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Preachers and Hearers-Listen up!

“He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully…”

Jeremiah 23:28

In the Name of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Amen.

God would have His Word preached rightly.  He would have His Word preached truthfully.  Where such is taking place, there ought you to be to hear, to receive, and to believe.  However, where the Word of God is not preached according to His Word, there you are not to be.  There, where God’s Word is not preached in its truth and purity, the church preaches and teaches in error.

St. Paul says it this way, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

A little error mixed with the truth is a dangerous thing.  Yet, how many have apathy towards any distinctions whatsoever, even in today’s church!  Add a Bible verse here and a Bible verse there, and there you have what sounds to be right and true.

Many in Christendom give such an evaluation of the preaching and teaching that they hear without properly discerning whether or not the Bible is being used according to its sense, and therefore, according to its meaning.  We give more attention to the preacher than to the preaching itself (and here, I mean content, not delivery, style, or anything else that can be improved upon).  We give more heed to how the preacher preaches or teaches rather than what he actually says. Thus, the teacher or preacher, though he might sound orthodox, is actually heterodox, interpreting Scriptures according to his way and not according to God’s way, and therefore, preaching false doctrine and contrary to the Lord’s Word.

And many seem to care but little!  The hard work of testing the words preached is becoming a lost art.  Many readily will accept what they hear (and read) without giving second thought to comparing it with what God says.  Thus, you have the popular books such as Heaven is for Real, The Purpose Driven Life, and Every Day a Friday, which many Christians “eat up” and claim to be Gospel, but do nothing but lead away from the truth.

But the Lord teaches differently.  Concerning preachers, specifically, He says, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).

And to those who hear, He says, “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8).

Again, our Lord says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (John 14:23-24).

Thus, keeping the Lord’s Word, His people will hear His voice, for as our Lord also says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 10:27).

Luther

“No one likes to say that the church is in error; and yet, if the church teaches anything in addition or contrary to the Word of God, one must say that it is in error…Thus, I will not listen to the church or the fathers or the apostles unless they bring and teach the pure Word of God.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p66-67).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your Name be hallowed among us.  Send us preachers who preach only Your divine and life saving truth.  Keep us from giving in to the temptation of looking more at the preacher than to hearing what he says, and comparing that with Your Holy Word.  Deliver us from succumbing to the false teachings of the evil one and give us discernment, that we ever and always abide by Your Word.  Amen.

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Vocation-Serving God, Serving Neighbor

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do we know our theology?

Recently, I came across the following statement, “We in the LCMS, frankly, were always taught it’s ‘all about theology,’ and theology is one of the bases which hold us together, for sure.  But most of us know our theology inside/out.  We are ‘experts’ in that area!  But what can often be improved in the LCMS is ‘relationships.’”

The writer of such words was commenting about a past LFL National Conference held in Dallas earlier this year.  Though it is certainly true that we in the LCMS can always seek to improve with concern to ‘relationships’ (Love towards neighbor, 2nd table of the Law, Commandments 4-10), I would beg to differ with the belief that “most of us know our theology inside/out.” (Love towards God, 1st Table of the Law, Commandments 1-3)

If knowing means simply to use certain words and say that one understands the theology (generally), I would partially agree.  Many in the LCMS are indeed able to use LCMS theological words and phrases.  Some have even coined the phrase, “Christianese.”  You might even be able to speak of “Lutheranese” as well.

We can talk the talk.  Even nominal Lutherans “know” their theology.  I was recently told of a “Lutheran” who knew her catechism “inside and out,” with the ability to recite the various parts, yet rarely attended church, has not had her out of wedlock baby baptized, and has not repented of her sins.  If this is “knowing” our theology inside/out, then this is not knowing.

Nor is it “knowing” the theology when pastors confuse Law and Gospel in their preaching; when laypeople fail to hear the Word preached by the pastor because they do not like how he preaches or because of how he says.  It is not knowing theology when we hear the bitterness of the Law and seek to avoid and excuse ourselves from confessing our sins and seeking the Good News of the sweet Gospel; when we give lip service to the Christian faith and judge others, yet fail to see the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:1-5); when we put our own desires and opinions, feelings and experiences, above God and His Word.  When we seek, not what God says, but what would make us feel better about ourselves, our church, our whatever, this is not truly knowing our theology.

If we in the LCMS truly knew our theology, there would be unceasing repentance, bold confession of Jesus Christ, unwavering confidence of God’s mercy, and fixation on only the true doctrine for faith and life.  The life would then truly follow.

Where there is the assumption that we know our theology “inside/out,” there is nothing but danger of losing that which is true, even losing Christ.

In the past, and even today (i.e. Rick Warren), there is the declaration, “Deeds, not Creeds,” as if deeds (what we do, our action) supersede creeds (the faith).  Such emphasis endangers the true doctrine, for it places the foundation on man, not on God and His Word (upon which the Christian faith is founded and based).

Such presumption that “We in the LCMS know our theology inside/out” and “are ‘experts’ in that area” implies that now we can move on to “other things,” (like relationships), as if we have mastered the teachings of our faith.

However much we “know” of our theology, we will never outgrow the need for doctrine to continually be at the forefront of all that we do, for the doctrine of which we speak is not man’s, but God’s.  Of this we must be vigilant, otherwise, the temptation to complacency will soon overtake us, as it has already for so many in our beloved church body, for many call themselves members of LCMS and LCMS congregations (even pastors), even using the theological words, but grievously are not.  They honor God with their lips, but their hearts (and their theology) are far from the Lord (Matthew 15:8).

From the preface of Luther’s Large Catechism

(para. 5-13)

5 Besides, a shameful and insidious plague of security and boredom has overtaken us. Many regard the Catechism as a simple, silly teaching which they can absorb and master at one reading. After reading it once they toss the book into a corner as if they are ashamed to read it again.  6 Indeed, even among the nobility there are some louts and skinflints who declare that we can do without pastors and preachers from now on because they have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves. So they blithely let parishes fall into decay, and brazenly allow both pastors and preachers to suffer distress and hunger. This is what one can expect of crazy Germans. We Germans have such disgraceful people among us and must put up with them.

7 As for myself, let me say that I, too, am a doctor and a preacher — yes, and as learned and experienced as any of those who act so high and mighty. Yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism. Every morning, and whenever else I have time, I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc. 8 I must still read and study the Catechism daily, yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and I do it gladly. These dainty, fastidious fellows would like quickly, with one reading, to become doctors above all doctors, to know all there is to be known. Well, this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the people’s souls, yes, even God and his Word. They need not fear a fall, for they have already fallen all too horribly. What they need is to become children and begin learning their ABC’s, which they think they have outgrown long ago.

9 Therefore, I beg these lazy-bellies and presumptuous saints, for God’s sake, to get it into their heads that they are not really and truly such learned and great doctors as they think. I implore them not to imagine that they have learned these parts of the Catechism perfectly, or at least sufficiently, even though they think they know them ever so well. Even if their knowledge of Catechism were perfect (though that is impossible in this life), yet it is highly profitable and fruitful daily to read it and make it the subject of meditation and conversation. In such reading, conversation, and meditation the Holy Spirit is present and bestows ever new and greater light and fervor, so that day by day we relish and appreciate the Catechism more greatly. This is according to Christ’s promise in Matt. 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

10 Nothing is so effectual against the devil, the world, the flesh, and all evil thoughts as to occupy oneself with the Word of God, talk about it, and meditate on it. Psalm 1 calls those blessed who “meditate on God’s law day and night.”6 You will never offer up any incense or other savor more potent against the devil than to occupy yourself with God’s commandments and words and to speak, sing, and meditate on them. This, indeed, is the true holy water, the sign which routs the devil and puts him to flight.7

11 For this reason alone you should eagerly read, recite, ponder, and practice the Catechism, even if the only blessing and benefit you obtain from it is to rout the devil and evil thoughts. For he cannot bear to hear God’s Word. God’s Word is not like some empty tale, such as the one about Dietrich of Bern,8 but as St. Paul says in Rom. 1:16, it is “the power of God,” indeed, the power of God which burns the devil and gives us immeasurable strength, comfort, and help.

12 Why should I waste words? Time and paper would fail me if I were to recount all the blessings that flow from God’s Word. The devil is called the master of a thousand arts. What, then, shall we call God’s Word, which routs and destroys this master of a thousand arts with all his wiles and might? It must, indeed, be master of more than a hundred thousand arts. 13 Shall we frivolously despise this might, blessing, power, and fruit — especially we who would be pastors and preachers? If so, we deserve not only to be refused food but also to be chased out by dogs and pelted with dung. Not only do we need God’s Word daily as we need our daily bread; we also must use it daily against the daily, incessant attacks and ambushes of the devil with his thousand arts.

“The Power Of One Thing”–Book Review

Carlson, Dr. Randy.  The Power Of One Thing (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2009).

Carlson’s work, The Power of One Thing, does much for any who might need an extra “push” to get something done.  It is a book akin to the Nike commercial, “Just do it.”

That “One Thing,” however, is not Christ.  It is “intentionality.”  If you’re expecting a book that clearly speaks of forgiveness of sins and hope in Christ for all eternity, even the power of God to change lives, this book is not it.  If you’re looking for a book that is primarily motivational in nature, having steps that one might take to begin making changes in one’s life, then this book may appeal to you.

A word of caution is in order.  Like others before him, and others writing in like fashion, Carlson frequently quotes from various translations of the Bible (a.k.a. Rick Warren in Purpose Driven Life) for his own purposes and to his own end.  Yet in doing so, he not only misquotes Scripture, but divorces the texts from their contexts.  He reworks the Bible in an attempt to make it mean what it does not.

One example of many might suffice.  First, concerning translations.

Carlson uses these translations: New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, King James, New King James, and The Message.  The latter is not even a translation, but a paraphrase, and should not at all be quoted as Scripture.  It is someone’s understanding of the text, and in this case, Eugene Peterson’s.

Now, to one example of Carlson using Scripture out of context to make it say what he wants it to say but doesn’t.

The text is from Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV), which reads, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal” (16).  As these words are, they are true.  However, verse 14 has not been given in its entirety.  Words have been omitted, and very significant words.  They are these, “to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Read in full, verse 14 reads, “I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul, then, according to the full verse of verse 14, is not just speaking of any goal.  Paul rather is speaking of a very specific goal, even the “prize” of eternal life.

In verse 12, Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”  And what is it that Paul has not yet obtained?  “The resurrection of the dead” (v11).

For fuller context, read the entire chapter of Philippians 3, noting what Paul does say, and noting what Paul does not say.

In contrast to Paul, who sets forth what the goal actually is, that which is in Christ and for eternity and doesn’t concern the things of the earth (Colossians 3:1ff), Carlson would have the reader believe that Paul is speaking about “putting the past behind you and straining toward a better future by concentrating on just one thing…embarking on an intentional life” (17).  But Paul is not talking about “straining toward a better future by concentrating on just one thing,” unless that future is heaven, not “a better life now,” and that “one thing” is Christ, and not something else.

For Carlson, that “one thing” is living “for today, intentionally doing the one small thing that will take you another step closer to your goal” (16).  That “one thing” is not Christ.  It is something we do.  The emphasis is us.  And Carlson’s “better future” is not the goal of heaven of which Paul is speaking.  It is but drawing ever closer to your goal, whatever that goal is.

There is quite a contrast between Paul and his intended meaning in Philippians and Carlson’s use of Paul and his intended meaning in The Power of One Thing.  Carlson wants to use Paul, in this instance, to mean something which he does not.  And what is the result?  Carlson minimizes the real meaning of Paul and distracts from the true sense of the text, which is of Christ and salvation, eternal life and resurrection.  He therefore reduces the Bible to a “self-help” book or a “manual for instruction” rather than upholding it as God’s revelation to man that man know his sin and the only Savior from sin—Jesus Christ.

Carlson is a Christian who wants “to help people experience the freedom and peace” that he’s “witnessed in those who have decided to live an intentional life in Christ” (xi).  Certainly, The Power of One Thing contains activities and plans that can be helpful for setting goals, and even meeting those goals.  But for the purpose of living “an intentional life in Christ,” this book is deceiving.  It is deceiving because such a life is not formed or produced or kept by us.  In other words, it is not “intentional” on our part.  It is a life wrought by the Holy Spirit, and lived in the Spirit, that is, through faith in Christ (Romans 8).

Apart from Carlson’s use of Scripture, any Christian or nonChristian can make use of this book and learn to “be intentional” about doing certain things.  One does not have to be Christian to have good ideas about how to meet one’s goals in life.  Nor does one need to be Christian in order to meet set goals.  It would have been profitable for Carlson to omit the biblical references all together.  Instead, Carlson minimizes and distracts from the true sense of Scripture, which is not “how to” be intentional about living, but the revelation of God in Christ Jesus.  He confuses the goal of Christianity, which is eternal life, with the goal of humanity, which might be said to be self-improvement.  Also, in using Scripture as he does, Carlson demonstrates what is all too common among Christians today—the tendency to use the Bible for purposes that it was not given.  Using the Bible in such a way is not right.  Nor is such use of God.

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