Monday, April 30, 2007

Heaven? Not for Me. I can’t.

As I contemplate the approaching celebration of Mother’s Day, I remember the devotion of a man whom I met during an evangelism call. We visited this man in his home and shared with him in friendly conversation about matters of life and faith, especially regarding the blessed hope of everlasting life with God in heaven through faith in Jesus. It was a delightful evening except that it ended in disaster.

No, he did not become angry. He did not ask us to leave. It was truly an enjoyable evening of friendship and loving sharing together.

The disaster was the conclusion that this man shared with us, a conclusion that had been made such a part of him that he could not let it go. He was truly trapped by his devotion to his mother.

He loved his mother very much. She was the object of his deepest commitment and love. He was literally ready to sacrifice everything for his mother.

He acknowledged that Jesus is God and the true Savior of the world. He acknowledged all that the Gospel says. He professed faith in the truth of the Gospel and of the promise of everlasting life though faith in Jesus.

Yet he also said:

But I cannot have it. I cannot allow myself to receive everlasting life and go to heaven when I know that my mother is in hell.

My heart broke. My heart still breaks whenever I think of this dear man.

What a loving son!

But would his mother want him to love her that much? While she was living she impressed this upon him. But now, would she still want this as what is attributed to her, to know that her son rejected everlasting salvation out of love for her?

In Luke 16 Jesus tells of a rich man who did not trust in God, lived his life ignoring God’s love and thereby also ignored the needs of his poor and suffering neighbor, Lazarus. The man was a man of faith, but not of true faith, worshiping God with a false faith. He ended up in hell and looked up to see Lazarus in heaven. When in hell the rich man had two concerns. First he longed for even the slightest bit of relief from his torment. Secondly, he desired that his brothers be warned so that they would not end up suffering with him.

Some count this as a parable. Luke does not label it as one. He simply shares what Jesus gave as an example and warning for us.

Surely we are to honor our fathers and our mothers. This is by God’s design and command. Yet we should remember the one from whom this honor flows and love and trust Him above all things, even above father and mother. We should remember His love to us, which moves Him to desire that we be saved from everlasting torment.

We each make choices in life. Some choose to ignore the true Gospel and follow an altered form of the Gospel or some other way entirely. When they make this choice, they do not honor God and they do not honor their loved ones. The rich man found this out too late.

The greatest honor and love that we can show to our parents and loved ones, even when they choose badly, is to embrace the God who loves us and gives Himself for us. By so doing, even if some of our loved ones are in hell, at least we do not add to their torment by consigning ourselves to the same judgment. I expect that this is why Jesus speaks of levels of torment in hell: that those who have caused others to lose the hope of salvation will carry that burden everlastingly, with no hope of absolution, ever.

It has been over 25 years since I visited the devoted son who chose hell over heaven out of a very sad understanding of love for his mother. I still think of him. I still pray for him, in case he is still alive and still may learn of the freedom of God’s grace. In fact, the entire Church of God on earth prays for him in the General prayer of the Church, each divine service.

God bless each of you this Mother’s Day, with the joyous hope of knowing and trusting your God and Savior, Jesus Christ, that you may truly honor your mothers and be a blessing to many.

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Whatever You Ask

How bold may a Christian be in prayer? For what may a Christian ask God?

Jesus says in John 16, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you.”

Does He really mean this? Can a Christian really expect to receive anything for which it is prayed of God?

This is the question addressed in this week’s sermon, “Whatever You Ask the Father in My Name”.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Effective Prayer

When you pray, do you believe that your prayers are effective? When you say, “Amen” do you believe that what you have prayed will be done?
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. (James 1:5-8)

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16)

And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. (Mark 11:22-24)

Many people do not know what it means to pray as the Lord and the Scriptures have declared. When you pray do you really mean “Amen” or do you pray “if it be Your will”?

Most of us have been taught for much of our lives that we should pray “if it be Your will” which leaves us unchanged. When we learn to pray “Amen” our prayers become truly effective.

Which way do you pray?

If you would like to read more on this subject, I have prepared an exposition entitled, “What Is Prayer?”

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre - Why Lord?

Is the Virginia Tech Massacre behind us? The media has finally left the campus, not voluntarily, but by request, but they finally have stopped drumming up the emotional turmoil and the frenzied hype on campus. The fleeting symbolism of the balloons was loosed to fly up and away from the campus. Classes have resumed and the campus is moving forward in academic endeavor.

Yet even for those who are far away, questions remain. The biggest question continues in the hearts and minds of many: WHY? This question takes many forms but ultimately it seems to end in this question, “Why Lord?”

When this question is sifted a little further so that the foreign particles are left behind so that the finer matter of the question settles into a heap the more pure form of the question becomes manifested as: “Why does God allow evil things to happen?” or “Why does God allow evil?”

This is a question that is asked in many other circumstances besides this tragic event, but it has certainly been asked by many, many people again now. I’ve heard it on the radio. I’ve read it in the newspaper. I’ve heard it from people who profess to believe in God and from those who profess to be agnostic or atheistic.

The fact that people ask this question is encouraging. However, the fact that no one ever seems to stand up with the answer is frustrating. Even those who stand up to address the question, even from among theologians, ultimately the only answer that is given is that the answer cannot be known.

I believe that the answer has been given to us by the One of whom we ask the question. I believe that the Lord God has given the answer.

Would you like to hear it?

If so, read on and bear with me, for a bit of preparatory groundwork needs to be laid in conjunction with the answer.

First, let’s restate the question: “Why does God allow or permit evil?”

Next, what is evil? Is it the generic and nondescript definition that people usually use as their operative definition? According to this definition evil is whatever the person judges to be evil. By this account evil is whatever a person determines is disagreeable with the felt needs and desires of the person. Therefore one person rejoices while another weeps, one calling a blessing what another counts as a curse.

Before an answer can be given as to why God allows evil, a better definition of evil is needed. The only suitable answer is that evil is anything that opposes the good and gracious will of God. If this answer is accepted as fact, the question is narrowed drastically.

So then, with this more accurate definition we can ask more precisely, “Why does God permit actions that go against His good and gracious will?”

Now the question becomes narrowed even further. After all, actions do not just happen. Actions are caused by something or someone. In reality, actions are only perceived as being caused by something, for all actions are the result of what someone does.

Therefore, the evil actions that God permits are performed by someone.

The first evil action was performed by Satan. In fact, he committed the first mass murder, by deceiving and leading a third of the angels of heaven into rebellion against the Lord. (Rev. 12:4) The Lord Jesus declared that the devil is the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. (John 8:44) This was the mass murder that typified all mass murders, for the murderer included himself in the mass murder. (All murderers do ultimately include themselves in the murder.)

The second evil action was also a mass murder, for in listening to the devil and turning from faith to doubt which led Adam to disobey God, Adam murdered himself and the entire human race. Any mass murder since Adam’s murder is just a pale reflection of what has already been perpetrated by Adam.

The point of this little history lesson is to demonstrate who the perpetrators of evil are. Satan and his legion of demons and the entire human race, this is the list of doers of evil. As the Lord Jesus declared, there is only one who is good, and that is God. (Matthew 19:17)

If you have been paying close attention, you have already perceived the first part of the answer as to why God permits evil. In order to eliminate evil God must eliminate all evil doers. This means that He would have to wipe out the entire human race. It is not God’s will to wipe out the entire human race. His will is to save mankind from evil. Therefore, as St. Peter so wonderfully proclaims, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

The Lord will most assuredly eliminate all evil and all evil-doers, even as He has promised. But for the sake of those who will be saved from perishing into everlasting damnation, God is being patient.

This brings us to the next point. The first point is that God does not simply eliminate evil doers because we are all evil doers according to the sinful nature that we have inherited from Adam. Not even one of us lives without doing evil. However, by God’s grace, some of us hear and believe the promise of salvation in Christ Jesus, the Seed of the woman who crushed the serpent’s head and defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Many of our ancestors refused to hear and believe this promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. They continued in their evil-doing without receiving God’s grace and forgiveness. They remained counted as evil-doers until their last breath.

Yet God could not simply wipe them out without simultaneously wiping out their descendants, US. If God had wiped out our evil ancestors, we would not have been born to hear and believe the Gospel. God was not willing to do away with future generations of believers. Even in the giving of the Law this is stated:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:3-6)

To those who love God, trusting in Him and His Gospel, the promise is an unbroken line of generations who live in His grace, mercy, and peace. But to those who hate God, despising His grace, the promise is that the line of generations does break after a few generations. Thus we behold that the promise stands even when people choose the curse for themselves. God’s will is that people be saved, and if He has to permit the vessels of dishonor to be born and to perform works of dishonor so that the future vessels of honor should also be born to live by grace, then God is willing to demonstrate longsuffering to us and for us. (Romans 9:22-23)

Now for the third and most important portion of the answer as to why God permits the evil people in the world and their actions.
Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. (Acts 2:22-24)

Here we observe the most amazing answer of all. Evil had to be undone through injustice. The only perfectly obedient man, God in the flesh, had to be falsely accused of all the evil of all other human beings and put to death in their place.

Who would do such a thing? Only an unbeliever, only a person who denied his own unrighteousness could perform such a wicked and evil act as to crucify Jesus. In order to save mankind from evil, God had to allow evil to continue in the world. Evil had to continue in order that the final murder would ensue. God Himself had to be murdered in the place of the murderers of the world. In the person of Jesus Christ, God took every last bit of the world’s evil into His own body and died an evil death at the hands of evil men. Finally evil was defeated, once and for all.

So we observe what St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:18-20:

But as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

Truly, if we want to hear the answer to the questions that we ask of God, we need to heed the source where all His promises are YES and AMEN, in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. If we will let this be the answer to our questions, we will not turn away saying that the answer cannot be known. Jesus is the answer.

Do you hear God’s answer? Do you believe it?

If so, then one other question can now be answered. How can people who have endured such a terrible thing as the Virginia Tech Massacre forgive and continue onward in love rather than being consumed by fear, anger, and hate?

St. Paul answers this in Colossians 3:1-4:

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

St. Paul was living proof of how powerful this is. He witnessed it first hand in the witness and death of St. Stephen. Later, St. Paul came to know its meaning in his own life.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:55-60)

Again we observe God’s answer both to why He allows evil and how we can forgive and live in love. Are you willing to hear it and believe it? If so, you can stop looking for an answer and live in the assurance of God’s peace, no matter what evils you may face in your life.

God’s peace to you in Christ Jesus!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech Massacre

A tragic event brings Americans together. This is not unique to Americans, of course. It is common to mankind throughout all the world and throughout all time. It has always been this way. Tragedy unites. Fear unites.

Sort of.

When terrible things happen, when unexplainable evil happens, when fear rules the day, when sorrow and grief darken people’s lives, a sense of unity is perceived. Yet this can be deceptive.

Certainly everyone shares in the grief of this recent tragedy. Certainly everyone shares in the fear of the possible evil happening in another community. Certainly everyone wants such things to become unheard of.

Yet how do people deal with such horrible things? Perhaps this is also quite united for the majority. The major world religions are all invited to gather with the President of the country and of the university, psychological and sociological experts offer their support and comfort. Quotes from the Koran, from the Dalai Lama, even from the Bible, are shared as unanimous statements of the solemnity of life. Each representative speaks of the tragedy as a terrible cause for grief and for coming together in mutual support and acceptance, to the loud applause of those gathered. The unanimous clamor is that such terrible things cannot be explained or understood.

The last speaker at Tuesday’s Convocation, Nikki Giovanni, called the convocation participants to acknowledge their identity calling out, “We are Virginia Tech.” This is a common response to tragedy. People look to some form of communal unity, something that identifies them with one another, something that seems bigger than the singular action or circumstance that looms before them.

She continued in pointing to the fact that such tragedies are common throughout the world and no one understands why. Again the sense that unity can be found in the common lack of understanding is propped up as a facade of mutual support. She compared those suffering this tragedy to various other groups who have suffered tragedy without knowledge of why and without explanation, even reaching so far as to include baby elephants who have seen their communities slaughtered for ivory.

How exactly is this perceived as helpful? How does a community being compared to a “community” of elephants give hope for overcoming the sense of hopelessness and evil and fear and loss that they experienced?

With this view of humanity, setting a community of elephants on an equal level of identity as a community of humans grieving for lost loved ones and friends, is it really so surprising that students can lose a proper distinction and understanding of life? With evolution being taught as the origin of life and of the human race, with no clear understanding of why human life is precious, is it really surprising that a young person would lose his sense of life as precious?

In Tuesday’s convocation it was stated over and over in various ways that all religions teach that life is sacred and to be protected.

Yet the prevailing religion taught in all secular universities is that of secular humanism, combined with evolution. These teach that each person answers to himself. These teach that life is random and without purpose except for whatever self-determined purpose a person chooses, and perhaps society affirms.

Babies are not human and have no rights until they are born. Old people who outlive their usefulness (economic independence or voting capacity) are a burden. However, when babies and old people are loved and wanted by family, then they are viable and of countless worth and no amount of effort and money is to be spared in protecting them from harm and death.

The entertainment industry continually bombards people with the doctrine that greed is good because it serves to promote high aspirations; that revenge is justified when one does not feel vindicated through ordinary means; that sex is for self-gratification and that sex and love are synonymous concepts; that morality is an ambiguous notion that cannot be legislated; and that the government is responsible for supplying everyone with every want and need.

Then, the Bible, the Gospel in particular, is forbidden in the schools and mocked and vilified by the government and media. Simultaneously, as the doctrine of Christ is rejected, every other religious source of the world is praised as promoting peace and harmony.

When a society accepts the doctrine that mankind must rely upon his own efforts and knowledge for salvation from the world’s evils, and simultaneously mankind is taught that he is no different than an elephant in understanding and identity, how is a poor and disillusioned young man like Cho Seung Hui to find hope and peace?

Of all the religions of the world, one stands out from the rest as a religion of ultimate hope and peace. Christianity is the only religion that directs the hearts of men to a source of peace that is given freely. In Christ mankind encounters a very different God, the God who cares more for people than for His own dignity. In Christ mankind comes face to face with the God who declares Himself not only to be one who demands love, but the One who IS love. In Christ mankind hears a word of peace that truly surpasses all understanding, and yet fills the person’s heart with understanding and compassion and hope and joy and contentment. In Christ mankind meets the God who says,

I have purchased you from the destruction that you encounter in your own hearts and souls. I have paid the price for your redemption by entering into the world as a man and suffering all evil in my own flesh. I suffered the rejection and pain and loss of every human soul. I carried these to hell and rose again in the flesh to guarantee for all that freedom is now not merely a dream, but reality. You do not need to seek for your identity and you do not need to seek for peace. I restore your identity and I will be your peace. It is not up to you, dear child. I have done it for you. Trust Me, and you will see.

Mankind can seek to acquire knowledge, but in that knowledge he can never be certain. Mankind can theorize, but never prove beyond any doubt. Yet there is one who stands as living proof of the hope that all the world seeks. His name is Jesus. He stands at the right hand of power, not to tell us what to do, but to intercede for us. He pleads our cause and offers us everlasting hope and peace and joy. He has proven His love beyond any doubt. May His love be the hope that people hear in their many encounters with what is evil in this world. May the fact of His loving sacrifice be the source of certainty in a world that offers only doubt and fear and uncertainty and unending questions.

If only Professor Giovanni had directed Cho Seung Hui to Jesus rather than to a psychiatrist, poor Cho would have been given the riches of God’s grace, mercy, and peace. Instead his despair was amplified by being turned to yet another of mankind’s desperate attempts at self redemption. When people truly rely upon the God of Love and the Prince of Peace, they know a very different identity from those who seek to find love and peace on their own.

Soon this tragedy will fade. A few will ache for the rest of their lives. The Media will turn to the next tragedy and make big news of it for a brief time. Then another tragedy will be the news. However, the greatest tragedy of all remains the world’s self-chosen ignorance concerning the true source of hope and peace and love. God grant that the true community of peace and never ending hope will stand up and call out with boldness concerning the One who brings mankind into this everlasting community of peace, hope, and joy.

In the name of Jesus!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Was Luther Right?

Those who have read the blessed Dr. Martin Luther know that he was not a prophet who minced words. He did not soften the truth to make it more easily acceptable. One does not have to second guess him in his writings. The clear meaning jumps off the page and the reader perceives the meaning in full force.

Simultaneously, Dr. Luther was full of compassion, compassion that was generated in him by the love of God declared in the Gospel. He believed this Gospel for himself and wanted it to be delivered unto the world in all its glorious power for salvation. This is the reason that he was unwilling to mince words. He believed that for the Gospel to be effective that it had to be related exactly as the Lord gives it.

He demonstrates this in all of his writings. In the following excerpt Luther speaks as strongly as it seems is possible to write. What he declares in this excerpt is also declared repeatedly in Luther’s Large Catechism, which is among the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Most Lutherans today do not speak in this forthright and uncompromising manner on the issues that Luther speaks here.

So the question arises, “Was Luther right?”

The excerpt is from THAT THESE WORDS OF CHRIST, “THIS IS MY BODY,” ETC., STILL STAND FIRM AGAINST THE FANATICS, found in Luther’s Works, Volume 37.

(The footnotes have been omitted.)

Well, since they are so completely wicked as to mock the whole world, I shall add a Lutheran warning and say; Cursed be such love and unity in the abyss of hell, because such unity not only divides the Christian Church wretchedly, but in true devilish fashion even mocks it and pokes fun at it for its wretchedness. Now I do not mean to judge so harshly as to hold that they do this out of malice. But I think they are blinded by Satan, and perhaps they have developed a conscience that bites them, saying, “Truly we have caused a great offense and kindled a great fire, now we must paste and putty up the affair with words, and claim indulgence because it is not an important matter. And even if we lose the argument, let us declare in advance that we have not lost anything important, but have committed only a minor offense, and as we say of singers when they make a mistake, ‘They only farrowed a piglet.’ ”

No, gentlemen, none of this peace and love for me! If I were to strangle someone’s father and mother, wife and child, and try to choke him too, and then say, “Keep the peace, dear friend, we wish to love one another, the matter is not so important that we should be divided over it!” what should he say to me? O how he should love me! Thus the fanatics strangle Christ my Lord, and God the Father in his words, and my mother the church too, along with my brethren; moreover, they would have me dead too, and then they would say I should be at peace, for they would like to cultivate love in their relations with me. But I intend to expose the fanatics here, that everyone may see what kind of spirit is in them, so that their adherents may realize whom they are believing and following.

It is perfectly clear, of course, that we are at odds concerning the words of Christ in the Supper. And it is well known on both sides that these are Christ’s or God’s words. That is one thing. So we say, on our part, that according to the words Christ’s true body and blood are present when he says, “Take, eat; this is my body.” If our belief and teaching go wrong here, tell us, what are we doing? We are lying to God, and proclaiming that he did not say this but said the opposite. Then we are assuredly blasphemers and liars against the Holy Spirit, betrayers of Christ, and murderers and seducers of the world.

Our adversary says that mere bread and wine are present, not the body and blood of the Lord. If they believe and teach wrongly here, then they blaspheme God and are giving the lie to the Holy Spirit, betray Christ, and seduce the world. One side must be of the devil, and God’s enemy. There is no middle ground. Now let every faithful Christian see whether this is a minor matter, as they say, or whether God’s Word is to be trifled with. Here you have the fanatics and their spirit. I have often said, no ungodly man can have a high regard for God’s Word. These fanatics demonstrate forthrightly that they regard the words and works of Christ as nothing but human prattle, like the opinions of academic hairsplitters, which ought fairly to yield to love and unity. But a faithful Christian knows clearly that God’s Word concerns God’s glory, the Spirit, Christ, grace, everlasting life, death, sin, and all things. These, however, are not minor matters! You see, this is how they seek God’s glory, as they boast everywhere.

Neither does it help them to assert that at all other points they have a high and noble regard for God’s words and the entire gospel, except in this matter. My friend, God’s Word is God’s Word; this point does not require much haggling! When one blasphemously gives the lie to God in a single word, or says it is a minor matter if God is blasphemed or called a liar, one blasphemes the entire God and makes light of all blasphemy. There is only one God who does not permit himself to be divided, praised at one place and chided at another, glorified in one word and scorned in another. The Jews believe the Old Testament, but because they do not believe Christ, it does them no good. You see, the circumcision of Abraham [Gen. 17:10 ff.] is now an old dead thing and no longer necessary or useful. But if I were to say that God did not command it in its time, it would do me no good even if I believed the gospel. So St. James asserts, “Whoever offends in one point is guilty in all respects.” He possibly heard the apostles say that all the words of God must be believed or none, although he applies their interpretation to the works of the law.

Why is it any wonder, then, if fickle fanatics juggle and play the clown with the words of the Supper according to their fancy, since at this point they are convicted of belittling God’s words and concerns, and making them secondary to human love? Just as if God must yield to men, and let the authority of his Word depend on whether men are at one or at odds over it. How can one believe that these fanatics teach rightly and well, when they are clearly found to be entertaining such devilish ideas and advising things which make for the despising, blaspheming, and disgrace of God and our eternal death and destruction, and who yet think they have acted wisely and presented a salutary Christian teaching?

But we poor sinners, who are altogether devoid of Spirit, have this to say out of the holy gospel against these holy Christians, “He who loves father and mother, wife and child, house and home, or even his own soul more than me is not worthy of me” [Matt. 10:37]. And again, “I have not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword” [Matt. 10:34]. And Paul, “What accord has Christ with Belial?” [II Cor. 6:15]. If we are to practice Christian unity with them and extend Christian love to them, we must also love and be satisfied with, or at least tolerate, their doctrine and behavior. Let anyone do that if he wishes. Not I. For Christian unity consists in the Spirit, when we are of one faith, one mind, one heart, Ephesians 4[:3 ff.]. This, however, we will gladly do: in civil matters we are glad to be one with them, i.e. to maintain outward, temporal peace. But in spiritual matters, as long as we have breath, we intend to shun, condemn, and censure them, as idolaters, corrupters of God’s Word, blasphemers, and liars; and meanwhile, to endure from them, as from enemies, their persecution and schism as far and as long as God endures them; and to pray for them, and admonish them to stop. But to acquiesce in, keep silence over, or approve their blaspheming, this we shall not and cannot do.

All these things I have exposed in order to show how the devil can disguise himself under false humility, peace, and forbearance, for the warning of all who do not humble themselves from the heart, that they should beware both of the devil and of themselves. For God allows himself to be neither deceived nor mocked. He would rather take an ass and condemn great prophets through her mouth, as he did Balaam [Num. 22:28 ff.]. Therefore, to these fanatics and spirits who offer us such a peace, we may well say as Christ said to his betrayer, Judas, in the garden, “O Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” [Luke 22:48]. Yes indeed, a Judas’ peace and a traitor’s kiss it is when they would be friendly to us and get us to the point of watching in silence while they ravage with fire and sword, by which they bring so many souls into the everlasting fire of hell, all the while wishing it to be regarded as a minor matter and of no consequence. God warns us against these spirits by allowing them to come into the open and betray themselves and reveal how they traffic in lies and falsehoods. And if this stratagem does not shock or warn men, let them go; they want to be lost! The Holy Spirit offers no such stratagems through his poor sinners as the devil does here through his great saints.

So then, the question that arises among Christians today is, “Was Luther right to stand so strongly against those who err and refuse to be admonished and corrected, those who defend their errors and propagate them? Was he right to label them as possessed by the devil and followers of the devil? Was he right to equate those who speak of tolerating alternative teachings and practices with Judas?”

In the Large Catechism, explaining the Third Article of the Creed, Luther says,

These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and distinguish us Christians from all other people on earth. All who are outside the Christian church, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, even though they believe in and worship only the one, true God, nevertheless do not know what his attitude is toward them. They cannot be confident of his love and blessing. Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation, for they do not have the Lord Christ, and, besides, they are not illuminated and blessed by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Is this what Lutherans teach? Is this the true doctrine and practice of the Church of God on earth? Or was Luther merely a product of his day, a brash and overzealous rebel who could not tolerate those who disagreed with him personally. Was Luther right?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Psalm 23 versus Lust

The Lord Is My Shepherd, So Why Do I Want?

Perhaps the three most well known and popular Scriptural passages are Psalm 23, John 3:16, and the Our Father (Matthew 6 & Luke 11). Perhaps this is due to the frequency of their use in the liturgical heritage. Perhaps it is because of the words of comfort. Perhaps it is because of the common connection between them.

While the Scriptures speak as a whole and share one common focus as the Holy Spirit has decreed, these three are especially clear in their common focus. That focus is that the Lord is our God and Father and Savior, who looks upon us from His eternal omnipotence and omniscience with love and mercy and tenderness. These passages tell us that God truly loves us in a personal way, with a purity that we can only attempt to imagine. These Scriptures tell us that we are dependent upon God for everything and that He stands ready to supply our every need, and does so even before we ask. These Scriptures assure us that we have no reason for lustful thoughts, that trusting in the goodness of the Lord our God we have no wants because He supplies our every need.

Yet in our daily lives we find that we do want. Our hearts continually lust after all sorts of things, creating within us lusts of the most compelling urgency. Then we worry. Then we look not only to what we think that we must have in order to find happiness and satisfaction for ourselves, but we also begin to look at what our neighbors have. Then we become jealous and envious. Then we wish to have their belongings. If we cannot get what they have we resent them. This can grow to such proportions that it completely consumes us so that no sense of happiness remains and eventually even our own identity becomes blurred or eradicated.

Why does this happen? Why do we, who profess to trust in the Lord, have wants?

The answer is really quite obvious! Isn’t it?

We really don’t trust in the Lord as our Shepherd. We don’t really believe Him to be our good and gracious Father who always has our best interests in mind. We really don’t believe that what He has declared to be our sufficiency is truly sufficient. We say, "I trust You, Lord. I believe Your Word. I love You, Lord. I’ll follow You wherever You lead me. I’ll be faithful until death." Then we turn around and seek to do better for ourselves than what He has ordained. We read the Scriptures and interpret them according to the times or the circumstances. We pray and pray, but never really listen for the answers that God has already given.

Then we cry out, Lord, why don’t You help me? Lord, why don’t you answer me?" Then we continue onward, down the same path that we have chosen for ourselves, seeking to do for ourselves by the same ways that have failed from the day that Adam chose to stand in his own wisdom and strength.

This is why the Lord continues to work to effect repentance in us. This is why the Holy Spirit never stops calling to us. This is why Baptism was ordained for us and the Holy Supper. By these God calls us to Himself where once again He supplies our every want. What we strive for and cannot find, He freely supplies without limit. This is what Psalm 23, John 3:16, and the Our Father teach us.

But these blessed Scriptures do not have the power to supply us what we need. They are only the record of God’s words. We cannot use these to take for ourselves what can only be received by grace through faith. This is why we continue to want, no matter how many times we pray the Our Father and no matter how many times we cry out to Lord as our Shepherd and no matter how hard we try to believe the promise of everlasting life that is in Christ Jesus.

If we are to be free of wants, the Lord must be our Shepherd. We cannot drive ourselves to Him. He must come to us and bring us back to the good pasture of His mercy. This is why He comes to us through humble means. He comes to us through water and bread and wine so that we may behold the reality of repentance being His work. He turns us around so that we see Him and His faithfulness. He uses simple and common things to accomplish complicated and uncommon things. As we return to the waters we observe that faith is renewed even as our hearts have been turned by this from our sinfulness to His grace. As we come forward to eat the bread and drink the wine, again we have been turned from our worldly thoughts to things that cannot be grasped except by the faith that the Holy Spirit gives. Therefore even with only a morsel of the bread and a sip of the wine our souls are refreshed in connection with the fullness of the deity dwelling in the body and blood of Christ, which He promises are given with the bread and the wine. Thus even as Elijah ate and drank twice from the hand of the angel of the Lord and then journeyed forty days and nights to the mount of God at Horeb (1 Kings 19), so also we are refreshed for all things by what is supplied through meat and drink supplied at the fount and at the altar.

It is true, the Lord is our Shepherd and we shall not want. He has supplied all that we need for body and soul. Shall we believe it or shall we continue to seek what He has already supplied us in full measure? Why do we want? Because we do not believe that the Lord is true to His Word. We want because what He has given us we do not count as sufficient, and so what we already have in rich measure we cast aside and keep searching.

Yet the Lord continues to be our Shepherd. Even though we resist Him and fight against Him, He does not stop coming to us in Word and Sacrament. He never ceases to call out to us and to bring us back to the safety of His presence. How can we imagine that this is not enough?

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Conversations with the God of Easter

“But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matt 22:31-32)

This is the proclamation of Easter. Yet in every aspect this proclamation is dependent upon the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Without the crucifixion there is no resurrection. The life that is declared during the season of Easter is the life that was purchased on the cross by Jesus. Christians cannot live the life of Easter glory without coming to this glorious life in Christ through the death of the Sinner on the cross. Dying with Christ in Baptism is the only way to the new life of “walking in the Spirit” of the resurrection. Christians always come to the joy of life through the humble repentance effected through confession and absolution. This confession of sin and reliance upon God’s absolution is the key to Christian living. By this, a person awakens in the morning signing himself with the cross and reclining in the evening with the same sign on his heart and mind, continually being turned from his own thoughts, words, and deeds to the miracle of Good Friday, manifested fully on Easter Sunday.

This baptismal miracle of repentance is the beginning of true conversations with the God of Easter. For by the miracle of repentance a person is turned from everything else to the Word of God. Every activity in the life of one who has received the miracle of repentance directs his heart to Jesus, the Word of the God of the living. This is the true meaning of repentance.

When a believer’s heart is directed by baptismal grace to know that the life of faith is based or founded upon the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, that person recognizes God’s Word more and more fully in every aspect of his life. More and more this life founded upon Christ crucified demonstrates the Lord of Life as the believer’s very life. More and more the person realizes what St. Paul declared,
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

This is, of course, baptismal talk. It is the language of the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord. Notice that this is different than “making Christ the center of one’s life.” No, Christ is not the center of the new life of the Christian. Christ IS the new life of the Christian. Christ is not the center of Christian living. He is the Head. He does the thinking. He makes the decisions. He gives the direction. He says when to breathe and to eat and to drink. He determines the path in which the person walks by the Spirit.

The more surely that a person acknowledges this, the more that it manifests itself in the person’s daily walk. The more concretely that a person’s life of faith is based upon the knowledge of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the more surely that the person relies upon the God of the living as the real and active force in his life. Before long the person begins to recognize God speaking through everything that he encounters. Before long the person begins to talk to God about absolutely every little thing. What is even more amazing is the person actually begins to listen to God to hear what God is saying.

Yes, God does speak to His children. He does this by using the little things of life to call His children to repent, that is, to turn back to Him in conversation, also called worship. The person begins recognizing that the holy Communion that is renewed through the Sacrament of the Altar continues in every moment of the walk of faith. The person begins to talk to the God of the living about everything.

For example, as a man who earns his living climbing trees, the wind plays a very important role in my daily life. Here in Kansas, the wind blows hard enough to blow branches down the street, sometimes even branches that weigh more than I do. This occurs without even having a storm. When this occurs, I find it very frustrating, especially when I am swaying in the top of a tree.

I have often fussed at the wind, saying things like, “Stupid wind!!!!!!!!”

One day I remembered that in the Scriptures the word for wind in Hebrew is Ruach and in the Greek is pneumatos. These are the very same words that the Scriptures use for the Holy Spirit. This made me realize that when I fuss at the wind, I am really fussing at God. I began talking to God about this. Before long I was realizing that when I fuss about ANYTHING, I am fussing at God. I began to remember that all these things are by God’s ordinance and that He is the one working in them and through them for His own purposes.

So now, I don’t fuss at the wind. Instead, I fuss directly at God. I ask Him, ”Why are You doing this? You know that I have work to do. You provided me with this work. You have commanded me to do it as unto You. So why are you fighting me on it? Why are you making it hard for me to do what you have given me to do?”

Sometimes this goes on for a while, other times I hear God more quickly. This is actually an important realization about prayer/worship. A person cannot hear God unless the person is actually listening. How can a person know whether he is listening to God? That is really very easy to answer. The answer rests in this question, “Who is doing the talking?”

In other words, as the person prays, is his heart being led to the Scriptures, the written record of God’s declaration of the Word? Or does the person go on and on, eventually formulating his own answers and claiming that they are from God?

Returning to my fussing with God about the wind, and this happens regularly, I find that before long I am thinking about passages of Scripture that tell me about the way the Spirit works in my life, often even against my will and desire. I hear Scriptures that speak of how the Spirit always speaks of Christ and the salvation that Christ won on the cross. Eventually I end up thanking God for fighting against me with the wind and praying that He would help me to work with the wind rather than against it. When I begin actually to do this, I find that even though the wind is fighting what I was doing, that it can help in other ways when I follow the flow of the wind rather than insisting on doing the work by my own wisdom and choices. Moreover, I am talking to the God of the living rather than merely going about my daily chores on my own. I am aware of God working with me and for me, calling me to repent and return to Him in all things. After all, what is more important, the speed with which I complete the job of trimming a tree that the wind will someday blow down anyway, or that the Wind blow into my life and work the miracle of repentance so that my thoughts are directed away from the things on the earth to the affection of the things above? (Col. 3:2)

Truly the message of the season of Easter is one of the life of continual repentance of baptismal grace and of the regular renewal of the Holy Communion in Christ’s body and blood. Through these God shows Himself to be the God of the living and calls His children to know Him in every activity of their lives in Him. This is what St. Paul teaches when he instructs that we should:

Rejoice evermore.

Pray without ceasing.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Quench not the Spirit.

Despise not prophesyings.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
(1Thes 5:16-24)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter & Holy Week Sermons

Everlasting joy is ours through the knowledge of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ!

If you would like to expand and continue your Lenten and Easter devotions and would like to read and/or hear sermons from Easter and Holy Week, the HTML sermons from Judica through Easter are temporarily listed at Weekly Sermon.

They also are available in HTML, MP3, and PDF at
Lent-2007 and Easter-2007.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Thank God It’s Friday

Today as I have been contemplating the most blessed of all holidays I realized how appropriate the following saying really is: “Thank God It’s Friday!” This saying has become very popular as an expression of gladness regarding the fact that the “work week” is ending.

How marvelous this little saying is for true Christians. Truly each week this saying should cause us to rejoice in the goodness of Good Friday.

From the time that the Lord Jesus assumed human flesh He was busy working to accomplish what absolutely no other person could accomplish. This work began even from eternity as the Son of God in unity with the Father and the Spirit planned to save Man from all the suffering that sin would impose. Every day of the life of the Son of Man, this Good Friday was anticipated. He suffered for us each and every day as He moved ever closer to this glorious day of suffering and death, blood and sacrifice. He came to the world for this singular purpose. This was the crowning day of His ministry. This was the goal toward which He set His heart all the days of His life on this earth.

In speaking of this day He spoke of His great joy. He spoke of yearning for this day to be fulfilled. Surely it was a heavy burden. Yet He knew the ones for whom He carried this burden and so He carried with loving joy.

By nine o’clock on this day He was already fastened to our cross. At the beginning of this day, twilight of the day we call Maundy Thursday, He gave birth to the Church of the New Testament, bringing it into existence with the declaration of the New Testament in His blood. By midday the true weight that He carried became apparent to all as the sky turned dark and remained so until the Savior’s work was finished. By three o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus had finished the work that He came to accomplish and could cry out on behalf of us all, “Thank God It’s Friday!” Yes, “Tetelestai” or “It is finished!”

The work was over. By twilight Jesus rested in the earth in a sinner’s tomb. The work of mankind’s salvation was accomplished. All the suffering of life in this world of sin was over. The true Sabbath Day had finally arrived. Peace on earth and good will toward men was finalized. The body of Christ was now at rest from all the world’s sin.

If only the members of the body of Christ had understood. Then they would have known the peace that their Lord had purchased for them. But instead, they hid in fear.

How often we do likewise. We experience suffering and struggle in our lives and we think of life as a burden. We become disappointed and fearful, even angry. When these continue, our anger becomes depression and we can no longer see any way out.

If only we would remember the saying of true faith, “Thank God It’s Friday!”

Then we would remember that our burdens have already been carried for us all the way to Friday. What we so often count as our burdens, really are our burdens, because we have made them our burdens. This is always the way when we look to our own thoughts, words, and deeds. When this is our pattern of thinking, all that we find is more of the same, endless heaviness and failure.

Instead, we could and should be remembering the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. We should rest in the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. For this peace truly has been won for us. Life’s battle has already been fought and our Lord Jesus conquered all for us. Nothing can ever beat us down again, unless we beat ourselves by looking away from the works that Jesus completed for us on Friday. If we look away from the works of our Lord to our own works for our hope and joy, well, who do we have to blame for our sorrows?

Rather, let us rejoice and say, “Thank God It’s Friday!” and be done with our sorrows forever.