Tuesday, December 31, 2013

God the Son: Begotten, yet Eternal

He is the radiance of the glory of God.  (Hebrews 1:3)

Since in speaking of the Son he called him eternal, and yet to those not initiated in divine things, it seemed incredible how the Son is not posterior to the one begetting him, he brings out from a kind of visible image the truth of the true doctrine about God in the words: He is the radiance of the glory.  The radiance comes both from the fire and remains with the fire.  It has the fire for its cause, and it is inseparable from the fire: the fire comes from the one, the radiance from the other.  So if in material things it is possible for something to come from something, and to coexist with what it comes from, have no doubt (he is saying) that God the Word, the only-begotten Son of God, is both begotten as son and also coexists as Word, which is the radiance of glory, with the one begetting him.  The glory comes from one, the radiance from the other.  The glory remains forever, and therefore too the radiance remains forever.  The radiance is of the same nature as the fire, so too the Son is as the fire.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Hebrews"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Worship God Alone

For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
        (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
        (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
        he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.”  (Isa 45:18)

Our God did not begin to be in time: He alone is without beginning, and He Himself is the beginning of all things.  God is a Spirit, not pervading matter, but the Maker of material spirits, and of the forms that are in matter.  He is invisible, impalpable, being Himself the Father of both sensible and invisible things.  Him we know from His creation, and apprehend His invisible power by His works.  I refuse to adore that workmanship which He has made for our sakes.  The sun and moon were made for us: how, then, can I adore my own servants?  How can I speak of stocks and stones as gods?  For the spirit that pervades matter is inferior to the more divine spirit; and this, even when assimilated to the soul, is not to be honored equally with the perfect God.

Tatian, Address to the Greeks 4

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Consider, O Man, God's Works

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  (Psalm 19:1-2)

Consider, O man, His works,—the timely rotation of the seasons, and the changes of temperature; the regular march of the stars; the well-ordered course of days and nights, and months, and years; the various beauty of seeds, and plants, and fruits; and the divers species of quadrupeds, and birds, and reptiles, and fishes, both of the rivers and of the sea; or consider the instinct implanted in these animals to beget and rear offspring, not for their own profit, but for the use of man; and the providence with which God provides nourishment for all flesh, or the subjection in which He has ordained that all things subserve mankind.  Consider, too, the flowing of sweet fountains and never-failing rivers, and the seasonable supply of dews, and showers, and rains; the manifold movement of the heavenly bodies, the morning star rising and heralding the approach of the perfect luminary; and the constellation of Pleiades, and Orion, and Arcturus, and the orbit of the other stars that circle through the heavens, all of which the manifold wisdom of God has called by names of their own.

He is God alone who made light out of darkness, and brought forth light from His treasures, and formed the chambers of the south wind, and the treasure-houses of the deep, and the bounds of the seas, and the treasuries of snows and hail-storms, collecting the waters in the storehouses of the deep, and the darkness in His treasures, and bringing forth the sweet, and desirable, and pleasant light out of His treasures; who “makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.  He makes lightning for the rain;”* who sends forth His thunder to terrify, and foretells by the lightning the peal of the thunder, that no soul may faint with the sudden shock; and who so moderates the violence of the lightning as it flashes out of heaven, that it does not consume the earth; for, if the lightning were allowed all its power, it would burn up the earth; and were the thunder allowed all its power, it would overthrow all the works that are therein.

Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 1.6

* Jeremiah 51:16

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christ Is Born, Glorify Him

Christ is born, glorify him.  Christ from heaven, go out to meet him.  Christ on earth: be exalted.  Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for him who is of heaven and then of earth.  Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope.… Who does not worship him that is from the beginning?  Who does not glorify him that is the last?

Again the darkness is past.  Again light is made.  Again Egypt is punished with darkness.  Again Israel is enlightened by a pillar.  The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the great light of full knowledge.  Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.  The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front.  The shadows flee away, the truth comes in upon them.  Melchizedek is concluded.  He that was without mother becomes without father (without mother of his former state, without father of his second).  The laws of nature are upset; the world above must be filled.  Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him.  O clap your hands together all people, because unto us a child is born, and a son given unto us, whose government is upon his shoulder (for with the cross it is raised up), and his name is called the angel of the great counsel of the Father.*  Let John cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord:” I too will cry the power of this day.  He who is not carnal is incarnate; the son of God becomes the son of man, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.†  Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride.‡  Let heretics talk till their tongues ache.  Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as judge.

Gregory Nazianzen, On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ, Oration XXXVIII.1-2

*  Isaiah 5:6
†  Hebrews 13:8
‡  1 Corinthians 1:23

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From Heaven Above to Earth I Come

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  (Luke 2:10-14)

“From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:

“To you this night is born a child
Of Mary, chosen virgin mild;
This little child, of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all the earth.

“This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford;
He will Himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.

“He will on you the gifts bestow
Prepared by God for all below,
That in His kingdom, bright and fair,
You may with us His glory share.

“These are the tokens ye shall mark:
The swaddling-clothes and manger dark;
There ye shall find the Infant laid
By whom the heavens and earth were made.”

Now let us all with gladsome cheer
Go with the shepherds and draw near
To see the precious gift of God,
Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this child, so young and fair?
The blessed Christ-child lieth there.

Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?

Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How weak art Thou, how poor and small,
That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed
Where humble cattle lately fed!

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
It yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.

For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great,
As 'twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.

And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To make this truth quite plain to me,
That all the world's wealth, honor, might,
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep;
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradle-song:

Glory to God in highest heav’n,
Who unto us His Son hath giv’n!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.*

Words: Martin Luther
Translated: Catherine Winkworth, alt.

*  Historical note: In Saxony, where Martin Luther lived, the new year began on Christmas day.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christ's All-Encompassing Sacrifice: Our Only Means of Reconciliation

In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.  (2 Cor 5:19)

Therefore the Epistle [of Hebrews] is occupied to a great extent with the topic that the ancient priesthood and the ancient sacrifices were instituted not for the purpose of meriting the remission of sins before God or reconciliation, but only to signify the future sacrifice of Christ alone.  For in the Old Testament it was necessary for saints to be justified by faith derived from the promise of the remission of sins that was to be granted for Christ's sake, just as saints are also justified in the New Testament.  From the beginning of the world it was necessary for all saints to believe that Christ would be the promised offering and satisfaction for sins, as Isaiah 53:10 teaches: When you shall make His soul an offering for sin.

Since, therefore, in the Old Testament, sacrifices did not merit reconciliation, unless by a figure (for they merited civil reconciliation), but signified the coming sacrifice, it follows that Christ is the only sacrifice applied on behalf of the sins of others.  Therefore, in the New Testament no sacrifice is left to be applied for the sins of others, except the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.54-56

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Remember

One of the themes I considered in my preparation for the Lord’s Supper devotional was remembrance.  Jesus said on that night, “Do this in remembrance of me,” as recorded by both Luke (Luke 22:19) and Paul (1 Cor 11:24-25).  Remembrance does not mean that we forget about something and then bring it to mind again, rather it is a deliberate act of the will to hold someone or something at the forefront to consider it intently.  Such consideration causes one to act in a way that recognizes the associated importance in all its aspects.  Do a study of remembering and remembrance in scripture, and much the same is found.  People and events are to be remembered with appropriate actions or honorifics applied.

What I found interesting were the occasions where God remembered.  From Noah (Gen 8:1) to fallen Babylon (Rev 16:19; 18), we find him paying specific attention to a person or group and acting accordingly.  For Noah, there was new hope and new life after the sinful was destroyed.  For Babylon, nothing but utter destruction remains.  Both of these are by the Almighty’s hand, but it is to his elect that there is always good both now and forever in you.  His actions in time and space have eternal ramifications, so that he takes special care to let the people understand their place.  This is brought out nicely by the prophet Malachi.
Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another.  The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.  They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.  Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.  (Mal 3:16-18)
Those walking by faith have there names written in God’s book of remembrance.  I imagine that this is one the books opened on the last day, possibly the very book of life (Rev 20:12-15).  Whatever the case, there is comfort in the certainty that he acts and will act on behalf of those who believe on him.

It is this last point that causes us to remember him.  We look back at both the commands and the promises seeing how they have been and are being fulfilled.  As Israel regularly brought the Lord to mind in their deliberate actions of daily, weekly, and annual worship, we living under the new covenant are called to do the same.  This helps us to understand what Jesus meant in the remembrance found in the bread and cup.  We remember, because he remembers.  We call to mind, because he had us ever in mind.

As we come together on Sunday, is Jesus remembered for remembering us and gaining access to the Father through the Holy Spirit?  What more proper thing is there to consider?

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Law Is Holy and Good—and Impossible Apart from Christ

Now, the purpose of teaching that it is impossible to fulfill the Law is not to encourage or excuse carelessness, sloth, and intentional negligence…rather, it is so that

  • (1) we, confessing the powerlessness of our abilities and the imperfection of our own righteousness, may flee for refuge to Christ, “who has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having been made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13); “through [Him] God has done what was impossible for the Law” (Rom. 8:3), “that He might be the end of the Law for righteousness for all who believe” (Rom. 10:4).  The glory of having perfect righteousness must be reserved for Christ alone, who is “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners” (Heb. 7:26).  Those who ignore and reject His righteousness “seeking to establish their own, are not under the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).  Therefore the first use of this teaching lies in the article of justification, namely, that we not set before God’s judgment our imperfect and variously stained obedience to the Law but that we may learn that we are justified by faith in Christ.
  • (2) The second use of this teaching lies in the article on good works, that we may learn that by the natural powers of our own free choice we cannot begin the sincere and true obedience we owe the Law, but the Law of God “must be written on our hearts” through the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:33), so that we may begin to show not merely an external obedience but also an inner one with a spontaneous spirit and from the heart.  On the other hand, because this inchoate obedience is still very far from the perfection the Law requires, we cannot boast about it before the judgment of God but are forced to confess that “all our righteousnesses are as menstrual rags” (Isa. 64:6) and that, “when we have done everything, we are still but unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10).
  • (3) Lastly, it serves to teach us that the inchoate obedience of the regenerate is pleasing to God, not because it satisfies the law perfectly but because it proceeds from faith in Christ; through such faith its imperfection and remaining fault is covered.

Johann Gerhard, On the Law

Monday, December 16, 2013

Are You the One Who Is to Come?

Two weeks ago, I posted some thoughts on advent that were preparatory material for yesterday’s communion devotional.  Below is what I shared.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

In Matthew 11, John the Baptizer from prison sent disciples to Jesus asking this question.  What response did they receive?  Watch and listen.
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
What had been prophesied by Isaiah concerning Messiah was coming to pass before them: his advent was in full swing.  Yes, Jesus is the one to come.

Why did he add that last comment: “blessed is the one who is not offended by me”?  First, John's disciples needed to loosen their bond with the Baptizer in order to follow Christ. Earlier, in a moment of misplaced zeal prior to John's imprisonment, those disciples had taken offense at Jesus because everybody was following after the new Rabbi, to which John replied, “Good.  He must increase, and I must decrease.”  Those who hear the promise need to grasp hold of the reality.

The second reason for the comment?  An advent still remains.  Jesus is coming in power and glory.  Those who have believed the gospel, he will welcome into eternal glory—the bridegroom coming for his bride.  Theirs is eternal blessing.  Those who are offended, who do not believe, are sent to eternal punishment and eternal destruction.

In between the first and second advent is another advent, a different kind of advent.  What do I mean?  He comes as we gather together.  How so?  From beginning to end of scripture, you will find God coming to be with his people whenever they are gathered unto him.  We see this played out in the tabernacle, the temple, and looking to the New Jerusalem.  He is here now.  Where we see this especially is in the tangible elements Jesus gave to his disciples on the night he was betrayed:
He took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you.”
Then after supper, he took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
God remembered our sinful state.  The Son came willingly, paid the debt for all—every sin of every person, and left this continual remembrance that we receive.  In the eating and drinking, Messiah comes to you.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Poem for Advent

The author of this poem, A. D. Everingham, is a Canadian brother in Christ whom I met online.  His blog is entitled Hyperbolic Mediocrity.  Some people prefer more rhyme and rhythm (me included), but I hope you appreciate this one.


Forgive the land it is barren and demoralized

it is inverted and crucified like St. Peter

but in shape and form only

for St. Peter was anything but hopeless

Forgive the forgeries that are scratched in the dust

by the shiny little onyx beaks of bastard crows

who die in the wind which lifts from the wasteland

hurling them against the side of the huntsman’s brow

Forgive the behemoth beholden to Job

when from the midst of the whirlwind the Lord

the Lord

the Lord

Forgive the dry vessels whose parched clay hips

are inscribed with insurrection

as thirty gallons of emptiness proclaim

the inauguration of the Kingdom

Await we now in silent wonder

receiving forgiveness and the

bleeding heart to forgive which is


by this taught wire strung across

the loom between two holy Advents:

one which the Temple

passed through a womb, a feeding trough

a cross and a stone

and one we await in prayerful anticipation

while in the now and not yet

we, the drowned, are succored by the breath

of the Lord

the Lord

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christ Is the One True Atoning Sacrifice

But in fact there has been only one propitiatory sacrifice in the world, namely, the death of Christ, as the epistle to the Hebrews 10:4 teaches: It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.  And a little after, of the will of Christ, Heb. 10:10: By the which will we are sanctified by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  And Isaiah interprets the Law, in order that we may know that the death of Christ is truly a satisfaction for our sins, or expiation, and that the ceremonies of the Law are not; wherefore he says, Isa. 53:10: When you shall make His soul an offering for sin, He will see His seed, etc.  For the word employed here, asham, signifies a victim for transgression; which signified in the Law that a certain Victim was to come to make satisfaction for our sins and reconcile God, in order that men might know that God wishes to be reconciled to us, not on account of our own righteousnesses, but on account of the merits of another, namely, of Christ.  Paul interprets the same word asham as sin, Rom. 8:3: For sin, he condemned sin, i.e., He punished sin for sin, i.e., by a Victim for sin.… Isaiah and Paul, therefore, mean that Christ became a victim, i.e., an expiation, that by His merits, and not by our own, God might be reconciled.  Therefore let this remain established in the case, namely, that the death of Christ alone is truly a propitiatory sacrifice.  For the Levitical propitiatory sacrifices were so called only to signify a future expiation.  On account of a certain resemblance, therefore, they were satisfactions redeeming the righteousness of the Law, lest those persons who sinned should be excluded from the commonwealth.  But after the revelation of the Gospel they had to cease.  And because they had to cease in the revelation of the Gospel, they were not truly propitiatory, since the Gospel was promised for this very reason, namely, to set forth a propitiation.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV.22-24

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Comforted in the Promise of God's Judgment

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  (2 Thess 1:6-8)

So he means that it is just and right for the lawgiver of righteousness both to reward us for our sufferings for the faith and to exact of the adversaries a penalty for impiety.  This will be at the time of consummation.  Then the Lord will come from heaven, the choirs of angels will precede him, and those invested in the gloom of unbelief will be consigned to inextinguishable fire.  Now, the divine apostle wrote this to comfort with future hope those enduring those dire and awful things.  This is surely the reason he also presented the judgment as fearsome, showing firstly the Judge arriving from heaven, then the power of those ministering to him—namely, angels—and then the form of punishment—namely, consignment to flaming fire.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Second Letter to the Thessalonians"

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What Is Your Church Known For?

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.  (2 Thess 1:3)

Again [Paul] presents thanksgiving as commendation, and on the one hand he expresses admiration for their faith in God, while on the other he expresses admiration for their love for the neighbor.  On both scores he testifies to their perfect virtue.  The Lord said, remember, that in two commandments the whole Law and the Prophets is summed up.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Second Letter to the Thessalonians"

Friday, December 6, 2013

In Defense of the Faith

Psalm 48 is a beautiful meditation on Mount Zion: the place where God has chosen to place his name and to gather and contend for his people.  The sons of Korah use this backdrop to emphasize the response of a grateful people.
We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
        in the midst of your temple.
As your name, O God,
        so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
        Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
        because of your judgments!  (Psalm 48:9-11)
The Lord’s steadfast love and mercies have continued unabated for his people: they are knew every morning (Lam 3:23).  Indeed they are as eternal as God himself, knowing no beginning or end, so that before he laid the foundations of the world, the Lord Almighty created all things and acted in Adam’s rebellion not as a backup plan, but according to all his nature.  This he continued to do to a stiff-necked and rebellious people for his name’s sake in that promises were made to Abraham concerning a land, seed, and blessing.  The Lord’s faithfulness to act has caused his name and praise to reach beyond the borders of Israel.  He has acted in righteousness and is worthy to be praised for maintaining his cause.

Christians can relate immediately to this scenario for his or her own life.  As one once dead in sin and separate from the promises, he can look back on the mercies demonstrated during a life of rebellion until holding fast to the word of life.  Then after finding the life of faith is fraught with enemies on every side, he seeks refuge in the shelter of the Most High, who alone is our refuge and fortress (Psa 91:1-2).

The final section of Psalm 48 would do a child of Israel proud:
Walk about Zion, go around her,
        number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
        go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
        that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
        He will guide us forever.  (Psalm 48:12-14)
We can understand how the Jews would look to the strong, seemingly impregnable presence of Mount Zion as a source of exaltation.  The psalmist is drawing attention to those things that are set to guard the temple of God and his worshipers: towers, ramparts, and citadels.  Though not necessary for worship or governance, these fortifications aided the Levitical defense of the Lord and his things (Num 1:50-53), and they speak of what others had established for future service and protection.

Christians are able to use the same language.  Though there is no visible structure protecting the Church and her doctrine, we have centuries of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers” who have labored, many under dire circumstances, to correctly convey the scriptures.  As the faithful struggled to present sound doctrine against heresy and periods of persecution, one generation built upon the preceding.  They examined God's word to understand better his revelation.  When something heretofore undiscovered was brought to light, teachers would verify against previous orthodox teaching to ensure soundness.  Heterodoxy infiltrated when this check was not in place, future generations were required to quell the advance.  This body of historic, orthodox teaching is our tower, rampart, and citadel.  By remaining firm on scripture as faithfully taught, we can see the enemy approaching to sound the alarm, make the way of the false teacher more difficult in their uphill battles, and stand unconquerable in spiritual battle.

Ambrose of Milan tied the work of the local pastor in the defense of the faith to the work performed by the Levites:
You, then, are chosen out of the whole number of the children of Israel, regarded as the firstfruits of the sacred offerings, set over the tabernacle so as to keep guard in the camp of holiness and faith, to which if a stranger approach, he shall surely die.  You are placed there to watch over the ark of the covenant.  All do not see the depths of the mysteries, for they are hidden from the Levites, lest they should see who ought not to see, and they who cannot serve should take it up.  Moses, indeed, saw the circumcision of the Spirit, but veiled it, so as to give circumcision only in an outward sign.  He saw the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  He saw the sufferings of the Lord, but he veiled the unleavened bread of truth in the material unleavened bread, he veiled the sufferings of the Lord in the sacrifice of a lamb or a calf.  Good Levites have ever preserved the mystery entrusted to them under the protection of their own faith, and yet do you think little of what is entrusted to you?  First, you shall see the deep things of God, which needs wisdom.  Next, you must keep watch for the people; this requires justice.  You must defend the camp and guard the tabernacle, which needs fortitude.  You must show yourself self-controlled and sober, and this needs temperance.
On the Duties of the Clergy, I.50.260

This work is still needed today as men and women seek after unseen truths or innovative tactics to make a name for themselves in the name of furthering the church in the world.  God does not need our unseen and innovative to further the church.  He needs those who will defend and confess what has already been given through his word and expounded by faithful forbears.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

God Provides the Means, and Most Despise It

The Holy Spirit wishes certainly to be present with the Word preached, heard, considered, and to be efficacious and operate through it.… Moreover, even as God has ordained in His counsel that the Holy Spirit should call, enlighten, and convert the elect through the Word, and that He will justify and save all those who by true faith receive Christ, so He also determined in His counsel that He will harden, reprobate, and condemn those who are called through the Word, if they reject the Word and resist the Holy Spirit, who wishes to be efficacious and to work in them through the Word and persevere therein.  And in this manner “many are called, but few are chosen.”

For few receive the Word and follow it.  The greatest number despise the Word and will not come to the wedding (Matt 22:3-6).  The cause for this contempt for the Word is not God's foreknowledge, but the perverse will of man, which rejects or perverts the means and instrument of the Holy Spirit, which God offers him through the call, and resists the Holy Spirit, who wishes to be efficacious, and works through the Word, as Christ says:
How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  (Matt 23:37)
Thus many receive the Word with joy, but afterwards fall away again (Luke 8:13).  The reason is not as though God was unwilling to grant grace for perseverance….  The reason is that they willfully turn away again from the holy commandment, grieve and embitter the Holy Spirit, implicate themselves again in the filth of the world, and garnish again the habitation of the heart for the devil.  With them the last state is worse than the first (2 Pet 2:10, 20; Eph 4:30; Heb 10:26; Luke 11:25).

Formula of Concord XI, 39-42

Monday, December 2, 2013

Where Are You, Advent?

Thanksgiving has come and gone in whirlwind fashion lasting barely a day, as Black Friday shopping was set to begin anywhere from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM Thursday and continued until stores closed Friday evening.  Saturday, brought more shopping and tension trying to assist, appease, or otherwise cater to extended family until tempers flared.  On top of this activity, the house and Christmas tree were completely decorated, after which came a collapse from utter exhaustion.  I dare say this was true in 75-85% of homes this past weekend, all in anticipation of Christmas Day.

As tempting as another diatribe on the commercialization of Christmas might be with all the media promotion and Christmas songs on the radio that began right after Halloween, I wish to ask a question.  Where is the season of Advent?

Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival,” and most Christians, if they were aware of the concept, would identify it as pointing to Jesus’ birth, whereas everyone else who celebrates this holiday would simply view it as a countdown to the giving of gifts on December 25th.  Even Advent calendars tend to promote a festive month rather than the coming of the King of kings, and even then the focus is on his birth alone missing the breadth of meaning bound up in this period.

Historically, Advent looks to a three-fold coming of Jesus.  The first is the most celebrated, that of his birth in Bethlehem, and we rightly remember that miraculous event.  The others are more obscure to the general public, because they speak of covenant and judgment—themes absent from common parlance.  The covenantal coming is recognized as his people gather each Sunday in worship and the Lord’s Supper: first, he has promised to be wherever his people are gathered in his name; and second, there are his words at the institution of his supper—“This is my body which is for you … This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:24-25).  The elements are uniquely joined to Christ and testify of his giving himself to and for us.  The third coming will be that time when he will come with a rod of iron and a sword in his mouth when he will judge the living and the dead.  The sheep will be separated from the goats with the latter going into eternal punishment, while the former are received into eternal blessing and glory.

As we celebrate this season, look not only to Joseph, Mary, and a manger.  Look to the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:8).  It is his three-fold arrival we are to keep in view.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks for the Right Reasons

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and as a nation we give lip-service to being thankful for family and friends; but based on advertising, the real thankfulness comes in being able to watch NFL football on television that day, or in Black Friday sales (which actually begins Thursday evening now).  The psalmist provides much better reasons to give thanks.

100 A Psalm for giving thanks
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
        Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
        It is he who made us, and we are his;
        we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
        and his courts with praise!
        Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
        his steadfast love endures forever,
        and his faithfulness to all generations.

Notice three eternal things about the Lord that are specifically mentioned:
  • Goodness – This is not just ascribed to God because of his benevolence.  His actions do not define his goodness, rather his goodness is manifest in his actions.  Goodness is an essential part of his being.  If it was diminished or removed, he would no longer be worth serving or knowing.
  • Steadfast love – This shows God’s compassion towards his people.  Regardless of their wandering and missteps in life, he delights to encourage and correct as a father does his children to make us more like the Beloved, Jesus.
  • Faithfulness – This is translated truth in NASB, thus showing that the faithful exhibition of goodness and mercy are not capricious but bound up in the certainty of God’s that has no end.
I enjoy food, family, and football on Thanksgiving Day, but how wonderful to remember that the Lord is God, and we who believe are his.

Friday, November 22, 2013

If I Do X, Then God Will Do Y

Recently, I was reading in Jeremiah.  Judah had been so disobedient to God's warnings through the prophets that the ultimate punishment (Deut 28:36-44) must be brought against the nation.  After lowering the boom, he gives this promise:
For thus says the Lord, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me.  When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jer 29:10-14)
Certainly a wonderful passage of God’s grace to Judah, but what is applicable for us today?  I ask because there are any number of comparisons that have been made over the years relating to:
    My country My local assembly My family Me
Do you notice a pattern?  The Bible is written for and about me.  Christians have a fascination for continually doing this with scripture texts.  I know because I have been guilty of the same.  Is there something wrong with wanting God's promises?  No.  We just need to understand that there are things he has promised that do not affect us directly.

In the passage above, God emphatically states that he will be thrusting his people from one physical location to another with the promise that, at the end of a specific period of time, they will be earnestly seeking the Lord.  Conversely, today’s believers will recognize sin in their nation/assembly/family/being with its consequence and then cry out to the Lord, claiming that he promised his presence if they would just pray more earnestly.

Do you see the difference between the text and this application?  In Jeremiah’s prophecy, God is setting the timing and conditions.  He is working on his people for their ultimate good.  In the contemporary setting, worshipers are attempting to demonstrate their fervor so that the Lord will accept them into his good favor.

One might say, “But the Lord has plans for me, a future and hope.  He says so here and elsewhere.”  True, he does have plans for us—to walk in good works he has prepared; and he  does promise the Christian a future and a hope—that of the resurrection and being with the Lord.  Notice that these are not given based on our level of desire, but his sure word of promise causes us to cast ourselves on him.

The message given through Jeremiah is one of certain hope and full assurance that he will not abandon his people forever.  This is something the prophets and apostles continually bring before us.  We cling to the Lord’s faithfulness and ability to bring it to pass.

Baby Boomer Legacy

Larry Peters admits to being critical of the Baby Boomer generation, of which he, my wife, and I are a part.  He makes the following summary points in a recent post:
So it was my generation that:
  • decided that you should hear the pop music you listen to on the radio in worship
  • decided that church should be fun and that pleasure should be that which defines the success of the worship service
  • decided that morals were in the eye of the beholder and that principles and truth were secondary to what seems right at the time
  • decided that if you get bored, don't like the music, or feel rebellious, drop out of church...
He has pretty much nailed it.  Woe on us for leaving such a legacy.  Now, can the course be righted?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Every Good Hymn Is a Sung Confession of the Word of God

Ronald Stephens has written some reflections as he looks toward Christmas at his church.  I really enjoyed what he said at the end of the post, especially this first sentence.

Every good hymn is a sung confession of the Word of God.  It works in concert with the Scripture readings and liturgy of the Divine Service, and mines the depths of God’s Word to bring Jesus to you.  A good hymn proclaims Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for sinners, for us.  The same is true of Christmas carols, and “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is no different.  Here we sing of the Child of Bethlehem, born in our flesh to redeem us.

So as you sing the carol this year, remember that what you sing rolls St. Luke 1 & 2, St. John 1 & 10, Colossians 2, and the Nicene Creed into one hymnic confession.  Think for a minute what that means.  As you sing, you are confessing that to redeem you, almighty and eternal God Himself took on flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone to be your very Brother.  He becomes Man to join with you in your misery, to bear the load of your sin, to bear your punishment.  God has become Man for you.  Jesus has wrapped Himself in your flesh and placed Himself under the tree of the Cross for you.  And by the death, resurrection, and ascension of the enfleshed eternal Son, your human nature is exalted to the right hand of the Father.  There, Jesus intercedes for you as He prepares a place for you in His Kingdom.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Great Authority Empowers Great Commission

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matt 28:18-20)

This authority was given to one who had just been crucified, buried in a tomb, and afterwards had arisen.  Authority was given to him on both heaven and earth so that he who once reigned in heaven might also reign on earth through the faith of his believers.

First they teach all nations; then they baptize those they have taught with water, for the body is not able to receive the sacrament of baptism before the soul has received the truth of the faith.  They were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit so that the three who are one in divinity might also be one in giving themselves.  The name of the Trinity is the name of the one God.

What a marvelous sequence this is.  He commanded the apostles first to teach all nations and then to baptize them in the sacrament of faith and then, after faith and baptism, to teach them to observe all that he had commanded.  Lest we think these commandments of little consequence or few in number, he added "all that I have commanded you," so that those who were to believe and be baptized in the Trinity would observe everything they had been taught.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 4.28:18-20

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Do It

This past weekend, I had my Bible open to Matthew 7 to prepare for our Small Group. Verses 13-14 were being referenced in the video series, so I thought this was a good opportunity to build a couple questions for them.  As I was studying, a link to verse 12 jumped out. Here is the passage:
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.  (Matt 7:12-14)
The text is often separated as you see I have here, with verse 12 coming at the end of the preceding paragraph or standing alone as a paragraph. Jesus uses this to summarizes his teaching from as early as 5:17, where he introduces his place in relation to the Law and interprets it correctly for his hearers.

Jesus then, having built his case concerning the Law, gives the imperative: enter by the narrow gate.  What is the that narrow gate?  I have heard preachers compare it to different things—Jesus himself, the cross, belief, etc.—and none of these is wrong.  They just give only a part.  Based on context, the narrow gate and ensuing way is the fullness of the Law and prophets, or in other words, all that is revealed in his word.  It is righteousness that can only be found in God.

Notice I did not say this was a verse about getting saved.  Certainly that is part of the matter, because you need to enter the narrow gate.  One must come by that way alone, but Jesus does not stop there.  He goes on to say that the way afterward is hard.  There is trouble, affliction, and pressure exerted on the person who enters by the narrow way to get off track.  Only by staying on the path once started can the believer hope to end well.  This is a major point of several NT epistles.

How do we remain on the path and not veer off?  Certainly not by virtue of our own strength.  We become faint of heart and can be too easily blown around by every wind of doctrine.  The only reliable alternative is to rest on the security of the soul's anchor: the promised of God in Christ Jesus (Heb 6:13-20).

Thursday, November 14, 2013

24-Hour Bible Study on the Psalms

Yes, you read that correctly.  Issues, etc. has an annual 24-hour Bible study.  This year the speakers take up Major Themes in the Psalms.  Below is the schedule from their bulletin insert.  I try to catch snippets live but usually wait to download the podcasts later.

Issues, Etc. 24
LIVE Friday, November 22 - Saturday, November 2
(All times are Central.)
Major Themes in the Psalms
11 am-1 pm    Dr. Carl Fickenscher    Creation
1-3 pm    Pr. Will Weedon    Zion
3-5 pm     Dr. John Saleska     Descriptive Praise
5-7 pm     Dr. Peter Scaer     Wisdom
7-9 pm     Pr. Bill Cwirla     Messiah/King
9-11 pm     Pr. Jonathan Fisk     Enemies
11 pm-1 am     Pr. Tom Baker     Individual Praise
1-3 am     Dr. John Kleinig     Community Praise
3-5 am     Dr. Joel Humann     Liturgical Psalms
5-7 am     Pr. Peter Bender     Personal Laments
7-9 am     Pr. Bryan Wolfmueller     Trust
9-11 am     Pr. Brian Kachelmeier     Community Laments
Listen LIVE or on-demand at www.issuesetc.org

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Heaven Was Gained for Man, Not by Might, but by Humility

When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”  (Matt 26:1-2)

[M]en ought to know that the arrangements of the Most High God have so advanced from the beginning, that it was necessary, as the end of the world approached, that the Son of God should descend to the earth, that He might build a temple for God, and teach righteousness.  But, however, not with the might of an angel or with heavenly power, but in the form of man and in the condition of a mortal, that when He had discharged the office of His ministry, He might be delivered into the hands of wicked men, and might undergo death, that, having subdued this also by His might, He might rise again, and bring to man, whose nature He had put on and represented, the hope of overcoming death, and might admit him to the rewards of immortality.

Lactantius, Divine Institutes IV.10

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Scripture Is Not of Private Interpretation

There is no doubt that there are many figures of speech in Scripture, but it is also certain that not all the figures of speech or tropes are in veiled language.  Many in Scripture are very clear and can be treated and interpreted on their own terms or with the simple and natural meaning of the words.  But is there not such a thing as freedom in the interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture to the degree that seems good to each individual so that we may either retain the proper meaning of the words or through the use of a figure of speech depart from the simple, proper, and natural meaning of the words according to each person’s notions?

The answer is a categorical no!  For if this were the case, all dogmas and all articles of faith could be so completely overturned and bypassed that all assurance of faith would be snatched away from consciences.  Therefore it is necessary that there be a definite rule or analogy of interpretation as to which passages of Scripture are to be treated as figures of speech and which are to be taken in their simple, proper, natural, sure, and usual sense, so that the conscience can rest safely and securely in the interpretation which has been given.

Martin Chemnitz, The Lord’s Supper

Friday, November 8, 2013

Jesus’ Resurrection Brings Sweet Consolation

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  (1 Thess 4:13-14)

[Paul] proposes instruction on the resurrection to console those upset about the dead.  He does not completely oppose grieving, but rules out an excessive degree, and consoles them with hope in the resurrection.  Those without it have an excuse for uncontrolled grief.  This is the reason he did not say, “about the dead,” but “about those who have fallen asleep,” bringing consolation through the use of this term.  Then he offers a proof of the resurrection from what they had heard of the teaching of Christ the Lord.  If the resurrection of Christ seems to us worthy of belief, let us believe that we also will attain resurrection.  It was for our sake the the mystery of the incarnation was arranged.

Theodoret of Cyrus, “The First Letter to the Thessalonians”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What Is the Quality of Your Fruit?

“You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

What a startling way to address someone, especially to those who were supposed to be your spiritual leaders, yet John the baptizer did this very thing (Matt 3:7) when he saw Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism.  Why?  They had issues.  These men had assumed that, they could come to this prophet because they were the spiritual elite: children of Abraham and learned in all the laws of Judaism.

But they were relying on the wrong things.  They did not realize that they were in great need, as great a need as any sinner coming to the Jordan River.  Their fruit was rotten, because their root was rotten.  All coming that day were in need.  What was it that John said?  “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”  John warned that the axe was going to fall: “Every tree … that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  Every tree—no exceptions.

How does someone bear good fruit?  By being connected to a good branch connected to a good root.  The prophet Isaiah says there is such a branch called “the shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Isa 11:1).  He is properly rooted and fruitful.  The Spirit of the Lord rests on him.  That branch, the Lord Jesus, is righteous and faithful, and only in him can the nations (in other words—you and me) bear fruit keeping with repentance.

You and I bear fruit, but of what quality is it?  Without Christ, the fruit is rotten, because, we have no capacity to bear good fruit as David says in Psalm 14:1-3.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.
Right now you might be thinking, “I’m not like that.  I believe in God.  That’s talking about those other guys, the really bad ones.”  No, the apostle Paul says this is talking about you, too (Romans 3).  Left to ourselves, we are altogether corrupt and hopeless, producing nothing of real worth.

Jesus, the only branch capable of bearing good fruit, died for our sin and corruption.  What we had rejected through Adam in the garden is now presented to us as a free gift.  There is life and that abundantly.  As a result of his life flowing through us, we are able to bear good fruit.  Again, it is not produced because we now try harder or for better reasons, though both of those might be true, but as a result of being joined to the source of life by grace through faith.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Harsh Criticism Is Not Hardheartedness—Just the Opposite

Jeremiah 8:18-22
My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
    my heart is sick within me.
Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
    from the length and breadth of the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King not in her?”
“Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images
    and with their foreign idols?”
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
    and we are not saved.”
For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
    I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
    not been restored?

As much as I critique and call into account where the church comes short, there is another part of me that wants to weep.  Christians are led astray and then propagate sin and error by their own hand assuming all is externally well.  Through poor instruction by a trusted person and solidified by a conflation of Bible texts, error spreads.  Sin, once realized to have put Jesus on the cross, receives some innocuous dabbling because “it’s not hurting anyone else” or “_____ are doing it” (you fill in the blank) that leads to rationalizing of more sin.

Even worse is that we who engage in this activity actually understand there is something wrong.  The Holy Spirit will use the Word of God that we know, hear, or read to prompt us that something needs a course correction.  And then we apply our own medicine on the wound.  We try harder and invest in “cures” that can leave us emotionally or physically spent.  The problem becomes worse when it is not addressed as spiritual in nature.

Those seeking to assist have a difficult task before them.  They recognize the spiritual nature of the problem and offer spiritual solutions but are often considered to be “holier than thou” or sinners casting the first stone.  It is true that spiritual men and women are still waging war with the law of sin still in their members (Rom 7:22-23), but their hearts grieve over what sin and error do to the church.  Exposure of wrong is not meted out in pretense or feigned authority, but through a careful investigation of scripture and understanding that all I am or have comes from the Father.

Some say we should be more like Jesus in how we deal with people.  Based on my Bible reading, I am comfortable stating that the Lord Jesus is the harshest critic that ever walked the earth.  In Matthew 23, he rails against the scribes and Pharisees with seven pronouncements of woe for their reprehensible behavior.  Then as soon as he completed them he turns to the city and lays his heart bare:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  (Matt 23:37)

He still cared.  And to what extent?
[Jesus] directs His speech to the city, in this way too being mindful to correct His hearers, and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”  What does the repetition mean?  This is the way of One pitying her, and bemoaning her, and greatly loving her.  For like a beloved woman, herself indeed always loved but who had despised Him who loved her, and therefore on the point of being punished, He pleads, being now about to inflict the punishment.  This He does in the prophets also, using these words, “I said, ‘Turn to me,’ and she returned not.”

Then having called her, He tells also her blood-stained deeds, “You who kills the prophets and stones them those who are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, and you would not.”  In this way He is also explaining His own dealings with her: Not even with these things have you turned me aside, nor withdrawn me from my great affection toward you, but it was my desire even so, not once or twice, but often to draw you unto me.  “For how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her brood, and you would not.”  And this He says to show that they were ever scattering themselves by their sins.  And His affection He indicates by the similitude; for indeed the hen is warm in its love towards its brood.  And everywhere in the prophets is this same image of the wings, and in the song of Moses and in the Psalms, indicating His great protection and care.

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where Is Your Boast?

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord.  Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.  Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’”  (Jer 7:1-4)

God's people have a tendency to rely on their structures and procedures to assess or validate their practice, when they should be attending to what they were called as the Lord’s chosen.  Judah had made the fateful mistake of thinking that since the temple was still in their midst, that they were still living under a divine blessing.  Solomon’s temple had been erected approximately 350 years prior and still stood as the symbol of God’s enduring presence, which they took as a stamp of approval for their lackluster worship and overall spiritual decay.

Judah was about to be taken to task for their indiscretions, but God sent yet another prophet to warn the people to repent and amend their ways.  The people were unjust and idolatrous, thinking that if they did what was wrong and then performed the required sacrifice, all was well.  In other words, they believed that performance of the act satisfied for the sin.  God called the people to consider what he had already done to Israel, repent of their false assurance, and place their trust in the Lord.  The people’s continued disdain would only bring retribution upon their heads.  Though they had the example of the wilderness wanderings and the Judges, their wickedness exceeded what their ancestors had perpetrated (Jer 7:26) and deserved stricter judgment:
But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.  Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.  (Luke 12:48)
Fast-forward 2700 years.  God’s people have the entirety of God's self-revelation in the cannon of scripture and high quality teaching and leadership from many venues, yet we do no better than Judah.  What do I mean?

Looking across the landscape of Christendom, one can find churches and denominations groups that champion rights across a spectrum of confessional to Bible-only; literal interpretation to postmodern deconstruction; and these can be found adhering to a form of polity which varies in liturgy from strict to free-form, music from chant to contemporary, and hierarchy from highly structured to flat.  Regardless of the make-up, one thing is usually certain: each group believes they are doing things the “right way,” basking in God’s favor.  Every local assembly of which I have been a part has felt this way.  I assume yours does as well. 

This is not an indictment against the multiplicity of denominations as much as it is against spiritual pride.  In many ways we are as guilty as Judah of old by holding up polity and programs as metrics of correctness and blessing, rather than taking stock of the spiritual condition.  Ask yourselves some questions:
  • Does the preacher tell us of our lost and sinful condition with Christ crucified as our only hope, or do you get a lesson in life skills?
  • Does Sunday School teach how God worked through men and women of faith, or do you come away with the importance of getting along with people and caring for the environment?
  • Is your small group a place where you build up one another through fellowship and prayer or a gossip/gripe session where others are torn down but you feel better about yourselves?
  • Do Bible studies work through the Bible, or are the studies taken primarily from a popular author’s latest book on how to be a better man/woman/husband/wife/parent?
  • Are the historic creeds and sound teachings of past centuries studied and used, or are the latest theological and doctrinal works consulted?
These pairings may appear to be at odds with the first-mentioned being correct and the last incorrect.  Actually, they are all good and salutary in their place.  What happens, however, is that the latter is done while the former is ignored, thus stating or inferring that is the only correct way, and “thou shalt not vary from the course.”  Over time the method becomes entrenched so that it is maintained though the individual is left languishing for lack of sound doctrine.

You and I cannot assume that because we go through the motions set in place by the assembly leadership whether in the current generation or centuries prior, that we are in growing in Christ.  That is not where we boast.  The concern should be: Am I—is my church—living before the Lord in a way that pleases him?  If not, from what should there be repentance in order to move forward in Christ and be used by him?  We learn of the the Lord, our just and merciful God, and boast in him (Jer 9:24; 1 Cor 1:31).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Abound in Love to Be Established in Holiness

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.  (1 Thess 3:11-13)

The divine apostle called the practice of love the fulfillment of every law, so he prays they increase in number and abound in love—that is, acquire it in its perfection so that nothing may be lacking to it—and that they practice it not only with one another but with all their fellow believers, wherever they be.  “This is the way, after all,” he is saying, “that we feel about you, though far away, wanting to strengthen your hearts so that you may even now be seen by the God of all to be free of blame, and with all the saints you may go to meet Christ the Lord.”

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The First Letter to the Thessalonians"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Show Me the Blueprints!

I was interacting with one of Sandi’s cousins on Facebook earlier this week about our common state of joblessness and my status of being offered a less-than-desired position.  The exchange went like this:
  • Jim: You're not the only one looking for a job, so hang in there. God has a plan for us!!!
  • Me:  But I want to see the blueprints!
  • Jim: I know how you feel trust me, I want to see it NOW is how I feel!
Later I was reading in Ecclesiastes and came across this:
When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun.  However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out.  Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.  (Eccl 8:16-17)
That was actually comforting, because if I am able to figure out the plans of the Lord as they work out in my life, he ceases to be God.  He works all for my good (Rom 8:28) and disciplines me as a son (Heb 12:3-17).  The state of affairs is still frustrating, and I still complain it.  However, I am reminded that my attitude should be similar to David's in the psalms as he continues to rely on the Lord for working out the apparent injustice, though it may appear to come from the Almighty’s hand: he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (Heb 12:10).

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Will of God, Your Sanctification

I am reading Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians in the morning, and a sentence jumped out anew.  I think the punctuation in my ESV helped bring this to light.*

Paul wants to exhort the young church to continue on in Christ.  He has already remarked that their testimony is making amazing strides, so he supplies a warning to help them finish well.  First, he reminds them to remain steadfastly in what had been delivered through his instruction:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.  For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.  (1 Thess 4:1-2)
Paul was a model of consistency in his apostleship, varying only on how he would begin his proclamation of the gospel.  The message and practice for the foundling church never wavered.  Then he turns his attention to the sentence that stood out.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification:
that you abstain from sexual immorality;
that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,
not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter,
because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.  (1 Thess 4:3-6)
Paul wants to ensure that the believers understand that they have been sanctified (made holy, set apart) unto the Lord.  While a strict, narrow definition of holiness as used in the Bible does not contain a moral element, the application comes into play when applied to moral beings and how holiness is manifest among them.  That being so, Paul focuses on the topic of sexual immorality.

Thessalonica worship included the pantheon of Greek gods with its inherent lascivious worship and entertainment.  Paul gives a three-fold practical admonition in light of this: abstain from the illicit activity (testimony to unbelievers), exercise self-control (testimony before God), and do not cheat on a fellow believer (testimony to the church).  This warning helps to ward off what became a problem in Corinth (1 Cor 5:1-6).
For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.  (1 Thess 4:7-8)
Paul reminds them that the Christian definition of holiness is the opposite of pagan holiness.  While the latter is marked by pleasing a deity through carnal passions, the former is marked by denying self and receiving the goodness found in fellowship with the deity.  This fellowship is marked by the very presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit given freely to us, so to behave immorally is to wrong both the person with whom you engaged in the activity and God who dwells in you.  Do not attempt the excuse that you are consenting adults, surrendering to the heat of passion, or following cultural norms.  God is still grieved.

Jesus bore that sin on the cross.  Live like it means something,.

*  In case you are wondering, I assume that the Holy Spirit is the chief instigator.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The State Cannot Fix These Problems

Gene Veith mentions an article in the American Conservative by Patrick Deneen positing that the solution to the health and higher education crises we are facing cannot be fixed by the solutions proffered by Conservatives or Liberals.
The dominant voices in the debate in both areas—health and education—cleave closely to the contemporary party lines. On the Right, the case is made that a competitive market model will solve the ills of both health care and education. By allowing prices to be driven by supply and demand, and the motivations of the primary actors—doctors and professoriate, on the one hand, patients and students, on the other—to be largely self-interested, the market will resolve how best to allocate the relatively limited access to the best health care and the best institutions of higher education. On the Left, it is believed that the State should rest a heavy hand on the scales of the market, enforcing widespread access, suppressing costs (or providing subsidies), and forcing providers to conform to state-mandated expectations and standards.
Deneen goes on to state that any approach to these problems not rooted in charity as practiced by the Church is not viable, because the State does not and cannot operate in the area of human services.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Baptism: Completed Ritual or Continuing Reality?

Which do you say when asked: “I was baptized,” or “I am baptized?”  It is an interesting question.  I have heard a couple of Bible teachers recently speak of the present reality of baptism.  The idea intrigued me, because instead of viewing baptism as only a ritual that needs to be checked off of a believer's spiritual to-do list, there is a sense in which the Christian operates (or more properly should operate) with the knowledge of who he is in Christ.

I am guessing that most who follow this blog will say that they were baptized, somewhat viewing it as a steppingstone or a rung on the ladder of Christian maturity after believing on the Lord Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection on account of and for my sin.  Of course I do not disagree with the historicity of the event.  By however mode it was performed, someone baptized you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  There might even be documentary evidence of a photograph, handwritten note, church roll, or baptismal certificate.  It happened, and we can look back at the occasion as having been completed: a public statement was made intending a life lived by faith in Christ.  None of this is incorrect, of course, but I wonder if there is a missed aspect relating to the present.

Paul tells us that those baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death to crucify the old and destroy the body of sin (Rom 6:3-7) with the admonition to “consider yourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:11).  In other words, there is a present intention to continue in what was manifest at baptism.  Elsewhere Paul makes a similar allusion when he states:
I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Gal 2:20)
What had been wrought is being carried forward.  We have had the “body of flesh” removed through the circumcision that is in Christ (Col 2:11-12) and have put on Christ (Gal 3:27).

Finally, Peter makes the connection more clear when he writes, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21).  Setting aside the question of efficacy of the baptismal rite in relation to justification, we can say the apostle offers a definite present tense to the work—baptism saves, not baptism saved—because of faith in the promise of forgiveness at baptism.  It is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  What was desired through faith in that moment of history continues on as we continue in this world.

Baptism acts as a reminder of the faith, belief, and assurance of God's promises that this is a life of faith in Christ's saving work as much as when first believing.  Something began at baptism, and what God began, he is able to complete (Phil 1:6).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pastors Are to Act Like Fathers, not Rock Stars

You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.  For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.  (1 Thess 2:10-12)

The way [Paul] makes distinctions shows us his precision in writing.  He did not say, We appeared blameless to everyone,” but to you believers;” and he added God's testimony, since only visible things are obvious to men, but to God also what escapes the notice of men.  Once again he developed another metaphor, likening himself to a father to bring out in further ways the affection he has for them.  Now it was very suitable for him to employee the three verbs: exhorted, encouraged, and charged.  It is necessary not only to offer consolation to the downhearted but also to put fear into those addicted to sloth with the reminder of threatened evils.  I did this,” he is saying, to urge you to choose a life appropriate to the God who called you and promised the kingdom of heaven.”

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The First Letter to the Thessalonians"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The True Church Is Found in Christ

In the Church itself, infinite is the multitude of the wicked who oppress it.  Therefore, in order that we may not despair, but may know that the Church will nevertheless remain, likewise that we may know that, however great the multitude of the wicked is, yet the Church will remain, and that Christ provides those gifts which He has promised to the Church—to forgive sins, to hear prayer, to give the Holy Spirit—this article in the [Apostle's] Creed presents us these consolations.

But just as the Church has the promise that it will always have the Holy Spirit, so it has also the warnings that there will be wicked teachers and wolves.*  But that is the Church in the proper sense which has the Holy Spirit.  Although wolves and wicked teachers run rampant in the Church, yet they are not properly the kingdom of Christ.  Just as Lyra also testifies, when he says:
The Church does not consist of men with respect to power, or ecclesiastical or secular dignity, because many princes and archbishops and others of lower rank have been found to have apostatized from the faith.  Therefore, the Church consists of those persons in whom there is a true knowledge and confession of faith and truth.†
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII: The Church 9, 22

*  Acts 20:29
†  Nicholas of Lyra (c. 1270–October 1349) who was born into a Jewish family and converted to Christianity, later entering a Franciscan order in 1291.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Giving Thanks for the Work of God in Others

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Thess 1:2-3)

We are taught first to give thanks for the good things that have come our way, and thus to leave till later requests for what is lacking.  You can, in fact, find the divine apostle doing this everywhere.  He also brings out for what things he sings the praises of the God of all.

Work of faith” means constancy in danger.  It is necessary not only to give evidence of faith in peace and tranquility, but also to cling to it amid storm and tempest.  Likewise love also does not experience untroubled enjoyment but as well exceeding effort.  One has to put up with the brethren's failings, whether envy, rage, conceit, or the weakness of ingratitude.  For this reason he linked labor with love, and associated persistence with hope.  Christ the Lord gave us hope in the resurrection of the dead, immortal life, the kingdom of heaven.  The person in receipt of this hope must persist and bear nobly the troubles that befall.  The God of all has an eye to everything.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The First Letter to the Thessalonians"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Let Peace Reign, Bringing Unity

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  (Col 3:15)

Having called us, God made of us all one body.  Do not divide it, therefore.  Instead, if someone experiences trouble at another's hands, let them have peace in their heart, for it will judge in their favor and award the prize and bring about the harmony that is dear to God.  Give thanks to the Lord even when it happens.

Theodoret of Cyrus, "The Letter to the Colossians"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Be a Friend, Change the World (Or Maybe Not)

Bill Nissen, a local pastor, posted a video on YouTube this morning with a message he believes to be the most important he has ever recorded or ever will record.

Really?  Some quick thoughts on his points:

1.  Be a friend of God – How does someone become a friend of God?  (Is there a meet-and-greet?)  How does someone maintain a friendship with God?  Which God are we even speaking about?

2.  Be a good friend, and 3.  Make new friends – When my daughter was in Camp Fire, one of the songs they learned had the lyrics Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, and the other gold.”  Are people unable to form close friendships?  Is friendship with God actually a requirement to be a good friend to others?

In fairness, the three points do correlate to biblical truths, but they are being couched in relational language instead of God's word.  The video should have been a spin-off of something Jesus said:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  (Matt 22:37-39)
Is any of this nation- or world-changing as the video asserts?  No, it is simply hyperbole.  This is what happens when an under-shepherd of God's flock gets confused with his other occupation as a network marketer.  Only God Almighty can change people and nations.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  (Ezek 36:26-27)
Perhaps his subsequent videos will bring out more of God's word for explanation, but I am not holding out much hope.  If a message intended for public viewing by a diverse audience is devoid of the simplest facts of sin, righteousness, judgment, and Jesus' satisfaction which could lead to the relationships being suggested, what assurance is there for a proper explanation?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Terrible Waste or Extravagant Grace?

When [Jesus] saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.  (Luke 17:14-16)

Jesus is all about grace.  That hits hard in a world wired for results.  But the Kingdom of God is not of the world.  It is in the world.  The success of the Gospel cannot be measured in demonstrable results but in faithfulness.  The nature of God's Kingdom is that it is measured not by outcomes we see but by faith that trusts the Lord to do what He has promised.

While this ought to come as great comfort when we find ourselves without the success stories the world uses to decide things, it cannot be allowed to lull us into complacency as if this means we can afford to do nothing at all.  The world around us judges everything on the basis of a high rate of return.  The Lord judges on the basis of faithfulness.  What He looks for in us are hearts that trust in His Word and Spirit for ourselves and who will faithfully speak that Word so the Spirit may work in the lives of others.

We might well have dismissed the story of the ten lepers as the waste of a good miracle.  Why would anyone heal ten to bring one person to faith?  We find the same question in the work of the Church today.  Is it worth helping nine families who may not be deserving in order to make sure that the one deserving family receives help?

Sadly we are literally killing the Church by focusing on understanding the process or predicting the outcomes—none of which are our business—instead of focusing on the witnessing, service, and works of mercy that our the business of the Church and all of God’s baptized people.  We market the Gospel as if it were a product and put our confidence in marketing schemes instead of speaking and showing that Word and trusting the Lord to do what He promises.  The Kingdom of God is not about charts or business strategies or success ratios.  It is about grace and mercy, faithfully believed and faithfully spoken and shown to the world.

The Lord is so generous that He is wasteful as the world counts things—but this is not a problem.  This is our glory and our hope.  The Lord forgives the sins of sinners.  Not the nice sinners who inadvertently screw up but deliberate and calculating sinners.  The sins He forgives are not the little ones we all understand but the heavy hitters of a people so caught in sin that they cannot free themselves.

The Lord bestows life to the dying and does not reward the worthy but reaches into death to save those the world calls lost causes.  We are literally a church of lost causes whom the world has consigned to failure but upon whom God shows extravagant mercy and grace.  The Lord has taken our death upon His shoulders and placed upon us the life that is so far beyond our merit it is a shock and scandal of great proportion.  It is not justice; Jesus calls it grace.  The Lord bestows His mercy upon those in need without regard to their merit.  It is an extravagant mercy that goes beyond all reason or justice.  God is not merciful to the nice or the deserving but to the wretched sinners who have nothing to offer Him but faith in Christ.

God does not act based upon successful results—God acts and the consequences are forgiveness, life, and salvation for all the lost causes and unworthy.  That would be you and me.

Larry Peters, extract from sermon for October 13, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rejoicing in the Promise of Forgiveness

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are signs that continually admonish, cheer, and encourage despairing minds to believe the more firmly that their sins are forgiven.  So the same promise is written and portrayed in good works, in order that these works may admonish us to believe the more firmly.  Those who produce no good works do not encourage themselves to believe, but despise these promises.  The godly on the other hand, embrace them, and rejoice that they have the signs and testimonies of so great a promise.  Accordingly, they exercise themselves in these signs and testimonies.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V: Of Love and Fulfilling of the Law, 155

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Worship the Fullness of the Trinity

In reality and by nature it is the God of all, and His only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit which are God.  This is distinctly taught us by the admirable Paul in the words “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” … [F]or the Father and His only begotten Son and His Holy Spirit are one God by nature; and the divine Word made man, our Lord Jesus Christ, is by nature one Son, only begotten of the Father; and the Comforter who completes the number of the Trinity is one Holy Spirit.  Thus though many are named fathers, we worship one Father, the Father before the ages, who Himself gave this title to men, as the Apostle says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every fatherhood* in heaven and on earth is named.”  Let us not then, because others are called christs, rob ourselves of the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For just as though many are called gods and fathers, there is one God and Father over all and before the ages; and though many are called sons, there is one real and natural Son; and though many are styled spirits there is one Holy Spirit; just so though many are called christs there is one Lord Jesus Christ by Whom are all things.  And very properly does the Church cling to this name.

Theodoret of Cyrus, Letter 146 to John Oeconomus, NPNF, Series 2

*  Theodoret's usage.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Living Faith Demonstrated in Good Works and Peaceful Hearts

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  (James 1:18)

When he says that we have been born again by the Gospel, he teaches that we have been born again and justified by faith.  For the promise concerning Christ is apprehended only by faith, when we set it against the terrors of sin and of death.  James does not, therefore, think that we are born again by our works.

From these things it is clear that James does not contradict us, who, when censuring idle and secure minds, that imagine that they have faith, although they do not have it, made a distinction between dead and living faith.  He says that that is dead which does not bring forth good works;* he says that that is living which brings forth good works.  Furthermore, we have frequently already shown what we term faith.  For we do not speak of passive knowledge,† such as devils have, but of faith which resists the terrors of conscience, and cheers and consoles terrified hearts.‡

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V: Of Love and Fulfilling of the Law, 126-8

*  And fruit of the Spirit: obedience, patience, chastity, love, etc.
†  I.e., that merely the history concerning Christ should be known.
‡  The new light and power which the Holy Spirit works in the heart, through which we overcome the terrors of death, of sin, etc.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Our Works Cannot Overcome Our Sin

We believe and teach that good works must necessarily be done…, nevertheless we give to Christ His own honor.  We believe and teach that by faith, for Christ's sake, we are accounted righteous before God, that we are not accounted righteous because of works without Christ as Mediator, that by works we do not merit the remission of sins, grace, and righteousness, that we cannot set our works against the wrath and justice of God, that works cannot overcome the terrors of sin, but that the terrors of sin are overcome by faith alone, that only Christ the Mediator is to be presented by faith against the wrath and judgment of God.  If any one think differently, he does not give Christ due honor, who has been set forth that He might be a Propitiator, that through Him we might have access to the Father.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article V: Of Love and Fulfilling of the Law, 93-94