now this pastor’s warning is a bit clearer; he’s saying to the Hebrew church: Let’s not start over from scratch again (Heb. 6:1-3); we’ve already been once enlightened; we’ve tasted the heavenly gift, the good word of God, the powers of heaven! If you throw it all away and trust in something else besides Jesus to save you, you can’t come back and get baptized again. Christ can’t be crucified twice!

Of course, at this point you might be thinking, “Yikes, I’ve been baptized several times!” The truth is, there’s only one baptism, and the act of baptism, without faith, cannot save you. The pastor in Hebrews is calling his audience to lay hold of the grace of God given to them in baptism, and you must do the same. The good news is, he trusts that his hearers will (note the encouragement in 6:9-12). Hebrews 6:4-6 doesn’t teach that if we deny Jesus, or commit a heinous sin, we can never repent again (remember King David the murderous adulterer, or Peter the denier). As long as there’s breath in your lungs, today is the day of salvation. Don’t harden your heart to God’s grace though, and don’t think that going and getting baptized for the seventh time will grant it to you. By faith, lay hold of the promise that has already been set before you and hold fast to it each and every day. And here’s the promise: if you trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, you have eternal life. Let’s have a full assurance of hope in that promise until the end of our days (Heb. 6:11).

By Adriel Sanchez, taken from his article on http://www.corechristianity.com

*Notes from St. John Chrysostom’s Homily on Hebrews 6:

“But what is “the doctrine of baptisms”? Not as if there were many baptisms, but one only. Why then did he express it in the plural? Because he had said, “not laying again a foundation of repentance.” For if he again baptized them and catechised them afresh, and having been baptized at the beginning they were again taught what things ought to be done and what ought not, they would remain perpetually incorrigible.

It is not open to them to say, If we live slothfully we will be baptized again, we will be catechised again, we will again receive the Spirit; even if now we fall from the faith, we shall be able again by being baptized, to wash away our sins, and to attain to the same state as before. Ye are deceived (he says) in supposing these things.

“Crucifying to themselves,” he says, “the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame.” What he means is this. Baptism is a Cross, and “our old man was crucified with [Him]” (Rom. vi. 6), for we were “made conformable to the likeness of His death” (Rom. vi. 5; Phil. iii. 10), and again, “we were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death.” (Rom. vi. 4.) Wherefore, as it is not possible that Christ should be crucified a second time, for that is to “put Him to an open shame.” For “if death shall no more have dominion over Him” (Rom. vi. 9), if He rose again, by His resurrection becoming superior to death; if by death He wrestled with and overcame death, and then is crucified again, all those things become a fable and a mockery. He then that baptizeth a second time, crucifies Him again. But what is “crucifying afresh”? [It is] crucifying over again. For as Christ died on the cross, so do we in baptism, not as to the flesh, but as to sin. Behold two deaths. He died as to the flesh; in our case the old man was buried, and the new man arose, made conformable to the likeness of His death. If therefore it is necessary to be baptized [again], it is necessary that this same [Christ] should die again. For baptism is nothing else than the putting to death of the baptized, and his rising again.

And he well said, “crucifying afresh unto themselves.” For he that does this, as having forgotten the former grace, and ordering his own life carelessly, acts in all respects as if there were another baptism. It behooves us therefore to take heed and to make
ourselves safe.

What is, “having tasted of the heavenly gift”? it is, “of the remission of sins”: for this is of God alone to bestow, and the grace is a grace once for all. “What then? shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far from it!” (Rom. vi, 1, 2.) But if we should be always
going to be saved by grace we shall never be good. For where there is but one grace, and we are yet so indolent, should we then cease sinning if we knew that it is possible again to have our sins washed away? For my part I think not. He here shows that the gifts are many: and to explain it, Ye were counted worthy (he says) of so great forgiveness; for he that was sitting in darkness, he that was at enmity, he that was at open war, that was alienated, that was hated of God, that was lost, he having been suddenly enlightened, counted worthy of the Spirit, of the heavenly gift, of adoption as a son, of the kingdom of heaven, of those other good things, the unspeakable mysteries; and who does not even thus become better, but while indeed worthy of perdition, obtained salvation and honor, as if he had successfully accomplished great things; how could he be again baptized?

What then (you say)? Is there no repentance? There is repentance, but there is no second baptism: but repentance there is, and it has great force, and is able to set free from the burden of his sins, if he will, even him that hath been baptized much in sins, and to establish in safety him who is in danger, even though he should have come unto the very depth of wickedness. And this is evident from many places. “For,” says one, “doth not he that falleth rise again? or he that turneth away, doth not he turn back to [God]?” (Jer. viii. 4.) It is possible, if we will, that Christ should be formed in us again: for hear Paul saying, “My little children of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal. iv. 19.) Only let us lay hold on repentance.”

 

Created For His Glory

Posted: January 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

huge-waves

Text:

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” 

(Isaiah 43:1, 3a & 7)

 Isaiah’s prophecy illustrates a sudden leap from reproach to consolation. This was very significant. It helped them to understand, that no meritorious work of their own would come in between what Israel was and what they were to be, but that it was God’s free grace which came to meet them.

The punishment of Israel has now lasted quite long enough; and, as God’s love which retreated behind His wrath, now returns with His own prerogatives again. To forgive His chosen people who will bear for Him their Messiah, and the Savior of the whole world.

God would continue to stretch out His arm it against the destructive power of the most hostile of Israel’s enemies, and rescue it from the midst of its greatest of dangers, Israel’s own rebellion and disobedience.

God says “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.” You and I have gone through many a trial, I am sure. We have been persecuted by people, those proud waves that go over us; then there are the temptations of Satan, that enemy who comes in like a flood, and many more. Because of how rapidly they come, how forceful the waves may be, and their overshadowing and overwhelming nature, we now see that there are waves through which we, the people of God, must pass through. Our way lies through these waves to eternal glory.

Even though some of these waves appear to go on forever, they have an end, as waves have, landing upon the shore. We have Jesus Christ as our example and guide, He gives sufficient strength to enable us to swim through them safely. God says these waves will not overtake us, so as to either cause our faith to utterly fail, or to separate us from the love of God. These waves will not destroy us; for though they come straight at us, and upon us, and may greatly affect and distress us, they will not hurt us. God causes them for our advantage. He is with us. Jesus Christ sympathizes with us, comforts and revives us. He teaches and instructs us in our afflictions. He sanctifies us [makes us holy], as well as supports and holds us up under them. Ultimately, He delivers us from them. When it feels like we are being pushed deep under the force of these waves, God’s hand reaches down into the depths, and lifts us up to safety.

God tells us, “When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” What is an affliction?  An affliction is something that causes great suffering and distress due to adversity. Isaiah compares afflictions to fire and flames. Illness, disease, or accidents can cause fear or anxiety by threatening us with great harm, or even death. Because of the fearful expectation or anticipation of God’s wrath upon Israel at times, and because of the nature of the afflictions, Israel found themselves refined just like gold and silver in the refiner’s fire. However, for the Christian, we saints are not consumed by these trials by fire, we lose nothing but our dross; those sinful behaviors along with their principles and proclivities are burned away, and God supports us through it all.

Andre Crouch wrote a song to help us understand what Isaiah is saying to us in today’s Old Testament reading, and it goes like this:

“I’ve had many tears and sorrows, I’ve had questions for tomorrow, there’s been times I didn’t know right from wrong. But in every situation, God gave me blessed consolation, that my trials come to only make me strong.

I’ve been to lots of places, I’ve seen millions of faces, there’s been times I felt so all alone. But in my lonely hours, yes, those precious lonely hours, Jesus let me know that I was His own.

Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.

I thank God for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys, I thank Him for the storms He brought me through. For if I’d never had a problem, I wouldn’t know God could solve them, I’d never know what faith in His Word could do.

Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”

So, dear friends, the promises of God’s Word are true. It is Good News that God loves you. That He gave His only begotten Son for you. That Jesus took upon Himself our sin, sickness, and shame. That Jesus defeated death and the devil by His death. That He bore the wrath of God on our behalf. That He experienced separation from God on our behalf. He paid the price for our redemption. He made perfect and complete atonement for our sins. He is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the World.

Isaiah was painting a picture of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and holiness. Isaiah was telling Israel that even though they were disobedient and continually rebellious, God was patient and full of mercy toward them. He was compassionate toward Israel because of His divine purpose in sending the Messiah, the Anointed One, who would redeem Israel from their bondage to sin, sickness, death and the devil. The Word became flesh and lived among us. He sent His Messiah to save everyone, not just the Jew, but the Gentile too. His name is Jesus. God created human beings for His glory. However, the glory of humanity became tarnished because of our sin. Now, God’s glory will be seen and experienced by all because of what He has accomplished through Jesus Christ.

This is what Isaiah is saying to us today. He was looking beyond the closest prophetic mountain to Mount Zion, where the Messiah would Rule and Reign as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, the Almighty God!

Amen.

Spiritual Deception

Posted: May 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

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There is a Slavonic word which has come into English usage as “prelest” for lack of a precise equivalent, although it is often translated as “spiritual delusion,” “spiritual deception,” or “illusion,” accepting a delusion for reality in contrast to spiritual sobriety. Prelest carries a connotation of allurement in the sense that the serpent beguiled Eve by means of the forbidden fruit.  Here prelest is defined in greater depth and explained the two ways in which it is applied.

Spiritual deception is the wounding of human nature by falsehood. Spiritual deception is the state of all men without exception, and it has been made possible by the fall of our original parents. All of us are subject to spiritual deception. Awareness of this fact is the greatest protection against it. Likewise, the greatest spiritual deception of all is to consider oneself free from it. We are all deceived, all deluded; we all find ourselves in a condition of falsehood; we all need to be liberated by the Truth. The Truth is our Lord Jesus Christ (John 8:32-14:6). Let us assimilate that Truth by faith in it; Let us cry out in prayer to this Truth, and it will draw us out of the abyss of demonic deception and self-delusion. Bitter is our state! It is that prison from which we beseech that our souls be led out, that we may confess the name of the Lord (Ps. 141:8). The enemy that hates and pursues us has cast our life into that gloomy land. It is that carnal-mindedness (Rom. 8:6) and knowledge falsely so-called (I Tim. 6:20) wherewith the entire world is infected, refusing to acknowledge its illness, insisting, rather, that it is in the bloom of health. It is that “flesh and blood” which “cannot inherit the Kingdom of God”(I Cor. 15:50). It is that eternal death which is healed and destroyed by the Lord Jesus, Who is “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25). Such is our state. In addition, the perception thereof is a new reason to weep. With tears, let us cry out to the Lord Jesus to bring us out of prison, to draw us Forth from the depths of the earth, and to wrest us from the jaws of death! “For this cause did our Lord Jesus Christ descent to us, because He wanted to rescue us from captivity and from most wicked spiritual deception.”

The means whereby the fallen angel brought ruin upon the human race was falsehood (Gen. 3:13). For this reason did the Lord call the devil “a liar, and the father of lies…, a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). We see that the Lord closely associated the notion of falsehood with the notion of murder; for the latter is the inevitable consequence of the former. The words “from the beginning” indicate that from the very start the devil has used falsehood as a weapon in murdering men, for the ruination of men. The beginning of evil is in the false thought.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (KJV)

The source of self-delusion and demonic deception is the false thought. By means of falsehood, the devil infected humanity at its very root, our first parents, with eternal death. For our first parents were deceived, i.e., they acknowledged falsehood as the truth, and having accepted falsehood in the guise of truth, they wounded themselves incurably with mortal sin, as is attested by our ancestor Eve, when she said: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). Thenceforth, voluntarily, or involuntarily, our nature, infected with the poison of evil, inclined toward evil that, to our perverted will, distorted reason, and debauched heart, presents itself as good. There remains within us a remnant of the freedom to choose between good and evil. That remnant of freedom does not function as complete freedom, but rather under the unavoidable influence of the wound of sin. Thus is every human born and cannot be otherwise; and for this reason we all, without exception, find ourselves in a state of self-delusion and demonic deception. From this view of man’s state with regard to good and evil, the state that is necessarily characteristic of each human being, we arrive at the following definition of spiritual deception, which explains it satisfactorily: spiritual deception is man’s assimilation of a falsehood that he accepts as truth.

From the time of man’s fall, the devil has had free access to him. The devil is entitled to this access, for; through disobedience to him, man has voluntarily submitted to his authority and rejected obedience to God. However, God has redeemed man. To the redeemed man He has given the freedom to submit either to God or to the devil; and that this freedom may manifest itself without any compulsion, the devil has been permitted access to man. It is quite natural that the devil makes every effort to keep man in his former subjection to him, or yet to enslave him even more thoroughly. To achieve this, he implements his primordial and customary weapon–falsehood. He strives to deceive and delude us, counting on our state of self-delusion. He stimulates our passions, our sick inclinations. He invests their pernicious demands with an attractive appearance and strives to entice us to indulge them. However, he that is faithful to the Word of God will not permit himself to do so; through faith he will restrain the passions and thus repulse the enemy’s assaults (see James 4:7); struggling against his own self-deception under the guidance of the Gospel, subduing his passions, and thus gradually destroying the influence of the fallen spirits on himself, he will through faith pass from the state of deception to the realm of truth and freedom (see John 8:32), the fullness of which will be given through the overshadowing of divine grace. He that is not faithful to Christ’s teaching, who follows his own will and knowledge, will submit to the enemy, and will pass from a state of self-deception into a state of demonic deception, will lose the remnant of his freedom, and in the end he will become totally enslaved to the devil.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  1 Corinthians 10:12 (NKJV)

 

 

Remembering the stain…

Posted: April 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

I remember the stain
at times it doesn’t seem right
to recall what marred my walk in light
it cannot be removed
so much of life reviewed
in my minds eye

I remember the stain
i cannot clean it
even the rushing tide
sweeping away foot prints over and again
cannot remove it

I remember the stain
of idolatry, rebellion, amd caustic choices
trying to reign over me
why do I remember?

I remember the stain
even though i can still see it
has been washed in blood deep red
where my Father sees me white as snow
where no stain is left to judge me rightly
where no bondage there to bind me tightly
where freedom rings so very brightly
at the dawn of His appearing
He remembers no stain at me leering

I remember the stain
maybe at my minds random recollection
to remind once more the souls misdirection
at one time I knew not
the Deliverer from before
to grasp again His winsome words
Nor do I condemn you, go and sin no more…

By Gary DeSha © 2018

FI_LawAndGospel_Monday

At the heart of virtually every problem in the church, at the bottom of every strained relationship, at the center of every reason an inactive member stays home on Sunday or leaves the church* is the issue of the proper distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel. Without this understanding, the Scriptures make no sense, we will have no idea why we go to church (or worse, the wrong idea) and we will have no clue as to why orthodox Lutheranism reflects New Testament Christianity in the best sense.

We may well be a royal pain and terror to those around us. Even worse, without a clear understanding of Law and Gospel, we’ll be of no use to people around us struggling with spiritual and life issues. Worse still, we may even become a millstone round their necks, helping them (and ourselves) on the way to hell!

The Lutheran Reformation began when the Lord God Himself, through the Scriptures, opened Luther’s mind to the scriptural distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The Law makes demands, which we could not, cannot and never will fulfill. “No one is righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10). “Even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). If St. Paul laments about himself, “The good that I would do I do not do” (Rom. 7:19), where does that leave you? You have not a thought, an action or any of your physical, psychological or spiritual being that is not affected by and tainted by the reality of sin. And sin damns.

The Gospel, however, makes no demands and even gives the faith needed to believe it (Eph. 2:8–9). The Gospel is the forgiveness of sins. Christ was slain from the foundation of the world for you (Matt. 25:34). Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament for you (Isaiah 53). Christ was conceived for you (Luke 1:26). Christ was born for you (Luke 2). Christ was circumcised and fulfilled the Old Testament ceremonial law for you (Luke 2:22). The boy Christ taught in the temple for you! (You get the credit for His diligence in the catechism! See Luke 2:41.) John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)—for you. Jesus was baptized for you (Luke 3:21). Jesus was tempted for you (Luke 4). All of Jesus’ miracles, healings, words, promises, His Passion, His trials, His beating, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His ridicule, His words on the cross— “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do!” (Luke 23:34); “Today you will be with Me in paradise!” (Luke 23:43)—His death, His descent in victory to hell and His glorious resurrection and ascension are all, all of it, for you! And that’s all Gospel!

But there is even better news, and this is the point where the devil bedevils us. What Jesus attained for us some 6,000 miles away and 2,000 years ago is delivered in the word of preaching, in Baptism, in absolution and in the Supper. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.” Oh, yeah? God says you do. “Do not give up meeting together.” (See all of Hebrews 10.) But better than the Law (which says you should go to church) is the blessed Gospel! We cry like the tax collector at church, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). And the pastor says, “In the stead and by the command of Christ, forgiven!” (see John 20:21–23). He makes the sign of the cross to remind us that we’re baptized, forgiven (Titus 3:5). The Scriptures are read, and they contain both Law (demand, threat) and Gospel (forgiveness, promise). The sermon is preached, and the texts explained. The Law threatens and drives us to Jesus! The Gospel is not merely described or spoken about, it’s delivered! “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), right now, for you!

Most people who stop going to church or get church wrong think it’s about ethics. They think it’s about following the rules (i.e., following the Law). No, it’s finally about sinners receiving forgiveness (Gospel). And blessed by the Benediction (“The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you”—Gospel!) and all the forgiveness given, forgiven sinners head back into their vocations in life to be a beautiful leaven. If I know I’m a real “hard-boiled sinner” who’s been forgiven (Luther), I cannot be an unforgiving jackass to those around me. It’s a matter of Law and Gospel. I cannot but speak forgiveness—the Lord’s own forgiveness—to others.

by Rev. Matthew C. Harrison

(Pastor Harrison is the 13th and current President of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.)

*Edited out LCMS replaced with “church” for a general understanding.