Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Prayer from the Smalcald Articles

"Dear Lord Jesus Christ, assemble a council of Thine own, and by Thy glorious advent deliver Thy servants.  The pope and his adherents are lost.  They will have nothing to do with Thee.  But help us, poor and wretched souls who cry unto Thee and earnestly seek Thee according to the grace which Thou hast given us by Thy Holy Spirit, who with Thee and the Father liveth and reigneth, blessed forever.  Amen." 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Walking in Christ

The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Those who speak empty, useless, vain words, and those who believe them, and those who associate with them, will be the subjects of this wrath.  So says Saint Paul in the first few verses of our Epistle reading from today.
                Think back upon your life.  Have you ever done wrong?  Have you said something wrong, told a lie, encouraged another to do or think wrongly?  Have you gossiped, slandered, or insulted?  These are all empty words, words that have no constructive purpose.  They are words that we speak and words that subject us to the wrath of God.
                Think about that for just a moment.  Every word that comes out of your mouth will be judged.  Every last word.  We have this idea in our day and age that words do not mean anything.  We can say something and then take it back a few days later.  But the Biblical idea of words is not that way.  When something is spoken, it is final.  You cannot take it back.  Once a word is said it is out there, and no amount of back talk can remove it.
                We will stand before God upon the last day and give an account for our words.  It will not suffice to say, “I didn’t mean it” or “I take it back.”  You did mean it.  You can’t take it back.  The only thing to say at that moment, the only hope we have before the wrath of God, is the Word of God.
                Hear the words of the Holy Spirit to you, right here, right now: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!”  This declaration from God is not a command, but a calling.  It is a summons that produces what it states. 
                When we speak empty, evil words we are walking in darkness and death.  The Holy Spirit, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ calls us back from the dead here and now, and to a new life.  The call from the Spirit pulls us out of the slumber of death where we say words that are truly damned by God.  It saves us from God’s well deserved wrath.  And it sets us walking in light, speaking what is good, right, and true.
                Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!  You have been called back from the dead by the Holy Spirit through the power of God’s Word.  The Spirit has set you living and walking the path of light, the path of wisdom, the path of Christ.
                This is the perfect path that Jesus Christ walked for us as He walked to the cross.  One step at a time, He spoke words full of power, wisdom, and love.  He walked according to God’s perfect will.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He rejoiced in the blessings of His Father, and He submitted to His Father, even unto death.  And through His resurrection, by calling us back to life, Jesus gives this walk to us as well.  His walk is attributed to us, that we might learn to walk it here and now.
                Being resurrected from empty words of deceit and disobedience, the Holy Spirit leads us to walk in light, to walk according to the will of God.  What is the will of the Lord?  How can we discern it?  It is as simple as opening your Bible and turning to Exodus 20.  There God tells Israel His will for all people.  It is called the Ten Commandments.  Honoring parents, helping the poor and sick, loving spouses, being good stewards, telling the truth, being content, this is the will of God fulfilled by Jesus Christ in His earthly life and given to us as a gift that we might walk in His ways.
                Walking in the light of Christ we are not drunk on wine, but drunk on the Spirit of God.  In other words, what brings us our greatest joy is not alcohol, but the gifts of God.  Receiving the constant stream of forgiveness, life, and salvation that flows from the foot of the cross and the empty tomb leads us to rejoice.  Christians are filled with joy that knows no end.  It is God’s gift to us.
                In the wake of disaster, only the Christian can approach suffering with head held high knowing that the future is still bright.  Through a drought, only the peace of God in Christ allows us to rejoice in the gifts that we DO have.  Jesus Christ has conquered death and given this new life to you freely in His Word and Sacraments.  What isn’t there to be happy and joyful about?  
And this joy that fills us is expressed in God’s gift of song.  As we sing in Church, we lift our voices to God and to one another, not only with lips, but also with heart.  The Psalms and hymns contained in our hymnals are God’s gift to us.  Along with other music composed with Christ at its center, these spiritual songs are expressions of a Christian’s true joy.  Their rejoicing finds its voice in God’s gift of music and melody.
 Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!  Awake and arise.  Bask in the light of Christ.  Walk in the joy of His salvation.  Discover the Will of God.  Be intoxicated by the Holy Spirit.  Rejoice in His never-ceasing gifts. 
You have been called back from the death of empty and evil words.  You have been resurrected to new life in Jesus Christ.  The Spirit will lead you to walk in the light of Christ.  Amen.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Jesus-Colored Glasses

     Why do we need creeds, confessions, seminaries, and synods?  Why do we need catechesis, Bible class, Church history, fellowship, liturgy, and hymns?  Aren't all of these things just a bit unnecessary?  Shouldn't the Bible be enough?  Shouldn't the individual Christian be able to sit down and read the Bible and discover the truth for himself?  Well, not exactly.
    "The Spirit said to Philip, 'Go over and join this chariot (belonging to the Ethiopian eunuch).'  So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, 'Do you understand what you are reading?'  And he said, 'How can I unless someone guides me?' And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him." (Acts 8:29-31)  
     It is not that the Bible is unclear.  A set of architectural drawings is incredibly clear to one who knows what to be looking for, but to me, the uninitiated laymen, it appears rather confusing. 
     This is the way with Scripture as well.  The Bible can seem to be very confusing, especially if you don't know where to start reading.  Just try to give a copy of Leviticus or Revelation to a non-believer and ask them to tell you what that all means.    How can we understand unless someone guides us? 
     This is why we need creeds, confessions, synods, etc.  These things are tools that the Church has developed over time, taught by the Bible, to be what I like to call "Jesus-colored glasses", lenses which guide and inform our reading of the Scriptures.  They are "Jesus-colored" because they teach us to read the Scriptures in the light of Christ, which is precisely what Jesus Himself wants us to do (Luke 24:27, 45-47).
     Of course these things can also be distractions from Christ when they are not designed to point us to Christ, but that is why we need them.  They focus our attention where it belongs.  Teaching and fellowship with other believers helps to hold us accountable to the Church at large and throughout history.
     These things are never meant to replace the Scriptures, or to modify what is found therein.  Rather they give us a deeper and more focused understanding of what God is saying to us now, which is the same thing He has been saying to the Church since its inception: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)          

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Biblical Baptism Summary

          Baptism is a sacrament of the Church.  A sacrament is something that God does.  It is a way that God breaks into our lives and gives us His good gifts.  This is opposed to the word “sacrifice”.  A sacrifice is something that we do for God and His glory (praise, thank, sing, pray, etc.).  Baptism is not a sacrifice, but a sacrament.
            In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus commands His disciples to make more disciples.  They are to do this in 2 ways, by baptizing and teaching.  These two elements (baptism and teaching) always go hand in hand.  One should never be done outside of the realm of the other.  If teaching will not occur, then baptism should not happen.  If baptism is not the goal, then teaching is of little use.
            The word “baptize” means “to wash”.  Washing can occur in many forms: plunging, pouring, sprinkling, etc.  When we speak of baptism in the Holy Spirit we do not mean that we have been dunked into the Spirit, but that the Spirit has been poured out upon us.
            According to Matthew 28 all disciples are given the right to baptize.  Disciples are to make more disciples.  So, in an emergency, any Christian can baptize.  However, a pastor on behalf of an entire congregation and the Church as a whole normally does this. 
            And what are the criteria for baptism?  Well, there is none.  We are to baptize all nations.  Anyone who is brought to the font by the power of the Holy Spirit is to be baptized.  No race or color or language or age is to be discriminated against.
            Romans 6:1-11 reads as follows:
1What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 
5.For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  6We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In this section of Scripture we are told what baptism does.  When it comes to baptism, Paul is never focused on the human actions of coming to the font, confessing sins, professing faith, or pouring water.  His focus is entirely on the actions of the Triune God through water and the Word. 
What has God done to us through baptism?  He has killed us.  He has put an end to our life of sin and raised to life a new person, a new creation.  In other words, we have been united (6:5) with Jesus Christ.  We were baptized INTO (6:3) Christ.  Baptism is not a mere confession of faith.  It is God making His mark on us, pulling us out of the world of darkness and into His marvelous light.
And now we live in the reality of baptism.  I Corinthians 6 reminds us of the implications of baptism.  Yes, we could go back and live lives of sin.  “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor 6:11)  We are baptized, we are washed.  That is how we should act.  You do not take a bath so that you can go out and wallow in the mud.  You take a bath so that you can do clean things. 
Ephesians 4:24 and Galatians 3:27 both teach us that in baptism we are clothed with Christ.  We are covered with His good deeds.  We become bearers of His image, His righteousness. 
Notice that not a single one of these passages says anything about confessing our faith or performing some sort of rite.  God’s action is plainly in view.  It is God who baptizes.  It is God who cleanses.  We are simply there being acted upon.  This is how God has chosen to save His people, by baptizing them into His Son.
So, should infants be excluded from this baptism?  No.  An infant is plainly included in “all nations.”  An infant can be taught as they grow.  Matthew 28 teaches us to baptize infants as well as adults.
If baptism is God’s action and not ours then there should be no objection to baptizing children.  God can choose a child just as easily as an adult.  Baptism is the way in which God cleanses us from sin.  It is how God chooses to unite us to Christ.  Why would we keep our children from this?
The argument against baptism for children usually runs along these lines: 1.  Children are not accountable for their sin until they are 12 years old or so, 2.  Baptism is a profession of faith and an infant cannot have faith.
The first of these ideas is completely unscriptural.  Children are just as accountable to God as a grown adult.  Anyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34).  Children disobey their parents far before they reach the age of 12.  David confesses that he was conceived sinful by his mother in Psalm 51:5.  There is no age of accountability that can be found anywhere in Scripture.  Infants are sinful.  They need God’s mercy.  They need to be united with Christ in baptism.
           The idea that an infant cannot have faith depends upon your definition of faith.  Saving faith in Christ is not a cognitive grasping of ideas.  Faith is not a list to be memorized.  Faith is a total dependence upon Christ for our salvation.  It is assurance and conviction (Hebrews 11:1).  In fact, an infant lives a life that is of total faith.  A newborn can do nothing but trust that its needs will be met.  A baby has complete faith that his parents will provide for his every need, including the need for baptism.
           In the Old Testament God made a covenant with Abraham.  God blesses Abraham and promises to make him the father of a nation filled with people too numerous to count.  This covenant was for Abraham and his entire family.  And how were you to be brought into the covenant?  By circumcision.  Every male of the covenant was to be circumcised.  At what age did this circumcision occur?  8 days.  Jesus Himself was circumcised at 8 days old.  If a child could enter into Abraham’s covenant at 8 days old, what prevents a child from entering into Christ’s covenant as an infant?
         Then we have the simple fact of Church history.  The Christian Church has been baptizing children and infants for longer than it can even remember.  And never, until the radical reformation and the emergence of the Anabaptists, did any Christian question the authenticity of infant baptism.  Calvin, Zwingli, and Luther all agreed that infants should be baptized. 
         Colossians 2:11-12 says, “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”  Baptism is simply the way that God has chosen to connect us to the death and resurrection of His Son.  All people need it, young and old alike.