Saturday, December 30, 2006

Rocky Balboa

After the fullness of the “Christmas weekend”, after the feasting in the three divine services and then Christmas dinner, things became very slow and we decided that we would go see a movie. We don’t do this very often, mostly because there are very few movies that we count as having any value. But “Rocky Balboa” sounded promising. So we went.

The Rocky movies have been very popular with people. Part way through the movie I leaned over to Stephanie and said, “You know that I hate boxing, but I love these movies.” She chuckled.

It’s true, boxing is a terrible thing, but Rocky represents what everyone desires deep down. Everyone wants to imagine that if he digs deeply enough into his internal reservoirs of strength that he can prevail against all that the world throws against him. We all want to believe that winning is about being willing to take the beatings and being willing to get up again after being knocked down hard.

In a certain sense, this is true. Yet not really. After all, in the end, we all will lose. Death gets us all in the end. No one can dig deeply enough to find the strength to beat death.

Rocky found this out when his beloved Adrian died. She was the one who stood by him through everything. She was the one who bolstered him when he gave up on himself. She was the one who stood up to him and confronted him when he was wrong. She was the one he could always count on.

That is, of course, until death stole her away. Now he had nothing left but memories. He became like an empty shell. His body still breathed, but his spirit had no power of life left.

I have often wondered what my reaction would be if my beloved wife should die. As we were driving home from the movie I told Stephanie that this movie made me realize that if she should precede me in death that I would experience the loss even more strongly than I ever even imagined. She is very much like my Adrian except for one thing: she does not direct me to pull myself up by my bootstraps when I am down. She directs me to the one true hero who never fails, the one true hero who actually defeated death. She often reminds me how important that I am to her because I am her pastor and her husband. But she is as St. Paul teaches husbands in Ephesians 5: my very own body, my flesh. This is an even more powerful thing for those who are truly equally yoked in the Lord.

Whenever Rocky kneels and makes the sign of the cross before a big fight, it tends to make me glad. For as a Christian it is good to see someone acknowledging the true source of victory. Yet, I always come away very sad, too, because I quickly remember that for Rocky and for most people who count themselves as Christians, the sign of the cross is more of a ritual than the source of victory. For most Christians the real battle is one that must be won by standing in whatever strength a person can muster on his own. The cross is more like a good luck charm to be used to help one get his focus back on winning.

The preaching of the cross is much, much more! The preaching of the cross is the means to victory itself. The preaching of the cross is God’s means of connecting us to the victory that He has already won for us. We don’t have to be strong. He is strong for us. In Him we have the strength that we need. In him we are MORE than conquerors as St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:37.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

“We are more than conquerors.” This verb literally says “we are above or beyond the victory.”

In order for Rocky to regain his identity, to regain his sense of being OK, he had to go out and fight. He had to prove that he was still a fighter. When facing the trials of life, he had to get up and punch back. Then, when he could see himself in this way, then he felt strong and alive.

But St. Paul directs us to a strength that is beyond such views of ourselves. He says in Romans 8:36-37:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

The love of Christ gives us MORE than what winning can ever give. Winning merely sets us up to have to stand up and fight again until our strength finally fails us and we lose. Then what? No, the love of Christ gives us more than being victorious in our efforts. Through the victory that Christ won for us on account of His love for us, through Him the things against which we think that we must fight have no power over us. St. Paul declares to us that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor persecution, nor famine, nor nakedness, nor peril, nor sword can separate us from the love of Christ, the love that brought Him from heaven to save us, to defeat all the powers that beat us down. The love of Christ gives us more than the power to be victorious over the trials of life. The love of Christ gives us the power to see that we don’t need to be victorious in order to be safe and alive. Our view of ourselves through our baptismal connection to Christ gives us the power to see goodness and hope even in what appears to be defeat. For after all, our greatest and final enemy, DEATH, was defeated by Christ giving up His spirit on the cross.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.

I enjoyed “Rocky Balboa” because it did show that we should never give up but should always see the victory. I enjoyed it because it demonstrated how wonderful the gift of marriage is and reminded me how richly God has blessed me through my beloved Stephanie. I enjoyed it because it reminded me that in Christ I have much more than a victory, because in my Baptism I have been made to be more than a conqueror, for I have been given the power to know that I can face my own weaknesses without fear. In Christ my weaknesses have no power over me. In Christ I do not need to win. My victory has already been won for me. I am beyond being victorious. I can allow others to abuse me, to reject me, to do whatever to me, for nothing in this life can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Truly for us as Christians we can hear the Lord Jesus say, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Of course the world cannot understand this or embrace this. The world will mock us as even our own sinful nature mocks us for believing this. Yet the Truth will not fail us. We are "more than conquerors through the one loving us.”

The "Rocky" graphics for this post are from Rocky Balboa (2006)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Christmas Divorce

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. (Matthew 1:19 KJV)

What an amazing Christmas story!

Joseph was a man of justice. He was a just or righteous man. He thought that he had been wronged. More importantly, he thought that wrong had been done, wrong to which he could not be conjoined. All the evidence indicated that his bride had cheated on him. The Law of God gave him the right to put her away from him, that is, to divorce her.

But this was not the plan of a righteous man. A righteous man’s plan was to divorce her of the guilt of her sin. His plan was to deal with her privately and to put her away, or release her, privately.

This word for release is found in some other places in the New Testament Scriptures as well. Two other examples are found later in Matthew, in 18:27 and in 27:15.

Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

The lord loosed the indebted servant and Pilate released Barabbas. Joseph’s plan was to go to Mary privately and release her from her debt to him. He had no desire for self-vindication. He was a true Israelite and trusted in God’s forgiveness for himself. Therefore, having no burden to carry of his own, he was filled with God’s compassion and looked upon Mary with tender compassion himself.

Now as it turns out, Mary had no sinful relations with anyone and it was Jesus, the Savior, whom she bore in her womb. God the Holy Spirit had worked this miracle of bringing forth the promised Seed without the aid of a human sire. So Joseph received her as his wife, even as the Lord directed him through the angel.

This demonstrates a couple of wonderful examples of the righteousness that is by faith. First, Joseph was willing to stand firm in what was right without making himself Mary’s judge. He judged the situation according to the evidence and then set forth to act in accord with true faith. Faith moved him to forgive and to release Mary from her debt to him. His only desire was for her spiritual and temporal good. His plan was one of loving confrontation, the kind that our Lord describes in Matthew 18.

Secondly, Joseph was ready to hear the truth. When the angel corrected the misunderstanding regarding the circumstances, even though it was an impossible story (except for God), Joseph acknowledged the Truth and repented of his earlier plans. Moreover, faith moved Joseph to take upon himself the enormous burden of caring for the mother of the Lord, and even the Lord Himself. Joseph did not ask for any of this any more than Mary did. Yet when he heard the truth, he submitted to it and followed it.

So what began as an earthly divorce was transformed into a Christmas divorce. Joseph and Mary were married and through this the World and Sin became divorced. Joseph cared for Mary and Jesus for as long as Joseph lived. By then Jesus was a man and able to look after His mother. Jesus entered into His ministry at the appointed time, preached the Gospel and prepared His disciples for the ministry to come, and went to the cross and grave to finish the divorce from Sin. Now all the world is free to live by faith.

What an amazing Christmas story!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Reason for the Season

This time of year we hear many people expressing their concern that Christ has been removed from Christmas. In conjunction with this concern the catchy phrase "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" has been promulgated. Commercialism has been blamed as the cause of the sense of loss of meaning for the season of Christmas. Interestingly, many of these Christians who are so concerned about the materialism and commercialism of Christmas market and sell bumper stickers, tee shirts, and other paraphernalia with this slogan. "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" is promoted by TV and radio evangelists.

Until this year I never really identified what troubled me about this slogan. I often thought it was the judgmental and hypocritical attitudes that often accompany the use of the slogan. This year, however, I realized the real issue that troubled me.

This slogan is really terribly inaccurate. While Jesus is the reason for Christians to celebrate the season of Christmas, He is not the reason for the season. He is the cause or the source for the season, but He is not the reason. John 3:16 very clearly states the reason for the season, saying,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
So, according to the Holy Scriptures, and the very words of explanation that Jesus gave to Nicodemus, WE are the reason for the season. Jesus was born into the world for us. He came for our sake. He is the gift from the Father, given for our salvation. The real focus of the celebration of the nativity of our Lord is that He came to be sacrificed for us on the cross. The preaching of the season of Christmas is not the preaching of the birth of Jesus nearly so much as it is the preaching of Christ crucified for us.

Thus the real reason that the focus of Christmas has become lost can be understood from the perspective of the means of receiving Christ having been divorced from Christmas. For hardly anyone truly focuses upon the part of Christmas that forms the basis of the season, that is, the Mass. Christmas is about receiving Jesus for our salvation in the celebration of the Mass. If anything is to be blamed for taking Christ out of Christmas, it must be the separation from the right understanding of the Mass from the second chief festival of the Church year.

After all, how many Christians today even understand the Mass as Christ instituted it? Do not most Christians deny what Christ called the eating and drinking of the Holy Supper? Christ called it the New Testament in His blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins! How many people who celebrate Christmas actually take Christ at His word and come to receive His body and blood for their forgiveness as the primary focus of Christmas?

How many people who call themselves Christians actually spend their time telling the world that Jesus really did not know what He was talking about when He ordained that this Sacrament should be the main focus of His Church’s life? Is it any wonder that the Church has become so splintered that few people even believe that unity of doctrine and practice are genuinely possible? Christ gave this meal of Holy Communion to join us in Him as one body, living in the forgiveness that He was born to purchase with His life.

Truly, if we really want to "Put Christ back into Christmas," this is how it will be done. In fact, it is foolish even to speak of putting Christ back into Christmas, for Christmas is the means by which we receive Christ. In the Christ Mass Jesus gives us the very body and blood that Mary wrapped in the swaddling cloths and laid in the manger. In the Christ Mass He gives us the same body and blood that was nailed to the cross and then buried in the tomb and arose again on the third day and ascended to the right hand of power. This is the gift of John 3:16, and of Genesis 3:15-16. This is the reason that the angels sang "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

I believe that we can safely say that we are the reason for the season, we in our great need of a Savior provided by God. If we really understand this, then Christmas will be for us nothing other than Christ for us in the means that He has promised to come to us in our need. Christ cannot be taken out of Christmas. He is Christmas, for us.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Who Is the King of Glory?

During this season of Advent when Handel's Messiah, especially the "Hallelujah" Chorus, is much in use, it seems appropriate to ask the question that Handel so wonderfully presents and answers in this oratorio. The question and answer are provided throughout the work but particularly in the part that utilizes Psalm 24:7-10 :

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory.

The King of Glory is Jesus, the Lord of Hosts, who comes to His people to save them and the world from their sin. He is the omnipotent Creator of all that exists and the righteous Judge to whom all mankind and angels must answer. Yet He comes humbly as a little baby born of the virgin, Mary. He lives a humble life and gives His life as a ransom for those enslaved to sin, death, and the power of the devil. He continues to come in the most seemingly humble of means, the administration of the Word in preaching, Baptism, and the Sacrament of the Altar.

His name is well known throughout the world. Wherever Hollywood has gone, so has the name of Jesus. Movie goers the world over have heard His name used in the movies that they have paid dearly to watch. God, Jesus, Christ, even the newly fashioned Jesus H Christ (apparently from the symbol IHS) is used whenever a person wants to make the most emphatic statement of surprise or shock or fear or anger that can possibly be made. Truly, even though the use of His name is not from faith and holiness, it is nevertheless recognition that He is the King of Glory.

After all, what good is it to use the name of Allah or Buddha to make such a point of emphasis? Who will be impressed by use of these names or any other name. The names of certain other powerful kings have been used, especially of the English King George, where people have said, "By George."

But when people really want to make an impression and call attention to something, they use the name of the King of Glory.

Now, while those who actually believe in such entities as Allah and Buddha certainly do bring powerful destruction upon themselves and those who are so foolish as to be drawn into their doctrines and practices, these names carry no real power. Even the destruction that is wrought by the use of these names is purely by whatever puny humans cause. The followers of Allah, for example, are moved toward hatred and destruction both of themselves and of others. Yet never is Allah actually observed acting either in behalf of these worshipers of Muhammad, nor against Muhammad's enemies. Allah is always referred to by the followers of Muhammad as "Allah the Merciful," yet who has ever observed any act of mercy by Allah?

No, the King of Glory is the one who came from heaven, setting aside the use of His mighty power so as to take the sin of the world into His own body and die as a sinner for all the sinful world. He alone defines mercy. He alone shows true power. For in His death, death is destroyed. By His condemnation, condemnation is annihilated. In His resurrection, life is given for those who by their own actions have brought death to the world and to themselves.

Yes, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of mankind, He truly is the King of Glory from eternity. His glory shall endure forever and all who trust in Him shall share in it with Him, not by their own acts of glory or faithfulness, but by His alone. Grace, mercy, and peace are the results of what He works in people's hearts and souls. Who but the Triune God manifested in the person and work of Jesus could accomplish this? Truly He is the King of Glory.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Happy Anniversary

Yesterday Stephanie and I celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary. We each made cards for one another and I would like to share the cover of the card that she shared with me.

How blessed I am to have a wife, my very own body, to support me and complete me in this life. Such a wife who clings first to Christ crucified and then to the one to whom Christ has united her is a gift to be celebrated second only to the gift of life in Christ itself. Of course such a thing does not happen by accident. The Lord brought us together through circumstances that neither of us would have anticipated resulting in such a blessing. Neither of us were even looking or hoping for such a blessing.

Yet in bringing us together through those difficult times, the Lord showed us that He did indeed have someone for each of us, someone who shared the spiritual need and yearning for the pure life that is found only in Christ. This is the foundation that led us to realize that life together would indeed be a good thing.

We both were 32 years old. Neither expected marriage. Yet today we enter into our 15th year together. And we give thanks to God continually.

Yet it is not what we find good in ourselves that makes us happy, for we surely cause each other times of distress and disappointment. No, it is in knowing that whatever fault we find in ourselves and each other is reconciled in Christ crucified. It is in His grace, mercy, and peace that we find ourselves drawn back to one another to be reconciled by His forgiveness.

This is why even in the times that I have felt weak and have thought of throwing in the towel in the arena of fighting the good fight of faith that my dear bride has bolstered me and reminded me that surrender is not an option. There have been many times that I have asked her whether she would have me stop holding the services in our home and simply to seek a pastor and congregation where we could simply be members. She responds, "I'm not going back to where I come home empty or with even less than I started out with. You can't do that. If you quit, where will we receive the pure Gospel that we need? If you quit, I'll have no place to worship."

How could I ever have hoped to find such a wife for myself? How can I not rejoice in God's goodness manifested through my dear bride?

This is not to say that we never disagree. We surely face challenges, even when speaking of Christ. Yet in asking, "What do the Scriptures actually say?" and "Does this direct us to rely solely upon Christ crucified?" we always come to agreement. Most often we find ourselves saying to one another, "Oh wow! I never saw that before!" It really does not matter which of us brings forth the new treasure from God's storehouse. What matters is that it truly is in accord with the entire counsel of God and directs our hearts to rely more fully upon Christ crucified and the life that is in Him.

So, Stephanie and I embark upon another year of God's goodness, and we do so united as one in Him in His body and then also united as one by Him in our body.

Thank you for sharing in our joy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Abraham the Defender of Others

Abraham, then still Abram, was seventy-five years old when in obedience to the Word of the Lord he departed for the land to which the Lord had called him. He traveled to a new land, a land unknown to him, a land entirely foreign to him and his people. He lived in this land for one hundred years among the peoples who lived there, peoples of war and fighting. Yet during his one hundred years in this land only one account of fighting is recorded of this man of faith.

Early in Abram's wanderings in the new land his brother's son, Lot, was taken captive along with all his family and possessions, along with the five city-states where Lot lived. This action was made by a band of four warring kings who had conquered and ruled over multiple nations. Yet when Abram heard of his nephew's demise and the demise of his neighbors, Abram gathered his three hundred eighteen trained men and chased down the conquering army and triumphed over them. He brought his nephew and all the other people and possessions back to their homes, keeping nothing for himself, giving a tithe to the priest, Melchizedek.

Yet this is the only account of Abraham ever fighting. He had plenty of occasions for defending himself, but never is such a thing recorded about him. Only on this occasion of defending others are we told anything about this man of faith ever fighting. This father in the faith gave freely of himself, enduring wrong from others, defending those who needed help, but without vengeance or defense of himself.

This certainly reminds a person of the Prince of Peace who came to be sacrificed for others, who never raised a hand against anyone except to defend the saints who were being taken captives by those who turned the temple into a den of thieves. Twice He drove out these wicked men so that the people could worship in safety. Yet in defense of Himself He spoke and did nothing, enduring all the evil that was directed at Him. Finally He defeated all hatred and evil once and for all, by giving Himself to be abused and condemned and crucified. His life was offered for all, even those who made themselves His enemies. This is our Advent King, who comes to us with His life of peace in order to restore us to His peace. Peace with God is our inheritance. Peace with all is the fruit of faith, peace that is born in us by that faith. By God's grace, may this indeed be the record of our lives as we journey through this land of warring and fighting people, until our Lord brings us safely home.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Lord's Prayer

During my daily walk with the Lord I spend considerable time pondering the prayer that I utilize the most, the one that we call the "Lord's Prayer". Actually, the Invocation is the prayer that I use the most, in connection with every prayer, but the Lord's Prayer or the Our Father is the longer form of the Invocation. Dear Dr. Luther teaches us to use this prayer given to us by the Lord Himself in connection with nearly all of our prayers. He suggests using it with our morning and evening prayers, with our mealtime prayers, with our prayers of confession of sins, with our prayers of confession of faith.

This is after all the prayer that the Lord Jesus gave us as the one by which we know how to pray. We have two accountings of the gift of this prayer, one in Matthew 6 and the other in Luke 11. Matthew records that the Lord says, "You all's Father has known what needs you all have, before of yourselves you asked Him. In this way, therefore, pray, all of you." Luke simply records that Jesus says, "Whenever you pray, say: . . ."

Can the Lord put it any more plainly or more simply? This is the prayer that we are to pray. It may be used with more or less words, depending upon our circumstances, but this is our prayer. This is the prayer that we are to be praying continually. Thus it seems appropriate that we should be pondering its form and substance continually. Truly there is much for us to learn about true prayer.

We call it the Lord's prayer, because He gave it to us. It is His prayer because it originates with Him as His gift to us. He speaks the prayer to us so that we have a true prayer to speak to Him. He tells us His will so that we may pray confidently the will that He has revealed to us in His own holy words. Since it is His prayer given to us for us to pray, we may indeed pray with absolute confidence.

Thus we find that even though this prayer has seven petitions, there is not a question or request included in the prayer. Each petition is a statement of fact, a statement of what God Himself has declared His holy will to be for His children. Thus we are not taught to say "please" in praying God's will, but to pray as though we believe it is already granted from eternity, from before the existence of time, from before we even realize that we have need to pray. Thus our Lord teaches us that we do not receive because we pray, but that we pray as we become aware of what we receive. We ask, knowing that our Gracious God has already granted it, even before our hearts knew to ask. Nevertheless God commands us to ask so that in receiving we learn to know God's loving attitude toward us.

We also learn in this prayer that it is OUR prayer. Prayer is not the possession of an individual to use apart from God's purposes. It is not a matter of individual request. The prayer is ours as God's family and so our Lord teaches us to pray "Our Father."

Notice that from this perspective it is not Jesus' prayer, for He Himself never prayed it. Jesus never prayed "our Father." He always prayed as the only-begotten Son from eternity. God is His Father, first. Then, in connection with Him as we are conjoined to Him into His body through Baptism His Father is also declared to be our Father. We do not come to the Father on our own, but always in connection with Jesus. We come as those who have been regenerated as members of His body. Thus God is OUR Father and we pray as one in Christ. When any one Christian prays in accord with Jesus' name, that Christian prays with all the saints of all places and all times. No matter where or when we pray, we all pray the same prayer. This is true if we pray in true communion with Christ in His body joined to Him by His saving name. If we truly are praying in the name of Jesus, we are praying as He teaches us in this perfect prayer from eternity. Such praying is never selfish or self-serving.

Therefore we begin by acknowledging our mutual dependence upon God as our Father. We pray for His holy name to be holy in our lives as we grow in the holy communion of the saints, becoming evermore aware of God's holiness and the gift of sanctification imparted in the one Baptism in concert with the one Faith. Thus we rely not upon our own faith but the faith, the one true faith in which the Holy Spirit unites us in the one true Church. Together we are and pray as the una sancta. If we truly are praying in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit then we share in one universal prayer that is founded upon God's pure and holy will. The next two petitions reiterate and emphasize these very points. Then we pray in acknowledgement that the things about which our sinful hearts worry and fret, selfishly trying to hoard for ourselves, have already been appointed to us by our Father in heaven. We acknowledge that our bread and needs are supplied to us each day according to what our Father knows that we need. Rather than worrying, when we pray together according to our Lord's Prayer, we rejoice in His providence and join in continual thanksgiving. Naturally, as we pray and come to know God's goodness to us more and more fully, we are moved to be gracious and generous with one another as well. And so what our Father provides to one He provides to all. This is especially true regarding forgiveness. In Christ we know beyond any doubt that our Father desires to forgive us and to make His forgiveness the basis of our daily living. So we pray with full expectation that God forgive us our sins even as this forgiveness changes our hearts so that we will forgive those who do wrong to us. Next we pray that by the Holy Spirit's leading that we will not follow the way of temptation. While temptations will surely surround us throughout our daily journey, these temptations will have no power over us. Our hearts and minds will be fixed on things above and not on the earth and so we will not be led into temptation by our sinful nature. Finally we pray God's clearly revealed will that we are delivered from evil. Through the suffering and death of Christ evil has been overcome. As long as the Holy Spirit keeps us in the one true faith, the evil one has no power to harm us. We are safe, even as this prayer teaches us to believe. After all, the kingdom, the power, and the glory belong to our heavenly Father. Why on earth should we have doubt concerning anything?

Truly this is the one prayer worthy of being called the Lord's Prayer. Certainly there can be only one thing better than having this prayer given to us for our possession, and that one thing is that we should actually use it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Remember the Alamo!

Last night we watched a rented video entitled "The Alamo." It is another accounting of that famous battle for the land mass now known as Texas. To the Texans, or Texians, as they referred to themselves in the movie, it was a fight for freedom from tyranny and for a new chance in life. In the bonus material with various commentaries the director of the movie shared some information about the people portrayed in the movie. Of them he stated that they were people who had been driven out of other places as unwanted or people who had failed in some way, all of whom were looking for a new start or to be reborn. He added that what they seem to have forgotten is that in order to be reborn they must first die.

This naturally caught my attention and as I looked at my wife she heard it as well. I commented, "I wonder whether he even knows what he just said." Unlikely. Nevertheless, we both heard it in its greater context. While the director was speaking of worldly rebirth, the language was that of baptismal rebirth. Moreover, the director's comment very forthrightly depicts what many if not most Christians forget: that to be reborn, a person first must die.

Of course, this is impossible for us to accomplish. But as the Lord wondrously proclaimed, "With God, all things are possible." Not only is this miracle possible with God, but He promises to fulfill it and He does. Baptism is the rebirth of dying to sin and being reborn to the life that is in Christ Jesus. Jesus proclaims it various times and His apostles repeat it emphatically. The rebirth is a once for all time event that carries forward throughout a person's life. God works the death of the sinner and raises up to new life the saint. Through daily remembrance of this miracle worked by the Holy Spirit, the new saint daily mortifies the old sinful nature through confession and reception of God's absolution, repenting of his own actions and trusting God's good and gracious promise and actions. The effects of a person's baptism are ongoing. They continue throughout every moment of every day of the person's life. This is true as long as the person continues in the faith and new life into which he has been baptized.

However, not all who confess Christ believe that Baptism is God's work. Instead, many count Baptism as something that they do toward God, rather than something that God works toward the individual. Then, instead of being a life-giving fountain, Baptism is transformed in the person's own imagination into an initiation into a life of seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness by pursuing various good works. These works include such things as: deciding to follow Jesus; accepting Jesus into one's life; committing one's life to Jesus; making Christ the center of one's life; believing in Jesus. When these things are transformed into one's own works rather than the works of the Holy Spirit that manifest themselves in the person's life, the person loses the new life of freedom that God graciously works in Baptism. The person trades one form of deception for yet another deception so that God's means of grace are merely symbolic tokens of what the person must really do for himself.

The Gospel is about freedom, freedom to live in the new life that Christ purchased for all. God promises that this new life is a life of faith, faith worked by the Holy Spirit. Thus those who through Baptism are crucified with Christ do not need to seek God's righteousness by anything that they do for themselves. God has already worked His righteousness in the person. The new life is already the possession of that person. Therefore the goodness that the person seeks is not his own goodness, but God's goodness. This truly is a rebirth or regeneration for the struggling sinner. Then hope is more than wishful thinking. The person no longer needs to wish that he were a better person. In Christ he IS perfect, even as the Father in heaven is perfect, for God has declared it in connection with Baptism. What God declares IS. The person can depend upon it.

But as the director of "The Alamo" reflected, people tend to forget that in order to be reborn that they first must die. If we cling to the old way of being righteous by our own works, we have not died. We cannot live in communion with the world and in communion with the kingdom of God simultaneously. Either we are dead to the world or we are dead to God. This is a matter of trust. This is a matter of who or what our true God is. Do we rely upon being joined in holy communion with God in Christ crucified as our confidence, or do we in some way still rely upon our own efforts and/or some other person, thing, or group?

The way of rebirth unto new life is in Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. In Him we are free to live as God's beloved children, free from doubt and fear and condemnation. This is what Jesus was born to accomplish for us. He completed His mission. It is finished. He has gone ahead of us to the right hand of power to prepare our heavenly home for us.

This is the focus of the season of Advent. What a gloriously beautiful vision we behold!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dear Santa

The cold weather in conjuction with the increased cost of heating one's home, certainly makes a person reflect upon the value of receiving a lump of coal as a gift!

However, it also makes a person glad to know that the Lord is not like the false portrayal of Santa. Truly the Lord, the author and provider of Christmas and of all good things, does indeed know who has been good and bad. That, in fact, is the very reason for Christmas.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:16-21 KJV)

Truly, the Lord is our loving Father. He provides for us despite the fact that we deserve nothing but His wrath and punishment both now and forevermore. Yet in His loving-kindness, in His compassionate mercy, He showers His gifts upon us daily, even though we take the credit rather than giving Him thanks. He looks upon us and sees our bad deeds that we choose to count as good, and He calls us to look to His gift of salvation, which is in Christ Jesus. In Christ, not only do we receive all good things, but we are also declared to be good, even as our Father is good.

So, as I sit down to pay my electric bill and my gas bill, I will pause from my moaning and groaning to remember that my ability to pay these is from the Lord. More importantly, I will remember that the suffering that the cold brings to my awareness is a reminder of the suffering that my Lord bore for me in my place so that my reward would be everlasting peace and joy, credited to me on His account. For He was good for me so that even as I am connected to Him through my baptism, so I also am counted to be a good son of His Father, whom through Jesus, I also dare call my Father. I am free to do this because for Christ's sake, God calls me His son.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving Reminder

     Friday I had a wonderful reminder of the fact that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever. Truly no one can measure the mercy of the Lord our God, except by looking to the cross of Christ. There we see His mercy in its fullness, and we can measure its infinite splendor, in the broken and bloody body of Jesus.

     Friday I had a bit of a reminder of this as the final stroke of my pruning saw ended in my wrist. At first I could not tell how severe the cut was. I saw the flow of crimson ebbing across the white string fabric of my climbing glove, rather quickly advancing from my wrist to my knuckles. As I peeled back the glove's cuff, I could see the opened veins and the blood pouring forth. I quickly applied pressure and saw that I could control the bleeding. Next I lowered myself from the tree to the ground, unbuckled the latches of my tree saddle, and again applied pressure to the wound.

     In less than a second I was reduced from a big, strong tree climber to a man dripping blood on his customers' porch, ringing the doorbell, hoping for help to clean the wound and to wrap the wound so as to stop the flow of blood. Before going to the porch I stopped to consider any possible way to care for this matter myself, so that I would not have to frighten the dear old couple in the house. But alas, my frailty was revealed beyond any hope of subterfuge. I needed to ask for help. I needed to inconvenience others by showing them my helplessness.

     This is a wonderful reminder of the fallen state of every man. No matter how strong one may think himself to be, no matter how highly others may hold him and his reliability, he remains someone completely dependent upon someone stronger. In the Our Father our Lord Jesus teaches us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread." Luther explains this wonderfully saying,

     What does this mean?

      God gives daily bread indeed without our prayer, also to all the wicked; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.

     What is meant by daily bread?
      Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

     As a trained and experienced arborist I follow various safety procedures quite religiously. I also am in quite good physical condition. I lift myself and 25 to 50 pounds of gear into the trees all day long. Yet I could not stop the teeth of my saw from biting into my flesh and puncturing my blood vessels and tendons. The Lord, however, provided for my well-being. He quickened my reflexes so that I did not follow through with the stroke of the saw. He gave me the strength to lower myself to the ground. He designed my body with blood clotting factors. He provided that my customers were kindly and caring people and that they were home to help. He provided a ride to the clinic and an experienced doctor who could diagnose my injury. Three days later the swelling is nearly gone, the wounds are beginning to close, and tomorrow I will resume my daily work. All of these the Lord graciously and mercifully provided without my asking for any of them, except in my continual prayer for my daily bread. Of course He provided even more that I have not mentioned. Even the things that I mentioned are only a fraction of what God provided in this one incident. Yet the reminder is clear. I am God’s dependent little child, who is richly and daily provided with all that I need to support this body and life.

     My prayers certainly are not the reason that God provides me my needs. He is good and His mercy endures forever. Purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy He provides even more than I know how to ask. Yet He commands me to ask that I may recognize both my need and His goodness and love.

     My pruning saw is very high quality, which means it is very sharp and a very effective cutting instrument. The teeth are about 1/4 of an inch deep and 3/16 of an inch wide. It truly is a miracle that those dimensions are clearly discernable in my flesh rather than an arc of continuously torn flesh. I will bear these marks of blessing for many years, and perhaps the rest of my earthly days. They will serve as a lifelong reminder of God’s goodness and my frailty. They will be a cause for continual thanksgiving for my daily bread.

     There are another set of marks that serve for daily thanksgiving as well. Jesus continues to bear those marks in His body so that we all may rejoice continually in the goodness and mercy of the Lord our God. Moreover the sign of the cross was marked upon us in our baptism. Daily this sign is renewed as we begin our prayers with that blessed sign.

     Truly we should give continual thanks to the Lord our God, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever.

A blessed Thanksgiving to all.


Monday, October 30, 2006

The Foundation of Orthodoxy

Recently a considerable amount of attention has been generated by the action of a former brother of mine who decided that Orthodoxy is the possession of the "Orthodox Church." He has enjoyed a considerable amount of celebrity because of the scholarly nature of his devotion to the "historic liturgy." He truly is a very scholarly individual, who wholeheartedly devoted himself to his scholarship. In my observation this led to both much blessing and his ultimate downfall. It led him to denounce his own church body, for entirely valid reasons, and yet simultaneously to denounce leaving his church body. The latter was based upon a belief that standing as the Church apart from a formal church body is somehow invalid. (This is my condensed paraphrase from one of his very scholarly papers: "What Options Do the Confessions Give Us?".) Finally, being unable to reconcile these two diametric positions, being unable to live with this hypocrisy, he turned to liturgy and tradition for his salvation, where things seem to be more stable.

Please understand that this is not in any way meant to be an attack on this dear man. However, since his recent resignation from the office of Pastor in the congregation that he served and his accompanying departure from the Evangelical Lutheran Church has brought much attention to this "movement," it seems appropriate to mention him.

I believe that this "movement" is symptomatic of a bigger issue. The bigger issue is how people define the Church and the Faith.

As one who left the same church body more than four years ago, and as one who briefly examined the "Orthodox Church" in the hope of finding a church to call "home," perhaps my observations will be of some benefit to others finding themselves in a similar dilemma.

For me, however, the dilemma was not one of seeking an alternative to the Faith testified to by the Lutheran Confessions, but was one of seeking to find a church that truly abided in the Faith testified to by the Lutheran Confessions. As those who "go East" ultimately must and do admit, the "Orthodox Church" does not embrace the same faith exposed in the Lutheran Confessions.

At this point I need to explain the purpose of this post. My purpose and focus is not to counter the move toward the "east." My focus is not to oppose the Orthodox Church. My purpose is to explain what I believe is the dilemma for those who strongly desire to be faithful to the Faith of the Scriptures as it is embraced and explained in the Lutheran Confessions.

I am setting before you an understanding of the Lutheran Confessions that at first will very likely seem quite foreign to you, especially if you are a proponent of "Lutheranism." I myself am no longer a proponent of Lutheranism. I am a proponent of the faith that is witnessed by the Lutheran Confessions.

This may seem like strange language to those who count themselves to be "confessional" Lutherans. I propose to you that if this sounds strange that the reason for the strangeness is due to the view towards understanding what it means to confess. In my observation, nearly all who commonly count themselves as confessional Lutherans today understand this to mean that they confess the Confessions of the Book of Concord. This is the basis of the confusion that is being experienced today among Lutherans. The Confessions are not meant to be confessed. They are meant to be expositions of that which is confessed, namely the doctrine taught in the Scriptures. So, the Confessions are witnesses to the witness given to the Church by the Holy Spirit.

This brings into question just what confession really is. St. Paul explains this.

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame."
(Romans 10:8-11 NKJ)

By this we behold what confession truly is. It is not confession of a creed. It is not confession of a body of doctrine. It is not confession of anything that is of man. It is confession of the Lord Jesus.
Jesus Himself makes this very plain in His statement to the apostles in Matthew 16:15-18:

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (NKJ)

Here the Lord Jesus proclaims the basis upon which His Church shall be built so as to stand forever. Upon what shall His Church be built and stand, upon the ROCK. The Lutheran Confessions define this as the ministry of the Gospel. In the Smalcald Articles Luther explains:

As to the statement, "On this rock I will build my church"(Matt. 16:18), it is certain that the church is not built on the authority of a man but on the ministry of the confession which Peter made when he declared Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. Therefore Christ addresses Peter as a minister and says, "On this rock,"that is, on this ministry.

Whose ministry is this ministry? It is Christ’s ministry. Jesus defines the rock as the revelation (apocalypse) given to Peter by the Father. He makes it painfully clear that the confession on which the Church is built is not the confession of a man, but the confession of the Father, that is, God. This is God’s confession or revelation. The confession of the Church is the ministry of Christ, by which He speaks through His ordained spokesmen the confession of the Father. This is the confession of God, which means it is the confession of the Holy Spirit.

But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27 NKJ)

So the confession that flows to the lips from the heart of the believer and is spoken before men is God’s own confession of salvation, revealed in the person of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is why we can trust the ministry to be effective for us, not because of the faithfulness of the men who administer the mysteries of God, not because of the faithfulness of our feeble confessions, but because of the confession of God, who speaks through our pastors and our confessions. God is the faithful one. God is the one in whom we trust. God is the focus of our devotion.

In response to this another question arises. Often the term Christocentric is used. What does this really mean? Does it mean what Billy Graham and D. James Kennedy advise people? Does it mean to make Christ the center of your life? Does it mean to make Christ the center of your thinking and doctrine and practice? Does it mean that pastors and congregations should strive to keep Christ as the center of the ministry of the Church?

Understood correctly, yes. However, this is not the language of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do not proclaim Christ as the center of our lives. The Scriptures proclaim Christ as our life. He is not the center of the Church’s doctrine and practice, He is the Church’s doctrine and practice. The Church is not centered in Christ but is the body of Christ with Christ as the head. The Church is built upon the Rock, which is Christ. The Church does not feed upon doctrine and practice but upon Christ, through His blood sprinkled with the water and through His body and blood distributed in communion with the bread and the wine.

This leads to another matter of confusion in "Lutheranism": the definition of communion or fellowship. Is communion ever a partial relationship or is it a true conjoining of two or more into one? The Scriptures always speak of the true conjoining of more than one into one true communion. It is a true sharing in or participation of the parts in one another.

This is perhaps the biggest factor in the confusion and struggle among those confessing to be Lutherans today. Most who call themselves Lutherans do not really believe that communion is real. Most today consider communion to be limited in various ways. The Scriptures teach that communion is 100%. To be in communion with something or someone is to be joined in complete union with that thing or person or body. This is what St. Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 10. There is no such thing as a partial communion. Whatever we join ourselves to is what we are in communion with in reality. Either we are in communion with the Lord or with someone else, namely, the devil. Those are the two choices. Joshua presented this reality to the Israelites when he led them into the land of rest.

Within modern Lutheranism, however, "Confessional Lutherans" pretend that this reality can somehow be ignored. They persuade themselves that they can coexist in a true communion and a partial communion simultaneously. They pretend that they can confess to be in a church body that mingles itself with the world and with mixed confession, and simultaneously be in true communion with the Lord by practicing certain things at the local communion (congregation). They pretend that they can be in the communion of the church body at some limited level.

Thus they find themselves in a never ending conflict. Their hearts lead them to the same point of the dear man who wrote the fatal paper: "What Options Do the Confessions Give Us?" The answer to the question posed by this paper is that the Confessions don’t give us ANY options, or better stated, excuses. The Confessions testify to the Rock and the communion of the Rock, the Church. There is only one option. Either one is in the communion of Christ, or the person opts for the other communion. No levels of fellowship exist. Either a person is in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, or the fellowship of the world and the prince of this world.

St. James addresses this very powerfully and adamantly:

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 NKJ)

When people remain committed to two masters, they find that the Lord Jesus was not kidding about what happens. They eventually choose to love one rather than the other, though they continue to pretend to love both. But there is no middle ground. Either a person stands upon the Rock, or on the confessions and communions of man.

As a former member of the LC-MS, I faced this dilemma. As I examined every other body of "Lutheranism" that I could find, I continued to face the same dilemma.

I determined that I could not be conjoined with the bodies that are in communion with that which I denounce. I determined that I am far better to stand alone upon the Rock, than to stand with many in a fellowship of multiple foundations.

The Church does not exist by the confessions of men, but by the confession of God. This is why AC VII is so important to remember. Is the Gospel taught purely in a congregation that confesses communion with those who teach impurely? Are the Sacraments administered in accordance with the divine Word in a congregation that confesses communion with members of a church body who do not administer in accordance with the divine Word? Can a congregation honestly say that they are members of a communion, but only part way?

I believe that the Scriptures teach that this is impossible. I believe that the Lutheran Confessions teach this as well. Thus I found it impossible to remain in a church body that declares that what God says cannot be can be. I am a follower of Christ, not a follower of the Church. I believe that Christ is my sufficiency, not membership in a church body. I believe that the confession of the Church is the product of the confession of Christ, not the other way around. I believe that standing upon the Rock that I shall remain steadfast and unmoved. I know no other Rock than Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I have never been disappointed while trusting in Him. The Scriptures promise that I never shall be disappointed or ashamed while trusting in Him.

That’s good enough for me. Nothing else comes close.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

More on John 21

In the post, "Why Lutheran?" below, John 21 was utilized. There is another marvelous point that Jesus demonstrates for the life of the Church in this text. It again reflects upon who does the giving in the life of the Church.

When the disciples reached the shore with the catch of fish they saw that the Lord had already prepared the meal for them. Yet He told them to bring some of the fish that they had just caught. Why?

This was a gathering of Christ’s disciples. He was displaying for all time the basis for such gathering, or congregating. First He calls to His disciples in their daily activity. As He calls He shows that He has already provided for their every need of body and soul. As they respond to His words and guard them so as to follow them, they discover that the Lord has indeed provided for them.

Next the disciples demonstrate the natural response of those who hear the words of the Lord Jesus. First they recognize the voice as His voice. Then they come to their Lord where His voice is heard. Notice that nowhere in this does the Lord Jesus say, "Come here boys." He did not have to. What else would His disciples do once they recognized where He was?

Now back to the fish. Jesus already has the meal prepared, a complete meal. Nothing more is needed. Yet Jesus says, "Bring some of the fish which you have just caught." Is this because the disciples needed more exercise?

It was a demonstration to them and to us regarding what we shall do with what He gives to us. First His gifts should remind us who our God is, our gracious and loving Father, who provides not only our daily bread, but our everlasting salvation as well. Secondly we should realize that His gifts have a purpose, His purpose. Thirdly we remember that His most earnest desire is the salvation of the world, and especially the elect. Then we understand the nature of the Sacraments. God has already supplied His grace, His forgiveness, His Word and promise. God has already supplied the water, the bread, and wine. His grace, forgiveness and Word have been supplied through Jesus. The water, bread, and wine have been given though our income or living so that we carry these elements to the Lord for Him to use to our benefit and the benefit of all who are brought before Him by the life of the Church. Moreover, by permitting us to bring these elements the Lord demonstrates that there is no part of our existence that He does not make holy through the merits of Jesus. We gather to the voice of Jesus and there we find Him ready to make all things new and holy for us.

Now this text still has volumes of wonder to be brought forth as treasures for us all. I wanted to share at least this. It is as the Lord Jesus declared in Matthew 13:52, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." I find it truly fascinating that the Greek word for treasure is "Thesauros." Can there be any question as to what the Church’s true treasure is?

Peace to all in Christ Jesus, the Word of Life.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why Lutheran?

Among the many "choices" of church affiliations/identifications or "brands" of faith, how can one know which one is the "right" one? Is this even a genuine question? After all, the Scriptures teach that there is only one Church.

However, in pondering this matter people often avoid the fact that the Scriptures clearly define this one Church and the faith by which it exists. Often in seeking criteria that establish the lowest common denominator, the truth can be ignored. The Scriptures do insist that there is one true Church and that it can be identified by what it confesses.

So what criteria are established by God in His Scriptures?

Every group that claims to be the Church of God seeks to give an answer to this. Either formally or informally a creed or confession is formed. Since questions continue to arise among those gathered, and challenges are presented from those outside the group, a confession develops into a body of confessions. These confessions serve to set the group apart based upon the presuppositions that are held regarding the right understanding of the Scriptures and what the Scriptures declare.

So why Lutheran? Why the Lutheran Confessions?

In an attempt to answer this the author of another Lutheran blog makes these introductory remarks:

I love Jesus. I love His Word. I love doctrine. In short, I love the Gospel. That is why I love Lutheranism. I don't get Jesus and His Word and His doctrine anywhere else like I do in Lutheranism.

Can I join him in these bold statements? Is this why I am a Lutheran? I want to say these things, but I find that I cannot.

In John 21 St. Peter is challenged by the Lord regarding this very matter and he finds himself humbly shying away from such boldness, too. Peter, the one who was always bold in confessing Jesus and at the institution of the New Testament by our Lord boldly declared his love for his Lord, now humbly confesses that he does not really love his Lord.

In this account, it was Simon Peter who rushed ahead of the others to swim to the Lord. It was Simon Peter who invited the others to go out fishing. Yet when Jesus called to them from the shore, Peter forgets all about the nets full of fish, puts on his outer garment and jumps into the sea and swims to the shore while the others stay with the boat and drag the nets full of fish to the shore. Peter did not care about the fish now that the Lord had come to them. The Lord miraculously provided the fish, but Peter was no longer interested in fish. He simply had to go to the place where His Lord was.

(This is the simplest explanation of what it means to be Lutheran.)

When Peter came up to Jesus he saw that Jesus had already prepared a meal for the disciples. First Jesus calls to them in the boat, asking them if they have any food. They did not. So He commands them to cast the net on the opposite side from where they were fishing and then He fills their net. When they arrive on the shore with the food that He provided them, they discover that He already has a meal prepared for them and He feeds them from His own hand. They simply received what He gave them.

This is what the true Church is. This is what the Lutheran Confessions teach.

How does Jesus provide for His Church on earth? He goes forward to demonstrate this with dear Simon Peter.

Jesus gently leads Peter to understand what it really means to be a disciple and how the disciples are to be blessed by Jesus. Jesus teaches both of these at the very same time.

First what it really means to be a disciple. We always get this backwards on our own. Like the disciples in the boat, we think that we need to seek and find what we need. Jesus showed them that He is the provider. They thought that they should come to Jesus because of their love for Him. He taught them that they are not capable of such love.

He takes Simon Peter and asks him in three different ways if he loves his Lord. Each time Jesus asks less of His disciple regarding love. First Jesus asks, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (agape) Me more than these?" The second time Jesus asks, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you (agape) love Me?" Finally Jesus asks, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love (philos) Me?"

John records that Peter was grieved because of the way that Jesus asked him the third time. Jesus was gently bringing Peter to realize that he did not really love his Lord. The first two times Jesus asked Peter regarding agape and both times Peter responded with philos. The essence of Peter's response is: "Do I love You, Lord? Yes, but only with the love that You have given to me. I do not love you with all my heart, soul, and mind, but have received Your love and I respond humbly to Your love in the faith that You have worked in me." Each of the first two times Peter responds with: "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." What he was saying is: "Yes, Lord, I now realize that I do not have agape for you, but you have agape for me and fill me with the power of Your agape so that I respond to it with philos. I cannot generate love for You, but because of Your love at work in me, I do respond and come to be renewed in Your love." The third time Peter was grieved because Jesus asked him whether he even had the love that responds to love. Peter humbly responds that since Jesus is the one who puts love into men's hearts by means of faith, that Jesus knows that Peter has this love, not by his own strength, but by the gracious activity of the Holy Spirit.

With this demonstration Jesus included something more. First Peter is being confronted with the fact that he himself only responds to Christ's love and does not come to God by any other means. Peter was led to confess the unworthiness of his own love. Then Jesus shows him that the Church and the means of grace do not depend on the love of the people, but upon the mercy and love of God. With each stage of Peter's confession of having a love that cannot be trusted or depended upon, Jesus commands him to deal with the sheep. With each question, as Jesus leads Peter to think less and less of his own love, as Peter's view of his own love becomes smaller and less important, the view that Jesus presents of the sheep becomes bigger and more important. First Jesus asks, "Do you love (agape) Me more than these." "No? OK. Pasture (feed) my lambs. Next Jesus asks "Do you love (agape) Me?" "No? OK. Shepherd my sheep." Finally Jesus asks, "Do you love (philos) Me?" "Yes? OK. Pasture my sheep."

First are the lambs, whom Peter earlier thought were less important and less devoted and simply less than himself. "Pasture them. Don't deal with them according to your love. Pasture them. Lead them to the safe pasture that I have prepared for them and let them eat to their hearts' content. Don't measure them and then predetermine their rations. Pasture them in the abundant pasture. Bring them to Me and let them feast."

Second are the sheep. "Shepherd them. Rule over them and take care of them. Tend to their wounds. Drive out the wolves. Keep them from wandering off. Only do not look upon them with your own love to do this. Look upon them with agape, My love. Tend to them not as your sheep but My sheep. Point them to Me and let them know My love. Look upon them as those who need My love just as you need my love. Look upon them as those who are in the same condition as you are and apply to them what I have applied to you."

Finally are the sheep as adult sheep, who like Peter, are fully aware of their dependence upon the pure Word and the Sacraments. "Pasture them. They have been humbled even as you have. They know what I have provided for them. Let them eat to their hearts' content. Keep them in the good pasture and let them feast. I am here for them. Keep them mindful of My presence and let them feast upon Me and live in the security of My love. Do not join them to other pastures. Do not permit neglect to cause them to seek their food elsewhere. Keep them here with Me. Show them where I am so that they may feast securely without wandering here and there on their own. Pasture them."

Then Jesus warned Peter what this was going to cost in earthly terms. He warned Peter how this would cost Peter his freedom and his earthly life. Immediately Peter's heart looked back to his own love rather than the love of Christ. Immediately he began looking upon the other disciples rather than following Christ. Immediately he stopped loving the other disciples and became selfish in his motives. Jesus answered, "What is that to you? You follow Me."

In my daily life I frequently find myself praying, "Oh Lord, I love You, but not really. I trust You, but not really. I do not love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I do not obey You. My heart and mind wander everywhere except to You. I worry and I fret. I become angry without just cause. I turn aside from You and I sin. I don't want to sin, Lord, yet I turn from You so that I can sin. I follow You, but I turn aside to my own way. O Lord! You call me back again. I hear Your voice. The Holy Spirit brings to my recollection many Scriptures and plants a hymn in my heart. Oh, how I need You, Lord. Yes, I need You. Yes, I do love You. Thank You for giving this to me. . ."

This is why I am a Lutheran. This is why I give thanks to God for the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This is what they teach and confess. This is what I need to hear over and over again. I need Jesus. I need His Gospel that proclaims only Him and His salvation. I need His mercy and love. So yes, I love the Church that proclaims this clearly and administers it without compromise, without mingling my works and my love into what I am taught as what I need to seek. No, my love is produced by what I am fed. My love is nothing more than a demonstration of Christ's love at work in me. This is what the Evangelical Lutheran Church believes, teaches, and confesses. This is what the Scriptures declare as my only need. Therefore this is what I believe, teach, and confess, too. Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)


Monday, October 23, 2006

A Beginning and an Explanation

Today I became persuaded in my mind and heart to enter the blogosphere realm. This is new territory for me.

For this I chose the title: "Not Alone."


I chose this because it addresses the way that I observe people feeling in the world. People can feel alone even when surrounded by a crowd of people and even when actively participating with very close friends.

I have experienced this myself and have observed it in the lives of the many people I have met and worked with and conversed with throughout my life.

Often this feeling of aloneness and even loneliness (the two are related but not identical), is not understood. "Why?" is the question that often accompanies this feeling of aloneness. The "why" comes in many forms and is expressed in many ways. Pain of various types and degrees almost always accompanies it.

For those who are saints of God in Christ, this feeling should not exist. But it does. Saints should be entirely free of this feeling because despite whatever circumstances prevail, the true saint is never alone. The baptized believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who continually works to comfort the soul with God’s grace and love. Yet the saint is also a sinner, constantly encountering the fleshly warring against the spirit. Because of this, aloneness is experienced, for the flesh looks not to God’s will but to Man’s will, the will of self. No one can acknowledge the Lord when this is the focus of the heart and mind.

Job, that ancient saint, knew that he was not alone even when everything was taken from him. His children and livelihood and reputation all were stripped from him. His wife urged him to abandon true faith. His ungodly friends badgered him with his sinfulness. All the while he clung to the faithfulness of the Lord his God. But he eventually lost site of God’s faithfulness. He did what we all do when we become tired of persevering with nothing but the faith as our support. He began to imagine that he must begin to rely upon his own efforts and his own faithfulness. As soon as this tragic mind set begins to occur, God’s faithfulness becomes secondary, even nonessential, and most certainly not sufficient. Then the person becomes angry and depressed and resentful. The person becomes filled with doubts and fears and becomes defensive, seeking to find justification in himself. Then the Lord must set the person straight through harsh preaching of the Law so that the person remembers that there is no justification apart from faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This remembrance of the true source of justification, of course, comes not from the harshness of the Law, but from the sweet and tender preaching of the Gospel of Christ crucified that properly accompanies the preaching of the crushing power of the Law. In the moment that the Holy Spirit brings about this amazing reversal, (also called: repentance), the person is no longer overwhelmed by aloneness, but once again is full of God’s grace, mercy, and peace. His heart and mind is again guarded in Christ Jesus by the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.

So, this is my brief explanation for the choice of title for this blog site.

God’s peace to all who come here, in Christ Jesus the Lord.

~ Pastor Paul A. Siems