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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

God's Promises Depend on Him, Not Us

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?  Certainly not!  For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.  But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  (Gal 3:21-22)

God does not delay His promises, Paul says, on account of our sins; nor does He hasten them on account of our righteousness and our merits.  He does not consider either one.  Therefore even if we were made worse through the Law and hated God more, God would still not be moved by this to defer the promise; for it does not depend on our worthiness and righteousness but on His goodness and mercy.  Therefore it is a pure fiction when the Jews say: "The Messiah has not come, because our sins are delaying His coming."  As though God would become unjust on account of our sins or a liar on account of our lies!  He Himself always remains righteous and truthful, whether we sin or do not sin.  Therefore His truth is the only reason for His observing and fulfilling the promise.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

And Such Were Some of You

Yesterday, our pastor completed a series on Judges entitled Scandalous Grace looking at how God's grace overrules in our lives for our good and his purposes, and also pointing out that four of those judges are mentioned in the faith chapter of the New Testament, Hebrews 11.
And what more shall I say?  For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  (Heb 11:32-34)
These men were deeply flawed, yet the Lord used each of them and had them specifically called out by the writer of Hebrews.  This is both marvelous and confusing.

God has no limits to his grace.  If we have been believers for any length of time, there should be little difficulty appreciating the length and breadth of that grace extending to sinful men and women.  Before believing the gospel, we Christians were living in open opposition to the Lord (1 Cor 6:9-11a; Eph 2:1-3) and went through a change of position effected in us by virtue of Jesus' atoning sacrifice (1 Cor 6:11b; Eph 2:4-9).  We are God's elect (Eph 1:4; Col 3:12; 1 Thess 1:4; Titus 1:1).  Thus far there are no surprises.

A confusion comes when the elect do not act like the elect.  Whether old covenant or new, there is an expectation that God's work will manifest itself in good works (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18; 1 Cor 6:12-20; Eph 2:10), yet selfish cowards, mercenaries, and scoundrels have their purported faith highlighted.  What gives?  How did they get in?

The bewilderment stems from a misconception or misunderstanding of life as one of God's elect.  I was in attendance during an informal gathering of Christians.  After some discussion, one mature, God-fearing gentleman said that it was too bad there were no good examples of fathers or husbands in the Bible.  That statement is simply not true—just the opposite.  Those people revealed to us by the Lord are the best examples for us.  We need them, not just because God can work through the weak and sinful, but because we are the weak and sinful.  Those negative examples illuminate the problem Christians bring to scripture.  We tend to think
Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, I will overcome faults and understand divine mysteries.  Those Old Testament characters were weak because they do not have what I have.
What arrogance!—I had.  And my attitude was not unique.  I ran around with immature Christians that felt the same way.  I now regularly meet Christians of every walk who feel this way.  Again, what arrogance that we think we are somehow more spiritual.  We are not immune.  The church in Corinth firmly believed they were better and could do as they pleased.  Compare Paul's first letter to Corinth (and Clement of Rome's later letter) alongside the book of Judges.  The similarities would be remarkable.  One could easily rewrite Judges 21:25 and place it at the end of 1 Corinthians.
In those days there was no king in Corinth.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
I do not wish to say that the church is wholly destitute or corrupt by virtue of pride.  True, some individuals and groups have gone off the rails: Jesus is still the head of the church.  Rather we recognize that we are no better than those on whom we look down at, and daily come before Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in all humility remembering that "there but for the grace of God go I."