Psalm 61:3

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

We stand for Life!

Your life is precious to God.  And no one knows why.

That is the great mystery of God's grace.  Why does He love us?  Why does He do good to us and not evil?  It is simply because He loves us, we are precious in His sight.  But we don't know why.

God does not need us.  He does not owe us anything.  We are nothing more to God that the workmanship, the artistry of His hands.  He could destroy us with no less thought than we might destroy a picture that we have drawn on a scrap of paper.

Yet God values human life (animal life too, albeit not equally).  And so should we.

Of course we know why we should value life: because no one person is created greater than another in the sight of God.  You are no better or more precious than I am.  I am no more precious than you.  The infant in the womb is not less valuable than I am.  The elderly woman suffering in a nursing home is not less precious than you.

Amplifying this to an infinite degree is the price which God is willing to pay for our redemption: the blood of His Son.  Every human life is one for which Jesus Christ died.       

Once Christianity (established by Christ Himself) came on the Greco-Roman scene they began to point out the immorality in the society which surrounded them.  They did this primarily, not by publicly condemning others outside of their faith, but by practicing their faith publicly and doing good for others.

One way they did this was through adoption.  As in China today, children that were viewed as "undesirable" were cast out.  Christians took these outcast children into their homes and loved them.

Similarly, Christians have always stood for the life of the child in the womb.  With medical technology today the way it is we cannot deny the humanity of the fetus, embryo, or whatever other title you place upon the life growing in its mother's uterus.

Human life is precious, no matter how small it is, no matter how weak it may be.  In fact, it is weak life that needs protection.  This applies to the unborn as much as it applies to those who suffer in a hospital bed.

Christians have no interest in stripping away the rights of a mother or a woman.  We want ALL people to have equal RIGHTS under the law.  ALL includes these precious children who cannot do anything for themselves. 

As Christians we have an obligation, a moral imperative, to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  [This, of course, is not limited to the unborn.  We must keep our eyes open for the poor and destitute, the orphan and the widow, and anyone who might be in need.]

President Obama once said, "No matter what we choose to believe, no God condones the taking of innocent human life."  I couldn't agree more.  But what we believe about Jesus Christ and the love of God for us amplifies our desire to protect life, to defend life, to stand for life.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Worship!]   



Thursday, November 29, 2012

We stand for Creation!

This world is not our trash heap.

This planet is not your personal ash tray.

This universe is not yours, period.

Human beings are created by God and given dominion, or lordship, over the creation (Genesis 1:26-28).  Yet God remains Lord over all.  It is His creation, not ours.  And we must take care of it as good managers, good stewards, of the things He has given.

Yet, this creation is passing away...because of our sin.  The land is cursed because of Adam's fall into temptation (Genesis 3:17-19).  We cannot save this world from deteriorating anymore than we can save a loved one from dying.  We can delay the inevitable.  We can do our best to care for what we have.  But the end will come when Jesus returns.

We are not, however, waiting for Christ to come again and eliminate matter from existence.  We await a new heavens and a new earth (II Peter 3:13).

You see, you are a creatureAnd you belong in a creation.  And you will live in God's creation for ever and ever.  (AMEN!)  The difference is that this new creation, this new heavens and earth will be a perfect fulfillment of what God intended in the first place.  We cannot possibly wrap our minds around it because we are sinful.  But we will see it with our own eyes.  In our flesh we shall see God (Job 19:26-27).

Creatures belong in a creation.  Thanks be to God that we will not be disembodied spirits floating in mystic clouds for all time.  We shall be right where we belong, working with and caring for God's creation.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Life!]    

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We stand for Orderly Conduct!

The devil, like the Batman’s Joker, is an agent of chaos.  He loves chaos, thrives upon discord and disorder.

But God is not a God of confusion, but a God of peace.  (I Corinthians 14:33)  He has established His order within His Church.  He has established His order within His creation.  And we are to follow that order.

Some of this order is easier to understand than others.  Parents are to discipline their children, not the other way around.  Teachers are to teach and students are to learn.  Pastors are to forgive and preach while laymen are to gladly receive these gifts. 

But what about hierarchy?  What about order in the Church when it goes past pastors and laymen?  Who tells the pastors what to do?  Who trains them?  Who will step in when the pastor steps out of line?

These are questions that the Bible, by-and-large, does not answer.  Yet, we know that God loves order, and not chaos.  And so we do everything in an orderly fashion.

An example: the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has a “system” (colleges and seminaries) for training pastors, teachers, and others who serve in the church.  This system is not mandated by the Bible, yet it is beneficial.  It provides a manner in which we have well trained church leaders and servants.

Order is good. 

Chaos is bad.

And so everything that we do within the Church is striving after order and peace.

This is the very purpose of the Gospel.  Christ has died and risen to restore the creation to the proper order.  By His grace He grants us faith in the work of Jesus’ death and resurrection so that we might serve each other (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Order is restored.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Creation!]

We stand for Women!

The female half of humanity is not second class.  It is first class in a very unique way.

In creation, God makes everything in a very orderly way.  And as He goes along, He makes things more and more grand.  It all comes to a climax in the creation of humanity, summarized in the forming of Adam ("the man") from the dust of the earth.  (Genesis 1)

Yet a few verses later God says something shocking.  "It is not good," He says, "that the Man should be alone."

God created the world good, at the end of each day saying that it was "good".  So it should knock us for a loop when He says that something in His perfect creation is "not good".  How will He fix this?  How will God finish His creation, putting on its crowning jewel?

He creates Woman.

That's right.  Men are not the height of God's creation.  Women are, Eve in particular.

This is something that I think men know inherently.  You can't look at a woman and not think that God knew what He was doing when He created her.  There are so many things that my wife can do that I cannot, I am in complete awe of her.

Part of the problem, I believe, with the popular feminist movement is that the goal seems to be equality with men, as if women can be men, or have the same status as men.  But this is a step down!

Women were created as the best of God's creation.  They have the highest status.  To become like men (something promoted by the so-called "gnostic gospels") is forsaking that status.

This is what makes violence against women so horrifying.  This is what makes rape so vile.  The job of men is to serve women by providing for them and protecting them from evil and danger.  When a man harms a woman he subverts the order of creation and acts contrary to his very nature.

Please don't take this to mean that women should only work in the home or should be "barefooted and in the kitchen".  I do, however, think there are a few implications for our civilization.

For example, should women be placed on the front lines of the military?  If the United States needs soldiers bad enough that it is willing to place my daughter on the front lines, I want them to draft me first.  Placing women on the front lines is not a noble goal.

As Christians we stand for the elevated status that God grants to women, and we hope that women will not give it up without a fight.

[Next: We stand for Orderly Conduct!]


Saturday, November 24, 2012

We stand for True Righteousness!

How can you make God happy?  This is the question of righteousness before God.  And this question leads to the essential difference between Christianity and every other world religion.

How can you make God happy?  How can you be righteous in the sight of God?  Ask a Mulsim and they will tell you to follow the Five Pillars.  Ask a Jew and they will tell you follow the Torah and tradition.  Ask any follower of any religion, and they should be able to give you a descent answer.

But if you ask a Christian they should be dumbfounded.  Christians do not have an answer to this question, how do you make God happy.  The Christian answer is: "You can't!"

The bedrock foundation of our trust in Jesus Christ is believing that He is the only one who can make God happy.  He is the only one who is righteous in the sight of God. 

Can you, then, ever be righteous in the sight of God?  Yes!  But not by doing anything at all.  Only by receiving the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith.  We simply trust that Jesus gives us His righteousness and God is overjoyed at that. 

What, then, are we to do with the rest of our lives?  If we are not working and clawing our way into God'sgood graces, if we are already righteous by faith in Jesus, well, what do we do now?

We are free to serve our neighbor.  You see, there are really two kinds of righteousness.  There is righteousness before God, which is given to us by faith in Jesus.  And there is also righteousness before our neighbor, before the rest of the world.  That righteousness comes from serving others, guided by God's Law.

We should not worry in the slightest about making God happy apart from serving our neighbor.  It is true that God delights in our service to others if and when it is produced by faith in Jesus.  But when we start doing things simply to please God, and not for the sake of our neighbor, then God is not happy with us.  It is sort of a catch-22.

No amount of prayers, fasting, pilgrimages, or meditations will make us righteous in the sight of God.  Only Jesus can do that.  You need not worry.

Only think about how to be righteous in the eyes of your neighbor, those who live with you and around you.  Serve them, not worrying at all if God is happy.  Trust that God is happy becouse of Jesus and think about what others NEED from you.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Women!]

Friday, November 23, 2012

We stand for Confession leading to Faith!

Private confession is not an outdated practice.  It may have fallen out of fashion, but it is certainly not out of necessity or usefulness.

If you are troubled by your sins (I certainly hope your sins trouble you) then it is more than appropriate that you bring those sins to your pastor, confess them to him, and allow him to forgive you under the authorty of Christ Himself.

No one should be compelled to do this.  Confession should come freely from a person to their pastor.  That is because confession flows freely from a conviction that your sins will be forgiven for the sake of Christ.

Confession, and the subsequent Absolution (forgiveness) are meant to strengthen faith in Christ.  This is why, when you confess your sins to the pastor, and he forgives you, he will NOT then tell you to go and pray 50 Psalms, or to help 10 people, or give $1000 to the Church. 

There is no need to do anything to "make up" for your sin, because Jesus has already done that.  Rather, when you have been absolved from your sins in the name of Jesus, your pastor will probably not say anything.  Of course he might offer you extra comfort if that is stil necessary, but he will give you no command. 

Your pastor only wants you to trust that Jesus Christ has done all.  Jesus suffered and died for your sins, even the most rescent one.  Christ rose from the dead to give you a newness of life.  The entire goal of confession is that you would, all the more, cling to the cross of Jesus for your salvation.

[Tomorrow: We stand for True Righteousness!]

Thursday, November 22, 2012

We stand for the Mass!

We don't really call it that anymore, well, Lutherans don't anyway.  We call it the divine service. 

This goes back to what I said about tradition a few posts back, but we do not throw out ancient practices of the Church for no good reason.  Lutherans have kept what is beneficial from the past and only jettisoned that which is contrary to the Gospel. 

We still begin our services by invoking God's Triune name.  We recite or sing the Psalms.  We read from the Scriptures, sing hymns, hear a sermon centered on Christ, recite or chant age old Christian verses.  We still celebrate the Lord's Supper with frequency. 

Of course not all Lutherans (probably not even most Lutherans) celebrate the Lord's Supper every week.  I believe that is more out of a high respect for the preached Word than it is out of a lack of understanding about the Supper. 

But why do we retain all of these strange things?  As my brother-in-law once asked, "What draws you to a church that is so traditional?"  It is the simple fact that in this form of the divine service, with all its ancient structure and biblical insight, people are taught about Jesus Christ.  They are fed Christ in this service.  Changing the form runs the risk of loosing Jesus at the center of it all.

I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving holiday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

We stand for Marriage!

There is one proper vehicle for sexual activity.  It is called marriage.  And Christians vigorously defend that divine institution.

When God created the world He said, "It is not good that the man [Adam] should be alone." (Genesis 2:18)  So God creates, from Adam's side, Eve, "a helper fit for him."  This is the first marriage.

("Helper" is also a term used for God elsewhere in the Bible, such as Deuteronomy 33:7 and Psalm 33:20, so it obviously is not meant to give the woman/Eve a second class status.  If anything it means quite the opposite.) 

Thus we have the foundation of the Christian belief that marriage should consist in the life-long bond of one man and one woman to love and cherish each other. 

One man is not permitted to take several wives, although many in Scripture sin in this and incur God's judgment.  One woman is not permitted to have several husbands.  A man cannot take a husband.  A woman cannot take a wife.  It simply does not work.

One reason we stand so vigorously for this institution is that Saint Paul tells us that they relationship of mutual love and respect between a man and a woman joined in marriage gives us a glimpse and is patterned after the relationship between Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church.

Christ acts as the bridegroom, the husband.  He gives up His very life for His wife.  He thinks only of what He can do to "present the Church in splendor".  (Ephesians 5:27)  He gives love repeatedly to His bride.

The bride, the Church, then submits (follows the lead of) Jesus Christ.  It shows Him the respect He deserves because of the love He has shown in the cross.

Therefore, when a husband loves his wife (imperfectly, failing and falling) he gives his wife, and the world around them, a glimpse of the love that Jesus Christ has for His Church.

When a wife respects her husband's leadership and follows his lead (imperfectly, failing and falling) she gives the world a glimpse of the kind of respect that the Church owes to Christ.

You cannot have two Christs.  You cannot have two Churches.  There is only one of each.  Marriage should reflect that as best it can.  

The union of Christ and His bride will stand for eternity.  Let us stand for marriage here in time.

[Tomorrow: We stand for The Mass.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We stand for Both Kinds!

There is a practice among some Churches in only giving the bread/body of Christ in the Lord's Supper.  As Lutherans we believe that when God gives you a gift, you take all that you can get.

Normally it is not good to be greedy.  Certainly Paul warns us against getting drunk upon the blood of Jesus (I Corinthians 11). 

However, when God offers you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, to refuse one of them is to misunderstand the depravity in which you are cursed to live.  You are a sinner, completely and totally.  The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing, working against this depravity is God's Word coming to you in the Scriptures, in Baptism, and in the Lord's Supper.

A similar question arises around baptism.  If I already have believed the Word of God without baptism, then why do I need to be baptized? 

BECAUSE JESUS SAID SO!  Because in baptism God attaches you to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  Because in a world filled to the brim with sin you are walking around in a sin filled carcass just waiting to be devoured by Satan, the roaring lion. 

You need all the help you can get.  You need all the grace, all the promises, all the Gospel that Jesus has to offer.  So when someone (a pastor) offers you the body and blood of Jesus, TAKE BOTH!

[Tomorrow: We stand for Marriage!]   

We stand for Saints!

Regular saints, not super saints.

A saint is a man or woman made holy by God in Christ.  The term may properly be applied to anyone who has been reborn by the power of God's Word and Spirit.

The saints are not some special class of Christian who have proven themselves to be "better Christians" than everyone else.  No miracles or good works on our part are required, only the regenerative work of God.

To be certain, we often speak of those who have died in the faith to be "sainted".  This is simply a reference to the fact that those who have died in Christ are now resting in His presence and no longer struggle with sin. 

But why do we remember the saints?  Why should we study the lives of the men and women who were Christians before us?  So that we might be encouraged by their example in the faith.

History is filled with saints who have proclaimed the Gospel in the face of adversity, who fed the hungry and clothed the naked, who cared for their families in a selfless manner, who died holding on to the cross of Christ for their salvation.

History is filled with saints who sinned, who knew that they were wretched sinners, who could do nothing apart from Christ and so they gave all glory to Him, they trusted Him, they depended upon Him for life (now, and in the world to come).

The saints are not gods.  We have no reason to believe that they can hear our prayers, or even if they could hear them, that they could respond to them.  If they could speak to us they would all tell us the same thing: don't pray to me; pray to God, Father, Son, and Spirit. 

Only they can save you.  Only Christ's work can make you holy, make you a saint.

[Next: We stand for Both Kinds!] 

Monday, November 19, 2012

We stand for Good Works Done in Faith!

The concern is this: If you go around telling everyone that they can do nothing to add to their salvation, that their works are meaningless in God's sight, then they won't do any good works!

The concern is admirable.  After all, in the 21st century we certainly see the effects of living in a world where no one cares about doing what is righteous according to any objective standard.  As in the days of the Judges, everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

The truth, however, is that it is only possible to do good works in the sight of God when you are convinced that you cannot do any good works in the sight of God.  It is only when we possess faith (which is a gift from the Holy Spirit) that Christ has done all that is necessary for our salvation that we are even remotely capable of doing anything good.

Allow me to use a rather silly (perhaps even gross) illustration.  Let's say that you came home one day and there was a zombie (yes, zombie, an undead creature which feeds off the blood or brains of the living) cleaning your house to perfection and putting your favorite dinner on the table.  What would you do?  I can tell you what I would do: RUN!

It makes no difference that the zombie is doing something good (i.e. cleaning and cooking).  It only matters that they are an undead, that they are not really living.  Nothing they could do would allow me to think well of them.

This is how we look to God before faith in Christ.  We are the undead.  Or rather, we are dead but we do not know it yet.  We mull around doing things that we think are good.  They certainly look good to us.  But from God's perspective it is only a bunch of zombie messing around in His good creation.

It is only when we are made alive by the power of God's Word, it is only when the Spirit creates faith in the promises of Jesus Christ, that we are capable of doing anything good in God's sight.  Only when we are resurrected with Christ through baptism can we live, breathe, and do righteous deeds as God intended.

Faith must come before works, and faith is only created by the Gospel.

Only people who are made righteous by faith in Jesus Christ can do anything righteous.  Anything else is just dead people pretending to be alive. 

[Next: We stand for Saints!]


Saturday, November 17, 2012

We stand for Spiritual Bondage!

You have civil free will.  That was the previous post.  When it comes to spiritual matters you have nothing of the sort.

We are either a child of Hell by birth or a child of Heaven by adoption.  But we have no choice in the matter.

Take, for example, Christ's words to Nicodemus.  "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

Nicodemus cannot understand how a man can be born again.  "Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb?" (3:4)  It would be impossible for him to cause himself to be born again.

But that is precisely the point.  You had nothing to do with your birth the first time around.  Your parents decided that one for you.  And so when it comes to second birth, rebirth by the power of the Holy Spirit, you have nothing to do with it.  It is all God's work through His Word and Spirit.

This makes perfect sense in light of the Biblical teaching on baptism as well.  Romans 6 states that in baptism we are joined with Christ into His death and resurrection.  A new man is created.  You did not chose that.  You cannot resurrect yourself.  It is the work of God.

In the end we should all be thanking God that we do not have free will in matters which pertain to our spiritual state.  For if we did, we would all chose to be apart from Him.  We would chose to "reign in hell, rather than serve in heaven".

As it is, God has reached out to us and dragged us kicking and screaming (see Acts 9) into His kingdom.  We should all thank Him for subverting our free will.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Good Works!] 

Friday, November 16, 2012

We stand for Free Civil Will!

Pick a card, any card!  Pick a spouse, a house, a car, or a suit.  You are free to choose any of these things that you want.

That freedom to choose includes, in a certain manner of speaking, whether to do good or evil.  You can choose to hurt your neighbor, or to help him.  You can choose to commit adultery or to remain faithful.  You can choose to nurture your family or to abandon them.

Yet there is one thing you cannot choose to do: love God.  You are incapable of yourself.  Only the Word of God can create such fear, love, and trust in God.  And in the end, this is the only kind of freedom that really matters.

You could have chosen to do all the right things when it comes to the people who live around you here on this earth.  None of that matters if you do not first trust Jesus Christ as your Savior.  "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).  You cannot choose to turn your heart towards God.

God is the One who is truly free.  And He chooses you!  He chooses you in the death and resurrection of His Son.  He chooses you in the waters of Baptism.  He chooses you each and every time He forgives your sins by the mouth of the pastor.

You have a free civil will, to choose which pants to put on this morning.  But you cannot choose God.  You cannot will yourself to believe in Jesus Christ.  That requires the free act of God.

We stand for the Resurrection!

We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

Jesus Christ shall return.  You might believe that.  You might not.  But He will.

And when He returns He will raise the dead, all of us, and judge everyone according to their deeds (Revelation 20:12-13).

If you believe that you have been good enough, done enough, loved enough, been nice enough, then you are wrong.  We shall all be judged, and if we are judged merely upon our own deeds, our own appearance, then we will be condemned to everlasting death.

Yet we have been covered by the robe of Christ's righteousness.  At the judgment, those who are covered by Christ, who have been given His righteousness as a gift through the Word of God (including Baptism and the Lord's Supper), shall live forever in a new world. 

That is our only hope. 

It is our sure hope.

Stand, and wait patiently for the return of Christ.  Behold He is coming soon.  Come Lord Jesus!

[Next: We stand for Free Civil Will!]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We stand for Good Government!

Contrary to the direction that some are moving politically these days, the government is a good creation of God.  Libertarianism, which seems to hold that the government has no business doing anything other than punishing those who cause physical injury to others, are therefore acting contrary to Scripture.  Likewise liberalism, which would grant unconditional autonomy to individuals in matters of morals and ethics, is equally wrong headed.

God established the government as His servant (Romans 13).  There is simply no way around this.  Government is NOT a necessary evil.  It is a necessary good.

That is not to say that everything the government does is good.  That is as foolish as believing everything the Church does is good because the Church is the servant of God.  No, wherever and whenever sinful human beings (all of us) have influence, there will be corruption.

As Christians, and especially as Lutherans, we should stand for a government which fulfills its God-given responsibility: to wield the sword of God's wrath and punishment (Romans 13:3-4). 

In other words, the government, whether it be local, state, or federal, is charged with upholding God's Law which is evident in nature and summarized in the Ten Commandments.  It is to protect its citizens from invaders and punish those who break the law.  It is to provide an environment where the the Gospel can be preached in safety and where people have the opportunity to serve their neighbor in love.

Of course this gets very fuzzy when you try to come up with exact policies that will accomplish these goals.  The Bible does not advocate theocracy for us here and now.  There are no divinely mandated forms of government. 

This is why it is imperative that we, as Christians, stay involved in discussions concerning the laws of our land.  We need to be a part of the conversation, adding what God has revealed to us, and using our sanctified common sense.

God has established the government (the Kingdom of His Left Hand) for our good.  Christians, and especially Lutherans, should be engaged in helping those in power see their role clearly and to carry it out with integrity and peace.

[Next: We stand for the Resurrection!]

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

We stand for Tradition!

Wait a minute.  What?!  That isn't right.  "Tradition alone" is not one of the Reformation "sola's".  Usually we hear that Martin Luther stood for the Word of God over and against the traditions of men.  Why, then, would I say that we stand for tradition?

It is true that the traditions of men can at times usurp the Word of God in the mind of the Church.  We are sinners and remain susceptible to the temptation of idolatry.  When tradition stands in the way of the Gospel, when the words and actions of men contradict the Word of God, then we must take refuge in God's Word.  We must cut out the harmful tradition in order to preserve a pure Gospel.

Yet tradition in the Church is good and salutary.  Many traditions actually draw our attention away from the ways of the world and focus our minds on Jesus Christ.

Take, for example, the Church Year.  We use this calendar unique to the Christian Church we celebrate the events of Jesus' life and God's gifts to us through the Holy Spirit when the rest of the world is merely going through the motions of daily life.  We learn the Scriptures in a systematic way followed by the Church down through the ages while everyone else is trying to find their own way through the Bible.

Does following the Church Year make me more righteous than my neighbor who has no idea what Advent or Lent are?  Absolutely not!  But is it of great benefit to me in my life of repentance?  YES!

Our generation of Christians is not the first to hear the Gospel.  We should not act like it.  We do not need to swallow everything that our ancestors in the faith have handed down to us uncritically.  Yet we should not reject it simply because it is "old" or "outdated".

Tradition is a gift handed down to us from those who have gone before us.  We would be quite wrong to ignore it or reject it.  Rather, we should readily take what they have handed down to us, see it in light of the Scriptures, and reject only what God's Word rejects.

May the traditions of the Church always point you to Christ alone!

[Tomorrow: We stand for Good Government!]     

Monday, November 12, 2012

We stand for Rightly Called Ministers!

You have a divine call.  That may not be what you have been told, but God Himself has called you in an objective and verifiable way to serve your neighbor.

Do you have parents?  Then you are called to be a child.  Are you married?  You are called to be a spouse.  Are you baptized?  Then you are called to be a child of God.

These are not small callings.  They are not unimportant.  In fact, they are of primal importance.  We encounter great difficulty when we begin to despise and reject our divine callings.

Take, for example, a woman who is married and has 2 children at home.  Perhaps, given our current cultural setting, she might begin to feel that she needed to “contribute to society”.  She might feel pressure to use her college education in the marketplace.  So she obtains a job in a firm and works outside the home 40 hours a week.

What is wrong with this picture?  She has left her divine calling to care for her children in order to do something else, something far less important.

Do not misunderstand me.  I have no wish to see women “bare-footed and in the kitchen”.  Women have every right to obtain employment outside of the home.  Sometimes I believe they even have that responsibility.

The problem comes from this particular wife and mother seeing her calling from God to be a wife and mother as less important than whatever she might do in the market place.  If you are a mother remember this: there is not job on this earth, not even being president of the United States, that is more important, more valuable, than caring for your children.

A similar point can be made with respect to our lives within a congregation.  Each person in the Church has a divine calling, either to be a pastor or to be a priest (in the priesthood of all believers).  If you are baptized you have been called by God to part of His royal priesthood. 

In addition to this God, through the Church, calls men to be pastors, shepherds of the flock, overseers of the priesthood.  If you are a pastor, you have a unique divine call to proclaim and teach the Gospel, to steward the Sacraments, to carry out the public functions of the Church.

If you are a priest, you have a divine calling to be a living sacrifice to the Lord (Romans 12), to hear and receive the Gospel from your pastor and to take that Gospel with you into your daily callings at home and in the marketplace. 

And this really is a great protection for the congregation.  No man (or woman) has a right to show up at your church next week declaring that God told them in a vision that they were your new pastor, just like you would not tolerate some random man showing up at your home and declaring that he would now be your husband!  Rather God works through His Church to train men and to place them into congregations.

Just as God works through cultural rituals and wedding services to draw men and women into marriage, so He uses a proper system to train men to be shepherds of the flock of God.  And these men have the full time responsibility to make known the unsearchable riches of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ!  What a blessing to have rightly called ministers.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

We stand for Sacraments!

The Sacraments are "signs and testimonies of God's will toward us." (AC XIII) Perhaps the difficulty of understanding the sacraments comes from the way we, as sinful people, tend to divide them from God's Word and faith. 

The Sacraments do not exist apart from God's Word.  It is not as if there could be the possibility of Baptism or the Lord's Supper without the Word of God.  Through His Word of promise God declares that we are united to Christ in baptism, that Jesus is truly (physically) present in the Supper.  The Word makes the Sacrament.

It is also false to say that we can reap the benefits of a sacrament without faith.  In fact, Paul says just the opposite.  Sacraments received without faith are detrimental to our salvation. (I Corinthians 11:27-32)

That, however, is precisely because the Sacrament is powerful without our faith.  If the sacrament required faith in order to be powerful then it could not hurt those without faith.  But it does (harm).  So it is (powerful).

A sacrament is an objective time and place where God declares with His Word, using the visible marker of the Water or Bread and Wine, that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is FOR YOU!  It has come to bear upon your life. 

In this way the sacraments (God's Word in visible form) sustain faith, and (in the case of baptism) even create it where it does not exist.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Rightly Called Ministers!] 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

We stand for Repentance!

Repentance is one of the most misunderstood points of Christian teaching out there.  Some believe that repentance is the precursor to faith.  This is usually taken from the words of John the Baptist and Jesus Himself, "Repent and believe the gospel!"

But if repentance becomes a requirement for faith, a prerequisite to trust in Christ, then once again my salvation is something that I earn.  Faith becomes something that God gives me as a gift only after I have repented.  My works take the forefront.

Repentance, true repentance, is not possible, however, without faith in Jesus Christ.  According to our usual Lutheran understanding repentance has two distinct, yet inseperable parts:
          1. Contrition: sorrow or terror over our sins.
          2.  Faith which believes the promise of forgiveness for the sake of Christ.

In this way, the entire Christian life is to be lived in repentance.  If we merely feel sorrow over our sins, then we are as Judas.  We fall into despair.

But terror over our sinfulness combined with faith in the work of God in Jesus to forgive my sins, that leads to joy.  It receives salvation from the hand of God.

It is really necessary that be trust Jesus Christ before we can truly confess our sins to Him.  If you do not trust God to forgive you, why would you ever tell Him what you had done wrong?  He will only cast you into hell. 

But if you do trust His salvation in Christ Jesus then we have every reason to confess our sin.  He will forgive.  

There is nothing for us to do.  Repentance requires faith, which is the gift of God.  So truly, God gives us repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18).

[Tomorrow: We stand for Sacraments!]

Friday, November 9, 2012

We stand for Absolution!

"Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:46-47

After His resurrection, Jesus opens the Scriptures to His disciples/apostles and gives them work to do.  They are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus to the world.

This proclamation is certainly to be done publicly for all to hear.  Yet it should not be exclusively public.  The forgiveness of Jesus Christ can and should be proclaimed to repentant sinners in private as well.

This forgiveness (absolution) is the declaration that Jesus Christ has bled and died for you!  What better way to emphasize this "for you" aspect of the Gospel than to declare it privately straight to someone's face?

Any Christian can forgive sins in the name of Jesus.  And when we sin against one another, we should confess to one another in private and absolve (forgive) one another.

Yet Jesus Christ has specifically called and ordained your pastor to hear your personal confession.  Is there a sin that bothers you, a millstone hanging about your neck?  Your pastor is the man, called by Christ and given His authority, to take that burden from you, hang it on Christ's neck, and let it die with Him.  He is the full-time "absolution-man".

[And he is under a seal of protection for you.  Your pastor is duty bound to take your confession to his grave, and even a court order cannot drag it out of him.]

Absolution stands at the center of the Gospel because this is precisely why Christ has come.  To paraphrase Saint Paul, if sins are not forgiven, then we have hoped in vain.

But sins are forgiven, generously, lavishly, by the precious blood of Jesus!  If you seek extra comfort and reassurance of the forgiveness of your sins, go to your pastor, confess to Him, and He will do His job.  He will forgive your sins with the power of Jesus Christ.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Repentance!]


Thursday, November 8, 2012

We stand for the Lord's Supper!

Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord's Table; these are all names given to the meal which Jesus Himself instituted on the night He was betrayed, what is commonly called Maundy Thursday.

Lutherans stand virtually alone in their understanding of the Lord's Supper.  The understanding needs to be broken down into two important questions:
          1. What is it?
          2.  What does it do?

What is the Lord's Supper?  It is the true body and blood of Jesus.  Jesus Himself says this in 3 of the 4 Gospels.  The words are also recorded by Saint Paul: "This is my body...This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (I Corinthians 11:24-25).  Lutherans do not argue with Jesus on this point.  He said it.  That makes it so.

To be sure, this is a mystery.  We do not try to explain how the body and blood of Jesus is present.  It is a matter we simply take on faith.  Again, Jesus said so.  We should trust His Word.

What does the Lord's Supper do?  It unites me in communion with Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 10:16).  Thus, through union with Christ my sins are given to Him, His righteousness is given to me, and I am drawn into fellowship with His holy Church through His body.

The Sacrament of the Altar is a complete gift.  There is not a thing that pastor or parishioner can do to make it more holy.  The pastor merely speaks the words of Jesus.  Christ does all the work bringing His salvation, His once-for-all-sacrifice, into the mouths of His people.

When we receive the Lord's Supper we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  We receive unity with Jesus and with His body, His Church, across all time and space.

[Tomorrow: We stand for Absolution!]   

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We Stand for Baptism!

There are a great many labels thrown around about this subject: believer's baptism, infant baptism, Spirit baptism, etc.  But Christians, specifically Lutherans, don't stand for any of these in particular.  We stand for Baptism, plain and simple, in all of its Biblical glory.

You might object that Lutherans are always talking about the importance of baptizing infants, and this is true.  But to reduce the Sacrament to this argument is too simplistic.

Baptism is commanded by Christ for the making of disciples (Matthew 28:19).  It is not optional.  And there is only one baptism, as Saint Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:5. 

With this one baptism the Holy Spirit washes away our sins (Titus 3:5), and unites us with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-5), effectively guaranteeing our own resurrection to glory on the Last Day.

This is all done by the work of God.  We have nothing to do with it.  It is an objective application of the grace of God directly to our lives.

Faith is important in baptism.  Faith receives the gift.  Baptism, by God's power, elicits faith from the newly regenerated person, faith in Christ Jesus.

Yet faith does not make the baptism valid.  Then it would depend upon me and my strength of faith, rather than on the power of God.

One Lord, one faith, one baptism!  Here we stand!

[Tomorrow: We stand for the Lord's Supper!]  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

We Stand for the Communion of Saints!

We believe in the Communion of Saints.  We do not stand for a gathering of like-minded individuals.  We do not stand for a club for "spiritual people". 

We stand for the people of God called by the Holy Spirit and gathered around His Word and Sacraments. 

More importantly, however, Jesus Christ stands for the Church.  He is its foundation, its head, its bridegroom.  He is the King and the Church stands or falls by Him. 

In other Words, since Jesus lives forever, the Church shall endure forever.  This is not because of the hard work of its members, but because of the grace of God showered in His Word.

Where is the Church?  It is wherever the Gospel, the good news, is preached in its truth and purity.

Who is the Church?  Those who have faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin, death, and hell. 

You can always find the Church, but you cannot always know who is in it because only God sees faith in hearts. 

Why is this so important?  You really cannot improve upon the words of the Small Catechism: "In this Christian Church He [the Holy Spirit] daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers."

[Tomorrow: We stand for Baptism!]

Monday, November 5, 2012

We stand for Scripture Alone!

There is only one source and norm for faith and practice.  It is called the Bible.

The Bible is where we get our information about what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ.  This does not make the Bible some magic book that fell from heaven.  It is not above investigation.  But the simple fact of the matter is that the Bible has always withstood the critique of scholars and skeptics.  We may question the Scriptures as long as we are willing to accept the answer we receive.

As the Word of God, the Bible must be taken seriously.  It must be read as a communication from God to His people.  It may not be ignored by His people!

This means we must take seriously what we like from the Bible and what we do not like.  We take joyfully the promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  We must also take the rebukes and commands.

When the Lutheran Reformers were asked why people should obey the commandments if they are told that they can be saved by grace through faith, the Reformers had a simple and straightforward reply: "Because God said so."  (AC VI)  The Christian does not need any more motivation to do what God says than simply hearing His Word. 

And the Bible is His Word.

One more thing on Scripture Alone: it would also be wrong, naive, and arrogant of me to assume that I was the first person to read the Bible, the first person to read it correctly, or the smartest person to have ever read the Bible. 

Scripture is never read in a vacuum.  The Bible has come down through the ages and has been interpreted through the ages in a steadfast and orthodox fashion by the saints who have come before us.  Martin Luther never claimed to have been the discoverer of something new or innovative, but of something that had been obscured, that was known plainly in the Church for a thousand years and attested to by the saints.

When seeking the truth, seek the Bible.  It is the Word of God, and as such can withstand all criticism.  His Word endures forever.

[Tomorrow: We stand for the Communion of Saints!] 

We stand for Grace Alone!

We are justified by faith, and not by works of the Law.  Yet how do we get faith?

Faith is not something we are born with.  It is not a product of our imagination, or an act of the will on our part. 

Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17).  It is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).  Faith is created and sustained by God the Holy Spirit working through the proclaimed Word of Christ (Romans 10:10-17).

So that we might obtain faith, so that He might give us faith, Jesus Christ created the Means of Grace.  These are the Word of God preached and proclaimed, and also the Word of God attached to physical forms in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Without these Means of Grace there can be no faith whatsoever.

Without the Word of God coming to us through proclamation (sermons and absolution) and through Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) there can be no faith. 

And God is more gracious still.  He has appointed officers to preach this Word of Christ full time.  Pastors are called to be the continuous announcers of the Word, the administrators of the Sacraments, so that we can be certain that faith is continually being created and sustained among us.  There will always be someone preaching and teaching the Word.

This is God’s grace: that for some strange reason, contrary to all human understanding, He actually loves us.   And because of this He is constantly showering us with His gifts, His Word and Sacraments through the everyday work of pastors, so that we might trust Him. 

Call it what you will: grace, love, mercy, favor.  God’s attitude toward sinful humanity is one of steadfast care.  And because of this He does all that He can, even becoming a man to die the most excruciating death imaginable, that we might believe in Him. 

God’s grace alone creates faith.  Without it no one can believe.  With it we are saved from death and hell.

[Next: We stand for Scripture Alone!]