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

 

Daily Prayer, Early Evening LSB 297

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Rise Up and Build? Build what?

RU&BHave you seen advertisements like this before?  Some of the wording about the conference, which I recently received in my email, follows:

“Has God placed a vision on the heart of your church or Christian school to reach out in new ways and expand ministry opportunities to your community and beyond?”

“Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?”

“If so, this seminar will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith.”

Quoted (in part) on their web page is Nehemiah 2:8, 18: “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests…And they said, “Let us rise up and build”.

Since this conference advertisement quotes the Bible, it is necessary to try to understand how the passages used are to be understood according to their context in Scripture, and then compare the actual scriptural use of the passage with the how the words are used to raise interest in this conference, “Rise up.”

Very briefly, the Old Testament book of Nehemiah concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s city walls and the reform (repentance) of the people of Jerusalem.  The city walls had been in disarray since the Babylonia Captivity, [1] and this demonstrated the neglect of the city where God’s temple was, neglect for the temple, and the state of affairs between God’s people and their Lord.  God had punished His wayward people by exile due to their apostasy and waywardness, yet by His grace, He would bring them again to Himself.

The words of Nehemiah 2 (v8), quoted above, refer to the request of Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes concerning materials and the building of the city walls (2:1-8).

The “Let us rise up and build” of verse 18 is the response of the city officials to Nehemiah after he had examined the condition of the city walls himself and said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me” (v17-18).

Essential to note concerning Nehemiah’s motive and God’s gracious hand concerning the “building project” are both the report of Jerusalem and the people living there (Nehemiah 1:1-3) and Nehemiah’s response and prayer.

When Nehemiah heard the news about the condition of Jerusalem and the people, he “sat down and wept.”  He also “mourned and fasted and prayed.”  In his prayer, Nehemiah said:

“I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; ‘but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’ Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:5-11, NKJ)

Notice the bold face words in Nehemiah’s prayer?  These are telling, because Nehemiah is calling on God to do as He had promised.  He is calling on God to fulfill His Word of mercy (i.e. Leviticus 26 (40-45).  Additionally, and not at all to be ignored, is the humble and repentant heart of Nehemiah, demonstrated by his words.  He recalls why the people of God suffered exile and the reason for the city’s condition—because of their sinfulness (i.e. Leviticus 26 (14-39)).

Nehemiah confesses His sin to God, and the sin of Israel, and asks for God’s mercy and help. These are not at all to be ignored with reference to the passages, Nehemiah 2:8 and 18, quoted on the “Rise Up” conference website.  They draw attention to two essential elements, which, if removed, misapply scripture and attempt to make God’s Word say something which it in truth does not.

The two elements are just those stated: confession & repentance (faith), and the word & promise of God.  In his prayer and by his request, Nehemiah was seeking for the Lord to fulfill His Word.  He wasn’t asking for something that he simply wanted personally, dreamed up, or envisioned.  Rather, Nehemiah’s motive and prayer had as their basis, foundation, and directive the very Word of God.

This truth is an imperative that cannot be removed from any discussion (or conference) concerning any “vision of your heart,” reaching out “in new ways,” or “expanding ministry opportunities.”  Nor should the Bible be used to say something that it doesn’t.

This conference, “Rise up,” may already be suspect, at least from the questions raised, and in relation to the Scripture used.  In context, Nehemiah is not about his “vision,” “new ways,” or “expanding.”  Instead, Nehemiah seeks to do according to God’s mercy.  And initially, he rightly confesses his sin and the sins of God’s people.  He seeks God’s mercy concerning himself, God’s people, and the work that he desires to do.  Also, initially and throughout, God’s Word and promise alone guide Nehemiah.  He recalls God’s promise and Word, and directs God to do what He has already spoken and according to what He has already said.

In contrast, the questions used on the web site about the “Rise Up” conference direct, not to God and His Word, but to self.  The word, “vision,” remaining undefined, could mean anything, and though reference is made to God placing it, any such vision, if it is of God, finds its sole foundation in the Holy Scriptures.  Yet, reaching “out in new ways” and expanding “ministry opportunities” is not something that God has promised or commanded.  Rather, God would have His people not be ashamed of him and confess His name (not ashamed–2 Timothy 1:8; 1 Peter 3:15-16; 4:16-17; confess– Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:8-13; 15:9; 1 Timothy 6:12).  These characteristics have God’s approval, yet our “visions” do not.

Trust in God’s Word is what God calls us to be about doing (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 3:5-6; John 6:29; 14:6).  Concerning “new ways” of reaching out, these might be new, but in the sense that God opens our blind eyes to His ways and work, that we make use of the time that He has given according to His Word and will (the latter we only know from the former) within the callings that He has already given (1 Corinthians 1:26; 7:20).

Similarly “expanding ministry opportunities” doesn’t have to do with us doing it, but God “opening the doors” (Colossians 4:3) for us and using us as He will.  The challenge, though, is that we don’t always believe, act, and do according to the will of our Lord, because of our sinfulness (Thus is the Christian always and constantly in the state of repentance, denying self, and turning to God for mercy in Christ, like Nehemiah before us).  Yet God continues to use us and work through us, too, according to His grace and mercy.

Additionally, St. Paul writes:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-11).

That foundation and the building of which Paul speaks is not man’s doing, but God’s, and again, according to His Word (see Matthew 7:24-27), and not all apart from it or conditional on man and his ways.

As to the question about “your facility limiting your ability to accomplish” your “vision,” this too is founded on the precepts of man.  For one thing, man’s facilities are gifts of God, and to be used for His purposes, not ours.  And as mentioned before, “your” vision is to be tested only by and according to the Word.  Thus, if your “vision” is of God, then it’s not yours at all, but God’s.

The question, “Is your facility limiting your ability to accomplish that vision?” is the wrong question, as is the first, for it (and the other) places the emphasis on you, the sinner, and not on God the Giver and Savior.  It also assumes that any change can (and should?) be affected by you.  The questions do not call for repentance from sin (individual and corporate) and assume that any personal “vision” is already godly in nature and not all misdirected.

For these reasons, such a conference (see here for more information) may just be contrary to the very will of God for His people, for God calls His people and church to be faithful to Him and to His Word (Revelation 2:10, to the Church in Smyrna), and in doing so, will speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and preach His name:

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, NKJ)

Lastly, for the present, the intended result of the conference, “will encourage you to apply the determination and courage of Nehemiah and step out in faith,” also is misdirected.  First of all, the “determination and courage of Nehemiah” cannot be ours, because it was his.  Thus, the wording is at minimum, incorrect.  Secondly, who applies that which is of Nehemiah (the determination and courage)?  You do, not God.  And thirdly, the word faith is undefined.  Faith can mean any number of things, and correlated with “vision,” the word may not at all be that which Jesus and Paul speak of, that is, the God-given faith of Christianity according to the very Word of Holy Scripture.  Many, for example, speak of believing, yet such believing is not of God unless it be according God’s Word, centered on Jesus Christ.

Some will likely read this and consider these concerns about such a conference as miniscule and “making mountains out of mole hills.”  After all, shouldn’t Christians be about spreading the Gospel and “reaching people for Christ?”  Yes, indeed!  Yet the church doesn’t need such conferences to do this.  Instead, God calls His church to repent of her selfishness and to speak His truth, not according to our “vision,” but according to His Word, not only for herself, but for others, that they “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  This happens as God’s people, moved by God with repentant faith, believe, speak, and live according to His Word.

For the Sake of Christ’s Commission-Evangelism & Church Growth

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE1, 2011

The Not-So-Great Commission, IE2, 2011

VOCATION AND EVANGELISM.Pless


[1] Nehemiah 1:1-4: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (NKJ)

The Prayer of the Christian

    [23] And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.”  [24] Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:23-24 (ESV)

The life of the Christian is one of prayer, prayer to Him who alone hears, answers, and gives according to His good and gracious will.  This One who hears is none other than the Triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All other so called ‘gods’ are false gods, and not the true God.  And false gods are only idols, the work of men’s hands.  And as the Psalmist says, They have ears, but they do not hear and those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them (Psalm 115:6, 8).  They cannot nor do they deliver in times of trouble.  But the true God, the God who graciously saves, abundantly delivers, and readily hears, this One does, as our Lord declares through the Psalmist, Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me (Psalm 50:15).

To this One do we pray.  And our prayers He hears, for the sake of His Son.  The God who delivers in the day of trouble, this is our God, He who sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  This is He who says, Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).  To He alone do we offer our petitions, ‘praise, and give thanks’ (Small Catechism, Explanation to 3rd Commandment), for by His grace, we have come to know Him for who He is – our Savior who delivers from sin and gives unto us eternal life.  We have come to know that even though He seems to be silent to our prayers and our requests, He yet hears every word.  With confidence does the Christian pray, confidence in the Lord’s promise that He will hear, and that He will answer, in His own time and in His own way.  Thus does the Christian pray to the Lord, Thy will be done, Thy will and not mine.

According to God’s Holy Word, the prayer which is prayed in faith will be heard.  Jesus says, Ask and it will be given to you (Matthew 7:7).  In another place, He says, What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  “Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?  “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11).

Yes indeed!  How much more does our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him.  Much more does He give, because of who He is.  He promises to hear His people because He promises to do so.  And in His promise, His people place their confidence, hope, and trust, and not in their own righteousness, goodness, or piety.

In pride and self-glory we do not come before God.  Those in their arrogance who come before God He does not hear.  They come in their own righteousness.  God’s help they do not truly seek, for if they truly sought help from the Lord, they would not demand from God, but humbly ask of Him, leaving the outcome and the answer to Him.

They who ask of God, dependent on God’s reply and answer, trusting not in themselves or the worthiness of their prayer, but entrusting themselves into God’s care, believing His Holy Word and in Christ His Son, these He certainly does and will hear.  But this kind of faith and commendation into the Lord’s hands and will is not inborn within us or natural to us.  It is God given, not according to our nature, but according to His gift.  By the hearing of His Holy Word, God gives this kind of faith (Romans 10:17).  And by the hearing of His Holy Word do we battle within ourselves against doubt and unbelief in God’s promises, that we not demand of God according to our will, but that He answer according to His.

Concerning wisdom, St. James writes, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:5-8).

This word certainly applies for asking in prayer for wisdom.  But also does it apply concerning prayer in general.  The prayer of doubt is not really prayer at all.  Thus do we not pray in such a way that we say, ‘Lord, if you hear’ or ‘Lord, if you help’ or ‘Lord, if you answer.’  This is not prayer.  It’s a wish, a wish that demonstrates little confidence and assurance in God and His Word at all, but is really a sign of unbelief.

God’ Word is not uncertain.  His promises are not a possibility, probability, or accidental.  God’s promises are certain and true because it is God who gives them.  Adding an ‘if’ to what God promises is to disbelieve God.  But the confidence God gives unto us that He hears the prayer of faith is His Holy Word.  Throughout the Holy Scriptures, example after example abounds of God answering prayer, that we believe and have confidence in God, who for Christ’s sake, hears our prayers.

The man in today’s Gospel reading from St. Mark is such an example.  So is the woman who asked the Lord to cast the demon out of her daughter, even when Jesus had replied, It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs (Mark 7:27).  But to Him the woman replied, Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28).  In agreement with the Lord, she confessed the same and was willing to take what the Lord would give.  She trusted in His kindness and believed His Word, and her daughter was delivered.

So also did blind men receive their sight; the lame walked, lepers were cleansed (Luke 7:22).  These had asked our Lord in faith for help, to have mercy upon them, and to hear them, and He did.  And so also does our Lord help us in our needs, giving faith to trust in Him and confidence in His Holy Word, leaving the outcome to Him and waiting on Him for answer.

The Bible says that The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much (James 5:16).  This is true.  And one is a righteous man who believes in Christ, in Christ whose righteousness covers his own unrighteousness. It is this way with us.  Christ’s righteousness covers our own unrighteousness.  His sinless life covers our sinful life.    Through Christ, therefore, does the Christian pray.  And that prayer is heard.

Therefore are our prayers not in vain.  Nor are they useless.  Prayer is not a worthless activity.  It is the diligent and continual exercise of God’s people, God’s people who live by faith in God’s Son.  Prayer is spoken with the mouth, but is also prayed within the heart that trusts in Christ for help and deliverance and gives Him the glory.

It is on account of Christ that our prayers are heard.  This is because our boldness and confidence to ask of God is not founded on the one who asks, but on Him who is prayed to; on Him who commands us to pray and who promises to hear.  According to His Word do we pray and according to His Word do we believe He hears and answers.

Note how the writer to the Hebrews prefaces these words, Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).  Just before he speaks of Jesus when he writes, Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14-15).

Jesus, though tempted as we are, was without sin.  He sympathizes with our weakness and is able to aid those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18).  He is our High Priest who offered Himself once and for all on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10).  And because He has, Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  And in Christ is where God’s mercy is found.

In yet another place, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of having a boldness by the blood of Jesus, our High Priest, saying, Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:22-23).

This is how we know that God hears and answers our prayer – on account of Christ.  Believing in Him for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is faith, a faith not born of man, but the faith born of water and Word, God’s Word, the faith which trusts not in one’s own piety, strength, or worthiness to come to God in prayer for help in time of need, but trusts in Him who, by His grace, for Christ’s sake, promises to hear and answer.

Thus do we see the father in the Gospel text this morning, praying in such a way that even in his own faith he does not trust, but in Him to whom He asks for His son’s deliverance.  Therefore, did the father pray, I believe; help my unbelief!

Oh for such a faith as this, that takes no confidence and assurance in the strength of one’s faith, but even acknowledges its disbelief and doubt before God who alone can help.  This is true despair of oneself, that one throw himself fully upon God’s mercy, resting upon nothing within, but hoping on everything from without, upon Christ.

And to this one, Christ and God hears and answers.  Thus, do we also pray, with Christ’s disciples elsewhere, Increase our faith (Luke 17:5).  And He does.  Forgiveness into our ears does He proclaim.  Christ’s body and blood does the Lord give in bread and wine.  And to our Baptism does our Lord direct us, For as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

This newness of life is one born of water and the spirit (John 3:5-6).  It is the life of faith, faith in God’s Word and trust in His promises.  For Christ’s sake does God our Father hear us.  And increase our faith He does.  Ourselves we do not trust, neither the strength of our faith or the greatness of our prayer

 

 

 

Jesus’ Temptation & Our Own

[12] The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.   [13] And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Mark 1:12-13 (ESV)

 Even Jesus wasn’t free from temptation, temptation being that which would lead to sin against God and away from God if given into.  Immediately following His baptism by St. John the Baptist, as according to Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for forty days where He was tempted by Satan himself.  No figure of speech here is meant by that name Satan.  The Satan here means none other than the devil himself, the same devil who was thrown out of heaven because he wanted to be like God (Revelation 12:7-9).  This is the same devil who as a serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted Eve, the woman formed from the rib of the first man Adam, to eat of the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:21-23; 3:1-6).  This is that same Satan who attacked Job in the Old Testament book with the same name, that same Job who suffered greatly and suffered much at the hands of the accuser, but who would not give-in to curse God and die (Job 2:9-10).

Satan is a real being, contrary to the results of many a poll in our day that say otherwise.  When it comes to matters of truth, numbers and the majority don’t run the show.  God’s Word does.  Though we do not see Satan, he tries to not only hurt, harm, and tempt to sin, but ultimately he tries to lead us to doubt and to disbelieve God’s promises, that we not trust Jesus for help and hope and find in Him rest for our weary souls, but rather that we despair and find no comfort whatsoever, or that we find comfort in that which is not the true and everlasting comfort of God’s Word (Matthew 11:28-29).

This is where Satan would lead us, not to belief and trust in God’s Son our Savior, but belief and trust in another that is not the true God.  Thus would Satan lead us to hell, not to heaven.  For this reason, Satan has his eyes not only on us, but during those 40 days that Jesus was in the wilderness, Satan had his eyes fixed on Jesus, not in belief, but for the purpose of bringing about Christ’s downfall.  Had he succeeded, no Savior would we have and certainly lost eternally would we be.

That Jesus suffered temptation and yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15) is a sure testament that temptation, in and of itself, cannot harm us.  Here, Dr. Luther’s Words of the Reformation are helpful, for they rightly distinguish between ‘being tempted’ and ‘giving in’ to temptation.  There is a distinction, as is recorded in Luther’s Large Catechism,

107 To feel temptation, therefore, is quite a different thing from consenting and yielding to it. We must all feel it, though not all to the same degree; some have more frequent and severe temptations than others. Youths, for example, are tempted chiefly by the flesh; older people are tempted by the world. Others, who are concerned with spiritual matters (that is, strong Christians) are tempted by the devil. 108 But we cannot be harmed by the mere feeling of temptation as long as it is contrary to our will and we would prefer to be rid of it. If we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent to it is to give it free rein and neither resist it nor pray for help against it. (Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (The Large Catechism: 3, 107-108). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.)

These words hold more than a little comfort for all who are troubled by temptation.  It is a sure sign that one is on the right path if one wants to be rid of temptations all together and sees them for what they are.  But resisting them by our own strength we cannot do, as even by experience we know.  As soon as we believe ourselves strong enough to overcome, we find that we fall.  By our own strength, we cannot resist. To the Lord we must cling.  It is He who gives His strength that we keep at it, not losing heart, but trust in the Lord for grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Here, our Lord does not forsake, for No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). The Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

It is not the faithlessness of God that leads into temptation, but Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed (James 1:14).  Therefore do we certainly struggle with our own desires which are contrary to God’s Word and will.  But here we are not left to ourselves, nor are we old Adam only.  In Christ we are new creations.  The Old has passed and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  Your sinful flesh has been drowned in the water of Holy Baptism.  No longer are we your own.  You belong to another, even to the Lord who has redeemed you from your sin and saves you from eternal death.  Belonging to Him, we wish not to remain as we once were according to the flesh.  We wish to change, living Godly and upright lives according to God’s Word unto Him who calls us to Himself.

And to you does God give strength and preserve you in the faith that you continue in Him.  According to His Holy Word does He call you from despair and doubt, and from self-righteousness and pride.  He offers you His forgiveness and His body and blood that you believe and eat and drink and so be confident of His grace and mercy, for we know ourselves to still be sinners.  He gives you of His Spirit that you live unto Him who is your Head, deny yourselves, and follow Him.  And these you do, though feebly on your part on account of your sin that still clings to you.  But God in Christ shows you your Savior and Lord, even your Salvation, your anchor and your sure foundation.

Therefore, to Christ flee for refuge.  Temptations surely do and will come, even as our Lord says, Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).  Of yourselves and by yourselves, we will fall.  But pray to the Lord for help, even as you pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation” and “Deliver us from the evil one.”  And so our Lord does, through He who did overcome when He Himself was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and through He who delivers you from sin, death, and the power of the devil through His own death on Good Friday.  Amen.

Prayer:  Lord, in Your mercy, do not forsake me.  Help me to resist temptation and always firmly to believe in You.  Amen.

 

Reason to Give Thanks

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

Psalm 30:11-12, NKJ

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

The writer of Ecclesiastes, in the third chapter, begins by writing, “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  In the same chapter, speaking of the times, he says that there is, “A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The Psalmist spoke of such a time.  He had mourned.  He had grieved in sackcloth.  Yet his grief was turned to gladness.  His mourning was turned into dancing.

These things did not become so because of or on account of the Psalmist.  He doesn’t say, “I have turned” or “I have put off.”  No!  He says, “You,” meaning the Lord his God.   The Lord his God had turned for him his mourning into dancing.  The Lord his God had put off his sackcloth and had clothed him with gladness.

This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:23).

The Lord had heard the prayers and petitions of His servant for mercy and help (Psalm 30:10).  And the Lord answered him.

The Psalmist David implored of the Lord with confidence, not doubting (see James 1:5-8).  He didn’t pray by saying, “Lord, if you’re there, hear.”  He didn’t say, “Lord, if you can help, please do.”  Rather, David prayed with a confidence that trusted in the God who is faithful to His promises and steadfast to His Word.

God had given David such confidence.  And God gives such confidence to you, for in Jesus, you have nothing but the certainty of God’s mercy towards you.  Now you have peace with God (Romans 5:1).  And having this peace with God through Jesus Christ means that you also have reason for continually Him giving thanks and praise and for singing in your heart to the Lord.

Though your circumstances remain the same or not, the Lord is ever faithful to His Word.  The change from having bitterness in the heart to giving endless thanks to the Lord is not dependent on circumstances, but a changed heart, a heart changed by God, by means of His Holy Word.  And by means of God’s Word, even the Word made flesh (John 1:14), you always have reason to rejoice and give thanks, even through times of grieving and mourning.  Times of joy and dancing will come, but not at your time—in the Lord’s.  Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me confident of your promises and nothing but sure of Your faithfulness to Your Holy Word.  Help me to bear my crosses while waiting only on you and trusting solely in Your Word, praying, “Thy will be done.”  Amen.

Stubbornness and Idolatry

Then Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.

1 Samuel 15:22-23

 

Through Samuel the prophet, God had told King Saul to “utterly destroy” (v3) the Amalekites for what they had previously done to Israel, their men, their women, their animals, everything. But instead of doing what the Lord had said, King Saul “spared the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to destroy them” (v9).

Saul had done these things, in clear opposition to what the Lord had said, with what he (and we) would have thought to be the best of intentions, “to sacrifice to the Lord” (v15).  The problem was this, that King Saul did not follow the Word of the Lord, but “did his own thing” and what he thought was right.  As a result, God rejected Saul as king (1 Samuel 15).

In not obeying God’s Word and going “his own way,” Saul committed the sin of idolatry.  Even though he thought that he was doing right, he was greatly in the wrong, even going against God, for he acted in defiance of God by putting his own thoughts and ways above the One who gives all things.

As it was with Saul, the sin of idolatry is inherent in each of us.  Stubbornness is this way.  We have God’s Word, and yet, we act and do according to our own will and desire, even considering that “going our own way” is in keeping with God’s commandments.  God says one thing, and yet, we think we know better and do something else, all the while convincing ourselves that we’re “doing the right thing.”  Thus, like Saul, we defiantly disobey the Lord, forsake His Word, and delude ourselves into believing that we are in the right, though God has given another Word.  This is nothing less than a rejection of the Word of the Lord.

The child of God does not remain in this delusion, convincing himself that he is in the right when God speaks differently.  Rather, the child of God lives continually in the state of repentance, sorrowing and grieving because of his idolatrous heart.  The child of God hears the Words of the Lord and seeks mercy and forgiveness for his stubbornness.  He wants to be rid of his sin, for he sees it for what it is, Coram Deo, before God.  He sees himself for what he is before God—nothing but a sinner.

And yet, it is sinners that God saves!  It is sinners that God forgives.  It is sinners for whom Christ died (John 3:16; Luke 15; Acts 13:38; Romans 4:7; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; 1 John 1:9; 2:12).

Your sin of idolatry God forgives, for Jesus Christ not only committed no sin, no iniquity, and no idolatry (1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).  This Jesus, on the cross, shed His blood which covers all your idolatries, all your iniquities, all your sins.  These are no longer yours to bear, for Christ has born them all.  And in exchange for these, Christ gives to you His righteousness, His sinlessness, and His perfect love to the Father.

In Christ, you are born anew, born of God, given new life, good in God’s sight.  Instead of listening to your own voice and the words of sinful man, being born anew, you hear Christ and His words and “deny yourself” (Matthew 16:24).  As a child of God, you want to hear God’s servant, who preaches Christ to you.  You want to join with other Christians at the Lord’s Table who confess the same faith and are united in the one true doctrine according to Holy Scripture, the living Word of God.  And you forgive others their sins against you, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.  And so you do, by God’s grace!  Amen.

 

Quote

“American Protestantism and fundamentalism have, in large measure, adopted the U.S. consumer and marketing perspective; thus all different types of churches are marketing Jesus to particular segments of the community.  Individually, we are lords of our lives.  No community or family can tell me what my personal faith should be.  I can define it myself, then find a church to give me what I think I need.” (Harrison, Christ Have Mercy, 115)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, giver of all good things, grant that I not deny Your most Holy and precious Word for my sake, because I want to do my own thing and go my own way.  Keep me in the faith that I not deny you.  Lead me not into the temptation of trying to define faith or the church my way that I forsake Your life giving Word for what I think that I need.  Rather, keep me steadfast in only Your Word, for only in that is their true and everlasting life, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.  Amen.

 


Prayer

I’ve been praying for something for quite some time now, but it doesn’t seem that God hears me. How do I know when to stop praying?

2004 ATP.Prayer.pdf

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