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Devotion: “Father, into Your Hands,” Luke 23:46

 

Daily Prayer, Early Evening LSB 297

Devotion on Psalm 100, Luke 23:46, 3rd Petition

 

The words of our Lord from the cross we know.  We also know what happens after. Jesus died.

In the conclusion of both Luther’s morning and evening prayer, these words are prayed, “Into your hands I commend my myself, my body, and soul, and all things.”

On the surface, these words say what they mean.  In the midst of experience, they are exhaustive and include everything.  Everything.

To say such a prayer, only the Christian can pray. This prayer reflects only what a Christian can pray. When all else seems lost, the Christian continues to have hope, and to be hopeful.

Such hope and such hopefulness does not rest in our decisions, but in the Lord who establishes in the faith, and feeds that faith with and by none other than Christ and His precious gifts.

As God’s children, purchased “not with gold or silver but with Christ’s holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death” (Meaning to 2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed), we have, really, nothing to fear.  As our hope is in Christ, so is our confidence that all will be according to God’s will, in His time, and in His way.

God sustains and will keep a people for Himself, by means of His Holy Word.

What things might look like in time to come, doing what we are able with the blessings God continues to freely bestow, as His people, we entrust ourselves into His care and keeping, certain of His promises, which are “Yes” in Christ, and unto eternity (2 Corithians 1:19).

Uncertainty might remain with reference to how things will be on this side of heaven, but there is the certainty that God’s church will always remain His church, for it is His, not ours.

Also are we not our own.  We belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8).

Let these words sink in.  “The Lord, He is God.  It is He who made us, and not we ourselves.  We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3).

We are His.  The Church is His. His will be done.  And it is, and will be, as He “breaks and hinders” the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh, and “when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die.”  So He does.  Amen.

Praying-Hands-Stretched-CanvasPrayer: Lord, you have your church to proclaim the good news of sins forgiven in Christ, to faithfully confess your name, to speak the truth in love to those who would hear it and to those who will not. As we your children petition you to guide and direct our conversations and thoughts, so do so, that we reflect Christ and be ever confident in your unmerited and abundant mercies.  Help us to know that whether we have less or more, true contentment is found in you alone.  Amen.

 

 

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All are equal before God

 

“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

Jn. 7:24

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

People are tempted to see others as better than themselves, or, on the other hand, to see themselves as better than others.  Both positions are extremes and not in accordance with the way things really are.

Before God, all stand on equal footing.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), writes St. Paul.

Of these all, Paul also writes, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

Christians continue to struggle with their sinful flesh, and in this struggle, we are tempted to believe that the saints of Old (i.e. Hebrews 11) are somehow better than we are, and more deserving of God’s kindness and mercy.

Example after example reveals otherwise.

As God’s mercy extended to them, so also to us.

Others are not better than you before God, nor are they the worse because of their sin.  It is sin, period, that condemns.  Yet, such sin, all of it, and its accompanying judgment, have been accounted for through Christ’s death on the cross.

The one who believes this, whether lesser the sinner or greater the sinner in the eyes of others, is justified before God (Romans 5:1).

This is good news, indeed!

By faith in Christ alone, the believer in Christ, stands forgiven and has God’s peace. Amen.

Luther

“For it is a great comfort for us to hear that even such great saints sin—a comfort which those who say that saints cannot sin would take away from us.

Samson, David, and many other celebrated men who were full of the Holy Spirit fell into huge sins. Job (3:3 ff.) and Jeremiah (20:14) curse the day of their birth; Elijah (1 Kings 19:4) and Jonah (4:8) are tired of life and pray for death. Such errors and sins of the saints are set forth in order that those who are troubled and desperate may find comfort and that those who are proud may be afraid. No man has ever fallen so grievously that he could not have stood up again. On the other hand, no one has such a sure footing that he cannot fall. If Peter fell, I, too, may fall; if he stood up again, so can I.

Those whose consciences are weak and tender should set great store by such examples, in order that they may understand better what they are praying when they say: “Forgive us, etc.,” or “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” in which the apostles and all the saints believed. They prayed the Our Father just as we do. The apostles were not superior to us in anything except in their apostolic office. We have the same gifts that they had, namely, the same Christ, Baptism, Word, and forgiveness of sins. They needed all this no less than we do; they were sanctified and saved by all this just as we are.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p108-109)

 

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, look not upon my sin, but look upon Jesus, who died for me and through whom I am reconciled with You.  Help me to receive comfort from the examples of  the saints, for as they had your Word and promise, Your compassion and mercy, so do I. Amen.

 

 

Godly Worship

Biblical and godly worship is not merely that worship of the mouth or of the body, that which a person says or does, though it does include these.  The worship of the Christian is not merely external by nature, though it does reveal itself for others to see.

First and foremost, true, godly worship is that which originates in the heart, the very thing that Jesus addresses when He speaks of those worshiping God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

Such worship in spirit and truth is not self-derived or self-originating, as such worship does not begin, continue, or end with men.  Rather, such worship, acceptable before God and pleasing to the Father, is that worship according to the Lord’s Word which has Jesus Christ as center.

As God’s people, we do not offer any worthiness of our own before God’s altar, but humbly seek from Him His mercy and favor.  We do not dictate to God how He is to be with us.  He reveals how we are to be with Him.

Just here is where the Law convicts.  Yet, just here is also where God’s just judgment, not upon us but upon His Son, so clearly reveals itself.

Our hearts are self-serving and self-seeking.  Apart from God’s grace and mercy in Christ, we do what we do, as pious as it may be, for ourselves.

Yet Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

He did nothing for Himself.  In His godly worship to the Father, He has both fulfilled and satisfied all that is absent in our worship before He Who alone deserves all of it.

Through faith in God’s Son, worship in spirit and truth is the kind of worship of God’s people, God’s people who confess their sinfulness and God’s people who have no ounce of confidence of their own, but cling to Christ alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, look with favor upon us for neglecting He who alone pleases You and through Whom we have Your abiding favor. Grant to us, Your holy people, baptized into your precious Name, true worship of Jesus in spirit and truth in all that we say and do.  Bless us with lively faith, that we boldly confess Your name in the midst of these trying days, and grant us genuine love for one another, that none place himself above of another, but look out for each other’s interests (Philippians 2). Accomplish Your will in and among us, that Your Name be praised and that all glory be Yours, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

Rod from the Stem of Jesse

 

“There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. 3 His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:1-4)

 

Through Isaiah the prophet, God speaks of Him who is to come, a Rod, a Branch.

Of this Rod, of this Branch, the prophets of Old foretold.  He would come.  Not at man’s time.  Not according to people’s expectation. At the set time that God Himself determined, so His arrival would be.

“When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

This Rod, this Branch of Jesse, was Christ, Son of David, rightful heir of the heavenly throne and only begotten Son of God.

Believing in this One is to believe also “in Him who sent” Him (John 13:20).

Jesus came to save sinners.  According to His Name, so He did, so He does.

Dying on the cross, His blood cleanses you from all sin, every one of them (1 John 1:8-9).

With righteous judgment He judges, not according to sight, but in truth.

By means of the Law, He condemns sin.  By means of Gospel, He forgives, saves, and delivers from sin, death, and hell.

This One who came to save, and still does, will come again, too.

On the last day, this One will appear fully in His glory.

All will notice.

We, His people, will rejoice, for with righteousness He judges, and before Him, in His righteousness, we stand, through faith. Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, during this Holy season of Advent, direct our eyes ever to Your Son Who is coming again.  Keep us from longing for things temporal, lest we lose the things eternal. Help us to set our minds on things above, not on things of the earth, for we have been raised with Christ.  Amen.

 

 

The Greatest

 

30[The disciples] went on from there and passed through Galilee. And [Jesus] did not want anyone to know, 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

      33And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37)

 

Because what Jesus says is important, for Jesus is God, His Word is necessary to hear and to believe.  To not do these things is to indicate that God’s Word is not necessary to hear or to believe, even though God says it is.

“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” (Third Commandment)

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! (First Petition, How is God’s Name kept holy?)

Inattentive and thoughtless ears and thoughts to God and His Word indicate a cold heart and rejection of the very means by which God gives salvation.

Thank God that the Lord is merciful and kind, and not like us!

The disciples in the text were thinking and talking about matters of a selfish-nature, even after Jesus revealed the sacred truth of what would win their redemption.

Jesus used the content of their discussion to draw their attention to the truth of their condition, that they turn away from selfish ambition and self-centeredness and instead, turn to Him Who is the Greatest and Servant of all.

The disciples’ understanding of greatness reflected their own perception and judgment, that which is common to the sinner, and contrary to God’s will and Word.

The disciples’ understanding of greatness, contrary to greatness in God’s kingdom, is also our own by nature.

What is great among us is that of being first, not last; being held in esteem, having the place of honor, being recognized for accomplishments and activities, having the last word, praise by men.

These ideas concerning the greatest all have at least one thing in common—a comparison to another, and the advancement of self above our neighbor.

About comparing ourselves to others, our Lord speaks clearly.

St. Paul the Apostle writes this to the Christians in Galatia, “Let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:4-5).

In other words, be concerned about what you yourself are doing as God’s child within the calling that God has called you.  Judge your work according to what God says, not in how you compare with others.

In another place St. Paul writes, “Not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Praise, honor, and recognition from others is there one moment and gone the next.

It is fleeting and is not the kind of recognition that really matters.

The kind of recognition that really matters is God’s.

What matters is what God says about you, not what others say.

Acceptance by God far outweighs the acceptance that we might desire from others.  The acceptance of the latter, though appreciated, won’t last and does not give eternal life.

The acceptance of the former, the approval of God, is that which is everlasting.

This kind of acceptance – the mercy of God – demonstrates the greatness of God, the greatness of God in loving the sinner, even the sinner like you and like me, who don’t deserve God’s love, kindness, or acceptance.

The way of the world is to merit approval, to earn recognition, to do for greatness.

This is not the way of God.

The way of God is to exalt the humbled, to recognize those who don’t deserve recognition, to approve of those who believe in the merit and work of Another, of His Son, through whom they have forgiveness, peace, and God’s full favor.

Our Lord Jesus, in saying to His disciples, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all,” is speaking of a different kind of greatness than we and the world speak of.  Our Lord is speaking of a different kind of kingdom than the one we are accustomed to desire and live in, where the greatest is the master and the least is the slave.

Jesus here turns all of what we consider greatness upside down.  Instead of being served and seeking to be served and waited on, He speaks of serving.  Instead of the greater being the first, He speaks of the greater being “Last of all and servant of all.”

Jesus Himself is First and Last, the Alpha and the Omega.  Jesus, though He was truly first over all things, one with the Father and the Spirit and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, became last of all and servant of all.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus made “Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).

Our Lord God descended to us, coming “In the likeness of sinful flesh,” yet “without” the “sin” (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 4:15).  In doing so, He saves – through His death on the cross.

In doing so, God demonstrated His love for you (Romans 5:8).

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).

Jesus Christ is the servant of all.

He served you in His life and in His death, and in His resurrection and in His ascension, that you have everlasting life.

Greatness in His Kingdom is not about being served by others (except by Him), but of serving others.  It is the serving of even the lowly and the humble in the eyes of the world.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

This kind of service, the kind of service that God reveals to be great in His Holy Word, is revealed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, as Lord of lords and King of kings, is the servant of all, who sacrificed Himself in death and rose again the third day.

Through His service to you is life, new life, abundant life, eternal life, yours today.

Ponder His service anew.  In doing so, so you will also begin and continue to serve others, even as our Lord continues to serve you. Amen.

Christian Perfection

 

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”

Gal. 2:15-16

 

This is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affliction connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.”

Augsburg 27, on Monastic Vows, offers these words as contrast to those who took the taking of vows, in general, and of good works, in particular, as the means by which a Christian becomes perfect, holy, and acceptable to God. The article briefly details that monasticism, orginally, begain with good intentions, that of offering a means to study and learn God’s Word, but that in time, the practice became corrupt, as the teaching that monasticism surpassed even baptism was accepted as true.

The reformers, in their confession, which is also our own, declare that Christian perfection is not that we become perfect by making a vow, trying to keep the commandments, trying not to sin, or anything of ourselves. Changing who we are also doesn’t change our standing before God, as if we could change our standing before God.

We can’t.

Jesus says, “You will be perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

Other passages reveal that such perfection is not something that we can do, earn, merit, or obtain. Perfection is not within us to achieve.

Yet, God still commands it.

This does not mean that you can then do it, that you can keep such a command as God wants it to be kept. Rather, it means that God is commanding the impossible, that you see your sin, and trust in Him who has fulfilled the commandment, each and every one, in your stead; that you trust in Him who fully paid the debt of judgment for your sin; and that you not trust yourself as you seek to keep the commandment, but trust in Jesus alone for your help and salvation.

In this, as the Reformers confessed, as do we, is Christian perfection, not that we trust at all in what we do, but trust in God our Savior, who gave His Son for us and through whom we live out our callings in the fear of God and in true faith. Amen.

Acceptable Offerings

 

Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.(Genesis 4:3-5)

 

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

It wasn’t because of the offering itself that God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.  Both gave offering to the Lord.  But such offering given revealed the kind of man who had given it.

As a farmer, Cain gave what he did, “an offering.”  Abel, as a shepherd of sheep, “brought of the firstborn.”

Lest we think that an animal offering is greater than that of the harvest, consider that the offering of grains and produce were commended and acceptable to God, as revealed in Exodus (i.e. Exodus 29:41).

The distinction between the offerings were not the issue, though the offerings did differ.

The difference between the offering of Abel and that of Cain was that of the heart.  Had Cain believed, at the Lord’s Word, he would have repented and not later murdered his brother (Genesis 4:8).

Cain demonstrated his unrepentance by murdering Abel.

He demonstrated his disbelief with the offering that he had given, not the first of the crop, but simply “of the ground.”

On the other hand, Abel, having offered “of the firstborn and of their fat,” demonstrated faith.  We know this because God accepted the offering of Abel, but not that of Cain.

Had Abel not had faith, his offering would not have been acknowledged by God.

Though we readily look at what is given by mere appearance (and the amount), God looks at the heart from which such gift is given.

We can’t see the heart and its disposition to God.  God can, and God does.

It’s not by the offering and what we do (or don’t do) by which we become (or are) acceptable to God.  Rather, first, we are acceptable to God, and then the offering (and works) are.

Thanks be to God that this is so!

Acceptance by God is not dependent on you.  It’s founded on Jesus Christ.

“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus(Rom. 3:20-24).

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,(Rom. 5:1).

 

“Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone

And rests in Him unceasing;

And by its fruits true faith in known,

With love and hope increasing.

Yet faith alone doth justify,

Works serve they neighbor and supply

The proof that faith is living.”

(The Lutheran Hymnal 377 “Salvation unto us has Come,” verse 9)

 

Luther

“First he regarded Abel, the person, and thereafter the offering.  His person was previously good, and right and acceptable.  Thereafter, for the sake of the person, the offering was also.  The person was not acceptable for the sake of the offering.  Then again, he did not regard Cain and his offering.  So also, first he did not regard Cain, the person, and thereafter he also did not regard his offering.  From this text it is certain that it is not possible for a work to be good before God if the person is not previously good and acceptable.  Then again, it is not possible that a work is evil before3 God unless the person is previously evil and unacceptable…God in the Scriptures concludes that all works before justification are evil and of no use and he desires them to be justified and made good first.  Again, he concludes that every person, if they are still by nature in the first birth, are unjust and evil, as Psalm 116:11 says, ‘All men are liars.’ Genesis 6:5, ‘Every thought and desire of the human heart is always evil.’” (Luther’s Family Devotions, p211-212)

 

Prayer: God, forgive me for thinking that You accept me on account of my works and not on account of Your Son who died for me and gave Himself for me that I be acceptable in Your sight.  Help me to believe that, not by my works, but through faith in Jesus alone, I am justified before You. Amen.

 

 

Thoughts on “A Response to Martin Noland” (Congregations Matter)

 

via Response to Martin Noland – Congregations Matter

 

Noland-Fake News, rev.jpgI find the “Response” by Congregations Matter a very curious one.  I find it curious because Congregations Matter claims that, “The facts don’t support Noland’s point of view regarding Congregations Matter and only reveal his bias.” In order to support the claim, it’s not enough simply to state that this so.  Yet, the article by Congregations Matter does just this, providing no substantial factual information with the intent of convincing or persuading.

The letter written by Noland offers support for his conclusions. Congregations Matter, in a number of articles that I have seen, frames the narrative to suit their own conclusion. This “Response” follows an identical pattern.  Rather than directly address the “observations,” clarified in the letter, Congregations Matter advances its propaganda for the purpose of persuading convention voters to vote for another president than the one currently serving (Pres. Harrison).

If you’re reading this and don’t know who Congregations Matter, Dr. Noland, Pres. Harrison, or The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are, your likely not alone.

You might or might not know the names, organization, or circumstances, but you likely do know the “playbook.” We find this in discussions about the Bible, especially about the Bible and matters of faith.

Two parties are in discussion about the Biblical text (pick one).  One says what the Bible actually, in print, says. The other responds and says, “That’s your opinion.”

The one is merely speaking the truth, saying what the Bible says.  The other merely argues from his/her own “perspective,” because what the Bible says he/she doesn’t agree with.

Such a response is neither persuasive nor one with integrity and honesty.

Saying, “That’s your opinion,” similar to, “That’s your interpretation,” is a response, but demonstrates a bias and opinion by the one making such a claim, too.

Integrity and honesty in debates and discussion calls for addressing the points being made, not by merely claiming bias and opinion (on either side), but by actually showing where such statements are not accurate.

Engaging the real issues is more challenging than making accusations of interpretation, bias, and opinion of others with whom we might not agree.

It’s easier to cast labels and make assumptions, in the hopes that readers/listeners will simply accept what they read/hear as gospel truth, without questioning and without further evaluation or investigation.  Such might be the way of society and many who don’t want to know the truth as it is, but standards in the church ought to be higher, but maybe this is just my opinion, too.

 

“Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’

for we are members of one another.”

(Ephesians 4:25)

 

 

 

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