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, February 26, 2015

What Is the Big Deal About God's Name?

             “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Jesus has graciously invited us to see God as our Father, and to pray to Him with the confidence of sons.  But what is a son to ask of His almighty, heavenly Father?

                We begin by praying that God’s name would be hallowed, or kept holy.  Luther’s explanation in the Small Catechism says:

 “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.  Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven!  But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us.  Protect us from this, heavenly Father!”

That’s interesting isn’t it?  The petition taught by Jesus is about the name of God being kept holy, and Luther jumps straight into talking about the Word of God.  So what is the connection?  What does the Word of God, and us keeping it and living according to it, have to do with God’s name?

Well, think about it this way: There is a man getting married.  His last name is “Jones”.  His new bride takes his last name, as is our custom, and becomes Mrs. Jones.  Likewise, the Joneses then have several Jones children.  

Isn’t it true that the way Mrs. Jones and the Jones children speak, act, and live will reflect upon Mr. Jones?  If his wife is always dressed in rags, or if his children are unruly and disrespectful, that sends a message to the rest of the world about Mr. Jones.  Conversely, if Mrs. Jones can't brag enough about the kindness of her husband, or if the children are well mannered and well behaved, that too reflects upon the one who gave them his name.  Their lives reflect, positively or negatively, upon his name.

And so it is with the children of God.  We have been given God’s name in our baptism.  The name of Christian means “little Christ”.  So how the church, the bride of Christ, speaks, acts, and lives reflects upon the name of God.  How the children of God behave tells the world something about their heavenly Father.

And where do we, as children of God learn what we are to believe and how we are to act?  Why, from His Word of course.  In the Scriptures we learn what it means to be a Christian.  We learn what we are to believe for our salvation, and how we are to act to bring glory and honor to the name of God, rather than bitterness and derision.

We are to believe and live rightly.  To have the right faith and to live a godly life is what we call sanctification.  We are justified, saved from the punishments of death and hell, purely by the grace of God given to us in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  And that same grace sanctifies us as we grow in faith, knowledge, and good works.

We are praying for a true and trustworthy faith, one that clings to the doctrine of forgiveness in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We are praying for the strength to live a godly life, one that conforms to the image of our Lord and Redeemer Jesus.

And that is why it becomes imperative that we pray for good and orthodox teachers.  As Christians we need to be in constant prayer, imploring our heavenly Father to send His children preachers of the Word, men who will teach the faith and lead us into all godly living.

There are many false teachers out there.  You can find them on your television set.  You can listen to them on the radio.  Their books cover the shelves of Barnes and Noble.  And I am not even talking about the non-Christians.  Within the Church, half-truths and outright lies abound.

So Jesus teaches us to pray, not simply that God’s name would be kept holy, but that we would be blessed with men to preach the Word as it was handed down by the prophets and Apostles, and so we would keep His name holy in our lives too.  We are to pray that we would live and breathe according to His Word.

We should pray for our seminaries and universities, that the professors there would remain true to God’s Word and that they would encourage the students under their influence toward godly vocations.

We should pray for the students, that they would take their studies seriously, that they would grow in faith and holiness to be able to go into the church as pastors, teachers, and other vocations, leading others to Christ and building them up in the Christian faith.

We should pray for our pastors, that they would rightly divide Law and Gospel, that their teaching and preaching would deliver Jesus Christ unveiled to a world that desperately needs Him, that they would not neglect teaching and encouraging us to all good works.

Yes, I want you to pray for me.  Pray that my words are not really mine, but God’s.  Pray that I would speak boldly all that Christ has given me to say, no more and certainly no less.  Pray that I would be the instrument of God in answering this petition.

The preaching and teaching of the Church is God’s means to bring glory to His name and salvation to us.  You see, when God’s name is kept holy, when it is glorified, it spells salvation for the people of the world.

I will leave you with the example of Rahab.  Rahab was a rather scandalous woman.  She was a pagan prostitute, not your typical demographic for conversion.  Yet when Joshua sends two men to spy out the city of Jericho it is this sinful woman who offers them shelter.  She saves their lives.

And why?   For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:10-11)

Rahab hears of the work of Yahweh, the LORD.  She knows and fears the name of the LORD.  His fame and glory, His name, has spread, and she has believed.  Therefore she is saved, and so are we, for Rahab becomes an ancestor of King David, and also an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

God increases the glory of His name for the salvation of the world.  When His name is kept holy amongst His people, others hear of it and are saved.  He has saved us with the precious blood of Jesus.  He has given us His name.  Let us believe and live in Him, to bring further glory to His name, and further salvation to this earth. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Is God Your Father?


Jesus teaches us to pray: "Our Father who art in heaven..."               

                 Is God really your Father?  Because we talk and think about Him as if He is all the time.  In fact many non-Christians seem to assume that God is a fatherly figure, even if they do not really go to church or trust Him for salvation.

                I want to make the assertion tonight that God is not your father, at least not in the way you usually think about it.    

First, think about the Biblical evidence.  You will search, nearly in vain, for references to God as Father in the Old Testament.  They are there, but they are rather few and far between.  Usually it is God who asserts that He has acted as a father and the people have behaved as spoiled children.

Second, think about what it means to be a father.  What do fathers do?  They beget children.  But you and I were not begotten of God.  Rather, we were made, created by Him.  We like to think of ourselves as God’s children, but we are really a lot more like God’s bicycle.  He created us, built us, put us together, but we are not on His level.

You see, the child of a human being is a human being.  The child of God would be God.  We are not gods.  I hope you know that.  We are not natural-born children of God.  Rather, we are His creation.  We are not like Him, we are not on His level.  

It is good that we understand this, because many times we become too presumptuous.  We think that God is just a really powerful human, like a king or a ruler.  So we begin to think that He owes us something.  He owes us an explanation for what He does.  He owes us an answer to our prayers.

Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth.  In this relationship with God, it is we who owe Him everything.  We owe Him our lives, our love, our obedience.  Just as you would expect your bicycle to ride easily and turn in the direction you move the handle bars, so God expects us to act the way He built us to act.  And we don’t.

We are not God’s children, not by birth.  But there is one who is.  Something changed when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear the Son of God.  

While there are next to no references to God as Father in the Old Testament, the New Testament is littered with them.  Jesus almost universally refers to God as His Father.  Saint Paul picks up on this as well.  So do the other writers of the New Testament.

So what changed?  Jesus is the Son of God.  He is not merely God’s creation, but His equal.  Jesus is begotten of the Father.  Remember, what God begets is God.  Jesus is God.  And so the relationship between Jesus and God is one of Father and Son, not simply Creator and creation.

Jesus has every right to call God “Father”, and He does.  Jesus has every right to pray and expect good things from God, and He does on a regular basis.  Jesus has every right to expect that God will bring Him through all trials and temptations, that God will even bring Him through death.  And He does.

And then Jesus takes what is His and makes it ours.  In baptism, Saint Paul teaches us, we are united with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Not only are we restored to a sinless relationship with God.  Our connection to Him is amplified, so that we are no longer merely slaves, but sons.  We are all sons of God by grace.  Jesus has died and risen to make it so.

God has adopted us as sons.  Of course this does not mean that we should think of ourselves as gods.  We are certainly not to expect to be worshipped.  Yet we have access to God as sons.  Just as we expect our earthly fathers to do all things for our good, even more we expect God to work all things together for us.

And so we pray, boldly, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”  This is the way Jesus teaches us to pray to God, not because we deserve it, but because he, Jesus, has earned it.  

This changes everything.  No longer do we need to go to God timid and afraid.  We kneel before Him and pray with the eager expectation that He will give us all that we need.

We do not need to pray in order to show off our spiritual superiority.  We pray in desperate need, to ask of our Father what we all need from Him, the needs of body and soul.

We do not pray as the pagans do, heaping up empty phrases.  No, the pagans thought they needed to convince their gods to hear and answer their prayers.  They would lay out praises to their idols, and try to reason with these fake deities.  

There is no need for that.  Because of Jesus, God is your Father.  He wants to hear you.  He wants to answer your prayers.  It is His desire to give you every good thing.  Simply ask for what you need.  He will give what you need.

Martin Luther explains it best with the Small Catechism:  “With these words, God tenderly invites us to believe that we are His true children, and that He is our true Father, and so that with all boldness and confidence, we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear Father.”

These words are a tender invitation from God for us to see that in Christ He has made us His children.  These words are an invitation to pray with boldness and confidence, knowing that our Father will never ignore or forget His dear and precious children. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

It's Not Where You Come From, but Where You Are Going

The Huffington Post actually published a good article.  I know, I know.  Usually the HuffPo is garbage laced with poison, but this really was a helpful religion of all topics!

In his article "Why We Know So Little About Moses and Jesus" author Bernard Starr helps to explain why the record of the lives of these two Biblical figures do not include detailed accounts of their upbringing.

Ever since the dawn of the age of psychoanalysis we have been trying to understand what makes a person tick by asking where they came from.  The keys to a person's identity lie in the past, in their youth.  That is, at least, what we believe to be true.

And so we often want more information about the young life of Moses.  What was it like to grow up as an outsider in Egypt?  Was he ever mistreated?  Was he spoiled?  What was his education like?  We assume that these are important questions.

The same goes for Jesus.  We want to know what happened while the holy family was down in Egypt.  What was it like for Jesus between the ages of 3 and 12?  What did He do until He was baptized?  Why are these accounts so sparse?

As Starr explains:
 Throughout most of history the prevailing belief was that people are shaped not by experiences but by destiny -- meaning who you are is pre-determined. In the Bhagavad-Gita -- the Hindu Scripture dating back thousands of years -- personality is attributed to a mix of the three inborn personality types called the gunas (sattva, rajas, tamas), plus the karmic traits carried over from previous lives. Today, we call that view the biological or nature explanation: You're wired to be who you are, with inborn tendencies and characteristics that supersede personal experiences and direct you to particular experiences.
In other words, to ancient people it was far more important to understand where a person was going than to understand where he came from.

According to the destiny view, if you survive to adulthood -- no small feat when we consider the huge child mortality rates through much of history -- you will become the person of your inborn and predetermined destiny. If that's the case, why even bother to examine life experiences? They would have little explanatory value. Moses was simply destined to be a prophet, and according to Christian Scripture Jesus was meant to be the Messiah. 
I am not sure how accurate Starr is in his understanding of the minds of people in the ancient middle east.  After all, the Jews in the Gospel according to John seem fairly obsessed with where Jesus has come from.

But that is my point.  They don't know where Jesus comes from.  They keep saying He is from Galilee when we all know He is from Bethlehem in Judea.  Even more, He is from heaven, from God.  Yet all of that is a moot point if we do not know where Jesus is going.

He is going to the cross.

He is going to rise again.

He is going back to the Father.

These are the things that define Jesus.  These are the keys to knowing Him, not only as a historical figure, not only as God, but as the God-in-the-flesh who has come from heaven to take you where He is going.

We all know where we are from.  We are from such and such a place.  We have stories to tell and scars to show.  We have secrets to keep and skeletons to hide in our closets.  And psychoanalysis would tell you that you need to understand those things, you need to accept them, in order to see who you really are, in order to discover your identity.

Jesus calls poppycock. 

The gift of God in Christ is that our identity is no longer determined by where we have been, but by where we are going.  We are headed straight for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  That is your destiny in Christ.  

And where you are going shows you who you are.  You are a child of God.  You are forgiven.  You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.  

Why do you think that God spends so much time reminding you of who He has declared you to be?  He does it in Baptism, Absolution, the Lord's Supper.  He tells you your destiny in all the best hymns and all the best sermons.

God knows where you have come from.  It is the same place as everyone else: sin.  And He has taken care of that mess with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Now God tells you where you are going because of what He has done.  You are going to the place that He has prepared for you: a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.