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Return to the Lord

        12“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and rend your hearts and not your garments.”  Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?   15Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; 16gather the people.  Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.   17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples,  ‘Where is their God?’”  18Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people.    19The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.”  (Joel 2:12-19)

 

The day of the LORD is great and very terrible; Who can endure it? (Joel 2:11)

The day of the Lord, the day of Judgment, is come.  It is great and very terrible.  Yes, indeed!  Who can endure it?  Who can persist and continue when the Lord meets out His judgment upon a wayward people, a wayward people even called by His Holy Name.

Joel prophesied to such a people.  He spoke and proclaimed to the people of God.  They had departed from the Lord, following their own ways, heeding their own opinions, holding fast to their own judgments, and not according to the will of the Lord.  They were a way faring people, led by their own desires and hearkening to their own inclinations.

They took for granted all that the Lord had done for them, all that He had provided for them, and how He had kept and preserved them.  And now, judgment was to come, judgment by way of that which would destroy their bounty, diminish their excess, and humble a prideful people.

Joel speaks of locusts, which would devour the land (Joel 1:4; 2:25).  They would leave nothing behind.  Crops would be leveled.  No grain would be in sight.  Harvest would be absent.

The prophet Joel speaks of the destruction caused by the locusts as “The day of the Lord.”  We in our day, on this side of the hemisphere and in this nation have a hard time understanding such devastation caused by such things.  But the people in Joel’s day lived off the land.  They depended on the crops and their bounty for their livelihood.  They couldn’t go to another grocery store if one was empty.  If the crops failed, that meant dire straits.

Farmers today know this.  Yet, for most of us, we know little about true hunger and true devastation.  We know little of what it means to be truly in want, to have little or nothing.  We do not really know what it is like to be in a famine, to suffer the consequences of a deadly plague, to be in the state of starvation, or to be literally dying of thirst.

We have it fairly easy today.  Food is abundant.  We have clean water, clothes on our back, a roof over our heads.  We have all that we need, and more.

Like the Israelites of Joel’s day, we take for granted all that the Lord has provided for us.  We take for granted all that He abundantly gives us of His mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us.  We, like the people in Joel’s day, fail to even see the means by which God would call us back to Himself.

By means of the prophet Joel, God called His people to repentance, to Return to Him with all their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; 13and to rend their hearts and not their garments.  God called His people to repent of their idolatrous hearts and their false assumptions that God would always be with them, even should they forsake Him and His ways and not trust in His promises.

They simply went through the motions of God’s people, but their hearts were far from their Lord and their God (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8).  They went to church.  They gave offering.  They did what they thought God required of them.  But they did not believe.  They forsook the Word and trusted in themselves.

Do you see the events in the world enfolding before your eyes as a call to repentance?  The downward spiral of our economy and the increasing debt?  The revolutions and rebellions across the globe?  Troubles in the Mideast and elsewhere?  The hypocrisy and the apostasy of church after church which claims to bear Christ’s Name?  Accidents (as we call them), and death after death because of this or that?

Do you see these things as reminder of sin and a call to turn to the Lord with repentant hearts, turning away from your own sinful hearts and to the welcoming arms of the Lord?

May it be that even the smallest and most insignificant thing would move you to turn away from yourself and worldly things to the Lord Himself!

The Lord does not want your false repentance, or your hypocritical and meaningless confession.  He does not want your empty words of regret or hollow mourns of sorrow.

The Psalmist says that, The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the LORD delivers him out of them all (Psalm 34:15-19).

The righteous are they who see themselves as God sees them—as unrighteous, who say, We are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away (Isaiah 64:5).

The righteous claim no righteousness, or goodness, of their own.  They take God at His Word, and believe Him, come what may.  They do not argue and deny that God is true, but submit to His Word, and believe in the only Savior–Jesus.  In this they are righteous, not because of their own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of another.

Therefore, at the hearing of the Lord’s Word, even through the prophet Joel, God’s people turn to the Lord with all their heart.  They rend their hearts, not their garments.  They acknowledge that they have not been as God would have them be, and seek God’s favor, His pardon, and His peace.  They seek God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus, and there, in Him, they have it.

There, in Him, in Christ Jesus, you have God’s full pardon and peace.  There, you know that you have God’s favor upon you.  In Christ, with nail prints in His hands and feet, and with the mark of the spear in His side, you know that God’s judgment has been removed from you.  God laid the punishment of your sin on Him.

God is indeed Gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.  This you know and believe because of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Turn to God with all your heart!  Return to the Lord your God!  Repent!  Forsake your sinful ways, your trust in yourselves, and your dependency on the things of this world.  These things cannot help you or save you.  But God can!  And God does!  He gives you life in the midst of death, joy in the midst of sorrow, and peace in the midst of strife.  He feeds the hungry and gives drink to the thirsty.  He gives aid to the poor and bounty to the needy.

Therefore, hold fast to the Lord.  He does not forget you.  He remembers His promises.  He holds you in His hands and bears you up (Psalm 91:12).  Sorrow over your sin, but rejoice in the Lord, for He is good and gracious, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me my sin against you.  I am a poor miserable sinner.  Give me faith to firmly believe in Your salvation, and help me to amend my sinful ways before You.  Amen.

LCMS Reacts to Contraceptive Mandate

LCMS_Reacts_Contraceptive_Mandate_Accomodation[1].pdf

To God be the Glory

The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

1 Corinthians 2:14

In the Augsburg Confession, Article 2 (Original Sin), we confess:

 1 It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.   2 Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.

Corresponding to this article of our confession is Article 18 (Freedom of the Will), where we also confess:

1 It is also taught among us that man possesses some measure of freedom of the will which enables him to live an outwardly honorable life and to make choices among the things that reason comprehends. 2 But without the grace, help, and activity of the Holy Spirit man is not capable of making himself acceptable to God, of fearing God and believing in God with his whole heart, or of expelling inborn evil lusts from his heart. 3 This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who is given through the Word of God, for Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:14, “Natural man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God.

4 In order that it may be evident that this teaching is no novelty, the clear words of Augustine on free will are here quoted from the third book of his Hypognosticon: ‘We concede that all men have a free will, for all have a natural, innate understanding and reason. However, this does not enable them to act in matters pertaining to God (such as loving God with their whole heart or fearing him), for it is only in the outward acts of this life that they have freedom to choose good or evil.     5 By good I mean what they are capable of by nature: whether or not to labor in the fields, whether or not to eat or drink or visit a friend, whether to dress or undress, whether to build a house, take a wife, engage in a trade, or do whatever else may be good and profitable. 6 None of these is or exists without God, but all things are from him and through him. 7 On the other hand, by his own choice man can also undertake evil, as when he wills to kneel before an idol, commit murder, etc.’

The teaching that sinful man has freedom to “choose” God or to “make a decision for Christ” apart from God’s gift of faith in Christ (and thus, being created anew, i.e. John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17) is not in accordance with Holy Scripture.    Sinful nature always wants its own way.  This is the way of the flesh (see Matthew 15:19-20; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-9).

The way of the spirit, however, desires the way of the Lord, which the Lord Himself makes known to us by means of His Word (see Romans 8:1-17; 10:17; Galatians 16-18, 22-26; Colossians 3:12-17).  Such desire of the spirit comes from a changed heart, produced by God’s work according to His Word and not without it or apart from it.  By means of Law and Gospel, God creates a people for Himself, people diligent to be about His Word, people believing it, and people who desire to live in accordance to it.  Such people do not create themselves, nor do they make the changes themselves (John 1:12-13; 3:5-8; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).  Rather, does God form and mold His people to be as He would have them, loving Him above all things, and loving one another (see Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:3-6; Romans 9:14-24)—by means of His Holy Word.

Instead of glorifying and praising man and what he does or accomplishes, the Christian confesses, praises, and glorifies God for what He does, even what God does through poor sinners like ourselves.

Thanks be to God for His goodness!  And thanks to be God that His will is not at all according to our nature!  Amen.

 

Luther

 

“Let us praise God the Father, therefore, and give Him thanks for His indescribable mercy, that when we were incapable of doing so by our own strength, He delivered us from the kingdom of the devil, in which we were captives, and did so by His own Son. And with Paul let us confess that all our works and righteousness, with all of which we could not make the devil stoop down one hairbreadth, are nothing but loss and refuse (Phil. 3:8). And let us tread underfoot and utterly abhor, as a polluted garment (Is. 64:6) and the deadly poison of the devil, all the power of free will, all the wisdom and righteousness of the world, all religious orders, all Masses, ceremonies, vows, fasts, hair shirts, and the like. On the other hand, let us praise and magnify the glory of Christ, who has delivered us by His death not only from this world but from this “evil world.”  (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p41-42).

Prayer: Father, I praise you for all your goodness to me.  I am humbled by all that you do for my good, even as I do not see it or fail to see it because I am a sinner who looks to my own ways and seeks my own glory.  Forgive me for abiding by my own expectations.  Shape me, form me, and mold me to be nothing but Your humble and lowly servant.  In Jesus’ Name I pray.  Amen.

 

Vocation-Serving God, Serving Neighbor

 

In the Ten Commandments, God gives His people what they are to do—love Him and love neighbor (Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 22:34-40).  God even commands His people how to love others (i.e. Honor father and mother, not murdering, not bearing false witness (gossiping), etc.), as well as how to love Him (having no other gods before Him, not misusing His Name, and using His Word rightly).  By doing these, the people of God serve Him and one another.

We do not have to invent or discover “new ways” of serving God and the church.  God has already given us what to do.

We serve God by keeping His Word (not despising it, but believing it), worshiping only Him—the Holy Trinity (not committing idolatry), and hearing His Word (going to church where His Holy Word is proclaimed and receiving and rejoicing in His free gift of forgiveness and life, given through the preached Word, the Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper).

We serve God also by serving our neighbor.  This kind of service takes place in our vocation, our calling(s).  This is where we serve God and our neighbor.  Parents care for, and discipline their children, in their vocation.  Children honor and obey their parents in their vocation.  Teachers teach and instruct in their vocation.  Students hear and learn in their vocation.  Pastors preach and teach and administer the sacraments in their vocation.  Congregational members hear what is preached and receive from the Lord what He speaks and gives through the Words and the actions of the pastor.

Serving God this way, in one’s vocation, does not mean that we necessarily like or will like those who serve us.  Pastors and congregations, students and teachers, parents and children, civil authorities and citizens, and others all have their weaknesses, their quirks, and their sins.  They do not always do, act, or speak as they should within their vocation.  But rather than using these shortcomings as excuses not to honor or recognize those whom God has placed to serve us, all the more ought we to “bear with one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).  Also, concerning vocation, it is the office that we are to recognize, and to help the one in that office to do as he or she should.

Vocation is how God would have us serve one another.  “Discovering new ways of serving God and the church” is not of God, for God has already given us how to serve Him and one another.

The question then is, “how are we doing” at serving Him and serving one another in the calling to which God has called us? (1 Corinthians 7).  The answer for all of us is-poorly.  We are failing.  We do not do as we should and we do as we ought not (Romans 7).  God is not first in our lives, and we seek to serve ourselves first and not others.  Instead of encouraging one another to do as God has given us to do, we complain, tear down, bicker, and intentionally hurt our neighbor for what they have done or have not done.  We take the anger we have towards ourselves out on others.  In doing so, we do not love as God would have us love.  We despise and profane the Name of God among us, and demonstrate, not service to God, but service to ourselves and the evil one.

Yet God, in His service to the Father on our behalf, completely and perfectly demonstrated, not service to Himself or for Himself, but to His Father for us, and to us in obedience to His Father (Hebrews 5:8), that His Father declare from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  In other Words, Jesus fulfilled His calling, His vocation, before the Father, for you.

Jesus kept His Father’s Word.  He truly loved His neighbor (you and me), both in saying what the Father had given Him to say (the word of Law and Gospel), and doing what the Father had given Him to do (suffer and die on the cross).  Jesus did neither of these for Himself, but for us, for you.  He came to save you from your disobedience, neglect, and misuse of your calling, both to serve God and to serve one another.

Instead of inventing new ways of serving God and the church, all we have to do is look to what God Himself says.  In doing that, we will have more than enough “to do.”  In doing that, we will also recognize how we do not do as God would have us do.  But by God’s grace through His Son, we will also recognize how Christ has done all that His Father had given Him to do.  By God’s grace through Jesus, we will recognize that Christ, having done all that the Father had given Him to do, means new and eternal life, for Christ, in shedding His blood on the cross, shed His blood to cover all of our sins, all of our sins against God and against one another.

This means that those same sins no longer condemn us as guilty before God.  Those same sins against God and one another can hurt us no more, for in their place is Christ, the sinner of all sinners.

In return, Christ, having taken our place, gives to us what is His (called “the great exchange”).  His obedience and service to His Father is counted as our own.  Therefore, because of Jesus, God sees you as perfectly obedient and a faithful servant, not because of what you do, but because of what Christ Himself did.

Thus does St. Paul say, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).  Having peace with God means that all before Him is “alright.”  We have no need to fear for all that we have done and all that we have done wrong in our specific callings.  Before God, on account of Jesus, there is nothing but peace.  And because of Jesus, the Father also says to you, “You are My beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

In contrast to taking these words as reason to “sit back and take it easy,” the Christian hears these words, and, in distinction from the sinful nature to serve nothing but itself, the Christian, according to the new man, seeks to all the more serve God and neighbor, faithfully and sacrificially, giving him or herself even in death for the benefit and well-being of those whom God would have be served.  Life begins to be focused on the other, on God and neighbor, not on self and ego.

As Christ lived, not for Himself, but in obedience to His Father and in service to us, so those born of God live, not for themselves, but in obedience to the Father in service to others.  This means that the Christian will seek, not his own benefit and gain, but that of others whom God has called to help and serve.

Such service to others will not take a “one size fits all approach.”  Nor does it have to be sought.  Rather, the Lord Himself reveals how we are to live with and to love one another, even as He, in Christ, loved and loves us, forgiving our sins and giving life and joy and peace (1 John 4:11).   As God loves us, so do His people love one another.

 

Book Review-Pocket Dictionary of Church History (2008)

 

Feldmeth, Nathan P.   Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.

Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 2008.

“The Pocket Dictionary of Church History is designed to help students identify the people, places, events, movements and ideas that checker the story of the church through the ages” (back cover).   Such a design this booklet does meet.  About a paragraph is given for each of these identifications, with some shorter and some longer.  By no means intended to be exhaustive, this booklet might serve well as an introduction or quick reference to Church History, and may promote an increased desire to study further the history of the Christian Church.

Book Review-Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (1999)

 

 

 

Grenz, Stanley, David Guretzki, and Cherith Fee Nordling. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms.  Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press,  1999.

“This Pocket Dictionary attempts to provide a basic understanding of the three hundred or so significant words and concepts you are most likely to encounter in the theological books and articles you are reading” (p5).   This work has met this attempt.  It is a very “basic understanding” of various words encountered in various theological works or shorter or longer kind.  Though by no means exhaustive, either in the number of terms defined or in the definitions themselves, this work can be helpful to those who wish to have a general meaning of this or that term.

As a Pocket Dictionary, this brief work is an introduction to theological terms and their meanings.  For more in-depth study, it is quite necessary to research further.  It can indeed be profitable as a prelude to continued reading, but its usefulness is limited.  On the back cover, the claim is made that the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms “is the perfect companion to your theological studies.”     Though I would not say of that it is “the perfect companion,” I would say that it is “helpful.”

The books “broadly evangelical, Protestant perspective is clearly evident” and I would say more than from “time to time” (p5).  Such a perspective doesn’t diminish at all its value, but it does suggest reading with a critical eye.

I found this Pocket Dictionary to be a quite accessible reminder of the numerous words used in the area of theology and philosophy and to what they referred, albeit in a very cursory manner.  The writer’s intention was not to offer an exhaustive tome of theological vocabulary, and this is why I found it beneficial.  Its brevity I also found appealing.

Having read it, I seek further engagement with theological works and clearer understanding of the same.  The book has flamed the spark to continue the study of theology and Holy Scripture in answer to life’s most fundamental and crucial questions.

 ———————————————————————————

 On a concluding note, Intervarsity Press offers a few other works with the prefatory title, Pocket Dictionary of…, including Church History, Denominationalism, and Biblical Studies.  In a similar format, these works also serve as “companions” for their respective areas.

 

 

Book Review-The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (2008)

Hindson, Ed & Ergun Caner  (general eds.), The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (2008) [Harvest House]

In the introduction, Edward Hinson and Ergun Caner write, “We wanted to place in your hands a tool that will enable you to both defend you faith and answer the major objections to Christianity.  More specifically, we wanted to provide a resource that is accessible to every Christian—a popular encyclopedia that avoids the technical jargon of specialists while cogently presenting a Christian response to skeptics and cynics” (11).

With more than 60 authors, many affiliated with Liberty University and Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Virginia, and about 180 articles, this book is indeed a tool to help answer some of the major objections of Christianity.  Though not exhaustive, it is a very helpful introduction to some of the names, teachings, movements, philosophies, and theologies antagonistic to the Christian faith.  From abortion to Zoroastrianism, this book covers, in a very readable and understandable way, that which is beneficial for the Christian who seeks to further answer arguments of the naysayers.

Throughout the book, one will cannot help but notice its evangelical bent.  Every now and then, for example, various articles contain the assumption that even nonChristians can make decisions and choices for Christ.   Also, the erroneous teaching sometimes explained in this manner as, “once saved always saved” seems to be held.

In the article, “Sin,” Caner writes, for example, that the categories of venial and mortal sin within the Roman Catholic Church, “demands that a person can become a Christian and receive grace and forgiveness and then possibly lose that salvation again” (453).

Properly understood, in distinction from the teaching of the Church of Rome, these categories of venial and mortal sin can actually magnify the grace of God in Christ Jesus and give the Christian greater confidence of that unmerited grace and favor of God that the Christian seeks all the more to amend his/her sinful life.  And, the Bible does in fact indicate that salvation can be lost (i.e. 2 Timothy 2:17-18; Hebrews 6:4-6).

In addition, the book’s evangelical flavor can be recognized by a number of the articles which deny baptismal regeneration and emphasize that “man must repent of his sins”, implying that salvation is somehow dependent on our repenting (255-256, italics mine).

Interestingly, in the article, “Reason and Faith,” Shawn Hayes concludes the article under the section, “The Place of Faith” with these words, “By faith we know some things are true because God said them.  In the case of faith, our certainty does not rest on our reasons, but rather, on our faith in God” (412).  However, faith does not rest on our faith (a near kin to fideism), but on the very Word of God in Christ (Romans 10:17).

The section, “Grace,” seems a bit overextended and straining, except for clarifying the evangelical understanding of grace, as Breidenbaugh describes grace as “one of God’s many communicable attributes” (254), and speaks of  two kinds of grace: 1) common (general, universal) and 2) elective (special, saving, regenerating).  Under the first kind of grace, he includes as headings physical provision, intelligence, society, and Christian events.  Under the second kind, elective grace, he includes as headings prevenient grace, efficacious grace, irresistible grace, and sufficient grace (255-257).  Not surprisingly, Breidenbaugh also includes “the divine sovereignty involved in salvation” (257).

Though I would recommend the book as at least an introduction to Christian apologetics and for many of the arguments contained therein, I would also encourage caution and discernment.  There is certainly an “evangelical ring” to the articles and to some extent, an inconsistency due to the various authors.  Generally, however, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics is a helpful resource to have in one’s library.  The reasoning in the articles is, for the most part, sound and certainly understandable.  Yet reasoning and argumentation alone are not the last word—God’s Word is.  Knowing His Word, one will be quite prepared to proclaim the truth of the Christian religion.

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