Tuesday, December 2, 2014
OUR FINAL TEARS (Advent 1, Tuesday) Zech. 12:10 ““And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” We have no time table for when The Last Day will come. Still, Holy Scripture gives glimpses of how our risen Lord will return. He will come as He visibly ascended into heaven—riding the clouds of glory. Tears will stream from our eyes. Everyone will see Jesus—those who never believed his message along with us who rejoice in His saving blood. Those who did not believe in Him will weep in sadness; hell’s punishment awaits. We—His redeemed--will weep with joy when He shows us our salvation face to face. He’s already assured us of it when drowning our old Adam in Baptism’s waters and rebirthing us to sit with Him in heavenly joy. He hides us in His love so that we, through faith, fix our longing eyes on His pierced hands and side. Though our every sin drove nails into His hands and feet, Jesus holds out His saving wounds to us in triumph. Though we failed to love our neighbor as ourselves, Jesus loved us so much that He shouldered our sins’ weight to his death. In heaven, He will wipe away our tears. As we long to see His splendor, we sing our amens with praising joy. Prayer. Lord Jesus, turn us each day to Your cross, that we may lament over our sinful condition and eagerly await Your glorious return. Amen.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Why repent when our sins are covered and our guilt is atoned for by Christ Jesus? The question speaks to the objective character of salvation from the cross for the whole world and its subjective application to us who receive it through faith. When Christ died, He died that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4) You and I might feel tempted to lethargic complaissancy. You and I are tempted to think: Since we are covered by the blood of Jesus, we have the permission and even the prerogative to live life free from blame. We can pick and choose the ways in which we want to hear/receive God’s Word based on our mood, based on our schedule, at our own leisure and convenience. Such thinking stands in complete opposition to God’s Word, however. After all, sin still dogs us every day. Where the commandments call us to honor our father and mother, we trash talk them behind their back. Where the Law tells us not to covet, you and I long for that luxurious unscheduled bit of vacation so much that we’ll dock our own pay and financial provision for those extra hours in bed, a mismanagement of the things our Lord gives us to support our bodies and life. Where the cross frees us from the terrors of a guilty conscience, we keep hammering in the nails to punish ourselves for breaking our high standards of self-designated piety. The apostle Paul addressed his Corinthian hearers with their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. Instead of treating it with reverence, receiving it as the medicine of immortality, the feast of forgiveness, they turned it into a social free-for-all. Whoever got in line first ate the most. WE might call their clamoring for prominence and jockeying for status a form of altar drama. Hence, the apostle says it was not the Lord’s Supper they celebrated. (1 Cor. 11:20) The divisions they manifested in pitting one faithful pastor against another they carried over intheir attitude toward receiving Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament. Picture this. Some members oured themselves more wine and dished out more food just for the status of enjoying themselves and having their fill. Such is not the discernment our Lord through the apostle Paul calls His Church to demonstrate. As important as recognizing what He gives in the Sacrament is, eequally important is its use and administration. Pastors who officiate at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper are its stewards—admitting to the Table all who have been baptized and adequately instructed in the Christian faith. When passing such judgment on the Corinthian congregation, Paul didn’t assert anything more than what God through His Word imparted to Him. (1 Cor. 11:17-18, 23) The judgment he called the congregation to practice was not mere discrimination based on appearance, ethnicity, or economic status. Instead, good judgment and discipline was grounded the discernment of the Lord’s body and blood borne by the bread and wine given and sheed for all Christians to eat and to drink. (1 Cor. 11:27-29) Judgment toward worthy reception of the Lord’s Supper is a call for repentance—not just to the Corinthian congregation but to all Christians. (1 Cor. 11:31) We do not proclaim ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Cor. 4:4-5) This is most certainly true when receiving the Lord’s Supper for our forgiveness, life, and salvation. Judgment, says 1 Peter 4, begins with the household of God. And, because we are scarcely saved—that is, only because of and dependent on Jesus’ mercy—we desire such discipline which befits the unity of faith that we profess. (1 Cor. 11:32-33) As the Lord gives Himself as one Lord to His Church through one faith in one Baptism that we may know the one God and Father of us all (Eph. 4:4-6), He calls us to receive His true Gospel in this most holy and united means of His grace. He calls us to eat and drink of the same cup and same loaf—being bodied together and bloodied as His blood-purchased bride. (Eph. 5:25-27) Why repent? Jesus extends His mercy and forgiveness for the sins we commit and the stewardship we omit—not only with regard to His means of grace but in all areas of our daily lives and vocations. Without such repentance, we go our own way, straight down the road of unbelief—whether cheating on a spouse, lying to gain prestige among our friends and family, stealing financial assistance that’s not due us, debasing our own capabilities that others may pity us. Since death came through sin, then unrepentant sin leads of eternal death in hell, finally separate from God’s mercy. Repentance, however, turns our trust anew to Jesus who saves us from such condemnation. He longs for all to be saved and come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) For this very purpose, Jesus still offers His grace through public and private absolution. He baptizes us as His adopted brothers and sisters—children and fellow heirs of of glory before our heavenly Father. His Supper upholds and strengthens our faith in Him just as His preached Word delivers His same Gospel for our hearing. Why repent? Why confess our sins to God and each other? Jesus forgives, pardons, and relieves us free of charge.
How much repentance is required of us when we sin? At first, this question sounds silly. Of course, Jesus has fully atoned for our sins, has abolished the the Law’s punishment in His flesh, and declared the world objectively righteous by His death and resurrection. Romans 6:4: says that “We were buried with Him in Baptism so that, just as Christ was raised by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” On its own, this verse delivers splendid news—namely, that in Jesus rests our eternal life. He has crucified our nature, buried it, and triumphed over it. Yet, this passage answers the question: “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:2-3) The Law confronts us when we neglect our Baptism into Christ’s death. It reminds us that are nothing, can do nothing, will be nothing apart from Jesus. (John 15:5) And, we dare not build our own foundation apart from Him. (Heb. 6:4-6) Jesus spoke clearly the command, “Repent.” (Matt. 4:17) His reason? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom is not local; it’s the reign of God—His administration of justice, His forgiveness of sins, and the means by which He carries out His Word. When Jesus calls us to repent, He calls for a total change of heart and mind. This is more than a mere admission of being guilty of sin. It’s the desire to do what we on ourselves cannot do—namely, amend our rebellious, trespassing, and aimless lives. Human reason pits such repentance against what happens between people who sever a friendship or a husband and wife who decide to separate from each other. A dozen or more “I’m sorry” equivalents might leave each person’s lips. The challenge, once forgiveness or the general “okay” is spoken is that at least a dozen conditions stack up. Behavior must change. Promises must renew. Emotions must heal before reconciliation can truly take place. That’s the natural order of things when families break apart, business partners split the company, children break ties over a damaged toy. The optemists among us say that time will pass and heal all wounds. In none of these scenarios do we walk away assured that our best efforts will make a difference. Our friend or spouse might raise the stakes. We may forget the laundry list of conditions we’ve hammered out over a marriage counselor’s coffee table or a teacher’s cluttered desk. And, God knows, we hold grudges high enough a spaceship can collide with them. Medieval sscholastics fashioned a system which Roman Catholicism caudified at the Council of Trent but which held sway for centuries beforehand. Confession, they say, consists of three parts—contrition, absolution, and satisfaction. It wasn’t enough that Jesus paid it all on Calvary. The belief runs like this: That each person comes to life with some amount of grace by which he/she achieves God’s favor. The cross won this for him/her. So, if this person sins after Baptism, he/she must work off the accrued penalty. The priests gave each penitent sinner a to-do list—speaking a number of Lord’s Prayers in a row, praying the rosary a number of times, visiting relics in a museum on a pilgrimage. Doesn’t that to-do list sound very similar to our natural tendency as human beings? Certainly. Does is give an ounce of assurance when dealing with God as Judge? No. The system looks pious enough. People can pat themselves on the back for keeping the prescribed satisfactions or we could despair and wonder what else we must do. Just look at the socioeconomic conditions of the inner-city and see where civic to-do lists get anyone. The moment sanitary conditions receive some attention, demands for employment make the news. No one remains completely satisfied for very long. The Roman system assumes a basic goodness or benevolence in man which Scripture nowhere affirms. Besides the fact that we cannot do any good apart from Christ (John 15:5), no one is righteous. (Rom. 3:9-10) Nothing we can do can satisfy God’s wrath against us. In fact, He consigned us all to punishment that He might have mercy on us all. (Rom. 11:32) Christ, in fact, is the end of the Law. (Rom. 10:4) everything He teaches and commands points us back to Him. That includes repentance. When Jesus commanded it (Matt. 4:17), He spoke the same way as John the Baptist (Matt. 3:8) and the prophet, Joel (Joel 2:13), preached. Garments aren’t enough. A broken, contrite heart—that is God’s desire for each of us. A broken, contrite heart, returned to the waters of Holy Baptism laments his/her sinfulness assured of Jesus’ promised forgiveness. Any other confidence is false assurance. (Matt. 15:9) Sure, emotions may trouble our consciences from time to time when friendships rupture, marriages break, and businesses fold. Yet, such hardships do not separate us from the love and care of our Lord jesus Christ. (Rom. 8:38-39) For the sake of forgiveness and reconciliation, we make bold to point out our Christian brother or sister’s sin. (Matt. 18:15-20) Confident in Jesus Jesus’ forgiveness, you and I forgive each other our faults. (Eph. 4:31-5:2) True repentance, grounded in true faith produces outward sorrow and—though tainted by daily sin—the desire for amending behavior. (Rom. 6:19) Only under the rule of grace—God’s favor—can we offer our bodies as living sacrifices. (Rom. 12:1) Only in Christ Jesus are we willing slaves to righteousness and dead to sin. How much repentance do we offer in response to Jesus’ command? A whole heart’s worth of sin and filth and corruption. For Jesus is greater than our hearts. (1 John 3:20) He creates in us new hearts (Ps. 51:10-12) that throb with His lifeblood—once poured out on Calvary and now poured into our mouths in Holy Communion. (Lev. 17:11, Luke 22:19-20) With John the Baptist, the preacher of repentance, we behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) The joy of preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins remains ours, in whatever daily vocation our Lord Jesus gives us. (Luke 24:47) Our Lord is truly merciful and just. He calls for our repentance and takes our sins away.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Okay…It’s morning…or It’s evening. Either way, we want to find those evasive moments wherein we can study the Bible. Sometimes, guilt both overwhelms us and makes us nervous about approaching God’s Word. We may ask little questions: What if we read something that really strikes our conscience and convicts us to the heart? What if a reading or command tells us we were wrong in the decisions we just made on a matter pertaining to our family and someone really got upset? How do we handle those times when we wake up or come home from work and the devotion continues to pile on the pressure so that we feel scared to crack the Bible for a while? I don’t know about you. But, having suffered varying degrees of post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety throughout my life, such questions have buffeted my conscience. In high school and college, the words of command/law made me scared to get into a regular devotional and prayer life. Did I really want the pounding of do’s and don’ts hitting me all the time? I went to church and heard the beautiful words of promise/Gospel from pastors spoken to me. Why didn’t I see them reflected in my devotions? As I planned to enter Concordia Seminary and engaged in theological discussions with classmates, I saw the reasons for my hesitancy leap before my face. I didn’t know how to study the Bible in its completeness. Facts were easy to understand and gather. Sentimental texts like those read at Christmas, Easter, at funerals, or Confirmation services stood out…in segments. My love for Christian apologetics, the defense of the faith, led me to a series of good points and vocabulary I could slip into my understanding of God’s Word. Then came the day in chapel at Concordia College (now University)-Seward, Nebraska when the leader read from Ephesians 2:8: “It is by grace you have been saved…” That’s when the events of Jesus’ life, ministry, and ongoing service to His Church connected in ways I hadn’t understood since the two years of intensified Christian instruction which preceed the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Grace is God’s favor in Christ Jesus for us who do not deserve it. God shows His favor through the means wherein He reveals Himself as our Savior from our sin. IN Christ, the Word become flesh (John 1:1-18) -- In promises from the Old Testament pointing rebellious Israel to the coming Messiah, often appearing in preincarnate ways to His peole—Gen. 3:15, Gen. 22:1-14, Ex. 3:14, Joshua 6, et al. In Baptism where He knits His Word to simple water (Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38-39, Rom. 6:1-14, Gal. 3:26-27, Titus 3:3-7. The Lord’s Supper where Jesus gives us His own body and blood to eat and drink. Matt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 10:16-17, 11:23-26 Preaching: Rom. 10:14-17 Spoken public and private absolution: Ps. 32:5, 1 John 1:8-9 Since Jesus is so much the heart and center of our salvation, then He must be and is the heart and center of His written Word. He breaks through the fog of depression. He consoles us, no matter emotions or addictions we face. And, He brings us to repentance through the ongoing conviction of His Law, that He may comfort us anew with His forgiveness, life, and salvation. (Rom. 10:4, Ps. 130:3-4. With this in mind, approaching devotions, sermons, and Bible classes becomes a regular return to Jesus Himself, drawn by His grace through faith in Him alone. After all, He never leaves nor forsakes us and remains the same—yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13) Even when the Law convicts us of something we’ve thought, said or done—no matter how personal—we need to hear it. No, we can’t improve on the previous day’s disobedience before God. Instead, He uses conviction to fix our eyes on Him and everything He has done for us. (Heb. 12:1-2. There may be days when we forget our daily devotions. We get busy, oversleep, run the kids to every social and athletic endeavor possible. Even so, our Lord guides us back to His Word with His same command and promise, fixing our eyes on Him who is the heart and center of the Holy Scriptures. (John 5:39, 2 Tim. 3:15-17, 2 Peter 3:15-16) Rejoicing in His Word, begin your task each day; lie down and sleep in peace. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8) and in Him remains our help and salvation. (Ps. 46:1-2, Ps. 121:1-2)
Monday, June 2, 2014
A certain vibrance infills us when we consider life directed and guided by the Holy Spirit. If, indeed, the Spirit directs our days and our actions in His peace, then it follows that God desires to have His way with us—our thoughts, our words, our actions. He so does desire this very thing. Yet, we live at war wih ourselves. (Rom. 7:22-25) Since Adam’s fall, our bodies, corrupted by sin, are bodies of death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, who has given us His Holy Spirit to rescue us from our sinful nature. (Rom. 7:25, 8:6-7) Life in the Spirit, then, is not some existential, twenty-four/seven, year-round emotional high. Grace is not the drug that infuses some rush of giddiness that clouds our mind to the things of this world or the challenges to our Christian faith. Sure, we experiences emotions and rejoice in what Martin Franzmann deems “open-eyed realism.” Emotions such as happiness, excitement, love, sympathy, etc. sprout from our Spirit-engendered trust in Jesus Christ, in whom there is now no condemnation. (Rom. 8:1) When freeing us to this new life in the Spirit, Jesus teaches us more about His Gospel. Though weakened by our sinfulness and corrupted beyond our repair, we cannot fulfill righteousness in and of ourselves. Yet, Jesus was born, lived, suffered death and was raised to fulfill the whole Law in His own flesh. And, He counts it to our benefit—no strings attached, no conditions except that we remain true to the trust He has created. We don’t keep the Law in and of ourselves to merit everlasting life. Jesus kept it for us. He appeased His Father’s wrath by taking on His shoulders the punishment aimed at us. He did it in completely the same will as God the Father, who wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4) When we think of Jesus’ imputing His righteousness to us, we most quickly run to the cross and Baptism into it. Rightly so. That’s where Jesus’ passive obedience to the Law’s condemnation counts us holy, righteous, marked by Jesus’ blood. Jesus also imputes His active righteousness to us. He did fulfill the whole Law and credited it to our account. He didn’t need to merit anything or consider equality with God as something to be grasped. (Phil. 2:6-7) He’s God the Son, after all—who with the Father and the Holy Spirit—live and rule to eternity, ever one God revealed in three persons. Jesus humbled Himself, a servant, to be a little lower than theangels. (Ps. 8) so that in His divinity He remained equal to the Father and in His humanity He became like us—sin excepted. (Heb. 4:15) After all, the Law demanded fulfillment. (Matt. 5:17-20) It required perfection. (Matt. 5:48) Only the shedding of blood could pay the punishment for those who break it. (Lev. 17:11) Life in the Spirit, then, whether comforting, consoling, vivifying, or instructing—remains life in and through Jesus Christ. He counts His obedience to the whole Law, including iths punishment—which He didn’t deserve—to our credit. Being so declared righteous (Rom. 3:28), we desire to live according to the Law. (Rom. 3:31) Vibrant living? Sometimes. Bold living when confronted by challenges to our faith? God willing this remains so. Forgiveness living? Always. Rom. 8:3-4: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Thursday, May 29, 2014
"For we also retain confession, especially on account of the absolution, as being the word of God which, by divine authority, the power of the keys pronounces upon individuals." (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, art. XIIb, 2) One of the blessings that a pastor and a parishioner share is that of private confession and absolution. For the pastor, the opportunity is time for declaring to a specific person the same Gospel spoken in public worship. And, like in public worship, the pastor doesn't need to dig and interrogate concerning every little detail of people's lives to declare this beautiful forgiveness. For the parishioner, the time for confession allows for verbalizing some burden which continues to nag his or her conscience after taking it to the Lord Jesus during times spent reading the Holy Scriptures and in prayer. When verbalizing real burdens and sins, he or she knows that his/her pastor gives forgiveness and consolation as if Jesus Christ were there speaking it in person. Hence, in both public and private settings, that pastor stands in the stead and by the command of Jesus, not as a magistrate but as a shepherd guiding congregational members toward the peace that passes all understanding and a good conscience. (James 5:16, Phil. 4:7) We, therefore, rejoice in confession and absolution. (Ps. 32:5) It is not required or a merit toward our salvation. Rather, it's the opportunity for the Word to do His gracious working in our daily lives as we assume our positions in the vocations where God calls us.