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Godly Worship

Biblical and godly worship is not merely that worship of the mouth or of the body, that which a person says or does, though it does include these.  The worship of the Christian is not merely external by nature, though it does reveal itself for others to see.

First and foremost, true, godly worship is that which originates in the heart, the very thing that Jesus addresses when He speaks of those worshiping God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

Such worship in spirit and truth is not self-derived or self-originating, as such worship does not begin, continue, or end with men.  Rather, such worship, acceptable before God and pleasing to the Father, is that worship according to the Lord’s Word which has Jesus Christ as center.

As God’s people, we do not offer any worthiness of our own before God’s altar, but humbly seek from Him His mercy and favor.  We do not dictate to God how He is to be with us.  He reveals how we are to be with Him.

Just here is where the Law convicts.  Yet, just here is also where God’s just judgment, not upon us but upon His Son, so clearly reveals itself.

Our hearts are self-serving and self-seeking.  Apart from God’s grace and mercy in Christ, we do what we do, as pious as it may be, for ourselves.

Yet Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

He did nothing for Himself.  In His godly worship to the Father, He has both fulfilled and satisfied all that is absent in our worship before He Who alone deserves all of it.

Through faith in God’s Son, worship in spirit and truth is the kind of worship of God’s people, God’s people who confess their sinfulness and God’s people who have no ounce of confidence of their own, but cling to Christ alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Amen.

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, look with favor upon us for neglecting He who alone pleases You and through Whom we have Your abiding favor. Grant to us, Your holy people, baptized into your precious Name, true worship of Jesus in spirit and truth in all that we say and do.  Bless us with lively faith, that we boldly confess Your name in the midst of these trying days, and grant us genuine love for one another, that none place himself above of another, but look out for each other’s interests (Philippians 2). Accomplish Your will in and among us, that Your Name be praised and that all glory be Yours, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

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Forgiveness & Love

Apology, IV. Justification

(Tappert)

152 There is a familiar figure of speech, called synecdoche, by which we sometimes combine cause and effect in the same phrase. Christ says in Luke 7:47, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much.” But he interprets his own words when he adds: “Your faith has saved you” (v. 50). Now Christ did not want to say that by her works of love the woman had merited the forgiveness of sins. 153 Therefore he clearly says, “Your faith has saved you.” But faith is that which grasps God’s free mercy because TwoDebtorsof God’s Word. If anybody denies that this is faith, he utterly misunderstands the nature of faith. 154 And the account here shows what he calls “love.” The woman came, believing that she should seek the forgiveness of sins from Christ. This is the highest way of worshiping Christ. Nothing greater could she ascribe to him. By looking for the forgiveness of sins from him, she truly acknowledged him as the Messiah. Truly to believe means to think of Christ in this way, and in this way to worship and take hold of him. Moreover, Christ used the word “love” not toward the woman but against the Pharisee, because Christ contrasted the whole act of reverence of the Pharisee with that of the woman. He chides the Pharisee for not acknowledging him as the Messiah, though he did show him the outward courtesies due a guest and a great and holy man. He points to the woman and praises her reverence, her anointing and crying, all of which were a sign and confession of faith that she was looking for the forgiveness of sins from Christ. It was not without reason that this truly powerful example moved Christ to chide the Pharisee, this wise and honest but unbelieving man. He charges him with irreverence and reproves him with the example of the woman. What a disgrace that an uneducated woman should believe God, while a doctor of the law does not believe or accept the Messiah or seek from him the forgiveness of sins and salvation!

155 In this way, therefore, he praises her entire act of worship, as the Scriptures often do when they include many things in one phrase. Later we shall take up similar passages, like Luke 11:41, “Give alms; and behold, everything is clean.” He demands not only alms, but also the righteousness of faith. In the same way he says here, “Her Eph2,8sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much,” that is, because she truly worshiped me with faith and with the acts and signs of faith. He includes the whole act of worship; but meanwhile he teaches that it is faith that properly accepts the forgiveness of sins, though love, confession, and other good fruits ought to follow. He does not mean that these fruits are the price of propitiation which earns the forgiveness of sins that reconciles us to God.

156 We are debating about an important issue, the honor of Christ and the source of sure and firm consolation for pious minds — whether we should put our trust in Christ or in our own works. 157 If we put it in our works, we rob Christ of his honor as mediator and propitiator. And in the judgment of God we shall learn that this trust was vain and our consciences will then plunge into despair. For if the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation do not come freely for Christ’s sake, but for the sake of our love, nobody will have the forgiveness of sins unless he keeps the whole law, because the law does not justify so long as it can accuse us. 158 Justification is reconciliation for Christ’s sake. Therefore it is clear that we are justified by faith, for it is sure that we receive the forgiveness of sins by faith alone.

In the Word

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”

John 14:23

openBible1In the Name of the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Christian life is not lived in a vacuum.  It is not lived to oneself alone, nor is the Christian life the life of self-love.  It is a life lived of sacrificial love.  As our Lord loved us in Christ, so also do we love others (John 13:34; 1 John 4:7-11).  Yet, the love that we have toward others as God’s children does not begin with our love toward others.  We do not in anyway generate this kind of state of being towards our neighbor, nor can we.  Such love for others, freely given and unconditional, can only come from Him who Himself gives freely and unconditionally, “without any merit or worthiness in us.”

God loves you unconditionally, and gives freely to you all that you need in this life.  But even more than your physical needs, God provides you a Savior from sin, death, and the devil.  This Savior, none other than Jesus Christ, by His death has swallowed up your death, done away with your sin, and frees you from slavery to the devil.

Even though you had not first loved Him, God loved you, demonstrating that love in the death of His Son (Romans 5:8).  Now, because of His love, you love and seek to love others.  As He loves you unconditionally, so you also love others unconditionally.  As God loves you because you are His, so you also love others because God also loves them.

This love which we now have for others, coming as it does from God, first shows itself, however, immediately and continually in the love which we have towards God’s Word and the hearing of that Word.  Jesus Himself says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word” (John 14:23).  Thus will the Christian be in the Word, not only hearing it preached and gathering around Word and Sacrament.  The Christian will also be about studying that Word, for it is not man’s, but God’s, and “is spirit and life” (John 6:63).  Christians will also “test” what they hear, read, and see to ensure that it is according to truth of our Lord.  In this way, God will keep them (and us) a holy people for Himself, for it is through the Word that our Lord sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.

Luther

(Referring to Galatians 1:15, “When God was pleased…”) “This is as though Paul were saying: ‘It is only the unspeakable kindness of God that He has not only spared me—a good-for-nothing, a criminal, a blasphemer, and a sacrilegious man—but that He has also given me the knowledge of salvation, His Spirit, Christ His Son, the apostolic office, and life eternal.’  Seeing us in similar sins, God has not only pardoned our wickedness and blasphemies out of His sheer mercy for the sake of Christ; but He has also showered us with His great blessings and spiritual gifts.  But many among us not only, as 2 Peter 1:9 says, ‘have forgotten that they were cleansed from their old sins’; but, opening a window to the devil again, they begin to loathe His Word, and many also pervert it and thus become the founders of new sects.  The last sate of such men is worse than the first.” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p71)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, do not leave us to ourselves and to our own selfish desires.  Uphold us by Your Holy Word, that we resist the devil and ever more love Your Word and love Your people.  Amen.

God is Here: Worship in a Wireless World

ALCM-Valpo13“What is the future of worship when increasing numbers struggle with organized religion, seek individual spiritual practices apart from community, and spend hours in front of screens?  Recent studies show that more and more people identify as none when asked to name their religious affiliation.  Yet we who gather in worship each Sunday proclaim that God is present in word, water, bread, wine, and most particularly, in the gathered community.

“How will our worshiping assemblies be renewed and revitalized in an age of change and doubt?  What are some of the challenges and opportunities before us in light of graying congregations, and young adults finding community and identity through Facebook, Twitter, and countless online sites?”

The above introduction on a post card for an upcoming conference, “God is Here,” to be held June 30-July 3, 2013 on the campus of Valparaiso University seems to suggest that congregational worship may need to change in order to “keep up” with the times.  If so, this is an age-old plea.  It is true that times are changing, but what kind of changes should congregations undergo to remain faithful to our Lord and His Word?

Much of the time, it appears that God’s Word is not the director of how Christian worship should be.  Rather, it is the culture which often seems to direct how the body of Christ should function, how we should worship, what we should say, and how we should say it.

This is not to say that we, as members of Christ’s body, do not need to repent of our selfishness, our self-centered behavior, and our “holier than thou” attitudes.  We do.  Yet such repentance does not entail a change in worship and liturgy, if such is faithful to the Lord’s Word, even if such faithfulness means that society and culture will be turned off by it.

Consider Christ, who many rejected (and still do) because of what He said (and not due to the way in which He said it).  So often we pay more attention to presentation than to content.  And I’ll admit that this is much easier.  Nevertheless, godly worship is not what I determine it to be, but what God determines it to be.

So what if the world, society, and culture don’t get it!  They won’t, because they are not of Christ, and Christian worship has Christ as the center.  This does not mean that we should go out of our way to offend nonChristians by what we do or how we do it.  Not at all!  Rather should we love them all the more, and look to Christ’s Word for help and comfort, praying for God’s Name to be hallowed, His kingdom to come, and His will to be done, even among us (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Believing in Christ, holding to God’s Word, and worshiping and living accordingly, we, as God’s people, have nothing to be ashamed of.  We confess our sins, yes indeed, yet we more boldly confess Christ.

The future of Christian worship is not in doubt, as long as the worship is truly Christ-centered, and not man centered.  Where Christian worship becomes man-centered (me-centered) it ceases to be Christian.  If God is truly present in Word (Absolution, Liturgy, preaching), water (Holy Baptism), and bread and wine (Holy Communion) in the Divine Service, the future of Christian Worship looks good, very good (Genesis 1:31).  Even with the world changing as it is, God continues creating, sustaining, and strengthening faith through these very means.  Here, too, does our Lord renew and revitalize His people “in an age of change and doubt.”

I pray that the focus of the “God is Here” conference will be on the very Word of our Lord (which does not change), rather than on the changing society and culture….But I have my doubts.

Speakers include:

Elizabeth Drescher: Religious studies and pastoral ministries programs @ Santa Clara University

Craig Mueller: Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church-Chicago

Martin Jean: Professor of Organ and Director of the Institute of Sacred Music @ Yale University

Benjamin M. Stewart: Gordon A. Braatz Assistant Professor of Worship and Dean of Augustana Chapel @ Lutheran School of Theology-Chicago

The word of faith which we preach

 

“ ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’

(that is, the word of faith which we preach)”

Romans 10:8

 

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 11, verse two,[1] Luther writes some penetrating words (see below).  In the context, St. Paul writes, “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4).

Paul indicates that there is only one genuine Jesus.  All others are other Jesus’.  In other words, only One Jesus is the Savior from sin.  All other Jesus’ are counterfeits.  So does Paul also indicate this where he distinguishes gospels, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  For do I now persuade men, or God?  Or do I seek to please men?  For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.  But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-12).

According to God’s inspired Word through His servant Paul, one who seeks to please men cannot also at the same time be a “bondservant of Christ.”  Those preachers who do seek to please men preach a different gospel and not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here we must say that just as there are preachers who seek to please men, there are also hearers who seek to please, not God, but themselves, for they do not seek out the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ, but another.  They look for that which God has not promised.  They seek to have their “itching ears” scratched.  They do not seek to repent at the hearing of God’s Word, but they seek another Jesus.

Thus, when they hear things they don’t like to hear or how they like to hear it, they turn the power button off and refuse to further listen.  Rather than test the preaching they hear with the Holy Scriptures, they test it according to what they would like to hear or how they would like the message to be delivered.

Essentially, however, doing these things only demonstrates the characteristic of so many who are Christians in name only—the refusal to listen to the Word and the despising of the very Office of preaching which God has established.

Here, the question arises, “How does God come to us?” “How does Christ give us the forgiveness we so desperately need?”  Another way of asking the question is this, “by what means does God give His forgiveness of our sins that we know with certainty that it is ours?”

Some would, of course, answer the question with the word “faith.”  But is it upon your faith that you have absolute certainty of God’s grace and favor?  If the answer here were yes, then certainty is really upon you. And any certainty upon you is really nothing but uncertainty.

On the other hand, if the answer to the question of means is not on my/our/your faith, but on that which is sure and true, that which God does and gives, there can be no uncertainty in it at all, except that which we add to it of ourselves, if it were possible for us to do so.

Faith has been defined by some as “certainty.”  Such a faith, though, does not have foundation in itself.  We do not trust our faith to be certain because of or on account of our faith.  Rather than trust in one’s own faith or in one’s own certainty, the Christian trusts in nothing less and nothing more than the Word of God that establishes that faith.

And where is that Word preached and heard?  In the Lord’s house.  And by whom?  The pastor.  And what is the pastor to be preaching in the Lord’s house?  Only the Word—only Christ.  Where the pastor is doing this, there you can be sure that God is forgiving sins.  There, you can be sure that God is giving you salvation, because of the Word that is preached.

Also in the Lord’s house, God established the Sacrament of Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  For what purpose?  For the purpose of bringing to you that salvation won by Christ’s cross.  Thanks be to God for such gifts!  And instead of murmuring and grumbling about the way God brings these gifts (i.e. through human voice, water, and bread and wine), we rejoice all the more in them (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-31), trusting God’s Word and sure of His goodness, not because we “see,” but because of His blessed promises.

Luther

“Christ has instituted this (apostolic) office as if to say, ‘I send you that you should claim and fetch me my bride who was previously prepared or was washed from sins and became pure and holy.’  Now this happens daily in Christianity through the preaching office, in which one proclaims and preaches that Christ has given himself for you, as St. Paul says.  This was done when he suffered and died on the cross and on the third day was raised again.  For through that he has earned grace and the forgiveness of sins for us.  But if that were left there, it would not yet help us.  For even if he earned the treasure for us and has done all, we would not yet receive it.  But how does this same salvation which he has bestowed finally come to us?   For has he now gone up to heaven and left us behind?  He says it must go to us through the Word and Baptism which he has mandated the apostles to bring to us, to bring us home.  Namely, that through them they should bring us  forgiveness of sins, in his name.” (Geo. Link, Luther’s Family Devotions, 648-649)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant that my faith not be founded on anything in me, but only upon You and Your Holy Word.  Keep me from doubting the way You work and the means by which you give me life and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Rather, lead me to give thanks and to rejoice all the more in Your blessed kindness and favor in coming to me in what is esteemed as humble and lowly in the eyes of the world, that Your Holy Name be exalted continually.  Amen.


[1] “For I have betrothed you to a man so that I present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

 

We seek to please God, not men

For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men?

For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

Our Lord Jesus says to his disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).

Those who seek to please Christ are those who seek to abide by His Word and remain in it, regardless of the cost involved (John 8:31-32).  Such cost may include the loss of friends, family members, or job.  The hatred of the world may include isolation and persecution.  Collectively, also, for Christ’s Church, for His people gathered around Word and Sacrament, such hatred of the world may present itself in the refusal to hear the Word of God preached by the pastor, the denial of Christ’s absolution, the promotion of schism contrary to the true doctrine, the despising of God’s Means of Grace, and the desire to change the worship service from being that which God works through to deliver His blessed gifts of life and salvation in the hearing of His Word and the distribution of Christ’s body and blood, to what we give to God, without first acknowledging the extent of our sin before Him.

Like the Pharisee, we come to God’s house to tell God what we have done and how we have lived, and thus do we seek His favor based on our work and apart from His mercy in Jesus His beloved Son.  Contrast this pharisaical approach to God based on oneself with the manner that the tax collector approached God.  He could not even look up.  He did not claim any goodness of himself, but simply confessed what was right and true.  He had nothing to give. He had nothing to offer to God-only his sin.  So he says, “God, be merciful to me the sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14, my translation: the definite article is in use here in the Greek text, v13).

This “poor miserable sinner” claimed no merit of his own.  He did not at all trust in himself.  Nor did he look to himself for any “spark of goodness” whereby he might gain God’s favor.  Instead, He trusted only in the mercy of God for help and salvation.  He came expecting to receive from God, not to give.  And Jesus says receive everything, this sinner did, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:14).

To be justified before God means nothing less than having peace with God (Romans 5:1ff), having your sins forgiven, being unconditionally in God’s favor, and having nothing but God’s compassion and kindness upon you.  On the other hand, to not be justified before God means nothing less than having God’s wrath and judgment upon you and to not at all have God’s favor towards you.

Only in Christ Jesus do you have such true and lasting peace with God!  This is the Christ who God reveals in His Holy Word.  And this is the Christ which God’s Holy Church proclaims and who God’s people unashamedly confess.  This, too, is the same Christ which the world hates, and for which God’s people joyfully suffer. But God’s people suffer for the sake of Christ and for the sake of His Name because He is their Savior, “for there is no other Name, under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  They know no other God, for there is no other God (1 Corinthians 8:6).  All others are nothing but false God’s, man-made, and of the devil (Revelation 9:20).

This is why the world hates Christ, His Church, and His people—they are of God, not of the devil, the world, or of sinful man.  They teach the way of God aright, neither compromising or weakening God’s message.  They boldly confess and unashamedly proclaim the way of God in truth.

God’s people come before God’s throne of grace, not giving to God, but seeking to receive from Him the mercy that God gives through faith in His Son (Hebrews 4:16).  And by God’s mercy, that have it!

This is indeed not a popular message, for many, even within the church, reject it.  But it is only Christ who gives life (John 6:63).  We are lost and condemned in our sin, with nothing to give to God.  But God covers such sinners with Christ’s righteousness (1 John 1:8-9), and we, now, live unto Him, rejoicing in His bountiful goodness and believing His unmerited and undeserved mercy on account of Jesus, His Son and our Savior.  Amen.

Luther

“We do not seek the favor of men by our teaching either, if we may be permitted to say this without boasting.  For we teach that all men are wicked; we done the free will of man, his natural powers, wisdom, righteousness, all self-invented religion, and whatever is best in the world.  In other words, we say that there is nothing in us that can deserve grace and the forgiveness of sins.  But we proclaim that we receive this grace solely and altogether by the free mercy of God and His works, universally condemning all men for their works (Ps. 19:1).  This is not preaching that gains favor from men and from the world.  For the world finds nothing more irritating and intolerable than hearing its wisdom, righteousness, religion, and power condemned.  To denounce these might and glorious gifts of the world is not to curry the world’s favor but to go out looking for and quickly to find, hatred and misfortune, as it is called.  For if we denounce men and all their efforts, it is inevitable that we quickly encounter bitter hatred, persecution, excommunication, condemnation, and execution” (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p.58).

Prayer: Dearest Jesus, preserve us, Your Holy people.  Keep us from compromising Your Holy doctrine or accommodating ourselves to the ways of the world for superficial peace in the world.  Give us strength to endure the temptations that befall us that we not forsake Your Word, but remain steadfastly in it and in the true faith for our salvation.  Amen.

Should Christians not celebrate Easter?

Is the Date of Easter of Pagan Origin? – Answers in Genesis.

Various religious groups (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses, United Church of God) deny the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus by Christians for a number of reasons.

However, the apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Colosse, says: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.  Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men?  These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:16-23).

Christians are free to worship together on any day, especially for the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection.  The issue is not whether the celebration itself was “christianized” from pagan festivals, or “replaced” them, as according to some, if that is the case at all.  The issue is the content of such celebration.

Founded on the resurrection of Christ, there is no reason Christians should not celebrate Easter, for Christ’s resurrection from the dead surely means that the Christian faith is not futile and that we are no longer in our sins (1 Corinthians 15).

This is most certainly a day to celebrate, and rejoice in, even every day!

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