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Category: Good news

Children of promise

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (...

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (Gen. 21:14-20) Русский: Агарь и Измаил в пустыне (Быт. 21:14-20) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Galatians 4:

24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

If you’ve read much of the Old Testament from Exodus on, you might get the impression that God is really interested in Israel.  And, you’d be right.  He spent a lot of time making a people His own who had no claim on God whatsoever.  God called them out of Egypt by Grace.

They wandered in the desert and were provided for directly from the hand of the Lord.  Yet, God took the time in the midst of this “transitional period” to give them the Ten Commandments.  Why?  Weren’t they getting along?

But before the ink on the stone had dried (figuratively speaking), they were building a golden calf to worship.  Israel was a nation of … idolaters.

Of course, that is symptomatic of mankind in general.  Israel, like Adam, were the best possible representatives of the human race.  But they couldn’t remain loyal to Yahweh or Moses long enough for them to “finish business”.

As time went by, Israel broke these and many other laws that the Lord gave them.  Time after time, they would be taken by other nations into slavery as punishment.  Eventually, they added more laws to God’s laws so that they wouldn’t get close enough to break the real thing.

It’s like if you told a child, “don’t pick up that vase”.  The real problem is you don’t wan them to drop it, but to make sure this doesn’t happen, you anticipate and give them a command that subverts their intent.

This was the situation with Israel as Christ entered the picture.  The Pharisees asked why the disciples of Jesus broke their rules.  Jesus would respond by asking them why they broke the rules of God.

And so, Israel was at it again, making a golden calf out of man-made laws.  They were worshiping their own obedience, their own morality, their own righteousness.  They became living idols to themselves.

This Pharisaic form of Judaism crept into the church, as well.  Paul, who was a Jew of Jews, absolutely rejects the notion that returning to law will “right” the behavior of the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.  He asserts that the judaizers in the church were sons of Hagar and Ishmael rather that Sarah and Isaac.  Why?

Because they held that their sonship was maintained by their efforts to hold to God’s Law as revealed in the Old Testament.  They had forgotten the foundation of the Ten Commandments which read “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt.  They had forgotten that they were not a people before God chose and rescued them.  They had forgotten how He parted the Sea.  They had forgotten how the Israelites were fed by bread from heaven and water from a rock.  They had forgotten that they stood on the mercy of God.

They were children of promise who sold their birthright for the bitter meal of Law-keeping self-idolatry.

But, Paul speaks to the gentile converts and says that they (like Israel) were children of promise.  They were children of old, old Sarah.  They were the last born.  They were not the “seed”, but were children of Ishmael who were transplanted into the stump.  They were adopted by God Himself in Jesus Christ.  They were now sons of the living God.

The laws that they lived under were slavery to every form of gross sin under the sun; temple prostitution, orgies, drunkenness, jealousy, envy, etc.  They were slaves to their desires.  Their gods were their stomachs.

But it was for freedom that Christ had set them free.  Was He setting them free to observe the Pharisaic morality invading the early church?  No, He was setting them free to live in the constant light of God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace distributed through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  He was setting them free from gross sin, so why would he want them to learn the Pharisaic idolatry of the judaizers?  That is religious sin.

We face this today in the church.  Many would like to enslave you with demands, guilt and manipulation.  These vipers should not think that they will receive one thing from God.  They have become idolators of the worst sort.  They have abandoned Christ and all His mercy.  They have returned to the vomit of self-righteous living.  And they want you to follow along.

I suggest telling them this, “Get behind me Satan!  The Son has set me free.  He has fulfilled all of the Law’s demands and has been fully punished for my sin.  There is no other name on earth or in Heaven by which a man may be saved, including yours.”

The present reality of your resurrection

John 5:

19Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. 20“For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel. 21“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

24“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

Paul taught that belief comes by hearing in Romans 10:17 (it’s a good idea to read from verse 14 – on).  This passive reception (hearing) produces resurrection.  It is a past-tense event. This means that we are simultaneously resurrected in a temporal life.

Certainly, the resurrection will happen at Christ’s coming, but, our spiritual rebirth has already happened in the hearing of the good news.

 

 

Feeling lost?

Luke 19:

8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Even … lost Christians

9th inning, two out, down three runs

SVG drawing of a baseball bat.

SVG drawing of a baseball bat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again.  Baseball is in full stride and my team is doing well.  The other day, though, they got beat pretty bad.  If you looked at the seats in the last hour of the game, they were emptying out.

Game over; mercifully.

The disciples had a more disappointing 9th inning, when Jesus went to His death via the crucifix.  Perhaps they hoped for some last-minute reprieve from Pontius Pilate.  Or, maybe they thought Jesus would put on His running shoes and take off for Egypt.  Instead, time ran out, Jesus died, and the game was over.

Funny thing about God, though.  He loves hopeless, utterly hopeless situations.  He wants to wait until hope is lost, faith is a mere cooling ember, and everyone has left the stadium.

It’s actually the best time to go back and see what will happen.

You see, while everyone was talking about “how good Jesus was” and how disappointed they felt, and they were beginning to mourn, God was resurrecting Jesus.  The lights were out (in the tomb) the door (stone) was closed, and everyone was back home.

But the light of the world was about to show them the Glory of God.

He didn’t listen to the game being called at the end of the 9th.  Instead, God made a tenth inning.  An eternal tenth.  A tenth inning in which He began the victory over not just the world, but the flesh and the Devil as well.

With just one small piece of wood, Jesus hit the home run of all home runs, bringing all the stranded base runners out of condemnation to the home plate of eternal grace and salvation.  He crushed our enemies like a deep ball to left field.

And people are still running home on that hit.

May God give us the strength and courage to proclaim the greatest victory in the history of humanity to all people, Amen.

 

Going to bat for a friend

Mark 2:
1And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Some people have a lot of friends, and some have only a few.  The question is, how many are willing to do anything for you?  The men in the story above ripped through a roof to get their friend healed by Jesus.  What an effort!

First, they had to carry him over to the house Jesus was at.  Then they had to get him on the roof.  Next, they had to tear open a hole big enough to let this man through (I guess they never learned about respecting their neighbors’ property 😉 ).  Then, they lowered him down on ropes in front of Jesus.
Their actions were a demonstration that they believed Jesus had the ability to heal their friend.

There are times in our lives when we have lost hope, confidence, or feel depressed.  The best friends are the one who are able to re-orient your mind by saying something to you that addresses your need perfectly.
Maybe, they surprise you with a thought that you hadn’t considered before.  It turns your perception of reality upside down.  You cannot help but smile to think of it.  Your load has been lightened, no, it has been taken away.

These men probably tried everything to get their friend healed.  They probably talked with him and encouraged him.

But, the words he and his friends really wanted to hear were, “You are healed”.
Instead, Jesus interrupts their thinking pattern.  He addresses a totally different issue.  He tells this paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven”.  In one phrase, Jesus declares Himself to be God, declares the man to be a son of the kingdom of God, and declares this man is forgiven and will be in heaven on the last day.
That wasn’t what anyone expected.  Some were offended.  Some were amazed.  God’s forgiveness is the greatest healing.  It is the healing of the soul.  It is resurrection from the dead.  It is the guarantee of eternal life with Him.

But, Jesus didn’t stop there.  The minor issue was this man’s healing.  And Jesus does this by command for action.  The man walks away, healed. Twice.

We need continual forgiveness for sin.  One of the sweetest things we can hear is the pastor declaring, “I, as a called and ordained servant of Christ, forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …”

How can Jesus forgive sins?  How is this possible?

Jesus did more than go to bat for us.  Jesus went to another piece of wood and was crucified on it for us.  Jesus gave His own life to declare to you now, “Son, Daughter, your sins are forgiven”

In His name, Amen.

Jesus is the Gospel

The gospel is not:  a decision to receive, believe, retrieve your own personal Jesus.

The gospel is not: making Him Lord, re-dedicating your life, saying a “sinner’s prayer”

In fact, the Gospel is completely outside of your (or my) activity.

The Gospel is ALL God’s activity through Jesus Christ.

What is ‘Gospel’?  It means ‘Good News’.

It is Jesus dying on the cross for your sin and my sin, and being raised in resurrection, so we can have the gift of resurrection in Him.

What’s the bad news?

First, the world is fallen and it can’t get up

Second, the devil is a fallen angel, not an archaic, pre-logical myth

Third, we have fallen into our coffin, and are bound to a horrible eternal end unless there’s an intervention

In other words, the situation is hopeless.

God loves hopeless situations.

God loves hopeless sinners.

Because Jesus was given as a sacrifice for sin.  He came to seek and save that which was lost.  Jesus came for sinners (including me).

And, He continues to be the good news for us.

When we confess our sin (not a feeling), He is faithful and just to forgive us based on His bloody death.

When we have doubt (by the way, doubt means you have faith to begin with), He remains faithful as a priest before the Father in Heaven.

When we are hungry for good news, we can find it in the promise that God has sent a deliverer in Jesus.  He hasn’t come for “good people”, but for those who have no hope in themselves.

He is hope fulfilled.  Both now and forever.  Amen.

Working out your self-deification with arrogance and boasting

When I was in high school, I worked as a stage hand one semester.  I was in the background, helping to move stage elements.  We changed backdrops, moved furniture, and moved props.

We got to see everything back there.  The audience, though, was unaware of anything but what they saw in front of them.

This is true for our view of the world, too.  Most people are largely unaware of what “backdrops” are behind their thinking.  It’s too much work to figure it out.  It’s more fun just to watch the play.

Our view of the purpose of the Bible is also influenced by our background beliefs.  Everyone comes to it with beliefs/perspectives of what it’s about.  And, if they don’t have any prior experience with it, they soon become aware that it talks a lot about commands, God, promises, war, sex, death, resurrection, angels and other “religious stuff”.

This helps to explain the differences in denominations.  If you go to a church, you probably accept their “backdrop” explanation of the purpose of the Bible.

But, is it correct?  Have you ever considered that conservative Christians (not talking politically here) have legitimate and valid differences concerning the purpose of the Bible?

One of the current “backdrops” is called “Lordship Salvation”.  It assumes that the Bible is a book of rules that we must follow perfectly otherwise we are not true disciples.  Christians in these churches assume that their church is “Biblical”.  They assume that Christians in other churches are weak or disobedient.  They assume this because this is the result of what they believe about the Bible and the Christian life.

Where does this belief come from?  Why do people believe that once they “receive Jesus” or “repent and believe” (as the Lordship Salvation camp would say), they must “get to work”, “live obediently” and “put your nose to the grindstone”?  Why does the Christian life return to me and my works?

Simple.  This is the theology of the Old Adam.  It is a theology that denies  the Lordship of Christ.  The Old Man denies that Christ is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  He denies John 6:28-29 which the disciples ask, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” The Old Adam denies Hebrews 10:10 which states, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

And in so denying that these verses are for Christians, the Old Adam denies Christ, Himself.  The Old Adam replaces Jesus with his own works, effort and obedience.  The Old Adam works to keep himself alive rather than submit to the crucifixion of Jesus as both the one who births faith in us and feeds faith through the means of grace.

The Old Adam is busy keeping himself as god.  He is his own lord.  He lives a blasphemous life.

And because of the extreme moral demands of Lordship Salvation, Christians under this theology can go only three directions:

In the first option, they can become self-righteous, arrogant about their relationship with God, and in denial about the depth of God’s demands on their lives.  This person is willing to judge others harshly and never examine his/her own life in light of the “full thundering” of the Law.  They become deeply judgmental, lacking any love.

In the second option, the Christian of sensitive conscience is thrown into despair about their salvation.  Martin Luther, the great reformer, fell into this camp when the terrors of Roman Catholic theology scared him into a monastery to find peace.  Eventually, these Christians will either leave the church, or have their faith shipwrecked.  Some of these people become hopeless and becomes agnostics/atheists because of the lack of mercy in these church bodies.

In the third option, they can remain superficial, never taking any of it seriously, and covering up with a false edifice.

There is a fourth option, however.  Along with many other who have escaped the clutches of Lordship Salvation, I encountered a completely different backdrop when I read Martin Luther.  Because I had lived in both the first and second options, Luther’s Bondage of the Will was like a key to open the prison door I lived in.

His view was that we begin and end with Christ when it comes to the Christian life.  In Biblical terms, that means that Jesus retains His lordship as the Alpha and the Omega.  We are to come to church to hear “Christ crucified” rather than the “ten steps to overcoming sin”.

This is a theology of reception.  It is a theology that believes that God is at work on and in us, and that it is His pleasure to do so.

It is a theology that views the Scripture as the manger in which we find the Christ-child.  He is the heart of its meaning, purpose and proclamation.  Read Hebrews.  Is it about you or about Jesus?  Read the Gospel from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.  Is it about you or Jesus?

And, having this “cross theology” also means that we interpret the Bible as being Law or Gospel.  This means that God’s demands reveal our inherent sinfulness, but God has provided His own Son to fulfill ALL of these demands and cleanse us from ALL sin.  Even the sin of trying to be your/my own God.

Why does He do this?  Look at Romans 3:

 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

 Acts 4:12 states; “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” No other name, not even your own.

To the Glory of His Holy Lordship, Amen.

Double dipping

Since my first daughter was very little, she liked to dip things into ketchup (catsup) or ranch dressing.  It really didn’t matter what the food was.  Even if we put teriyaki chicken on the table, she would say, “ketchup!”

You and I aren’t much different; think of your favorite spinach dip, or nacho cheese dip.  Sometimes, the food we eat is simply a “delivery method” for the condiment.

If the dip is really good, you might wait until everyone looks away at the party and dip that baby carrot into the ranch dip after you’ve already gnawed on it.  Our society frowns on double dipping, though.  It has a negative connotation.  It’s kind of a germ issue.

In truth, though, we live in a ‘germy world’.  Staph is everywhere, bacteria grows in places that are apparently clean.  Even when I am careful not to touch public handles and doorknobs, I come into contact with strains of things that make me sick.  And, inevitably, it gets passed on to those around me.

Sin is like that in a way.  When Adam and Eve made their choice, they chose against the will of God.  They chose sin, and became infected with a life-threatening disease.  More than that, they were guaranteed to die.  Without the proper medication, they were doomed for all eternity.

Their offspring were also doomed, because we inherited the infection of utter sinfulness.  Now, we have no choice, but to sin.

Into this dark situation, the Son of God and Light of the World provides another option.  It took His entering into this world and becoming sin for us to set us free from the Law of sin and death (Law is best understood as “rule”).  But, His death on the cross is not merely historical, static fact.  It was an intercession that continues to this day.  The following passage illustrates this;

Romans 8

31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”l

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,m neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This passage is pure gospel for those who are persecuted, ill, suffering, dying, poverty-ridden, or undergoing various trials.  It also identifies what kind of Jesus we have; a double dipper.

Although He fulfilled the Law and died for our sin as intercessor, He so identified with our continued need that He intercedes for us continually.  Our living Christ, our living King, comes before the Father and talks to Him on our behalf.

Is there a greater love possible?  And He is active in other ways, too.  He comes to us in our water baptism.  He comes to us through the communion table.  He comes to us in the hearing of the Word and the rightly divided Law and Gospel preaching of the pastor.

Jesus doesn’t merely double dip as an intercessor.  He lives as our intercession.  For now and forever.

Amen

Post it note Gospel

It’s easy to  get side-tracked.  So many things compete for our attention in a given day.  You might have a few goals that you write down in the morning, or even the night before, only to find that all kinds of other things are in need of more pressing attention.

It is frustrating.  Instead of a straight line to achieve the daily goals, you zigzag, dodging and swerving to get these accomplished.  Sometimes “priorities” get pushed back days or even weeks.

If you’re like me, you have  a dozen sticky notes with various reminders on them.  This helps me to recall goals I had set earlier.  These little notes remind me of what is important.

The opening portion of Deuteronomy reads like reminder notes to Israel.  Moses recounts the ways in which  Israel was rescued and provided for by Yahweh.  He does this to remind Israel of how they are little, weak and rebellious, but Yahweh is a mighty, infinite and connected God.

Even so, Yahweh is tired of Israel’s rebellion early on in Deuteronomy 9, which Moses retells:

“‘Furthermore, the Lord said to me, “I have seen this people,

and behold, it is a stubborn people.  Let me alone,

that I may destroy them and blot out their name

from under heaven.  And I will make of you a nation mightier

and greater than they” (vs.13-14)

Although Yahweh had invested so much into this people, He was ready to destroy them.  “That’s not the post it note I want to be reminded of, Moses.  I’d rather hear about how we are a chosen people,” the Israelites might have said to themselves.

Even worse, Moses tells them later in this chapter that he had to beg God for mercy on Israel:

“So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you.And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.”  For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.’ (vs 25-29)

Moses threw himself down before the Lord on behalf of Israel.  He literally laid down his life before an angry God.  In essence, Moses was saying, “If you have found favor with me, please forgive them.”

For us Christians, this is powerful stuff.  Moses lays down his very life, first, then makes appeals based on the Lord’s own statements about His people.  He also makes an appeal based on the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This scene is a foreshadowing of what Christ would do.  He laid down His own life.  But, instead of laying it down for the small community of people with a common bloodline, He laid it down for all people of all bloodlines.  The God-man was pleasing to God the Father in His very existence.  He fulfilled the entire law entirely.  His life was not given for the extinguishing of just one moment of God’s wrath.  He gave His life for the eternity of the Father’s wrath that was to be poured out upon us.

He left no sticky notes of sin, but was covered with every single one of them, both yours and mine.  In Him, we are set free from the Law of sin and death.  In Him we can loudly proclaim, “Therefore, there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

And, when we do sin, we can come to Him, confess our sin, and hear the statement: “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This is the giant post it note God has chosen to repeat to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

He has laid down His body.  He has given His life.  His death is our forgiveness, now and forever.

Amen

Blessing the Children

Mark 10:13-16

English Standard Version (ESV)

Let the Children Come to Me
13(A) And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples(B) rebuked them. 14But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, (C) “Let the children come to me;(D) do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15(E) Truly, I say to you, whoever does not(F) receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16And(G) he took them in his arms and blessed them,(H) laying his hands on them.

We, as parents, want our children to be blessed.  We want them to have happy childhoods filled with good things.  We might sacrifice a lot in order for them to have these good things, and still wish we could give them more.  Some people do this because their own childhoods were unhappy.  To make up for the loss in their own lives they try to give to their children what they never had.  According to this passage, we can give them something that costs us nothing, but is worth everything: access to Jesus.  Although He was a respected leader, the true Messiah, Almighty God, He did not turn them away.  Instead, anyone that would prevent these children from freely coming to Him were rebuked by Him.

And, He called them an example for us, too.  You see all our goodness, success, and achievement earn nothing from God.  It is only His sacrifice on the cross that has given us direct access to Himself.  It is His total and complete victory at the cross which births us through the waters of Baptism making us His children.  He calls us to himself saying

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

And it doesn’t matter what age you are.  For to the Eternal God, even a ninety-three year old is only an infant in light of eternity.

In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Amen

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