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When You Are Not Feeling Too “Merry” at Christmastime

December 19th, 2013 3 comments

unhappy_christmas_sad-300x300I am thinking a lot this Christmas about the fact that for many people, more than would ever be willing to admit openly, there is very little, “merry” about Christmas. Are you feeling this way? If so, this message is for you.

You may be dealing with personal troubles and situations that cause you intense pain and anguish of heart and mind, soul and spirit. You see all the decorations around and you hear the music, and receive the cheerful, bright and wonderful greeting cards from friends and family. These things are yet more pointed reminders to you of a long-felt grief, or hurt, or sorrow, a reminder that while many are merry, you are not.

Our culture’s celebration of Christmas contributes enormously to this problem. Christmas is a time for family, so you are told. But what happens when your family is missing a beloved father, or mother, grandma or grandpa, son or daughter? What happens when Christmas for you is a reminder that you have lost a dear one to death? What about other problems that might be hurting your family at this time? What about the sickness that has you or a loved one in its grip? What if you have few, if any, immediate family with you, or for whatever reason, find yourself alienated from them?

Christmas can often also be a reminder of the failings of the past year that haunt you, a reminder of all your personal faults and the trouble that you may have brought on yourself, with your own sinful choices and actions. Oh, how sharp that pain is, and particularly so at a time of “happiness,” when you are feeling anything but happy.

How important it is then to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly at this time, a Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, a Word through Whom all things were made, that have been made. It was this Word, sent from the Father, who came among us, to be your great Savior, from sin, from death, from the power of hell, to pour out his lifeblood as the perfect atoning sacrificial ransom for the sins of the world, for your sins, every one of them, even those you would not want another person to know about.

The best advice I can give to you if you are feeling lonely and sad at this time of the year is: reach out to people whom you know, and share your love with them. Dive deeply into the Word of God. Take advantage of every opportunity provided to gather with your fellow saints in Gods’ House for worship and to receive the true and lasting gifts of Christmas: forgiveness, life and salvation. These are the gifts that are truly what make for a Merry Christmas.

In spite of the loneliness, and in spite of the pain, and there is no denying either, there always stands Christ, with arms open wide, saying to you, “Fear not. I have overcome the world.” He says to you, “Let not your heart be troubled” and “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” This is not some kind of “magic formula” for you to recite that will just magically make all the pain go away, but you can, and you must, continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and pray the Psalms. These are the words Jesus has for you, for you to use and to pray. You can think those things that you ought, to set your minds on things above, and not dwell on those below. The “things above” are the beautiful and powerful truths that Christ reveals, in His Word.

Here are some powerfully comforting words for you from the Lutheran Confessions, that you should read very carefully and hold them close. Read these words out loud and then return to praying the Psalms. Recite them daily or as often as necessary when you feel a bout of gloom come over you at this time of the year:

“The doctrine that God in His counsel, before the time of the world, determined and decreed that He would assist us in all distresses,anxieties and perplexities, grant patience under the cross, give consolation, nourish and encourage hope, and produce such an outcome as would contribute to our salvation affords glorious consolation under the cross and amid temptations. Also, as Paul in a very consolatory way treats this, Rom. 8:28- 29, 35, 38, 39, that God in His purpose has ordained before the time of the world by what crosses and sufferings He would conform every one of His elect to the image of His Son, and that to every one His cross shall and must work together for good, because they are called according to the purpose, whence Paul has concluded that it is certain and indubitable that neither tribulation, nor distress, nor death, nor life, etc., shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Solid Declaration, Article XI.48-49.

So, indeed, in no matter what situation you find yourself, you can, and you will, have a “merry” Christmas, with Christ at the center, and by your side. You can say with the blessed Apostle: “I have learned the secret of being content.”I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:10-13).

Centuries ago, a Lutheran pastor wrote a beautiful Christmas hymn full of joy and comfort. And he was preaching to himself, for he was a man who had suffered the loss of a dear wife and the death of several children. He would be, during his career, removed from his office for remaining faithful to God’s Word, when he was persecuted and pressure to compromise. Pastor Paul Gerhardt wrote All This Night, My Heart Rejoices:

1. All my heart this night rejoices, as I hear far and near sweetest angel voices. “Christ is born,” their choirs are singing, till the air everywhere now with joy is ringing.

2. Forth today the conqueror goeth, who the Foe, sin and woe, Death and hell, o’erthroweth. God is man, man to deliver. His dear Son now is one With our blood forever.

3. Shall we still dread God’s displeasure, who, to save, freely gave His most cherished Treasure? To redeem us, He hath given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven.

4. Should He who Himself imparted aught withhold from the fold, leave us broken-hearted? Should the Son of God not love us, Who, to cheer sufferers here, left His throne above us?

5. If our blessed Lord and Maker hated men, would He then be of flesh partaker? If He in our woe delighted, would He bear all the care of our race benighted?

6. He becomes the Lamb that taketh sin away and for aye full atonement maketh. For our life His own He tenders and our race, by His grace, meet for glory renders.

7. Hark! a voice from yonder manger, Soft and sweet, doth entreat: “Flee from woe and danger. Brethren, from all ills that grieve you you are feed; All you need I will surely give you.”

8. Come, then, banish all your sadness, one and all, great and small, come with songs of gladness. Love Him who with love is glowing. Hail the star, near and far light and joy bestowing.

9. Ye whose anguish knew no measure, weep no more, see the door to celestial pleasure. Cling to Him, for He will guide you where no cross, pain, or loss can again betide you.

10. Hither come, ye heavy-hearted, who for sin, deep within, long and sore have smarted. For the poisoned wound you’re feeling help is near, One is here Mighty for their healing.

11. Hither come, ye poor and wretched. Know His will is to fill every hand outstretched. Here are riches without measure. Here forget all regret, fill your hearts with treasure.

12. Let me in my arms receive Thee; On Thy breast Let me rest, Savior, ne’er to leave Thee. Since Thou hast Thyself presented now to me, I shall be evermore contented.

13. Guilt no longer can distress me; Son of God, Thou my load Bearest to release me. Stain in me Thou findest never; I am clean, All my sin is removed forever.

14. I am pure, in Thee believing, From Thy store evermore, righteous robes receiving. In my heart I will enfold Thee, treasure rare, let me there, loving, ever hold Thee.

15. Dearest Lord, Thee will I cherish. though my breath fail in death, Yet I shall not perish, But with Thee abide forever there on high, in that joy which can vanish never.

Notes: Hymn #77 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Luke 2:11 Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1653; Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1858, altered.

Titled: Froehlich soll mein Herze springen

Composer: Johann Crueger, 1653 Tune: Froehlich soll mein Herze

Marriage Isn’t For You

November 7th, 2013 Comments off

Excellent post:

Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.

Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I met my wife in high school when we were 15 years old. We were friends for ten years until…until we decided no longer wanted to be just friends. :) I strongly recommend that best friends fall in love. Good times will be had by all.

Nevertheless, falling in love with my best friend did not prevent me from having certain fears and anxieties about getting married. The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

Perhaps each of us have moments in our lives when it feels like time slows down or the air becomes still and everything around us seems to draw in, marking that moment as one we will never forget.

My dad giving his response to my concerns was such a moment for me. With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

It was in that very moment that I knew that Kim was the right person to marry. I realized that I wanted to make her happy; to see her smile every day, to make her laugh every day. I wanted to be a part of her family, and my family wanted her to be a part of ours. And thinking back on all the times I had seen her play with my nieces, I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to build our own family.

My father’s advice was both shocking and revelatory. It went against the grain of today’s “Walmart philosophy”, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one.

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Some time ago, my wife showed me what it means to love selflessly. For many months, my heart had been hardening with a mixture of fear and resentment. Then, after the pressure had built up to where neither of us could stand it, emotions erupted. I was callous. I was selfish.

But instead of matching my selfishness, Kim did something beyond wonderful—she showed an outpouring of love. Laying aside all of the pain and aguish I had caused her, she lovingly took me in her arms and soothed my soul.

SKwedding394

Marriage is about family.

I realized that I had forgotten my dad’s advice. While Kim’s side of the marriage had been to love me, my side of the marriage had become all about me. This awful realization brought me to tears, and I promised my wife that I would try to be better.

To all who are reading this article—married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette—I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love.

And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.

Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.

This post originally appeared on ForwardWalking.com, a website dedicated to helping people move forward in life.

Categories: Christian Life

Increasing in Love: What Does This Mean and How is This Done?

October 24th, 2013 3 comments

87837-83775I was reading a blog post written by Pastor Mark Surburg, posted several months ago, and I thought he did a magnificent job carefully explaining how, when it comes to the life of good works into which we are placed, and called, as Christ’s Holy people, we in fact do cooperate with God. Here is what Pastor Surburg wrote:

“The Scriptures teach that the individual Christian is both new man and old man at the same time (Rom 7:13-23; Gal 5:16-17; Col 3:5-15). In Christ through the work of the Spirit the new man knows God’s will and lives according to it. Because they are individuals in whom the old man still exists, this new life does not occur perfectly and instead occurs in the midst of struggle and weakness. Naturally, the Lutheran Confessions also present this view of Christians as old man and new man at the same time (for example FC SD II.84-85; VI.6-8).

Regenerated by the Spirit the new man now is able to think in the ways of the Spirit, namely, the things that reflect God’s will. True, it is only through the continuing work of the Spirit that this is possible, because otherwise the old man, the mind of the flesh will gain complete control as he does in the non-Christian. Nevertheless, the existence of the individual as new man is not lost. Regenerated, sustained and led by the Spirit, the new man is able to begin to cooperate in the new obedience that faith produces.

This is the position of the Lutheran Confessions. The Formula of Concord states: “Indeed, if the faithful and elect children of God were perfectly renewed through the indwelling Spirit in this life, so that in their nature and all their powers they were completely free from sin, they would need no law and therefore no prodding. Instead, they would do in and of themselves, completely voluntarily, without any teaching, admonition, exhortation, or prodding of the law, what they are obligated to do according to God’s will, just as in and of themselves the sun, the moon and all the stars follow unimpeded the regular course God gave them once and for all, apart from any admonition, exhortation, impulse, coercion, or compulsion. The holy angels perform their obedience completely and of their own free will” (FC SD VI.6).

For this reason, when it comes to new obedience the Lutheran Confessions say that the new man in the individual cooperates with the Spirit in new obedience. Justification is a result of divine monergism. Sanctification is a result of divine monergism. But new obedience takes place through synergism of the new man working with the Spirit. It is rather astonishing that there could be any disagreement on this point since the Formula of Concord explicitly uses the word cooperation.

“I have called attention to texts in Paul that speak of both the wish that Christians will increase in new obedience and also the fact that Christians have indeed done this. This has drawn a reaction, both from those who hold the new position about new obedience/”sanctification” mentioned above, and also by those who believe and teach the Lutheran teaching as expressed in the Confessions and understood in the Lutheran dogmatic tradition. The place to begin when considering this is Scripture which contains verses that explicitly indicate that an increase in new obedience is a goal in Christian life and that this also does in fact occur. As I have described in an earlier post (“Mark’s thoughts: Paul and love – evidence for deepening and growth in sanctification”; http://surburg.blogspot.com/20… this is particularly evident in Paul’s discussion of love. For Paul is it axiomatic that love is the fulfillment of the law. He says this in both Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13-14 (naturally this goes back to our Lord, Matthew 22:34-40). It is not surprising then that Paul focuses upon love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 where he writes words that any Lutheran recognizes to be Law – they are saying what we must do. We find that Paul understands “love” to be not merely an emotion but instead an activity – activity directed primarily toward others. Yet because of what Paul believes about what it means to be “in Christ” and to have the Holy Spirit at work in the individual, he explicitly expresses the expectation and wish that Christians will increase in love. Based on what Paul says about love in Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13-14, this will therefore also be an increase in the fulfillment of the Law.

Paul writes in Philippians 1:9-10: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more (ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ), with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11 ESV).

Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians will increase in love and this is linked to the desire that they be filled with “the fruit of righteousness” (meaning either “righteous fruit” or “the fruit which is righteousness”; cf. Galatians 5:22-23 and the fruit of the Spirit). We note also that this is described as occurring “through Jesus Christ” which grounds this increase in Jesus Christ and his saving work. We have clear evidence in this text that Paul’s hope is that Christians will increase in love, and so naturally this should be ours as well.

In a similar manner, Paul writes in Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another (Περὶ δὲ τῆς φιλαδελφίας οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε γράφειν ὑμῖν, αὐτοὶ γὰρ ὑμεῖς θεοδίδακτοί ἐστε εἰς τὸ ἀγαπᾶν ἀλλήλους), for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia (καὶ γὰρ ποιεῖτε αὐτὸ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς [τοὺς] ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ). But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more (περισσεύειν μᾶλλον), and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 ESV)

In this text Paul affirms that the Thessalonians are loving one another and the Christians in Macedonia, and he then expresses the desire that they do so more and more – that there be an increase in this manner of life. Here again we have clear evidence in this text that Paul’s hope is that Christians will increase in love, and so naturally this should be ours as well.

Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13: “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you (ὑμᾶς δὲ ὁ κύριος πλεονάσαι καὶ περισσεύσαι τῇ ἀγάπῃ εἰς ἀλλήλους καὶ εἰς πάντας, καθάπερ καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς ὑμᾶς), so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 ESV).

Again, this is explicit textual evidence for Paul’s hope that Christians increase in love (Paul’s desire for them expressed with an optative of wish). More importantly for our discussion, not only does Paul express the wish that this increase will happen for the Thessalonians, but he also states that it is true for him, Silvanus and Timothy. It is not a hypothetical possibility or wishful thinking, but something that is true for Paul and his companions.

Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing (ὅτι ὑπεραυξάνει ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν καὶ πλεονάζει ἡ ἀγάπη ἑνὸς ἑκάστου πάντων ὑμῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους). Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 ESV).

In this text Paul not only speaks about increasing love, he also asserts that this is true of the Thessalonians. This is occurring among them and it is something that Paul can even boast about in the Churches of God. Here again is explicit biblical evidence that an increase of love (new obedience) does occur among Christians.

However, “love” is not the only way this is expressed. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus (ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ), that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing (καθὼς καὶ περιπατεῖτε), that you do so more and more (ἵνα περισσεύητε μᾶλλον). For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification (τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν θέλημα τοῦ θεοῦ, ὁ ἁγιασμὸς ὑμῶν): that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 ESV)

This is an important text for several reasons. First, Paul expresses that the Thessalonians are walking in the way they should and that this is pleasing to God. Naturally this does not mean they are perfect but it shows that those in Christ are able to live in ways that Scripture is willing to describe as the very thing they should be doing. Second, we must note that Paul exhorts them to do this more and more. This shows that it is entirely Scriptural to tell Christians that they should strive to live in God pleasing ways. Finally, we must observe that the life that is going to increase is described as sanctification, where the content of this word is explained by means of behaviors that they are and are not to do.

Finally, 2 Peter 1:5-8 says: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement (ἐπιχορηγήσατε) your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing (ταῦτα γὰρ ὑμῖν ὑπάρχοντα καὶ πλεονάζοντα), they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8 ESV)

In this text, Peter commands Christians to be growing in the qualities of new obedience in light of what God has done for them (1:3-4, 9). There is the explicit expectation that Christians will not only have these qualities such as love, but also that they will be increasing in them.

Because the Scriptures explicitly speak of increase in new obedience, the Confessions do as well. An obvious example to begin with is Apology IV.136 which states, “We openly confess, therefore, that the keeping of the law must begin in us and then increase more and more (quod necesse sit inchoari in nobis et subinde magis magisque fieri legem). And we include both simultaneously, namely the inner spiritual impulse and the outward good works.”

 

Categories: Christian Life

How Can I Forgive When I Can’t Forget?

October 15th, 2013 2 comments

I found this article the other day on the Internet, from a Roman Catholic spirituality site and I thought there were some very profound observations in it that I think you’ll find useful.

 How Can I Forgive When I Can’t Forget?

While many people believe forgetting an injury is part of forgiveness, Fr. Justin Waltz, pastor of St. Leo’s Church in Minot, ND, suggested just the opposite. In fact, he stated that forgetting is not even possible. “The only type of forgetting I have heard of is stuffing,” he said during a retreat presentation and added, “The hurt is not gone, it is just buried deep within.”Since forgetting is not an option given our memories, Waltz said that God has provided an even better remedy—the divine transformation of a resurrection within our souls. He pointed out that Christ himself retained the wounds of his crucifixion. “Had he wanted to, Jesus could have healed his body so completely that even the scars did not exist,” he explained. “Christ is not ashamed of these scars, rather he wears them as his testament to his victory over sin and death.”Transforming Pain

By keeping the scars, he said that Jesus taught us some great truths about suffering. Christ suffered a brutal and humiliating death but resurrected while retaining the scars. Since he has gone before us, Waltz explained that through faith in God, we can trust that nothing is beyond his healing, no matter how deep or how painful. “God goes beyond forgetting. He transforms us and brings us out of the tomb into the light of the resurrection, not only healed but victorious.”

Waltz stated that God’s healing begins with faith in him to heal all things. “Just for a moment, imagine what sort of life and power would be unleashed in your heart if you allowed God to transform your pain into victory,” he said.

He laid out some of the essentials for recovering from hurts. Regarding those that struggle with the concept of a loving God, he explained that God does not desire our suffering, but it is a fallen world. “God created free will and when he did, this, he tied his hands,” Waltz explained. Through human free will, sin and death entered the world. “But in every circumstance that evil occurs, God has created an out, even death in which he has created a place where there is no death, pain or suffering,” he said.

“Forgiving God really comes down to not holding God responsible for something that he did not do. When we do this, we allow God to do the very thing that God does best–set us free from the pain.” Waltz said to recall that God shows us only love and mercy even to the extent of sending his only son to suffer for our sins and save us.

Whatever the pain we want to overcome, Waltz pointed out that part of the transformation that can happen is when people use their pain, regardless of whether it came from others or their own bad choices, as a good to help others. He used the example of speaker Carroll Everett who came to Bishop Ryan High School and shared with the students that her life took a dark turn after she had an abortion. She began abusing alcohol, her marriage fell apart and she started working in the abortion business. After her conversion, she was transformed and now uses her past to speak out for life and help others to heal. Those who have suffered pain are usually the ones most effective in helping others overcome the same pain. Waltz cautioned, however, that before the transformation, people need to forgive themselves. “The remedy for forgiving ourselves simply lies in allowing Christ’s mercy and forgiveness to conquer our self-regret and self hatred. It’s as if he reaches into our very hearts and pulls us out of ourselves and into his life. Then, who are we to accuse what he has forgiven?”

Finding Peace Little by Little

After the resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus gave us the gift of peace, “Peace be with you.” (John 14:27). According to Waltz, it is that peace that people can find through forgiveness. He said that forgiveness does not mean forgetting and nor does it mean necessarily reconciling in all cases when we must forgive others. Instead, he explained that forgiveness of others means removing the debt they owe us. In the Gospel of Matthew 18:23-35, the parable of the unforgiving servant shows that forgiveness means removing a debt—that we no longer hold a person’s debt against them. In the story, a servant is forgiven a large debt but then he goes out and refuses to forgive a smaller debt. Thus, just as Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins—a very large debt–we must forgive others.

Waltz stated, “It is the very remedy that we seek in order to move on and reconstruct our lives–leaving behind the old and embracing the new.” He acknowledged that forgiveness is sometimes beyond us so that we must begin with the desire to forgive and lean on God to take us the rest of the way, little by little, day by day. “But when in the darkness and the hurt we can find it in ourselves to even whisper ever so gently, I forgive you, it’s as if there is a genesis of new life that begins and this new life is far stronger than the one that has been taken from us.”

One problem with healing in our culture according to Waltz is that people often don’t understand that it takes time and unlike drive thru restaurants and the Internet, it’s not an instant process. “The body does not heal quickly and frankly nor does the soul,” he stated. Another problem he said is the tendency for people to want to bury and ignore old wounds. “It is much easier to be angry and resentful or to just cover it up then to have to go through spiritual surgery,” he said.

Waltz made three recommendations he has seen help people with the process of healing. The first is to go to confession, since it is a sacrament of healing which brings life to souls. The second, for those with deep wounds, is counseling with a Catholic psychologist who practices his faith. And the third way is to relate to Jesus in prayer, especially through the Mass. “Tell Christ about the pain and placing that pain into his healing wounds,” said Fr. Justin. “Jesus is the power to help forgive others and he is the power that will help you forgive yourself, for he is love, he is mercy, and he is our healing.”

Read more: http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog/2013/10/14/can-forgive-cant-forget#ixzz2hiAk12Nv

Categories: Christian Life

The Church Dies from Apostasy, Not Martyrdom

October 8th, 2013 1 comment

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” so the ancient saying goes. In this excerpt from a letter Hermann Sasse wrote to Lutheran pastors around the world, in 1954, he puts his finger precisely on the source of the Church’s greatest struggle and greatest danger: apostasy from the Christian faith. We have seen this apostasy growing ever stronger throughout liberal mainline protestantism of all stripes.

“The church is not dying from martyrdom, but from apostasy. How did it happen, that a small booklet, which appeared in 1848 under the title The Communist Manifesto [1948], has gained such a power over minds? It began in the Christian countries. Karl Marx [1818-1883]  was the son of a baptized Jew, but his closest collaborator, Friedrich Engels [1920-1895], came from a pietistic factory family in Wuppertal, from one of the many pious families which have always been such loyal supporters of missions. And they found their followers among Europe’s workers, Catholic and Protestant. And now, this small book, which became the catechism of Europe’s workers, has become the confession of uncounted millions throughout the entire world, perhaps the most-used textbook in contemporary humanity, the contents of which even illiterates learn. What does this mean? Does it indicate that the power of the Christian faith has been extinguished, or that the Christian message has lost its attractiveness for so many people? Simply compare the numbers of the missionary statistics for the Christian missionaries and the Islamic missionaries in Africa, and you will be shocked, even if you consider that the figures aren’t comparable. Consider Islam’s power, consider that our mission had its great successes among the primitive people, but that there has not yet been a break-through into one of the main high religions of Asia. We do not want to minimize in any way the rich harvest which God has, despite everything, still granted to our mission work. With nothing but thankfulness can we consider the sometimes superhuman work which our missionaries, and not only the Lutheran ones, perform under conditions of unspeakable difficulty. But the big question can’t be silenced, whether Christendom as a whole hasn’t lost something. It is not only the changed world situation, the awakening of various people-groups who now continue the nationalism of our nineteenth century and thence steer straight into communism, which makes our work so difficult. It must be a deep sickness, which has taken from Christendom of all denominations the power which it once had. Such a sickness once destroyed the churches of Africa and Asia, save for a small remnant, as many Christians could hardly wait until they became Muslims and could thereby escape the special tax which they had to pay. A similar sickness is passing through Europe’s churches today. It is useless to close one’s eyes to it. It doesn’t help, if [we renovate] the altar [and make it] higher and prettier, or if more and more clergymen march out in front of it in pompous robes. We have nothing against a good liturgy and a liturgical movement. But if that is supposed to be a substitute for the absent congregation and for the lost confession, then that is a sign that the church is terminally ill. It won’t help, either, if theology becomes more and more subtle, and whenever possible uses a language which an ordinary mortal can no longer understand. Even that can’t be a substitute for that from which the church lives. For this type of theology has nothing to do with the authentic theology from which the church lives. That is the theology which can be prayed, like the great theology of the Middle Ages and of old Lutheranism. That is the theology which is a confessing theology like the Nicene Creed [A.D. 385] or the Augsburg Confession [1530]. That is the theology which even children can already learn, like the Small Catechism [1529]. If we had such a theology, then the church would be helped in many respects. One need only to consider the repulsive vanity and glory-seeking of modern theologians of all denominations in order to remark that something here is wrong, that the secularization of the spiritual life is located in exactly that place from which the cure for it should come.”
Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors #35, September 1954
Categories: Christian Life

With the Lord Begin Your Task

September 9th, 2013 Comments off

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A great prayer as you start your day:

With the Lord begin your task;
Jesus will direct it.
For his aid and counsel ask;
Jesus will perfect it.
Every morn with Jesus rise,
And when day is ended,
In his name then close your eyes;
Be to him commended.

Let each day begin with prayer,
Praise, and adoration.
On the Lord cast every care;
He is your salvation.
Morning, evening, and at night
Jesus will be near you,
Save you from the tempter’s might,
With his presence cheer you.

With the Savior at your side,
Foes need not alarm you;
In his promised confide,
And no ill can harm you.
All your trust and hope repose
In the mighty master,
Who in wisdom truly knows
How to stem disaster.

If your task by thus begun
With the Savior’s blessing,
Safely then your course will run,
Toward the promise pressing.
Good will follow every where
While you here must wander.
You at last the joy will share
In the mansions yonder.
Author: Peter Frank
Tune: Fang Dein Werk
1st Published in: 1734

Categories: Christian Life

The Danger of Spiritual Satiety: Warning! Warning!

September 6th, 2013 Comments off

Are you familiar with the word “satiety”? I’d guess not many of us are. It’s not used very often, but once you understand it’s meaning, it becomes a pretty handy way to summary a critical concept with only one word. Here’s the dictionary definition: “the revulsion or disgust caused by overindulgence or excess.” Have you ever caught yourself, or somebody else say, “If I eat one more bite, I’ll explode” or “I ate so much, I think I’m going to be sick?” Yup, that’s it: satiety! Here is how you pronounce that word, by the way, click here to hear it.

In the first issue of the fourth volume of his newspaper, Der Lutheraner, Dr. C.F.W. Walther provides a wonderful citation from Luther’s commentary on Isaiah 49, specifically, verse five, where he explains this danger for Christians.

It is a very great temptation when we become satisfied and sated with the Word and develop disgust for it. For after Satan at first attacked the doctrine with force through the princes of the world, and then, after that, he cleverly stormed it through heretics. He secretly attacks every person by this vice of which the Scripture speaks in Numbers 21.5: “Our souls are disgusted with this miserable food.” Now since this vice is so wide spread, it has caused a great deal of harm. Tyrants and heretics are useful to the church, for they cause faith and the doctrine of the church to be exercised. Disgust for the Word and apathy towards it make people snore complacently in security, and subject them to all of Satan’s darts. For that reason this wake up call is necessary, that we be watchful. I personally had  found that previously I would have given all the kingdoms of this world if I could have understood just a single psalm; but at the time heaven was impenetrable and earth was a prison. But now, as the windows of heaven have been thrown open, we begin to become disgusted with it. People who have just read once through the New Testament are astounded with themselves and think that they’re all done with it and know it all completely. That’s why it will come about that the Word will be taken away from those who are so unthankful and be given to others whom we perhaps don’t know.

If you would like to receive a copy of Pastor Joel Baseley’s translations of Der Lutheraner via his email list, contact him here:

owner@markvpublications.com

Categories: Christian Life

I Walk With Angels … A Thought For You

August 26th, 2013 Comments off

 

I walk with angels all the way,
    They shield me and befriend me;
All Satan’s pow’r is held at bay
    When heav’nly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow, hence!
    Unharmed by foes, do what they may,
    I walk with angels all the way.

(Lutheran Service Book, 716:4)

angel_6

Categories: Christian Life

Emergent Christianity: A Good Case of the Sillies and Various and Sundry Heresies

August 16th, 2013 2 comments

Wild Goose Festival 2013 soars to loftier heights of weirdness. The Wild Goose “elders” discuss emergence Christianity on the main stage. (Photo Credit: IRD/Luke Moon)

Last week witnessed a rain-soaked gathering centered upon “the intersection of music, justice, spirituality and art” in Hot Springs, North Carolina. The muddy campground attracting an estimated 2,200 participants at times resembled Yoda’s swamp world of Dagobah, complete with Evangelical Left luminaries espousing theologies similar to the aged Star Wars character’s new age pronouncements.

The Wild Goose Festival — named after the Celtic imagery for the Holy Spirit—draws in aging Protestant Mainliners and disenchanted ex-evangelicals. The festival highlights what its apologists call “emergence Christianity,” but Wild Goose certainly does not shy away from liberal politics. This year’s event featured both in spades.

Emergence Christianity, popularly known as the Emergent Church movement, springs primarily from 20th century deconstructionism. In his public interview with Krista Tippett, emergent guru Brian McLaren described the movement as “postmodern…post-colonial…and post-Holocaust.” He contended that modernism is a “colonized…European form of Christianity” which crumbled away under the postmodern uncertainties of globalism and relativism.

McLaren thought the Holocaust frightened believers away from the idea of a “Christian nation,” all the while tyranny became associated with a faith in absolutes. “We’re probably at our worst when we present our faith not as a story but as a system,” he argued. “We need to give up the crazy European idea of monoreligious cultures.” Of course, opponents to such wondrous post-everything progress are none other than conservative evangelicals “with the audacity to say that homosexual people are ruining marriage” and Catholics “more concerned with keeping women out of the priesthood as the world is destroyed by carbon gases.”

Featured speaker Frank Schaeffer (outspoken critic of his father Francis’ legacy) was more direct: “Certainty is the enemy of the truth.” Indeed, many wild goslings boasted they were “seekers who haven’t found the answers,” but were “looking for companions on each of our respective faith journeys.” Wild Goose “elder” Vincent Harding addressed the opening invocation to “Mother-Father God, Benevolent Being,” “the spirits of those who came before,” and “the spirit of the earth.” Observers might not know where this flock is headed, but it’s definitely not north.

This loosey-goosey theology allows for a panoply of beliefs and practices. This year especially, the festival highlighted issues of sexuality. While organizers tout Wild Goose as a “safe space for dangerous conversation,” the festival benefited for the first time from sponsorship by the homosexual advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign. In one presentation, openly gay Roman Catholic priest James Alison likened church leaders with Italian traffic cops: well-dressed figures who occasionally feel the need to emerge from their booths and direct traffic, causing more problems. Asher Kolieboi, who was born female and now embraces a male identity, demanded a “trans theology” of affirmation in all congregations.

Such ethics require a tolerant God. Thankfully, the “Benevolent Being” is quite nonviolent! After all, the texts of violence, divine punishment, and judgment stand for “the people sharing how they understand themselves and God,” according to Pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin of the infamous Germantown Mennonite Church. “Whether or not it’s [historically] true doesn’t really matter to me,” she revealed. Of course, making space for a nonviolent God gives room for pacifism and universalism. If the Highest Power in the cosmos never inflicts pain to fulfill the demands of justice, who are human governors to carry out war? Moreover, if God does not punish sin, does He send anyone into Hell? Such unenlightened concepts typical of traditional American Protestantism should be thrown away with coal mining and offshore drilling.

Perhaps the perfect encapsulation of Wild Goose was its chili cornbread Eucharist. Touted as an example of “bioregional discipleship,” the service featured a “good old fashioned altar call tonight at communion,” where supplicants would repent of their “consumer lifestyle” and “petroleum-based investments.”

Wild goslings enjoyed a feel-good narrative of healthy eating and locally-grown ingredients. “I have grown this corn on our land in the [New Mexican] mountains. I ground it by hand…used rainwater from North Carolina to make the batter,” the presenter boasted. He added, “It’s mountain corn. It tastes toothy. This isn’t a white cornbread. It also has great chili and cheese we’ve added to that cornbread tonight, and it tastes meaty. It tastes like a body.” Opportunities for scatological humor aside, this insipid “Stuff White People Like” vibe resembles a Portlandia sketch more than a religious service. Apparently, the most important questions surrounding the sacrament aren’t about Christ’s presence and substance, but instead whether or not the ingredients are certified fair trade organic.

The size and longevity of the emergent movement remain questionable. During a Darkwood Brew live broadcast, one minister begged for advice since the conservatives had been scared out of her church and the congregation was on the brink of collapse. At the Alison lecture, a married lesbian from the Archdiocese of Detroit was struggling with “new, young conservative leadership.” Participants tended to be raised in the church; few if any converted from another religion (or cared to evangelize, since that is a “colonialist” endeavor).

Ever the contrarian, Frank Schaeffer observed in one of his workshops, “The mission of progressive Christianity is odd. It’s a bunch of people who realized their wagon is hitched to something supremely uncool, and so they try to hitch their wagon on something cool instead. The problem is that what is cool today is determined by a s*** culture.” Emergents do hitch their cart to such falling stars as environmentalism, pacifism, the Moral Monday protests, wealth redistribution, and “laughter yoga.” Like liberal Protestants before them, the Evangelical Left may also slip into irrelevance and lost vitality.

Ironically, for all their talk of misty uncertainties and multiculturalism, emergents remain assured that orthodox Christianity and conservative politics are erroneous. It seems that, in reaching out to theological misfits, the Wild Goose Festival has picked up all the heretics.

This article first appeared on The American Spectator website and was reposted with permission.

Categories: Christian Life

If God Himself Be For Me — A Hymn for Hard Times!

August 2nd, 2013 1 comment

God-please-help-me-today

 

“If God Himself Be for Me”
by Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676

1. If God Himself be for me,
I may a host defy;
For when I pray, before me
My foes, confounded, fly.
If Christ, my Head and Master,
Befriend me from above,
What foe or what disaster
Can drive me from His love?

2. This I believe, yea, rather,
Of this I make my boast,
That God is my dear Father,
The Friend who loves me most,
And that, whate’er betide me,
My Savior is at hand
Through stormy seas to guide me
And bring me safe to land.

3. I build on this foundation,
That Jesus and His blood
Alone are my salvation,
The true, eternal good.
Without Him all that pleases
Is valueless on earth;
The gifts I owe to Jesus
Alone my love are worth.

4. My Jesus is my Splendor,
My Sun, my Light, alone;
Were He not my Defender
Before God’s awe-full throne,
I never should find favor
And mercy in His sight,
But be destroyed forever
As darkness by the light.

5. He canceled my offenses,
Delivered me from death;
He is the Lord who cleanses
My soul from sin through faith.
In Him I can be cheerful,
Bold, and undaunted aye;
In Him I am not fearful
Of God’s great Judgment Day.

6. Naught, naught, can now condemn me
Nor set my hope aside;
Now hell no more can claim me,
Its fury I deride.
No sentence e’er reproves me,
No ill destroys my peace;
For Christ, my Savior, loves me
And shields me with His grace.

7. His Spirit in me dwelleth,
And o’er my mind He reigns.
All sorrow He dispelleth
And soothes away all pains.
He crowns His work with blessing
And helpeth me to cry,
“My Father!” without ceasing,
To Him who dwells on high.

8. And when my soul is lying
Weak, trembling, and opprest,
He pleads with groans and sighing
That cannot be exprest;
But God’s quick eye discerns them,
Although they give no sound,
And into language turns them
E’en in the heart’s deep ground.

9. To mine His Spirit speaketh
Sweet word of holy cheer,
How God to him that seeketh
For rest is always near
And how He hath erected
A city fair and new,
Where what our faith expected
We evermore shall view.

10. In yonder home doth flourish
My heritage, my lot;
Though here I die and perish,
My heaven shall fail me not.
Though care my life oft saddens
And causeth tears to flow,
The light of Jesus gladdens
And sweetens every woe.

11. Who clings with resolution
To Him whom Satan hates
Must look for persecution;
For him the burden waits
Of mockery, shame, and losses,
Heaped on his blameless head;
A thousand plagues and crosses
Will be his daily bread.

12. From me this is not hidden,
Yet I am not afraid;
I leave my cares, as bidden,
To whom my vows were paid.
Though life and limb it cost me
And everything I won,
Unshaken shall I trust Thee
And cleave to Thee alone.

13. Though earth be rent asunder,
Thou’rt mine eternally;
Not fire nor sword nor thunder
Shall sever me from Thee;
Not hunger, thirst, nor danger,
Not pain nor poverty
Nor mighty princes’ anger
Shall ever hinder me.

14. No angel and no gladness,
No throne, no pomp, no show,
No love, no hate, no sadness,
No pain, no depth of woe,
No scheme of man’s contrivance,
However small or great,
Shall draw me from Thy guidance
Nor from Thee separate.

15. My heart for joy is springing
And can no more be sad,
‘Tis full of mirth and singing,
Sees naught but sunshine glad.
The Sun that cheers my spirit
Is Jesus Christ, my King;
That which I shall inherit
Makes me rejoice and sing.

Hymn #528
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Rom. 8:31-39
Author: Paul Gerhardt
Translated by: based on Richard Massie, 1857
Titled: Ist Gott fuer mich, so trete
Composer: Melckior Teschner, 1613
Tune: Valet will ich dir geben

Categories: Christian Life

Confessing the Faith…Through All Generations

June 13th, 2013 5 comments

Here is a beautiful YouTube video of the reading of the Nicene Creed which dates back over a 1,000 years in the the Christian church. This recitation was done at Trinity Lutheran Church, Klein, TX during the March 4, 2012 church services by three members of Trinity as part of Lutheran Schools week. These three members, and students (former and present) are: Mr. Erich Klenk, 97 years old, confirmed in 1928, past Chairman of the congregation, charter member of the Men’s Club in 1946,  and Trinity’s oldest member. Lyle Lovett, great grandson of Trinity founding father Adam Klein, confirmed in 1971, singer/songwriter, and winner of four Grammys. Erin Pali, class of 2016 and current 4th grade student of Miss Marilyn Peterson/ Erin’s Dad Brett also had Miss Petersen in 4th grade during his years at Trinity. This video was posted to YouTube by Pat Blake.

 

Are Some Lutherans Antinomian? Yes, But Genuine Lutheranism is Not!

February 27th, 2013 34 comments

Yes, some Lutherans are antinomian. Witness the actions of the ELCA in formally embracing as acceptable and good, what God’s Word has declared to be sin and wrong. Witness the rhetoric we hear among so-called “conservative” and “confessional” Lutherans who make excuses for sin, who shrug it off, who bristle at any talk in a sermon of the way Christians are to live. I recall a conversation with a fellow pastor who told me about certain incidents involving fellow Lutheran pastors that shocked me. The excuse made for bad behavior was that they were enjoying the “freedom” of the Gospel. Such “freedom” be cursed to hell where it belongs and from which it comes! It is only the “freedom” pigs have to wallow in mud and their own filfth.

We Lutherans are rightly criticized by other Christians for a certain antinomian tendency among us. And it is not merely a perception based on their faulty theology, it is reality. When we still think it is appropriate to sell and promote T-shirts that say “Weak on sanctification” and make excuses for it, and about it, and when we praise public teachers who like to gas on about how they are “antinomians” and make it a butt of jokes and laughter, when we allow ourselves to grow lazy and indifferent when it comes to holiness of living, we are trifling with the Word of God. The likes of Werner Elert and Gerhard Forde have not been helpful to us on these issues. We have been preaching comfort into the ears of people, and avoiding telling them the consequences of being a Christian. I’ll say it again, and it always irritates some people when I do, but the reality is that there are those who have been so “comforted” that they think nothing of engaging in sin and pursuing vile activities, all the while appealing to their Baptism, or being “free in Christ” or being “Gospel and Christ-centered.” I have had actually had pastors tell me we should not quote St. Paul’s letters in our sermons when he talks about good works, because Paul’s letters were never intended as sermons, or that a sermon should never end with any kind of exhortation to do good works, because that would be a confusion of Law and Gospel. I’m not making this up!

Such antinomian and anti-holy living attitudes are not Lutheran. Period. No way. No how.

“Not all are Christians who boast of faith. Christ has shed His blood. We are justified by faith alone without works. You say, “I believe this.” The devil, you say! You have learned the words you have heard the same way mockingbirds learn to repeat things. Where are the fruits demonstrating that you truly believe? You remain in sins; you are a usurer and more. Surely Christ did not die and shed His blood for the sins that you are intent on committing continually, but so that He might destroy the works of the devil [1 John 3:8]. If you were formerly a usurer, say, like Zacchaeus: “I will give half of my goods, and if I have defrauded anyone, I will restore it fourfold.” [Luke 19:8]. The blood of Christ kills sin; it does not make it alive, which is the work of the devil, who inflames the desire that makes human beings murderers and adulterers. Christ did not die so that you might remain that kind of sinner, but so that sin, having been slain, might be blotted out, and you might henceforth love God and your neighbor. Faith takes away sins and puts them to death, so that you might not live in them but in righteousness. Therefore, show by your works and your fruits that there is faith in you. If not, the blood of Christ does not help. If you are a usurer, disobedient, neglectful of your station, then look to see whether you believe. For faith is victorious, triumphant, a conqueror of the world [1 John 5:4]. If you truly believe, you would not commit usury or adultery; you would not be disobedient. Let each one think: I have been made a believer; I have been washed in Baptism with the blood of the Son of God, so that my sins might be dead. [I will] not be disobedient and will declare this with my deeds.” Otherwise, give up the boast of being a believer. You know that you are a disobedient son, an adulterer; do not boast of faith and the blood of Christ. You belong to the devil, the way you are going, etc. You are bringing the name of the Lord into shame and yourself to eternal damnation.”

— Martin Luther, Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity on 1 John 4:16-21, Preached in St. Mary’s Church, Wittenberg, Germany June 7, 1545. Translated by Christopher Boyd Brown. Unpublished translation. Pr 2002; WA 49:80-87. Copyright Concordia Publishing House, 2010.

Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. Romans 6:12-14

Categories: Christian Life

Aversion to Sanctification Caused by Phobic Allergic Reaction to Any Talk About Good Works

February 25th, 2013 27 comments

 

In light of some recent comments I’ve run across again on this issue, it’s time once more for the “Aversion to Sanctification” blog post, since the problem persists and appears to have become part-and-parcel of what some perceive to a confessional Lutheran understanding of God’s Word.

More recent examples of this problem in action include a pastor posting a picture of a guy giving “the finger” and claiming there is nothing wrong with that and defending it, continued comments about how no matter what good works are done they are still “sinful,” and the ongoing effort to turn every comment in the Scriptures about the good works to which we are called into a discussion about the second use of the law, virtually laughing off Proverbs 31 and saying that text does not really apply to individuals but is really about Christ and the Church. I’ve had occasion, unfortunately, to observe pastors in my church body defending the use of obscenity and profanity. Why? Because they are “free” in Christ to do. I wish I was making this kind of thing up.

I think the comment that took the prize was posted on my Facebook wall some time ago where the text of God’s Word was actually twisted to the point that the that indicates that God has prepared good works for us to walk in, to read “good work upon which God has prepared us to work” thus not about good works, but about Christ. All these things are put forward with the best of intentions, but they betray an unhealthy lack of balance and understanding on these issues.

I read recently a lay Lutheran theologian taking broad swipes with little understanding of the subject about which he was speaking, and, I should note, this lay theologian is a disciple and fan of Gerhard Forde, whose writings I have always found to be remarkably unremarkable and, in fact, a cause of some of the problems we have on these issues. As one wag put it, the only thing he finds helpful in Forde’s writings is when he is quoting Martin Luther. Keep in mind that Forde denied the Biblical teaching concerning the atonement, the very heart of the Gospel itself, and from there he went wrong on sanctification, the law, good works and a whole host of other Christian doctrines. My advice for any seminarian or college student reading this is: put away Forde and take up much better resources on Lutheran theology!

The memory of a most disturbing conversation with two younger men I had some time ago still is as fresh as ever. They were gleefully asserting that listening to the audio pornography and vile filth of Eminem is appropriate for Christians. One suggested that because only what comes out of a man is what makes him sinful that it matters not what he sees, or hears, as a Christian. These two young men are sadly typical of a poorly formed understanding of the life of good works to which we are called as Christians that seems pandemic in the Christian Church, where apparently some can wax eloquent about how they are striving to be faithful to God’s Word, but then turn right around and wallow in the mire and squalor of sin. This all the more underscores for me the point that we have a serious lack of emphasis on the call to holy living and good works which is part-and-parcel of our new life in Christ, truths that have, apparently until recently, been taught in our beloved Lutheran church. There is much teaching that is not being done, that must done. Simply repeating formulas and phrases about justification is not teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God. Comforting people with the Gospel when there is no genuine repentance for sin is doing them a disservice. There is a serious “short circuit” here that we need to be mindful of. Let this be clear. Listening to the “music” of swine such as Eminem is sinful and willfully choosing to listen to it is sin that drives out the Holy Spirit. This is deadly serious business. Deadly. Serious.

Pastors who wash their hands of this responsibility claiming that they want to avoid interjecting law into their sermons when they have preached the Gospel are simply shirking their duty as preachers and are being unfaithful to God’s Word.

We have done such a fine job explaining that we are not saved by works that we have, I fear, neglected to urge the faithful to lives of good works as faithfully and clearly as we should. This should not be so among us brethren. Parenesis is lacking in much preaching and teaching. Sermons become a never ending recitation of the doctrine of justification, as if that is the only doctrine taught in Holy Scripture.

I’m growing increasingly concerned that with the necessary distinction between faith and works that we must always maintain, we Lutherans are tempted to speak of good works and the life of sanctification in such a way as to either minimize it, or worse yet, neglect it. I read sermons and hear comments that give me the impression that some Lutherans think that good works are something that “just happen” on some sort of a spiritual auto-pilot. Concern over a person believing their works are meritorious has led to what borders on paranoia to the point that good works are simply not taught or discussed as they should be. It seems some have forgotten that in fact we do confess three uses of the law, not just a first or second use.

The Apostle, St. Paul, never ceases to urge good works on his listeners nad readers. I recall a conversation once with a person who should know better telling me that the exhortations to good works and lengthy discussions of sanctification we find in the New Testament are not a model at all for preaching, since Paul is not “preaching” but rather writing a letter. This is not a good thing.

A number of years ago an article appeared that put matters well and sounded a very important word of warning and caution. It is by Professor Kurt E. Marquart of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I strongly encourage you to give it your most serious attention.

Antinomian Aversion to Sanctification?

An emerited brother writes that he is disturbed by a kind of preaching that avoids sanctification and “seemingly questions the Formula of Concord . . . about the Third Use of the Law.” The odd thing is that this attitude, he writes, is found among would-be confessional pastors, even though it is really akin to the antinomianism of “Seminex”! He asks, “How can one read the Scriptures over and over and not see how much and how often our Lord (in the Gospels) and the Apostles (in the Epistles) call for Christian sanctification, crucifying the flesh, putting down the old man and putting on the new man, abounding in the work of the Lord, provoking to love and good works, being fruitful . . . ?”

I really have no idea where the anti-sanctification bias comes from. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk over-reaction to “Evangelicalism”: since they stress practical guidance for daily living, we should not! Should we not rather give even more and better practical guidance, just because we distinguish clearly between Law and Gospel? Especially given our anti-sacramental environment, it is of course highly necessary to stress the holy means of grace in our preaching. But we must beware of creating a kind of clericalist caricature that gives the impression that the whole point of the Christian life is to be constantly taking in preaching, absolution and Holy Communion-while ordinary daily life and callings are just humdrum time-fillers in between! That would be like saying that we live to eat, rather than eating to live. The real point of our constant feeding by faith, on the Bread of Life, is that we might gain an ever-firmer hold of Heaven-and meanwhile become ever more useful on earth! We have, after all, been “created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Cars, too, are not made to be fueled and oiled forever at service-stations. Rather, they are serviced in order that they might yield useful mileage in getting us where we need to go. Real good works before God are not showy, sanctimonious pomp and circumstance, or liturgical falderal in church, but, for example, “when a poor servant girl takes care of a little child or faithfully does what she is told” (Large Catechism, Ten Commandments, par. 314, Kolb-Wengert, pg. 428).

The royal priesthood of believers needs to recover their sense of joy and high privilege in their daily service to God (1 Pet. 2:9). The “living sacrifice” of bodies, according to their various callings, is the Christian’s “reasonable service” or God-pleasing worship, to which St. Paul exhorts the Romans “by the mercies of God” (Rom. 12:1), which he had set out so forcefully in the preceding eleven chapters! Or, as St. James puts it: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (1:27). Liberal churches tend to stress the one, and conservatives one the other, but the Lord would have us do both!

Antinomianism appeals particularly to the Lutheran flesh. But it cannot claim the great Reformer as patron. On the contrary, he writes:

“That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee s if t were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstance use these or similar words, “Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!” Instead they say, “Listen! Though you are an adultery, a wordmonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all! . . . They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach… “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extol so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, He has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men . . . Christ did not earn only gratia, grace, for us, but also donum, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain fro sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, “Christ! Christ!” He must be damned with this, his new Christ (On the Council and the Church, Luther’s Works, 41:113-114).

Where are the “practical and clear sermons,” which according to the Apology “hold an audience” (XXIV, 50, p. 267). Apology XV, 42-44 (p. 229) explains:

“The chief worship of God is to preach the Gospel…in our churches all the sermons deal with topics like these: repentance, fear of God, faith in Christ, the righteousness of faith, prayer . . . the cross, respect for the magistrates and all civil orders, the distinction between the kingdom of Christ (the spiritual kingdom) and political affairs, marriage, the education and instruction of children, chastity, and all the works of love.”

“Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, unto Thy Church Thy Holy Spirit, and the wisdom which cometh down from above, that Thy Word, as becometh it, may not be bound, but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, that I steadfast faith we may serve Thee, and in the confession of Thy Name abide unto the end: through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”

Kurt Marquart

Concordia Theological Quarterly

Categories: Christian Life

Angry Boldness and Gentle Boldness — Learning the Difference

February 16th, 2013 6 comments

imagesHere’s the thing: just because we are on a mission from God, which we are, does not give us the right to say whatever we want, whenever we want to say it.

We all need to heed these very wise words from St. John Chrysostom. I know I sure need to work on this. Oh how often have I lashed out unthinkingly or said something that may be true, but not helpful.

If we speak in anger, we do it with passion and the “boldness” of those who are confident of their case. But if we speak with gentleness, this is boldness. Boldness is a success and anger is a failure. And success and failure can’t possibly go together. Therefore, if we want to have boldness, we must clear away our anger so that no once can attribute our words to it. No matter how sound your words may be, no matter how boldly you speak, how fairly you correct, or what not, you ruin everything when you speak with anger. Look at Stephen and how free his words to his persecutors were from passion. He didn’t abuse them but reminded them of the prophets’ words. In order to show you that it wasn’t done in anger, he prayed as he suffered evil from their hands, “Lay not to their charge this sin.” He was far from speaking those words in anger. No, he spoke out of grief and sorrow for their sakes.

When You Fast…

February 5th, 2013 18 comments

Did you know that our Lord Jesus Christ assumed that His disciples would fast, just as He assumed they would pray? Jesus commended fasting as a private act of humility and devotion to God (see Matthew 6:16-18). Note particularly that he says, “When you fast…” not “If you fast…” Take a look at Matthew 9:14-15. The first Christians fasted (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23). Why shouldn’t a twenty-first century Christian do likewise? Why?

Because we are, as a culture and society, gluttons. After all, we are a “consumer” society. We consume, consume and consume some more. We eat to the point that our bellies are too large, we weigh too much, and we inflict chronic illness on ourselves brought on by poor diet and exercise habits. I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard. We do not fast to earn brownie points with God, but that fact has become our excuse for not fasting, for not attending to self-disipline and self-mortification. We excuse our laziness and gluttony by appealing to our freedom in Christ as forgiven children. We let ourselves off the hook all the while comforting ourselves that we are free not to get caught up in “legalistic” requirements such as fasting. We look at the required fasts in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and rightly criticize the imposition of such rules as contrary to the Gospel freedom we have, but then we again use this an excuse not to fast. We’ll show those legalists, as we continue stuffing our faces and filling our bellies with the food that perishes.

As we now approach the beginning of Lent, it is good to recall that Lent has been, historically, throughout the Church’s history, a time that involves fasting. The German name for Lent used historically in Luthernaism is Fastenzeit,  “Fast time.” The spiritual discipline of fasting was always part of historic Lutheranism, but as in so many other areas of our church life, the desire to “fit in” with the rest of American Protestantism, led this practice to fall into disuse among us. Luther assumes that fasting will be part of Lutherans’ practice when they prepare to receive the Supper, for in the Catechism he writes, “Fasting is indeed fine outward bodily preparation…” What he goes on to say about the proper preparation being faith and trust in Christ was never intended to be an excuse not to fast. In The Lutheran Study Bible there is a great article on fasting and I thought you might find it useful as you consider how you will be observing Lent.

Afflicting One’s Soul

The modern Jewish calendar has 28 fasting days, but in the Old Testament, God commanded only one annual fast. In Lv 16:29–31, Moses gave God’s dictum to “afflict [deny] yourselves” on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In response to the atonement for Israel’s corporate sin, devout Israelites would fast from morning until evening on the tenth day of the seventh month. Before the exile to Babylon, Israelites fasted during times of impending danger, mourning, sickness, threat of war, distress, and sorrow. For example, Hannah did not eat because of the great stress brought about by her barrenness (1Sm 1:7), and David fasted after learning of Abner’s death (2Sm 3:35). Religious leaders also mandated periods of fasting at times of great national crisis (cf Jgs 20:26; 2Ch 20:3; Jer 36:9). These examples show that fasting was an expression of sorrow and, most important, an expression of repentance.

Overindulgence

Where faith is strongest, Satan works hardest. While God esteems those who are “humble and contrite in spirit” (Is 66:2), Satan vigorously attacks them with temptations to overindulge. Thankfully, God did not leave His people powerless in their sin. In answer to prayer, God sent Isaiah to call passionately for their repentance and help them understand the true character of fasting as an expression of sorrow over sin and an opportunity to have mercy on the hungry (Is 58:3–8). Unfortunately, instead of heeding God’s call, the people continued in their self-centeredness and thus brought about the Babylonian exile. For God’s people, the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the first temple by Nebuchadnezzar (587 BC) was a turning point in history rivaled only by the Roman destruction of Herod’s temple (AD 70). As a result of the exile, four new fasts were added to the Jewish calendar, each marking key historical dates leading up to and including the exile (Zec 8:18–19). For instance, a fast in the fourth month laments the breach of Jerusalem’s outer wall by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 52:6–7). A fast in the fifth month commemorates the burning of God’s holy temple and other buildings (2Ki 25:8–9), while a fast in the seventh month marks the assassination of Gedaliah, whom the king of Babylon had placed as governor over Judah (Zec 7:5). Finally, a fast during the tenth month is held in memory of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem (2Ki 25:1). These fasts served a holy purpose: they reminded the Israelites of the sorrows brought by neglecting God’s Word. However, over time fasting became another way the Israelites abused God’s Word. In the hope of preventing any further captivity, Jewish scholars pored over the writings of Moses, frantically searching for a reason why God exiled them. They determined to apply the Law more vigorously. What followed was a fundamental shift in their belief system. To this day, many Jewish people still believe that if they keep all the laws perfectly, they will gain salvation. Fasting changed from an expression of repentance to compulsory appeasement of a legalistic code. This deception led many astray to spend eternity apart from the Lord, who desires to save all people (1Tm 2:3–4).

The Appearing of Christ

Before the birth of Jesus, the Pharisees mandated twice-weekly fasting (Lk 18:9–12). The Essenes, a splinter group that may have lived at Qumran, centered much of their lives on fasting. For the unfaithful, fasting was something done to curry God’s favor—a duty, a work, a law. But for the faithful, fasting continued as an expression of repentance and reverence for the Lord, who created them and promised to redeem them. After Jesus’ Baptism, He went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights (Mt 4:2). This recalled the devotion of Moses (Ex 24:18), the great prophet Elijah (1Ki 19:8), and the 40 years of wilderness wandering for Israel. During this fast, Satan repeatedly tempted Jesus, but He used God’s precious Word to defend Himself.

Fasting for You

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke against fasting as a means of salvation. Instead, He commended fasting as a private, voluntary act of humility before God (Mt 6:16–18). Take a few moments now to read His words and reflect on your own devotion. If you are like most people, you have thought more about dieting than fasting. It is hard to imagine a daylong fast. No doubt fasting for 40 days like Jesus did after His Baptism is out of the question. Yet our Lord’s words clearly reveal that fasting should be part of a Christian’s life: He said, “When you fast” (Mt 6:16), not “If you fast” (cf Mt 9:14–15). The early Christians fasted (Ac 13:2–3; 14:23). Why shouldn’t a twenty-first-century Christian do likewise? As you fast, let the feelings of hunger you experience remind you to pray. Spend the time you would normally spend eating by reading God’s Word and meditating on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through His Word, the Lord will bless and nourish you. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’ ” (Is 58:8–9).

How You Might Fast

Consider fasting for a meal or two before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Spend your extra time studying God’s Word and singing Communion hymns. Fasting during Lent can be a wonderful way to remember the perfect obedience of Christ and His sacrifice for your salvation. Money not spent on food may be donated for the poor. You might follow this routine for a daylong fast: (1) rise before dawn and eat breakfast; (2) examine yourself as you would prior to partaking of the Lord’s Supper; (3) offer your life to God in penitent prayer; (4) go about your day, breaking your fast at evening. If you are diabetic, fasting could be hazardous. Check with your doctor. Do not consider fasting as a dieting program. If abstaining from food is not possible, consider abstaining from something else. For example, turn off your television and spend time in prayer and study of God’s Word.

Source: The Lutheran Study Bible, page 189.

Categories: Christian Life