Psalm 61:3

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why You Should Open Your Mouth and Spill the Beans

I am going to do something that I will probably never do again.  I am going to tell you to do something that I have never told you to do, and will hopefully never say again, and if I do you forget about me.  But for today, and for today only, it is completely appropriate.

                I want you to do the opposite of what Jesus says.

                Matthew 16:20: “Then [Jesus] strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”  I want you to ignore that.  And here is why.

                Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  And upon the confessing of this Truth is founded the Christian Church and all our hope.  That Jesus is the Christ must be confessed, preached, taught, and shared, or else the Church will perish, we will remain in sin, and death will win the day.

                “Christ” is not a word that means anything much to us English speakers.  It is the Greek version of an Old Testament Hebrew word “Messiah”.  They both translate into English as “anointed one”.  Messiah—Christ—Anointed One.    

                “Anointed” means literally that oil was poured on your head.  This was an Old Testament way of marking people as set apart for a special task or purpose.  Kings, priests, and prophets were all anointed before they began their work.

                And what was that work?  Prophets declare God’s Word, calling people to repentance and offering hope and consolation in times of great distress.  Priests make sacrifices and intercede for the people in prayer.  Kings defend the people from the assaults of their enemies.  Think David, the anointed king, vs Goliath the enemy who wishes to enslave God’s people.

                Jesus, as the Anointed One, as the Christ, Messiah, does all of this to its most extreme limit.  He does not simply preach God’s Word as a prophet.  He is God’s Word, the living message of who God is and how much He cares for us all.  

Jesus does not simply make sacrifices, but He is a living and dying sacrifice for the sins of the people.  He does not only pray for us, but He now stands before the throne of God interceding directly to the Father on our behalf.  Jesus is our personal advocate before God.

He is a king wearing thorns for a crown and wielding a cross as a weapon.  Jesus defeats the ultimate triumvirate of enemies, the unholy trinity of Sin, Death, and the Devil.  He dies for you.  He rises for you.  He is your Savior-King.  

Jesus is the Christ.  And He is the Christ for you.  He is the one anointed to teach and heal, to suffer and pray, to die and rise that we would be set right with God, that we may stand before Him both now and forever knowing that our sins are forgiven and that He has true compassion upon us.

And upon this confession is built the entire foundation and structure of the Church.  Our salvation hinges on this not only being true, but being announced, openly declared.  People open their mouths and words come out, words about Jesus.  

When the words are spoken, when this confession is made, sins are forgiven and you are made righteous.  The gates of heaven are unlocked and left wide open for us to enter while the gates of hell and death are overthrown, left impotent and broken.

When this message is silent, when the fire of these words is shut up in our bones, then death has its day, hell reigns supreme, and the Church lies destitute.  If Christ is not confessed, then we are all doomed.  And that is not an overstatement.

If we have been silent when words were necessary it is time to repent.  If we have kept our mouths shut when they should have been wide open, then it is time for the confession of sins.  Whether it stems from cowardice or laziness or ignorance does not matter.  

Let us repent of our slowness to confess Jesus before others and turn to God in faith, God who is merciful and just, God who reveals this Truth to His disciples.  He will forgive, renew, restore.  He will open your mouth.

Every person on this planet needs to hear that Jesus is the Christ.  He is anointed as their prophet, priest, and king.  And that requires opening our mouths.  It requires confession.

That is why I want you to ignore those words of Jesus, not to tell anyone.  The time was not right before His death and resurrection.  It would have been all too easy to misunderstand what this all meant.  But now that Christ is risen we do not have that problem.  Now is the time to tell.  

That is why Pastor Joel Fritsche is frantically learning Spanish and moving his family to the Dominican Republic.  It is why OAFC canvasses neighborhoods and practices witnessing in many various methods.  It is why we offer a no-tuition Christian education, Sunday school, and worship.  People, real people, your neighbors and relatives, need to have Jesus confessed as their Christ, anointed to save them, to forgive their sins just as He forgives yours, to give them the same hope He gives to you.

So spill the beans already.  The death and resurrection of Jesus makes us bold before God and man.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to open our mouths and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  

You may stare down all the forces of hell with this knowledge.  They will not overcome a faith built on this confession.  

Therefore let us follow the example of the Apostles, evangelists, and missionaries who came before us and do the opposite of what Jesus says this one time: let us tell everyone that Jesus is the Christ.         


Monday, August 25, 2014

Hatfields and McCoys: Two Views of God

In the miniseries "Hatfields and McCoys" we are presented with two starkly different views of God.  The story is a dramatic retelling of the post-Civil War feud between two rival families.  [I know nothing of the actual historical account.  My knowledge of this feud comes entirely from the TV miniseries.]

On one side of the feud is Randall McCoy and his clan.  Randall feels that he has been cheated by the Hatfield family.  In fact he seems incapable of perceiving anything but slights from them.  Even gracious peace offerings are turned upside down and seen as insults.

Randall attends church weekly with his family, and he begins the story with a firm confidence that God, who is just, will pour out his wrath on the Hatfields for their wicked ways.

"Devil" Anse Hatfield, on the other hand, begins the story as an atheist.  He cares nothing for God or religion, and only attends Sunday services to please his wife.  After his initial attempts at smoothing things over fail, Devil Anse pursues a relentless cycle of vengeance that has no end in sight.

Something changes, however, when Hatfield's son Johnse, betrays family secrets to the McCoys.  Father and son go fishing, with the father intending to kill his own son for the betrayal, even though it was unintended and out of ignorance.  Yet Devil Anse cannot bring himself to end his son's life.  Instead he forgives the betrayal and both men return home.

This is a turning point for the godless Hatfield.  He begins to see the necessity of mercy and forgiveness.  This eventually leads him to the sacrament of baptism, to becoming a Christian.

Randall McCoy, on the other hand, suffers defeat after defeat.  His family is not as wealthy nor as well connected as the Hatfields.  He wonders where God is.  How can a just God allow such evil to persist?

With most of his family dead and his home in ruins Randall McCoy denounces God.  If God would not give him justice, then there must be no God at all.

Faith in a God of pure justice, a God of vengeance, leads to atheism.  Mercy and forgiveness lead to faith in a different sort of God altogether.

These views come to a head when one of Hatfield's nephews, the simple minded "Cotton Top", is captured by the authorities.  The wide ranging feud has, of course, racked up quite the body count, and Cotton Top is easily pegged as the scapegoat.  He is sentenced to hanging.

Rather than ride to the rescue of his nephew, arguably the most innocent of all the Hatfields, Devil Anse makes the decision to let him die.  The only way to end the feud is for one side to say enough, for one family to make a sacrifice and to refuse to seek revenge.  Cotton Top is hanged with Randall McCoy watching, unable to understand the peace that has now been given.

That is the sort of God that Devil Anse comes to believe in, to follow, one who sacrifices the innocent son that peace may be achieved.      

Friday, August 22, 2014

Earned Sainthood

                 Even the pope has to undergo an intense amount of scrutiny if he wishes to be recognized as a saint.  When John Paul II died, there were many who wanted him declared a saint by the Roman hierarchy.  But even in death the deceased man could not find freedom from scrutiny.

                The canonization process, as it is called, consists of several steps where a person must be first said to be a “servant of God”.  Then they must be placed in the category of “heroic virtue”.  Next comes the recognition that they either died a martyrs death or confessed the faith in a profound way.  And finally they must have at least 2 certifiable miracles attributed to them after their death.

                It is hard work becoming a saint.  I dare to say that it is something to which I can never hope to aspire.  It is simply out of my grasp.  But I am not all that worried about it.

                It struck me, when reading Romans 1:1-7 that it would be a horrible thing to have the burden of proof laid upon you, or laid upon me, in being declared a saint.

                Could you imagine if someone was going to pick through your life with a fine tooth comb looking for all the dirty details trying to discover whether or not you were a saint?  And what if they were going to do it after your death, when you are not even around to defend yourself, or your actions?

                And all they can really judge are you outward deeds, the things that you actually did with your hands or said with your lips.  What about all the things that they can’t see?  What about all the sins of the heart?  The lust, rage, greed, or envy that you hid from everyone else, they won’t discover that, but you know about it.

                The burden of proof in sainthood is a terrible thing to lay upon a person.  If that is where the burden falls, upon my shoulders, then at best I am always going to wonder whether or not I deserve to be a saint.  At worst, and if I am truly honest about it, I will know for certain that I am not worthy of the title.

                Saint Paul (yes, he is a saint) tells us in His letter that we do not have that burden laid upon us.  Sainthood is not something that human beings must attain to.  It is not something that is even possible for us to grasp.  And yet we, along with Paul, are saints.  How?

                We are saints by the same power which made Paul into an Apostle.  We are called to sainthood by the Gospel of God.  It is the power of the Gospel that sent Paul out to the ends of the earth preaching and teaching Jesus Christ, and it is that same good news that beckons us from the certain despair of scrutiny to the certain hope of grace and mercy.

                We are called into sainthood, the obedience of faith, through the fully realized life of Jesus Christ.  He is the only one who could truly stand up to the scrutiny of those who would pick through your life trying to determine whether or not you were truly a saint.  He has earned that title, and He has earned it for you.

                That is precisely why we celebrate the incarnation of God, the birth of Jesus Christ according to His human nature.  Because in His life, in thought, word, and deed, Jesus earned the right to be called a saint, and more.

                Jesus did not need to have 2 miracles certified.  We have countless examples in the Scriptures God at work in Jesus Christ.  He certainly lived a life of exemplary, heroic, virtue.  And if anyone was a servant of God, it was the Christ.

                And He was, without a doubt, martyred, put to death for the true confession that He is God-in-the-flesh.  The Christ went to His death in a manner that had been unknown in the world before then, completely undeserving, yet completely willing.  Jesus suffered and died, not just as a man, but as one set apart, as a saint.

                Then He rose.  And at His resurrection Jesus was declared to be something more than a saint.  He was shown to be greater than anything a mere mortal, even a flawless mortal, could aspire to be.  Jesus was proven to be the Son of God, the one and only.

                And Jesus was all these things before He became a man.  But that is the point of the Gospel.  Having already possessed glory and honor for being the Son of God, for being completely set apart from all else that exists, Jesus set that aside, entered into our flesh, took on our weakness, and did better than we could.  He did what we could not.  

                Jesus earned His sainthood even though He didn’t need to.  He worked for and attained the title Son of God, even though it was His by divine right from all eternity.  With His Incarnation, His birth, death, and resurrection, Jesus earns the greatest honor and dignity that any human being could hope for.

                And then He gives it to us.  Jesus does not keep these things to Himself.  Rather He bestows them upon us in our baptisms.  At the font we are adopted into the Lord’s family, and we inherit all that is His.

                We can truly be called saints, both now and when we die, because Jesus has given us that title.  He has called us saints, and so we are.  Jesus lived and died so that we could be called sons of God, and so w are.

                You see how much better that is?  If you want to know if you can rightly be called a saint, you do not have to submit your life to a meticulous inspection.  Rather, you look at the life of Jesus.  Did He earn the title with His life?  Did He earn that title with His death?  Did He earn it with His resurrection?  He did indeed.  

                I pity a pope, and anyone who does not have the assurance of the Gospel that we have.  Even in death they cannot be sure of their sainthood.  And it is because they are always looking at themselves.

                There is no greater honor, no higher dignity that can be placed upon a human bring than to be called the Lord’s saints, the sons of God.  And it is ours, not because we have attained it, but because Jesus has earned it, and graciously given it to us.  

                If we take the time to peel our eyes off of our own interests and take a look at Jesus in the Scriptures we will see a saint.  We will see the Son of God.  And we will see him giving us all that He has.  Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Confession Is Dangerous. So Is Forgiveness.

There are plenty of people running around attempting dangerous feats.  Bungee jumping, base jumping, jumping out of an airplane, racing, skiing, boating, climbing--adventure sports are out there for those who want to take the risk.  And plenty of people are willing, putting it all on the line.

If, however, you want to take a real risk, if you want to truly put everything on the line, then try confession.

I don't mean making a public confession, telling the whole world about your private sins.  That may seem dangerous at first, but the one you sinned against is not really being engaged, and you are bound to find much more sympathy than condemnation.

I mean approaching the person to whom you have done wrong and telling them what you have done.  Look them in the eyes and confess, admit your guilt, lay it all out there for them to hear.  Tell them just how awful you acted, how evil your intentions were.  Let them know.

That is dangerous.  It is one of the biggest risks that one can take because in confession we are giving up our rights.  We give up our rights to hide behind misunderstandings about what sins were committed or who committed them.  We are admitting: "It was me."  No more ambiguity.

We give up our rights to make excuses or to pass the buck.  We accept full responsibility for our own thoughts, words, and deeds, even if no one else will.

That is a gamble.  It is a tremendous risk because we never know how they will react.  What if they explode in rage?  What if they take my confession and use it against me?  What if no one else admits their part in the whole mess?  What if they do not forgive me?

And they might not forgive.  They should, if they are Christians.  Jesus commands forgiveness from one Christian to another multiple times in the gospels, especially in Matthew 18.  Yet not everyone can do this.  That is because the only thing more dangerous than confession is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is risky because in absolving another of the sins that they have committed against us we are relinquishing a whole host of other rights.  We are giving up our right to gossip, to run around telling every busy-body in town what great wrongs have been done to us.

We give up our rights to hold a grudge.  Maybe we wouldn't tell anyone else, but we might be tempted to nurse resentment deep inside, or just among our own families, with our husband or wife.  Only they would know how much we really hated that guy for what he did.  When forgiveness has been granted that is no longer allowed.

We are giving up our rights to revenge.  We may no longer exact vengeance upon the one who has confessed.  No eye, no tooth.  Just mercy.

I suppose we should not be surprised that confession and forgiveness are both so dangerous.  They were, after all, purchased at the dearest price.  The opportunity of confession is allowed to us because God took the dangerous step of becoming a man.  Forgiveness is given because Jesus risked everything, forfeited everything, to atone for our sin.

God has nothing to confess to us.  But He has plenty to forgive.  And that is what He does.  He gives up His divine right to punish the guilty, to seek vengeance upon those who would murder His Son.  He shows mercy to sinners like me.

Confession and forgiveness are the two most dangerous practices one can engage in.  But they are worth the risk.        

Friday, August 15, 2014

Twice Saved

Peter is twice saved by Jesus in this episode where both men walk on water.  

                Jesus has sent His disciples out in their boat across the lake as He goes off by himself to pray, to be strengthened by His Father in Heaven.  Then, in the middle of the night, He comes walking across the water towards the boat.

                The disciples were making slow going because of the wind and waves, so Jesus catches up to them, but they do not recognize Him.  We can hardly blame them for that.  It was dark and windy, and He was walking on top of the waves.

                Their first inclination was to believe that this was a ghost, some sort of spirit hovering over the waters, and they are afraid.  But Jesus calms them with His words: “Take heart; it is I.  Do not be afraid.”

                The word of Jesus is enough for most of the men in that boat, but not for Peter.  He is still unsure.  He wants proof that this really is Jesus, and not some masquerading demon.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

                Peter is a fool, at least here.  He should have simply trusted what Jesus’ said, but now he has to step out of the boat and test his theory.  His initial lack of faith puts him in a rather precarious position.  

                Yet, by the grace of God, Peter walks on the waves.  It never occurred to him, apparently, that Jesus might give the command, but not the ability to obey it.  Peter is saved from his unbelief by the gracious call of Jesus Christ to come to Him on the water.

                Jesus had really been doing this throughout His entire ministry.  The people of Israel, His fellow descendants of Abraham, had begun to waver in their faith.  They had been waiting for the coming of their promised Savior, but after 500 years that hope had begun to fade a bit.

                So Jesus calls them all back.  He graciously invites the children of Israel back into God’s kingdom.  In fact He brings that kingdom to them, in their midst, through His teaching and miracles.  This is how Jesus gathers His disciples.  It is how the crowds are inspired to follow Him everywhere.  

                The gracious invitation of Jesus Christ calls the descendents of Abraham to believe in the Son of God.

                And so with us.  You too have been called from unbelief to faith, from doubt to trust, from darkness to light.  For many it happens in the waters of baptism, or through the preaching of the Gospel, or the reading of the Scriptures.  

                We were once dead in our sins.  We were lost in the darkness of transgressions and trespasses.  But Jesus calls us out of there.  He invites us to trust Him, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, He enables us to believe what He says.  

                We are called from our natural paganism into the supernatural life of Christianity.  We are reborn, given a fresh start, by the gracious call of Jesus, the Word of God.

                Yet that initial calling is not enough for us.  Though we are born anew, we remain sinners.  And so we fail in our calling.  We fall into temptation.  We succumb to unbelief just as Peter did.

                Peter was getting it done.  We have to admit that.  He was, against all odds, walking on water.  Jesus had called Him onto the waves and Peter walks to Jesus, within arm’s length.  But then something else catches his attention.

                Peter looks down.  He looks around.  He looks away from Jesus.  And he begins to sink.  What small amount of faith that Peter had began to fade the instant that fear came between him and his Lord.  He was instantly back in his old unbelief, not trusting Jesus, not believing that He was the Son of God.  And it almost killed Him.

                I say “almost” because Jesus was still there.  Although Peter’s faith was weak, Jesus was strong to save.  The Christ reaches out His hand and pulls Peter up from the water.  He saves His disciple for the second time in a span of about two minutes.  

                Peter’s recurring unbelief needs to be met by the recurring power and salvation of Jesus.  Left to himself Peter will always doubt.  But Jesus is there to save.

                The people of Israel doubted too.  Although Jesus called many disciples, all of them abandoned Him at the cross.  Although He had healed and fed the crowds, they turned against Him and called for His crucifixion.  

                So He died.  And He rose.  And He did it all to save them from themselves.  They doubted Jesus.  They faltered in their faith.  But He never faltered.  He did what He came to do, to forgive their sins with His own bloody sacrifice, to give them new life with His triumphant resurrection.

                That is what we need too.  We do not need Jesus only on the day that we are baptized.  We need Him every day thereafter.  Though we are reborn in baptism, though the death and resurrection of Jesus becomes ours, we too fall and falter.  We take our eyes from Jesus.  We look at the wind and waves, and we doubt.  We sin.  We sink.

                We sink into anger and resentment because we want vengeance.  We sink into pornography or promiscuity because we are lonely.  We sink into greed and lies because we fear the future.  We start to drown in our own wicked desires and evil actions.

                And Jesus is here to save you.  Every single day He calls you back.  He reaches down His almighty hand in forgiveness and restoration.  He brings the forgiveness of the cross to us, not just once or twice, but every moment of every day.  He throws your soaking wet body back into the boat.

                As often as we need it, which is constantly, Jesus is here to give us the cross and empty tomb, to forgive and restore.

                Peter needed help from his Lord more than once.  He needed it again after the death and resurrection, after he had denied even knowing Jesus.  We too shall fall.  We shall be distracted by the cares and worries of the world and fall into the deep of sin.

                And Jesus will be there to reach out His hand.  He will call you back, to repent, to be forgiven, to be saved.  

                In one sense we are only saved once.  Jesus dies once for all.  There is only one resurrection, and it is for all times and all places.  

                But in another sense we are saved every day.  Through baptism, His Word, through constant absolution Jesus delivers His death and resurrection to us.  Jesus is always faithful.  Jesus always saves.