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And all the brethren who are with me.  To the churches of Galatia.

Galatians 1:2

In the ecumenical/universal creeds of Christendom, Christians everywhere confess faith in “the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints” (Apostles’ Creed) and “in one holy Christian and apostolic church” (Nicene Creed).

This same Church that Christians confess, on the one hand, consists only of those who have faith in Jesus Christ.  NonChristians and unbelievers are not members of this church.  They may be members of congregations and churchly organizations, but this kind of membership does not translate into membership into the communion of saints.  Not every member who attends church on Sunday morning or who retains membership in a congregation is Christian.

A Christian believes in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  A Christian repents of sin.  A Christian is sorry for the sins committed against God and neighbor.  Only those who, confessing their sins, believe God’s promises in Christ, are members of the one true Church.  This is so only because of Jesus, and not because of how much external change we can see or evaluate.  Membership in the holy Christian Church is one of faith, not sight.

The Holy Christian Church consists of the saints still living who “call upon the Name of the Lord” (Romans 10:9).  It also consists of those who have died having faith in the Lord.  These faithful are also members of the Holy Church (not the Roman Catholic church), again, not because of all the good that they did, but because of Jesus.  They looked to Him for salvation and not to themselves.  They sought to be rid of their sin and the godlessness within themselves and the world.  They looked toward their heavenly home, prepared for all who wait upon the Lord.

Such a confession of membership in the Holy Christian Church and the Communion of Saints is not at all meaningless.  The Christian is confident that such a church exists on account of God’s Word.  This confidence leads to firm and bold confession of Christ and His Holy Name.  And that the Christian remain in this heavenly fellowship, God has given His Word and the Holy Sacraments.  He has given His Word that we readily hear and receive it, not doubting, but firmly believing the promises given.  The Lord has also gives His own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.

Luther

The Church is universal throughout the world, wherever the Gospel of God and the sacraments are present.  The Jews, the Turks, and the fanatics are not the church, because they oppose and deny these things (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p25-26).

Prayer: Gracious God, you have brought us into fellowship with You through the blessed death of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Give us faith in Your promises, that we not doubt, but confidently take You at Your Word.  Keep us in this faith, gladly hearing Your Word, remembering our baptism, and partaking of Christ’s body and blood, that we remain Your holy people and not be led astray by the temptations of our own hearts, the world, or the devil.  Amen.

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Certainty in Christ!

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me

Galatians 1:1-2

Certainty is a blessed thing.  St. John writes, “If our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:21).  Such confidence before God you find in Jesus, not in yourself.  Of course, some exist who try to find surety in themselves or in other things other than God’s Son.  And for a time, that surety may remain, but then it is soon taken away in a blink of eye, a fleeting thought, always temporary and not lasting.

Confidence in self or man-made things, teachings, activities, etc. do not give lasting confidence before God.  But the work and word of Christ do give such confidence, such hope—the hope that cannot be ungiven or undone, for Jesus Christ died and is alive forevermore (Revelation 1:18).  The word and Word of Christ cannot be undone.  It is already.  And it’s for you.

Nothing surpasses the certainty of God’s favor in Christ Jesus.

So St. Paul writes, “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” (Philippians 3:7-11).

Such certainty Paul had because of Jesus.  Such certainty also do you have—in Jesus.

And such certainty does the Lord give by means of His  faithfully preached Word, that you also continue in such certainty—that you continue in Christ.  Amen.

Luther

Therefore let the preacher of the Gospel be sure that his calling is from God.  It is perfectly proper that he should follow Paul’s example and exalt this calling of his, so that he may gain credence and authority among the people.  To glory this way is not vain but necessary; for he does not glory in himself but in the king who has sent him and whose authority he seeks to have honored and elevated. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p16)

Prayer: Dear Lord, bless our pastor with faithfulness to Your Holy Word, and give us ears to hear, that we, too, would have such confidence as You Yourself give in Your Word, and have such certainty of your favor and kindness toward us on account of Jesus Your Son.  Amen.

Preachers and Preaching…

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me

Galatians 1:1-2

What’s so important about Paul, or the disciples, or preachers who claim that they are “called and ordained servants of the Word?”  Why ought we to hear them and their words as they speak God’s Word to us?  Because they speak their own word?  Are we to listen to them simply because they say that we should, on account of their dynamism, their charisma, their “flare” in the pulpit, because they’re easy to listen to?

In Luke 10, our Lord Jesus says, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).  Jesus says these words to His disciples.  As they speak His Word, those who hear are hearing God’s Word and not the Word of man.  Not hearing this word, however, is not only rejecting the Word which Christ sent the preachers to preach, but is, in truth, rejecting Christ.

We, however, don’t like to hear these words of our Lord.  If it was the Lord’s Word that the pastor was speaking, and if the Lord had truly sent him, where is the charisma?  Where is the Spirit empowering the preacher to be such a preacher that all eyes are on him, all ears attentive to every word that he speaks, and every word flowing from his mouth seems ‘heaven sent.’

What we often find seems to be just the opposite!  The pastor lacks charisma.  He’s not a Tony Robbins or another motivational speaker.  The sermon might sound unstructured and sometimes seem to have little point.

In essence, the pastor and the words that he preaches appear so ordinary, so ‘ho-hum,’ that for those seeking something else, they become quite dissatisfied, cast stones at the preacher, and question whether God is really and truly present.

The test of a Godly sent preacher, however, is NOT his dynamism, charisma, delivery, or style of sermon.  Those who look for such things will largely not only be disappointed, but are judging things by their own standards and not according to God’s Word.

The test of a Godly preacher is one who preaches the Word—not just one who says that he (not she) does, but one who actually does, distinguishing and preaching Law and Gospel.  Evaluations of performance in the secular world are one thing.  But evaluating a preacher and His words are to be done differently than in the secular world—not according to what or how we want to hear, but according to what God has already revealed in His Word.  And where a preacher preaches faithfully according to the Word, there is where we ought to be when the Word of God (not man) is preached.  Those who keep themselves away are very close to despising “preaching and God’s Word” (Explanation to the Third Commandment, Luther’s Small Catechism).

Luther

In these first two chapters (Paul) does almost nothing else but sent forth his calling, his ministry, and his Gospel.  He affirms that it was not from men; that he had not received it from men but from the revelation of Jesus Christ; and that if he or an angel from heaven were to bring any gospel other than that which he had preached, he should be accursed. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p16)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us faithful preachers who preach nothing but your Holy Word.  Grant us discernment that we might resist the temptation to despise our pastor and his word because of how he preaches, and rather, that we hear him as he rightly is—your messenger and servant who proclaims salvation through Christ Jesus alone.  Amen.

Feelings…Nothing but feelings…Hope in the other

The following is from: Memorial Moment, smurray@mlchouston.org

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Romans 5:1-8

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)

Hope in the Other

Wednesday of Pentecost 16

15 September 2010

We are a people obsessed with our feelings. One of the standard greetings we use is: “How are you feeling?” This is a sign of the self-centeredness of humans after the fall. We spend a lot of time considering how we feel. Despite all our efforts to feel good, we always fail to reach the nirvana of feeling really good. In fact, some of our efforts to improve how we feel fall into painful pitfalls. Witness the number of people who have fallen into drug or alcohol addiction, sexual license, or vocationally unproductive lives. We’re told by the cultural elites: “If it feels good, do it.” The modern offense industry is indicative of this preoccupation with feelings. If anyone is in the least bit offended or made to feel bad by us, even by an unintentional and inadvertent word or action, we have committed the ultimate sin. If you make me feel bad for any reason, you are a satanic being.

Satan can use this feeling focus to get us set off the track of our true hope in Christ. It is easy to feel our sin. Our sin first and primarily is sin against God Himself and then also against our brother and community. When we do something that is an offense against God, we feel the crushing load of His wrath. That is a real thing. We truly ought to feel this way when we are faced with the holiness of God in comparison to our filthy sin. The work of Christ calls us beyond feeling, as real as it might seem. How freeing it is to know that we can be taken beyond our often roiled emotions. We feel our sin. We feel the wrath of God. We presume then that if we feel these trials in our hearts, we should also feel in our hearts the salvation that God has promised us in Christ. The problem with this view is that we are solving the feeling problem with another feeling. This is a solution that is simply a bigger problem.
We certainly have a growing hope in what is promised by God, but it is a hope in something entirely outside of us. The work of Christ, done in time, is that in which we have hope. Our righteousness is not dependent on a feeling, but dependent on something so much more certain and unchangeable: the person and work of Christ. We should not substitute one feeling for another, but substitute Christ who is not visible to us nor experienced outwardly by us for our faulty feelings. We need to have our pastor or Christian brother or sister take us aside and point us what is certain: the cross of Christ, what is greater than our hearts: “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (1Jn 3:20). The substance of what is hoped is far superior to the hope itself. Our hope is in a righteousness that cannot yet be called our condition. And so it is not the mirror image or analog of our sin. It is something entirely other, because it comes from the Other and it consists in the Other: Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Martin Luther

“As long as we live, sin still clings to our flesh; the law remains in our flesh and members battling with the law of our mind and making us captive to sinful compliance (Rm 7:23). While these passions of the flesh are raging and we, by the Spirit, are struggling against them, the location of hope remains elsewhere. We have indeed begun to be justified by faith, by which we have also received the first fruits of the Spirit; and the mortification of our flesh has begun. But we are not yet perfectly righteous. It remains for us yet to be perfectly justified and this is what we hope for. Thus our righteousness is not in our condition, but it is as yet in hope (Gal 5:5).
“This is the greatest and sweetest comfort by which to bring wonderful encouragement to minds afflicted and disturbed with a sense of sin and afraid of absolutely every flaming dart of the devil (Eph 6:16). For as we who teach know from our own experience, in such a struggle of conscience the sense of sin, of the wrath of God, of death, of hell, and of every terror holds powerful sway. One must say to the one who is suffering a trial: ‘Brother, you want to have a righteousness that you experience; that is, you want to feel your righteousness in the same way you feel your sin. This will not happen. But your righteousness must transcend your feeling of sin and you must hope that you are righteous in the presence of God. That is, your righteousness is not visible, and it is not experienced; but it is hoped for as something to be revealed in due time. Therefore you must not judge on the basis of your experience of sin, which terrifies and troubles you, but according the promise and doctrine of faith, by which Christ is promised to you, who is your perfect and eternal righteousness.’ Thus in the midst of fears and of the experience of sin my hope-that is, my feeling of hope-is aroused and strengthened by faith, so that it hopes that I am righteous. Consequently, hope that is, the thing hoped for-hopes that what it does not yet see will be made perfect and will be revealed in due time.”

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.


Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, my hope is weak and imperfect. It is plagued by fear of my weakness and Your wrath. Through Your divine speech turn me out of myself to You alone, that when I look beyond my feelings I might see only You. Keep the substance of what I hope for Your righteousness. Grant the church pastors and teachers who will direct those struggling with their weakness to Your cross alone. Amen.

For the Council of Presidents of the LCMS, that they might be signs of the divine righteousness in the world

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me

Galatians 1:1-2

The above words of Paul, written by Paul himself (Galatians 6:11), reflect what might seem to us to be at least a little arrogant.  Here, Paul is claiming to be called by God.  In essence, he’s claiming that His authority is not his own—that he’s not an apostle of himself—that what he writes and proclaims is in fact true.
Such apparent arrogance may remind us of those who claim a calling for themselves, but really don’t have one and only serve themselves and their own ego, not others.  And certainly there are enough of these to go around.

But Paul’s apostleship and his authority serve a far different purpose than those who seek to lift themselves up above others.  Paul seeks to serve Christ.  And in doing so, he proclaims the Word of the Lord.  He doesn’t seek to make a name for himself.  Nor does he seek to force anyone to believe his word.  Paul here is simply declaring what is true, that the hearers (readers) take him at his word and hear what he has to say—not because Paul says it, but because God has called Paul to so speak.

In a similar way, preachers today are seen as arrogant and prideful when they claim to have God’s authority to preach and teach.  But listen to what they say.  Do they say what God says in His Word, or do they say something else?  Should they say what God says, then him you are to hear, for our Lord Jesus says, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).

Therefore is it necessary to distinguish the true preacher (God’s called and ordained servant) from the false preacher (who is not called of God and serves himself and the devil).  Only the true preacher preaches rightly, calling to repentance and preaching Christ.  The false preacher preaches works for salvation and not the truth.  Those who do not differentiate between the two not only lack discernment in things spiritual, but are indicating to God that He and His Holy Word don’t really matter.

Luther

In opposition to (this) boasting of the false apostles Paul boldly and with great (openness) pits his apostolic authority, commends his calling, and defends his ministry.  Although he does not do this anywhere else, he refuses to yield to anyone, even to the apostles themselves, much less to any of their pupils. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p15)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are faithful to Your Word and send preachers to declare it, that I repent and believe in Your Son, Jesus Christ.  Help me to discern truth from error, that I not be tempted away from Your Word and life everlasting, but remain in You alone.  Give me confidence in Your promises and send Your Word throughout the world that it may take effect as You so desire.  Amen.

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ…

Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me

Galatians 1:1-2

The word Gospel comes from the Greek word, euangelion.  A literal translation reads, good-message; good news-Gospel.  This word is used to mean many things today, but its technical and proper meaning is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, sins forgiven on account of Jesus’ death on the cross.  The Gospel of our Lord means that God’s wrath and condemnation because of your sin is no more towards you—all because of Jesus.

The Gospel is the declaration and pronouncement that your sins, in Christ, are forgiven.  Therefore, Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar are Gospel, because by these means, God gives you forgiveness.

These very gifts, indeed, the Gospel itself, as defined here, is opposed to the ways of the world, for Gospel is free gift.  We want to earn—we want to do.  But the way of the Gospel, the way of our Lord, is the way of giving, giving to those who don’t deserve, who don’t do, who don’t earn, and who don’t merit.

This is why we have such a tough time with the Gospel.  We’re conditionally oriented.  I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.  This is not the way of our Lord.  God’s love in Jesus Christ is unconditional.  This is why God’s grace is amazing.  His love for you extends beyond your ‘what-ifs’ and ‘have-dones.’

Those who desire God to be conditional toward them because of how hard they try, what they do, etc. will certainly have that desire fulfilled.  They will get what they deserve—hell and eternal judgment.  But those who seek Christ and believe in Him for their salvation, gladly taking what God freely gives, even His Holy Word, these will find God’s unconditional love to be their salvation, their hope, and their joy.  They will not get what they deserve.  They will inherit eternal life.  Amen.

Luther

The Gospel is a doctrine that teaches something far more sublime than the wisdom, righteousness, and religion of the world.  It leaves these things at their proper level and commends them as good creatures of God.  But the world prefers these creatures to the Creator.  Finally, through them it wants to abolish sin, to be delivered from death, and to merit eternal life.  This the Gospel condemns.  But the world cannot bear the condemnation of that which it regards as best.  Therefore it charges the Gospel with being seditious and erroneous doctrine that subverts commonwealths, principalities, kingdoms, empires, and religions;  it accuses the Gospel of sinning against God and Caesar, of abrogating laws, of subverting morality, and of granting men the license to do with impunity whatever they please.  With righteous zeal, therefore, and with the appearance of high service to God (John 16:2), the world persecutes this doctrine and despises its teachers and followers as the greatest plague there can be on earth. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p13)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me not take for granted your unconditional love for a sinner such as I.  I have not kept your word.  I have neglected your commandments and done what is according to my will, not yours.  Forgive me for assuming that your favor towards me is founded on me and not on Christ.  Lead me to a right understanding and faith in the Gospel, Your Gospel, Your Son Jesus Christ.  And help me so to live.  Amen.

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