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Be Ready

36[Jesus said:] “Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:36-44)

Today’s text from St. Matthew gives us opportunity to talk about such things the when of our Lord’s Coming, and to clarify what God reveals from what He has not.

As to the when of Christ’s Advent, Jesus doesn’t give us the time or day when He will return.  But this hasn’t stopped some from trying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1843/1844: Mr. Miller (Adventist movement) Mr. Miller, from whom the Adventist movement originated, calculated the date of 1843 or 1844, when the “cleansing of the entire earth” would take place.[1]

1847: Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses); Charles T. Russell, influenced by the Adventists, calculated the date of 1847 as the date which Christ invisibly returned.[2]

2011 (May 21 & October 21): Harold Camping; Predicted Jesus’ return and the rapture (May); the final destruction of the world (October)

The belief that Christ’s return can be “fixed with actual definiteness” is foolishness and contrary to God’s Word.  In other places, too, in addition to today’s Gospel reading, does the Lord indicate this truth (i.e. Christ’s Ascension, Acts 1; Mark 1:15; 13:33ff; John 7:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; James 4:13-16; 2 Peter 3:10)

1 Thessalonians 5:2 “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”

And, from today’s Gospel, Matthew 24: 37-39 “37As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

Our Lord binds us to His Word and to nowhere else.  In this Word, He reveals Jesus—the Word become flesh (John 1:14)—to be our Savior.  God doesn’t answer all of our questions or satisfy our curiosity, but what He does give us is sufficient for our salvation.election

Let the Words of the Lord stand on their own.  Do not add to them or subtract from them.  Doing either is to make yourself the master of the Biblical text and the Biblical text your servant (see Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19).

This is nothing but usurping God and His Word according to arrogance and pride.  It is presumptuous of sinners to think that they know better than God Himself, or to think that they can figure out knowledge that God has denied us, like the particular day of Christ’s coming.

St. Paul writes, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.   For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

We ought not be like the five foolish virgins who did not have enough oil when the bridegroom arrived (Matthew 25:2).  Nor ought we to be as those who squander what they’ve been given because of false notion that things will always remain as they are.  A day of reckoning is soon approaching, and woe to those who aren’t prepared for it, who procrastinate in their belief that they have time to spare, that God’s Word can wait, and that when the day does arrive, they’ll prepare what needs to be done.

So our Lord says, “43But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

How easy it would be if the Lord did give us the time and the date of His arrival.  Like the approaching day of Christmas, we could buy gifts for Him, put on our best behavior, set everything in order.

If we knew the when of Christ’s return, we could really put on our Sunday best, reconcile with our enemies and those who trouble us and those by whom we are troubled.  We could forgive12th-hour others their debts and sins against us, give up our grudges and discontentments before He comes, because we would know when the Lord is coming.

We could do good to others, without any hope for thanks or appreciation in return, and be content with the promises of our Lord.  We could do what is right and not worry about what the result might or might not be, because we would know that the result of Christ’s death, our sins taken care of, means eternal life, which we would enjoy first hand at the return of the Lord.  We would know that the troubles in this life are almost done and nothing but joy and bliss and heaven await us.

If we only knew…If we only knew, we could be really ready, at just the right time before He comes, believing the Lord’s Word and following His Word, trusting in His promises, and taking seriously His Word before it is too late.  If we only knew…

The thing is, we do know – not the exact time, but how the Lord would have us be even now.

We have Jesus’ Word, that we be ready now, today.  He is coming, at an hour and in a day which we do not expect.

God is the kind of God that speaks to you in your ears that you hear and trust His Word to you as He speaks it.  He speaks to you of your distractions from hearing His Word and following what He says that you turn from these things and look to Jesus for mercy and help and hope.  He reveals to you your sin that you see clearly your Savior, He who is coming again, that you be ready and waiting when He does return.

Therefore, arise from your sleep and your slumber, your laziness and your misguided assumptions.  “Lift up your heads.”  Your “redemption” is drawing nigh (Psalm 24:7, 9; Luke 21:28).  Believe now what your Lord says.  Take His Word preached to you and spoken to you as from God Himself.  Don’t doubt, but take it to heart.  Take Him at His Word—at this moment—and everyday of your life.

Do not doubt the Lord’s kindness to you in Jesus Christ, who on the cross shed His blood in sacrifice for you that you be found clean before the Father.  Hold as your own the forgiveness of your sins given to you in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, for there, Christ gives His true body and His true blood for you to eat and to drink for your salvation.

Believe that God is the one who absolves your sins as the pastor declares to you the forgiveness of sins as a called and ordained servant of the Word, even as we believe concerningblessing-absolution confession, that:

Confession has two parts. First, that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

On the cross, Jesus finished all that was needed for your salvation, and in Him, you are ready for His return.  Being baptized into the Name of the Triune God and believing His grace to you by such means as water and word, you are His, having been washed clean of all your sin.

Having been baptized, no longer live for yourselves, but to God—and for others, thinking not first for yourselves, but the needs of your neighbor.  Love God and love your neighbor, attend to what the Lord says and serve those in need around you.  Don’t wait for a better time.  Do it now.  Don’t wait for a later time to do what is to be done today, but do it today, while it’s still today and before the night comes (John 9:5).

Being ready for the Lord’s return does not mean doing all the right things, but believing rightly, believing rightly in Him who alone saves you from your distractions and procrastinations, from the world’s pull, and from your fleshly wants and desires.  Being ready has to do with believing He who did all the right things for you that you live, and that none of your wrong things can separate you from God (Romans 8).  Thus being reading and prepared, so you will be busy and active in love, waiting expectantly for the Lord’s return.

Being ready doesn’t mean neglecting what God would have you do, but doing it all the more zealously (2 Peter 3:10-15).

Being ready, being prepared, being watchful for the Lord’s return means being in the state of readiness, like the soldier on the battlefield or the sprinter ready to run or the family waiting for the guests to arrive at any time.

jesus-with-word-and-sacramentBeing vigilant for the Lord’s return means being serious about the Word of our Lord, clinging to Christ and Him alone for salvation, and believing God’s promises and the gifts God gives to you in Word and Sacrament.  Being ready, being in the state of readiness, has to do with resting and taking comfort in Him who is coming again, and what is ours because of Him:

We should learn to bring our eyes, our hearts, and souls to bear upon yonder life in heaven and in a lively hope await it with joy.  For if we would be Christians, the ultimate objects of our quest should not be marrying, giving in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building—activities that Christ says (Matt. 24:37ff; Luke 17:26ff.) the wicked will be engaged in especially before the Last Day.  To be sure, we, too, must use these things in order to satisfy the needs of the body.  But our ultimate quest should be something better and higher: the blessed inheritance in heaven that does not pass away.[3] 

Amen.

[1]              J.L. Neve, Churches and Sects of Christendom, (Blaire, Nebraska: Lutheran Publishing House, 1944), 461.

[2]              F.E. Mayer, Religious Bodies of America, (St. Louis: CPH, 1961), 474.

[3] Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: CPH, 1959), 619.

Saints of God

1Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

      2And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

      3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

      5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

      6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

      7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

      8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

      9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

      10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      11“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:1-12, ESV

A common misunderstanding of the word “saint” is that it only refers to someone who has already died.  Even among us, we may be more comfortable talking about the deceased as now being “saints” before God more so than any who are living.

 

In the Roman Catholic Church, the process of canonization, the road to sainthood, includes three components:

web-scroll-canonization-31 The candidate must have been dead for at least five years

2 It must be proved that the candidate lived an upright life, and

3 There must be evidence of a miracle or miracles attributed to the candidate after the candidate’s death as a

result of a specific petition to the candidate.

 

Such a process of canonization, first of all, attributes the possibility of sainthood only to the one who has already died.  This view most certainly advances the view that “saint” refers only to the deceased.

Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church necessitates a view that considers only the outward life of the individual in question.

Thirdly, because miracles must be attributed to the candidate after death, most would be excluded, especially as prayers must have been prayed to the deceased candidate prior to the miracle occurring.

The Roman Catholic teaching about sainthood is not everywhere believed or supported, especially among us, but it is a source from which many derive their understanding of sainthood.  As much as the world might want to distant themselves from the church generally, the world continues to take cues from the Catholic Church concerning what Christians believe, without making distinctions between what is true from what is false, not according to what any church body says, but according to what Holy Scripture itself teaches.

Having died, and having lived an outwardly “good” life, are two attributes that seem most to apply to that word “saint” as most understand the word.  And on this “All Saints’ Day,” such an understanding seems to continue.

The use of the term “saint” is much broader, however, and also narrower, in Holy Scripture than either the Roman Church or many inside or outside the church apply.

More broadly, in the Holy Bible, “saint” is the translation of the word for “Holy One” in the singular, or for “holy ones” in the plural (i.e. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 6:1; 14:33; Philippians 4:21; June 1:14).  The word does refer to those who have died.  It also refers to those who are still living.  The definition of “saint” as only one who has died is not the whole picture.

For the Biblical understanding of the word “saint,” we cannot exclude the living from the word’s definition.  As Scripture speaks, so must we.  This means that we also are to distinguish, more narrowly, who a saint is and what a saint does.

The world and Rome depict a “saint” as one who “had lived an upright life.”  According to this definition, a saint was a “good person.”  An “upright life,” therefore, seems to equate to “being good,” but in the sense of outward behavior, not of the inward heart; external actions and not internal motives.

Our Lord, because He judges with “righteous judgment” and “not according to appearance” (John 7:24), does not look only at what a man does.  He looks at who he is.  God sees what is in the heart.

In Matthew 15, Jesus says that “those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defsin11ile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man” (Matt. 15:18-20, NKJ).

“Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matt. 15:11, NKJ).

Broadly, the word “saint,” Biblically used, includes both the dead and the living.

Those who have “died in the Lord,” having believed in Jesus Christ as their only hope and Savior, are members of the Church Triumphant.  These are they described in this morning’s epistle as “before the throne of God, and” who “serve him day and night in his temple…  16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17).

Members of the Church Triumphant are now with the Lord awaiting the resurrection of their bodies.  They were formerly members of the Church Militant, of which we are now, as we continue to struggle in this sinful world, seeking to abide by the only Word that saves and remain in the faith of our Lord through which salvation comes.

Narrowly, the word saint applies only to those who are holy in the sight of God, and not because of what they do or have done, or how good they are or have been, as determined by the world, but who are “good in the heart” before God.

God determines and judges things differently than we and the world do.  We look at the outside of things to determine if it’s worthy of our consideration and of value in our eyes.  God, instead, “confers” worth and value upon the unworthy and to the detestable according to the eyes of the world and its inhabitants (LW 31, Heidelberg Disputation, Thesis 28).

God gives freely to the undeserving.  He is unconditional to the poor who can’t offer return.  Our Lord blesses those without merit.  He forgives the sinner and saves those who cannot at all help themselves.

Being “good in the heart” before God inwardly comes before living an “upward life” outwardly.

“Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:17-18, NKJ).

Being a saint, being a holy one, doesn’t first have to do with how you live your life before God or before others.  It first has to do with what God Himself says, not what you think about yourself.

“Judge with righteous judgment” says our Lord (John 7:24).

A saint, a holy one, is not one who thinks that he is by virtue of his goodness, worthiness, or activities, either before God or before men.  Such a one is truly a hypocrite who believes himself to be worthy of God’s favor and blessing.  None are deserving of sainthood.  Our inability to keep God’s Holy Law reveals this.

“By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20, NKJ)

A saint, therefore, is one who believes himself to be unholy, unrighteous, guilty before God’s Holy Law, condemned, and unworthy before God of anything but His wrath and righteous judgment.

Because the saint believes what God says of him, the saint finds no self-confidence of hope to stand before the sinless Judge.

Like the tax collector, the saint pleads, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk. 18:13, NKJ).

To the Word of God concerning the corruptness of his heart, the saint says, “Amen,” it is so.  I am undeserving and unworthy to be called holy.  God so declares and has so revealed.  My condition is such that it cannot be undone.  What we confess is so, “I, a poor miserable sinner…”

“There is none righteous, no, not one,” declares the Psalmist and St. Paul (Psalm 14: 1-3 & 53: 1-3; Romans 3:10).

“There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

These words we confess to be true.  And to you does our Lord now say, “You are forgiven.  I do not condemn you.  Your condemnation went on Another, on One who did not deserve to die the death that He died, on One who willingly sacrificed Himself in your stead on a wooden cross, on He whose blood cleanses you from all sin.”

Saints believe this Word of our Lord.  They believe that the righteousness reckoned to them is not their own, but Another’s—Christ’s—what we call imputed righteousness.  God calls you good because of His Son.  Jesus was, and is, Good, for you.  He is your goodness and righteousness before the Father.

Your works do not save you.  Christ’s do.  You do not merit God’s grace and favor.  It is gift, your own through faith in God’s only begotten Son.

saintsinner2You are sinner.  You are saint, righteous before God through faith in Christ.  Simul iustus et peccator, simultaneously sinner and righteous.

You have no confidence before God because of your own doing, but in Him who on the cross declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Your certainty of salvation and confidence in God lies not in your experiences in this life, but in the blessings of God, revealed in Holy Scripture, blessings which are even now yours and blessings which are sure to come, as sure as Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and will come again.

You are blessed according to the Lord’s Word, even if you don’t feel it.  Feeling and experience do not identify you as blessed.  God does.

The blessings declared by our Lord in today’s Gospel reading, often referred to as “The Beatitudes,” are not blessings bestowed upon those who “do” apart from faith, but upon those who believe the promises given apart from their works.

The one who is blessed is the one to whom the promise is given, the one who believes the promise.

So St. Paul, quoting the Psalmist, reveals that, “To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin” (Rom. 4:5-8, NKJ).

Those whose lawless deeds are forgiven are blessed, as is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.

You, too, are blessed in this way, because your lawless deeds are forgiven you, and the Lord does not count your sin against you.

This is what it means to be a saint—To have God’s pronouncement of blessing.  You do, because of—and in-Christ, your hope and your certainty.  Amen.

all-saints-2

“I have my faith”?

Therefore, having been justified by faith,

we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 5:1

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

There is much talk about faith these days. Recently, I heard one numerous times in discussion say, “I have my faith.” Yet, such talk about faith is quite vague. It seems to emphasize the “me,” of faith, and doesn’t really get to the object of the Christian faith, which is Christ.

MyFaithChristian faith doesn’t exclusively speak in the way of “me” or “my” kind of faith. Rather, Christian faith confesses Christ, front and center.

Remember the words of Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Remember the words of St. Paul, too. “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD” (1 Corinthians 1:31).

These words also apply to Christian faith, even our own faith, which is neither self-derived or self-chosen, a personal decision or a choice. Rather, the Christian faith is the God-given faith.

The Bible teaches such truth, for as Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Speaking of the flesh, St. Paul writes, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

According to God’s Holy Word, which is what the Bible is, “those who are in the flesh” are not of faith. This applies to all people, as all people are born through the womb. Naturally, such people are in need of a Savior since the Fall of AdaBorn-of-God1m and Eve (Romans 5:12). Dead in sin, from conception to physical death, a spiritual birth is needed. One must be reborn.

Such rebirth cannot and does not happen by choice or personal decision. That which is dead cannot do anything of itself. It is God, through His Holy Word, which gives life, new life, abundant life (John 6:63, 10:10). Thus do we have Christ, who speaks life, that we be born anew, even through water and word (John 3:5; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

Similar to the account of Jesus calling dead Lazarus from the tomb (John 11:38-44), so Jesus calls us from death to life by means of His Word, even His Word preached today (John 6:63). Where His Holy Word continues to be preached today, He continues to bring forth the hearers from death to life.

The preaching of Christ’s cross does not make Christians either lazy or unproductive (Ephesians 2:10, Galatians 5:6). Instead, the preaching of Christ’s cross, of His death and resurrection, enlivens true faith. Evangelicalism here gets it wrong where they empty their preaching of the Gospel and instead preach only what you must do of yourself and how to live, yet apart from faith in Christ. They also get it wrong where they emphasis personal faith over and against objective faith, which is the faith given by God through the hearing of Christ and His holy Word (Romans 10:17).

This faith, and this faith alone, that which is of God and His Son Jesus Christ, wrought by the Holy Spirit, is that faith which does not seek its own, but glories in Christ, clearly confessing Him to be Savior.

Rom01.16,4The Christian faith does just this, and unashamedly (Romans 1:16). This faith confesses Christ, giving Him and Him alone all the glory. So, more than speaking of “my faith” and taking comfort in what “I personally believe” (subjectively, as in “I have my faith”), the Christian faith speaks of Christ and what He has done for me, according to Holy Scripture. Instead of confessing, “I have my faith,” the Christian boastfully confesses in who that faith is—Christ.

My faith” does not save me. Christ does! Thanks be to God! Amen.

“For the faith that takes hold of Christ, the Son of God, and is adorned by Him is the faith that justifies, not a faith that includes love. For if faith is to be sure and firm, it must take hold of nothing but Christ alone; and in the agony and terror of conscience it has nothing else to lean on than this pearl of great value (Matt. 13:45–46). Therefore whoever takes hold of Christ by faith, no matter how terrified by the Law and oppressed by the burden of his sins he may be, has the right to boast that he is righteous. How has he this right? By that jewel, Christ, whom he possesses by faith. Our opponents fail to understand this. Therefore they reject Christ, this jewel; and in His place they put their love, which they say is a jewel. But if they do not know what faith is, it is impossible for them to have faith, much less to teach it to others. And as for what they claim to have, this is nothing but a dream, an opinion, and natural reason, but not faith.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p88-89)

Prayer: Father in heaven, give us faith which takes hold of Christ and no other. Preserve us in this faith by the means which You freely give and deliver, and keep us from despising Your free gifts of Baptism, Word, and Supper, that we remain yours, and, denying ourselves, follow you. Amen.

National Day of Prayer–Some thoughts

“The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”

Proverbs 15:29

 

In the Holy Name of the risen Christ. Amen.

NationalDayOfPrayer2According to the National Day of Prayer task force, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. It was created in 1952 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman.”

This encouragement to pray is a good thing. In fact, God commands prayer (the Second Commandment).   Not praying, therefore, is a sin. Praying for the nation in which we live is also a good thing (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Prayer for ourselves and for others, as well as for our nation, is indeed “good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” God promises to hear prayer, as revealed through the Psalmist, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15).

Thus, not only does God command prayer. He also promises to hear prayer (Read the Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer in Luther’s Large Catechism). The command and the promise of prayer move the Christian to pray, and so His people do pray, even “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Yet, the National Day of Prayer task force and the annual observance do not make the distinctions that God does. They lump people of all faiths together, as if all prayer of all people are acceptable to God, and therefore, heard by Ps1bHim.

Nevertheless, God does not hear the prayers of all people, as recorded in the Proverb text above. The Psalmist, too, exalts this truth by saying, “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6).

The righteous are they who look to God for mercy in Christ, who repent of their sin, who seek salvation from Christ alone, recognizing their dependency on the Lord for help and deliverance from sin and death. These are they who have faith, and only these have the certainty of God’s hearing and help (Hebrews 11:6; Luke 17:5-10; 1 John 5:14-15).

The wicked, however, are they who reject God’s salvation in Christ and have a different confession of faith than the faith revealed in Holy Scripture (John 8:31-32, 47; 14:23-24; 1 John 5:9-13; 2 John 1:9) . God does not hear the prayers of the unbeliever because they do not pray in faith (Romans 14:3; James 1:6).

We make such distinctions because God Himself makes such distinctions. Thus, instead of lumping all people together as having the same God, and praying to Him, we believe God’s Word and therefore, seek to speak the truth of that Word which alone converts souls from death to life.  We also humbly pray that the Lord would keep us from arrogance and pride, even as we pray for all people, our nation and ourselves, even concerning the more significant and eternal matters of God’s mercy and forgiveness through His Son, in whose Name God’s people with confidence pray.

Ruling by the Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

(John 16:33)

Supreme_Court_USThis past week, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, legalized same-sex “marriage” throughout the nation for every state. Such unions are contrary to the Word of God and therefore, are not pleasing to Him. They are unnatural and are unions against nature. This truth we must continually speak, even in the midst of growing opposition. Also, as God’s people, we must continually stand against the growing tide of compromise so readily accepted in Christendom today and speak the “whole counsel” of God (Acts 20:27).

God Himself instituted marriage, to be between man and woman, between husband and wife (Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:4-6). There is no other union acceptable to God. Thus, there is no other union acceptable to Christ’s body, the Church.Gen02,24

What does the decision of the Supreme Court mean for us?   It shouldn’t surprise us if greater difficulties and challenges arise for the faithful children of God. Despite such animosity from the world (John 15:18-19), God calls us to be faithful to His Word and to boldly confess His Name.

Note these very applicable words of our Lord Jesus. “Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33).

Confessing Christ has just to do with speaking the truth of Holy Scripture, the truth of sin and judgment, and the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness in Christ. Not all will hear and believe, to be sure, yet the Lord calls His Church to continue to call sinners to repentance.

This does include calling homosexuals to repentance. This also includes preaching the uncomfortable truth that we, with them, and all people, are deserving of God’s wrath, for “All have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death.” Here, none are excluded, and no sinner is worse than another before God.

confessSinsIt’s easy to point the finger! But God’s Holy Word also applies to you and me. Thus, humbly we speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), acknowledging that we, too, are sinners deserving of everlasting condemnation, but for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, God forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (Romans 3:21-26; 5:1-4, 8; 8:1; 1 John 1:8-10; 2:1-2).

God alone, by means of His Word, changes hearts from unbelief to belief (Romans 10:17). Yours, too!

Though the days now and ahead be and become more difficult for the church as evil and sin become more greatly accepted (i.e. Genesis 6:5, 12; 8:21; Isaiah 5:20-21), we need not fear that God will forsake us. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His mercy for you endures forever (Psalm 118). “Do not be afraid; only believe (Mark 5:36).

We know these words to be true because God sent His Son (John 3:16-21). Our Lord is faithful (2 Timothy 2:11-13. Even as He suffered, so will we, His church and His people. But we do not lose hope. Confidence in Christ is yours, for as He now lives, having conquered death itself through His own death (Romans 6:10), so do you now live unto Him! He is your peace and your confidence, even amid the growing challenges of our day.

The world will go as it will, but God’s people abide in Christ and His Word (John 8:31-32). Do not be anxious about the ways of the world. Continue to trust in God. Fail you, He will not!

“Our help is in the name of the LORD, Who made heaven and earth.”

(Psalm 124:8)

Synod president responds to SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling | LCMS News & Information

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Synod president responds to SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling | LCMS News & Information.

Whose influence?

One of the definitions of iInfluence18nfluence according to Webster’s New World Dictionary is, “the power of persons or things to affect others, seen only in its effects” (1998).

According to this definition, we all affect others, either positively or negatively, in one way or another, for good or for ill.  Perhaps we can also affect others in such a way that the other doesn’t act or react, too, to our “influence.”  Regardless, like the falling dominoes, what we do (or don’t do) impacts others.

The concern for influencing others (and how) is a concern for the Christian.  According to God’s Word, Christians want others to believe in Christ.  We can’t force another to believe, but we do want to live according to God’s Word, loving others, and hope also that those who see how we live and love will have a yearning for Christ and His blessed peace.

However, placing emphasis on our influence and what we do, while assuming the influence of our Savior and the Gospel to affect true change (in ourselves or others)Influence15 essentially lays the burden upon us, and demonstrates, not faithfulness to our Lord, but a failure to believe in the Lord’s Word and promise of forgiveness, drawing attention away from the Lord who bought us (1 Peter 1:17-19)[1].

In effect, to speak about our influence(s) upon others, without also referencing our sinfulness before God and our need for salvation in Christ (and sanctification), is to speak outside of the Christian faith and to emphasize piety over grace and our work over Christ’s work.

Consider the following statement and questions from a letter I received from a popular Christian ministry (name to follow, dated May 2013), and whose theology I presume many adhere too…

The letter begins, “As time goes by, (1) do you ever think about the influence you have on those around you?  (2) Do you wonder if you are making a difference in the lives of those you love or (3) if you are accomplishing anything of lasting significance?”

Red Flag8Immediately reading these words, for me, red flags go up.  I answer yes to the first (1) question, specifically, for as a husband and parent, I am concerned about the effects of my words and actions to them, and others, too.  As a pastor, I also answer in the affirmative, as I desire that my words and actions model Christ, and that through me, by God’s grace, the members of my congregation and those in my community (and more broadly still) are somehow encouraged to not only do what is right and pleasing to God, but also to believe in Him for their salvation.

With reference to the second (2) question, however, I honestly don’t have to wonder if I am making a difference in the lives of those I love.  I know I am, though not always in a positive way.  Where I speak and do (or don’t do) in a sinful way and not  according to God’s will and Word, I repent.  I try to do better, but according to God’s standards (i.e. Ten Commandments, Exodus 20; see also Matthew 5:13-27), I am WOEFULLY short.  I fail.  I fall.  My influence, except by God’s grace and HIS influence (not mine), is worth little (see Philippians 3:7-11)[2].  By myself, I am nothing (Romans 7:14-25)[3].  And far from pure pessimism, this is simply the truth according to God’s revelation, Holy Scripture (see also Genesis 6:6; 8:21; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3; etc.).  In light of these, my influence on others is not at all comparative to God’s Word of Judgment and Promise.  His influence is eternal.  Mine is only temporary.  Thus, do I seek, by God’s unmerited favor and grace, to point to Him and to Him alone (i.e. Galatians 6:14)[4].  I don’t want the attention and influence to be on me, but on Christ alone.  He’s worthy of that honor, and not me or you.

Thus, my influeBoast in the Lordnce on others is really, not the concern.  Rather, the concern is continuing in the love of God in Christ (faith) and loving neighbor (works), Matthew 22:37-40[5] (see also Romans 13:10).  Any influence, apart from Christ and His Word, is not lasting.  Only God’s Word and work is eternal (1 Peter 1:25)[6].  HIS work is what matters, not mine.  This is why questions about my or our influence upon others, as deceivingly worthwhile as they might appear, and as pious and well-meaning as they might sound, are really the wrong focus, as the focus becomes them and not on repentance and hope in Jesus.  If the focus is upon us and our influence, then the focus is not on Christ’s and His Word.  Also, focus upon ourselves and our own influence only caters to our sinful human nature that we self-improve (to feel better about ourselves) and not to genuine repentance and the faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)[7].

The third (3) question, do you wonder “if you are accomplishing anything of lasting significance” has been addressed above.  Honestly, I do wonder about this at times, and struggle with it, too, but in the end, my significance will not last.  Would I like a name for myself and for people to remember me?  Yes, I would.  However, if anyone only remembers me for me, then it really amounts to nothing.  Again, Christ is what matters, not me.

This is why I find letters as the one this blog is addressing so troublesome, especially as it is from a fairly well-known preacher and ministry, In Touch with Charles Stanley (www.intouch.org/). Instead of focusing on Christ alone, he draws attention away from Christ and places that attention on sinners, who, by nature, sin, and cannot and do not do otherwise.  This doesn’t mean that Stanley and In Touch ministries have little or no value, or that they don’t speak the truth at all.  But such distinctions between truth and error concerning God’s Word and doctrine continue to be necessary.  As we live in a fallen world, and as sinners, we can’t just assume the Gospel, but must proclaim it, for only the Gospel, the Good News of sins forgiven in Christ, is the message of salvation.  Instead of turning inward and to ourselves for certainty and confidence before God, God gives you Christ and says, “Look to Him alone for your help and salvation” (i.e. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5-6).[8]

Instead of on sinners, the confidence of the Christian is Christ and Christ alone.  Instead of placing emphasis on our own works and our own influence, Christ is the emphasis, for only through Him do we have true hope and genuine peace with God.

I understand that this is not a popular message, even among Christians today.  And I would assume that such proclamation of Christ would be deemed as heresy in many a congregation, too, as it does not focus on us and our doing.

But search the SIsaiah 53criptures (John 5:39)[9], and you’ll find that they’re not really about us improving ourselves or our influence on others.  Instead, you’ll find that the Bible is God’s revelation of His salvation of real sinners (i.e. you) by a real Savior (Jesus), born on Christmas Day (though not December 25 when the Church celebrates the incarnation of our Lord), God in the flesh (John 1:14)[10], “who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:25) [Reflect also on Luke 24:44-47 & John 20:30-31]  Our lives, too, are not about us, as much as we might think that they are.

In conclusion, consider upon whom Stanley places the emphasis, whether on you, the sinner, or on Christ, the Savior, by how he summarizes what “matters.”

In summarizing what “matters,” Stanley does rightly say, “It doesn’t matter how much you own, who seeks your counsel, the power you wield, the honors you’ve earned, or the number of people who know your name.”  Regrettably, though, he does say, “What matters is the love and obedience you have for God” (emphasis mine).  Yet what of God’s grace and mercy in Christ?  Where is Christ in Stanley’s answer and summary of what matters?  Is God’s unmerited favor and boundless kindness dependent upon our love and our obedience that we have for God?  If it is, then woe to us, for then, we are still in our sin.

Thanks be to God that your confidence[11] and mine is not at all dependent on you or your works[12] or my own, or your influence on others (good or bad), but on Christ, upon whom the Father declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17)!


[1] “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” [Note that Peter does not discount the necessity of good works, but these are distinguished from God’s work in Christ (and death), which alone is the means of our redemption] (All Scripture quotations are from the NKJV)

[2] “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” [Whose “influence” is greater here?  Who alone provides the help and salvation we so desperately]

[3] “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

[4] “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

[5] “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

[6] “But the word of the LORD endures forever.”

[7] “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” [Note: Attention given to the “great cloud of witnesses” was not made in order to move Christians to have greater influence on others, but rather, that they, too, focus on Jesus and not on their own works.]

[8] John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”

Acts 4:12 “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

1 Timothy 2:5-6 “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all…”

[9] “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

[10] “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

[11] Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

[12] Galatians 3:9-14 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘the man who does them shall live by them.’ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

 

 

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