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During the summer, many adult children are traveling back to their hometowns to visit parents and relatives.  They revisit the places and people who gave them their start in life.  Often, this experience re-kindles memories and dreams of the future which were lost under the layers of the years.

As we come up to the 500th year of the German Reformation, it is fitting to remember what we will be celebrating.  For the past few weeks, we have been reading snippets from the Book of Concord in anticipation of this event.  Some have never heard these words before, while the readings have re-kindled memories of Sunday school for others.  The words serve as a reminder of what we believe, teach and confess at Calvary.

Yet, at its core, the German reformation centered around one man.  Even more to the point, it centered on one man’s discovery.  What we will celebrate on October 31st, 2017 is the re-discovery of the Gospel by a monk named Martin Luther.

But, what is the Gospel?  Here is a quiz:

The Gospel is …

  1. The greatest commandment that Jesus gave — “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)
  2. Hearing the facts about Jesus and making a decision or praying a sinner’s prayer
  3. Surrendering your life to Christ fully
  4. Doing good works – Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.
  5. God’s only Son became man, lived among us, bore all our sins as a perfect sacrifice, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day, He rose again.  By His work on the Cross, you have been forgiven all your sin, and been made right with God through His blood alone.

In the first four examples, ‘the gospel’ is contingent on my efforts.  You have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace.  They are pre-requisites to salvation.  Faith is a result of what you do (even in your heart).

In the last example, faith is a result of what Jesus has done.  It is not a proposition to be decided on (as if I am God).  It is not a work of Christian piety (living a ‘spiritual’ life).  It is not determining to clean up one’s life.  It is not obeying God’s commandments.

The Gospel is Jesus Christ.  He is the Good News that God has come to rescue us.  God the Father has provided Jesus as the scapegoat for all of our sins.  And, He has rescued us from sin, death and the devil by becoming a curse for us.  At the cross, He paid the full penalty for your sin and mine.  In Him alone, we have the righteousness of God.

In preparing this article, I read the effect Luther’s re-discovery (through his commentary on Galatians) had on one reader.  The individual (Mike) wrote:

@brilliant – … I first encountered Luther’s works at a secular university where all of his works were free in the library. I was so happy to randomly start reading Galatians one day. I got so excited I photocopied the whole thing and marked up each line with a worn out highlighter. – Mike Jul 31 ’12 at 7:49  [emphasis mine]

(http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/8742/when-and-how-did-martin-luther-arrive-at-the-justification-by-faith)

Although Luther has been with Jesus for almost five centuries, his rediscovery of the gospel is still making an impact (even in a secular university!).  We are inheritors of this discovery.  A discovery which comforts troubled consciences.  A discovery which breathes life and faith into the hearer.  A discovery based on one man’s decision.

Christ made the decision: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).

His Gospel cuts through the layers of man’s efforts.  In fact, it completely undercuts man’s efforts at rescuing himself.

Whether you are a rebel openly disobeying God’s Law or you are a pietistic saint who follows every jot and tittle, the gospel is wholly outside of you, hidden in Christ.  All of the benefits of His death and resurrection have been applied to you in the waters of your baptism, and He continues to sustain you through word and sacrament.

Jesus essentially cries out “Return to me.  Forget the other nonsense.  Abandon open rebellion.  Abandon pietistic law-keeping.”  Jesus says the following in John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life.  There is no other way to the Father but by me.”

Later, John records Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” Christ is our life, our hope and our savior.  This is the Gospel we return to, reflect on, and make known to the world.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  What an amazing discovery!

Amen

Pastor John

 

How to bind a human conscience

For all the pastors trying to get people to do what they should, here is an easy set of directions to follow;

Preparation:

In order to be truly effective, you must gloss over any scripture that speaks of the finality of Christ’s work, or the continued unconditional work of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer.  If you let them know this, what will be the motivation for sanctification?  For example, where it is written Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2), add the idea ‘if you follow His commands faithfully’.  This will give you the entry to dictate what application points the congregation needs today.

Method:

1. Assume that All of Scripture has application points for believers.  They want something to do, and your job is to make the action points crystal-clear.  If you have difficulty finding application points, expand the amount of scripture you’re covering until you find some

2. Separate verses from their context to emphasize their importance.  James 1:22 reads, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  This is ready for your application points to the congregation.  Don’t forget that these need to be tangible actions they can follow

3. Other verses don’t seem to be ripe for application, but you can overcome that if they are general.  1 Pet. 1:16 states, “Be holy for I am Holy”.  “Being” isn’t really doing, but you can expound on this verse and explain that this verse means we have to keep clean from sin.  Then, you can give them 5 or 6 ways to do this.  Philippians 2:12 states, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”.  Ignore the fact that this is written to a group (your is in the plural) and move right into private morality.

3. Do NOT preach out of the Old Testament!  Although there are many good rules to follow in the Old Testament, that part of the Bible does not apply to Christians

4. Give your sermon a catchy name like, The seven steps to a better prayer life, or Nine ways to overcome sin.  When people read the title, they know they are going to get some practical instruction.  This empowers them to believe they can do it

5. Remember, people are sheep.  They need to be directed at every turn.  Without the guidelines you give, they will end up outside the sheep pen

©John Dostal 2016

Hide and go seek

I ran across a term that I hadn’t heard before in the book, “Left Behind and Loving It”.  The term was ‘epistemological crisis”.  It is when you learn something that turns your whole world upside-down.  It’s not just a paradigm shift, but it is a moment when your belief system is challenged by a truth discovery.

How do you respond in such an instance?  Perhaps the better question is, “How many time have you changed political positions, religious conceptions or intellectual positions when something challenging has been presented to you?”

The Scriptures can effect such a crisis.  Actually, that is what Scripture should do.  The individual should be confronted by issues, problems and confusing texts.

How do you respond to Scripture which challenge your belief system (even a ‘Christian’ belief system)?  Do you ignore it, shut it down, rely on cultural Christianity to save the day?  Or, do you just say, “That must be wrong”, and forget about it?

Maybe you decide to look for answers from someone else.  You look for someone who is ‘on your side’, and who you can trust.  You reinforce your beliefs to defend yourself against the troubling questions Scripture brings up.

These are simply the efforts of the Old Adam to avoid the onslaught of the challenging propositions in Scripture.  The Old Adam can hide behind ignorance, other people’s knowledge, avoidance, or changing the subject.  This is all rooted in fear.

We are afraid that God will kill the Old Adam.  We identify so closely with him, that we find fig leaves to protect our vulnerability from a God who is trying to expose it.  Ultimately, this means we fear the cross.

You see, the cross is not just for Jesus.  It is for us, too.  We use our strengths, resources or other means to defend us against a God who inspired the authors of Scripture to put some challenging things before our eyes.

However, once the text troubles us to our core, then God is able to make us new; to re-birth us through the process.  If you allow this to happen, it is scary.  You will have to depend on the Holy Spirit to help you understand the Scripture.  He will have to be your guide as you try to distinguish between Law and Gospel.  He will have to guide you to find Christ in the passage that troubles you.  He will have to be the one to hold your hand as you are transformed from arrogant to humble.

Church plays a vital role in this process of ‘letting go’.  You may experience a crisis of faith (this is not necessarily a bad thing).  Without the guidance of your pastor, you can end up in heresy or agnosticism.  The pastor is concerned with your eternal salvation, and can be a support as you struggle to understand, reflect, and ultimately, grow through the reading of Scripture.  Forsaking the assembling together would be foolish and dangerous.

May God keep you in His will,

John

Lay your burdens upon Him

Bitterness is an expression of pain.  People who feel bitter have been wounded at some point in their lives.  When they talk about their bitter feelings, it may sound ugly and hateful.

I read a series of threads on this issue, and almost all of them recommended staying away from such people.  But, what are you to do if you have to counsel a person with this issue?

The complexity can be daunting.  Allow them to spew out their bitterness (as long as it’s not directed at you); it can be therapeutic.  Every once in a while, you can sympathize with a statement that you find true.  You can also say, “I can understand how you felt/feel!”.  If something has clearly happened to them that was someone else’s fault, you can acknowledge that, too (this is a little tricky because perceptions are not always reality).  It is a good idea to assume the positive about others instead of the negative, and a counselor can be drawn into the negativity.

After that individual has exhausted their bitter expression, and they appear more relaxed, they might be receptive to the gospel.  It depends who they are.

If they enjoy ‘wallowing’ in the bitter feelings, it may be a source of their identity, meaning and purpose in life.  In truth, all humans have a penchant to enjoy negative feelings.  If this is the case, you won’t make much ground in counseling such people.  All you can do is love them and pray for them.  In my church, I can continue to feed them communion and tell them that Christ is their mercy.

If they seem open to your input, then you have an opportunity to tell them … the gospel.  I think some counselors want such people to alter their behavior without addressing the emotional issues.  This is a mistake.  To give a law, command or demand is to add a wound to a wounded person.  This is the ministry of death.

Instead, the opened person wants to hear that they have not been treated well.  The wound they have is real.  The savior they have is a real savior for real wounds.  In fact, the Greek word in the New Testament for ‘save’ is also ‘heal’.  He alone is the great physician.

Sometimes, he uses human hands, like psychologists or psychiatrists to treat ‘soul wounds’.  At other times, we can bear each other’s wounds and take them in ‘pair prayer’ to the Lord.  It might take a while to overcome, but it is only the Gospel of the Christ wounded for us that will heal those wounded by the world.  Starting over is only possible at the hands of the Re-creator, Jesus Christ.

This is the ministry of reconciliation.

Sermon on John 11

Jesus talks with Martha in John 11 (15 minutes):

 

 

-John

Unwilling

Tullian Tchividjian wrote a book called, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”. I have taken a look at it on Amazon to see if it would be an interesting read. I began to look at the comments to see what others said about this book.

I looked at the lowest scores and saw that my former pastor, Michael Fabarez had critiqued the book. His criticism was a clear example of conflicting theologies. His comments attacked the type of sanctification Tullian proposed. Pastor Fabarez employed scriptural ‘proof texts’ to refute the non-‘biblical’ view of sanctification that Tullian was supporting.

To understand why Pastor Fabarez did this, one needs to explore the foundation of his thinking. He is completely invested in Lordship Salvation theology.

Lordship Salvation theology teaches that from beginning to end, our faith works synergistically with God’s grace in obedience so that we can be Holy Christians. The presupposition is that we have enough good in us to say yes to God by making a decision for Him. Our will has the ability to say yes to God. In fact, the human will is seen as a sort of ‘neutral agent’ or even a positive, sinless agent in relation to God. Thus, the synergy of human will and God’s demands in Scripture continues throughout the Christian life.

The reformers of the 16th century dealt with similar theologies. Luther used the term ‘Semi-Pelagian’ to characterize the Roman Catholics who held this view. Calvinists had to confront Arminians who held to the synergistic model, as well. Lordship Salvation may appear to be evangelical, but this is an illusion.  It is nothing more than a re-hash of the medieval ‘divine spark’ theology of the Roman Catholic Church.

With such a strong faith in human will, it is also a rejection of the biblical concept of total depravity as seen in the letters Paul wrote to the Colossians and Ephesians. What can this mean, ‘And you were dead in your trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2:1) or, ‘And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses’ (Colossians 2:13). Neither of these verses supports the idea that we have the smallest ability to ‘repent and believe’ by an act of will.

The other significant issue is that of sanctification. This is where Lordship Salvation proponents really dig in their heels. Sanctification is a matter of total surrender and obedience to the commands in Scripture. The Reformed call these ‘imperatives’. These imperatives fit into a model of biblical interpretation.

Lordship Salvation adherents interpret their Bibles more than literally, however, they interpret their Bibles literalistic-ally. That is, everything, even poetry, analogies, metaphors and parables are bent into shapes they were never meant to hold. Anything that is not a command or directive is seen as secondary to the life of the believer.

Scripture is used aggressively within the church and against those outside of Lordship Salvation. Instead of examining the hermeneutics one uses, adherents simply assert, “the Bible says it”. Context, original purpose, audience, and the overall narrative of Scripture are minimized for the argument one makes from a single verse.

And, the overall narrative is misunderstood, as well. It is a narrative of Law as lord. It is important to remember that there was a 400+ year span between Abraham (faithful) and Moses (thus, the giving of the Law) when faithful people had no Law.

It is also lost in the discussion that Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law for you. Instead, the emphasis is on the ability one has to repent, believe, and obey. In short, Lordship Salvation is an invitation to centering your belief on … yourself. The reformers called it, ‘incurvitas en se’, or ‘being curved in on oneself’. It is the perfect theology for the self-centered people of our present-day culture. You are still in control. No need to be crucified and resurrected, just dusted off and shined up a little. No need for Jesus, just a strict moral adherence which will make you right as rain. The ultimate goal is the binding of the will to God’s commands.

The Law is not used properly in such a hermeneutic. Instead of being a mirror by which one sees his/her own sin, the Law is tailored and pacified into achievable goals to live by, instead of the raging lion that reveals our total sinfulness.

Contrary to Lordship Salvation’s foundational belief about the human will, the will is neither neutral nor good. Jesus says so in Matthew 23:37 and in John 5:40. Contextually, the latter verse is addressed to the ‘religious’ people of Jesus’ day (read Pharisees) who “… search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life …” However, they missed the point, “… and it is these that bear witness of me” (emphasis mine).

To believe that the will is somehow entirely sanctified after one repents and believes is to deny the reality of sinfulness. It is to say that when we sin, it is not sin, but just a mistake.

It is no wonder Pastor Fabarez must aggressively attack Pastor Tchividjian’s book. He isn’t just fighting for his ideas, he’s fighting to keep the Old Man (read ‘Old Adam’) in control. He’s fighting to keep the Old Adam alive. He’s fighting to keep the Holy Spirit’s work of magnifying Christ out of his church. He’s fighting to continue being god, as are all those who hold to Lordship Salvation.

Scaffolding the self

 

Extensive scaffolding on a building in downtow...

Extensive scaffolding on a building in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Human beings make an art form out of self-preservation.  They invest in scaffolding to hold up the corpse of the Old Adam.

 

More often than not, these scaffolds appear ‘religious’.  Re-packaging makes them appear to be new, but they are ancient.  The big three are Morality, Mysticism, and Speculation.  Although they appear to be significantly different, they all operate on the same premise.  They are based in self-effort to reach the Holy.

And, self-effort to reach the Holy is rooted in the Old Adam:

Romans 5:12: ‘Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned …’  The strange part of this is that Christians deny that their Old Adam still lives.  In fact, the Old Adam works to preserve itself through the three modes listed above.

Morality, Mysticism and Speculation are all efforts to preserve the sinful self.  The cross is an offense to us not because it crucifies these three, but because it crucifies the self.

And, we are unwilling to die.  It goes against our nature.  We want to preserve that ‘religious’ part of ourselves.  So, we erect one, two or all three of the scaffolds in an effort to prop up the corpse of the Old Adam and loudly proclaim, “I am alive!” when nothing could be more silly or further from the truth.

The Morality scaffold appeals to that part of us that says doing good will result in a happier life.  In fact, there is a kernel of truth to this in our earthly lives.  Morality leads to better relationships, and a ‘clean conscience’.  The downsides, however, are guilt and shame (when you realize that you can’t ‘pull it off’ perfectly) or arrogant pride and judgement of others (hypocrisy).  Scripture is not just interpreted literally, it is interpreted literalistic-ally.

The Mysticism scaffold appeals to that part of us that wants to ‘see God’.  Beneficially, people become more committed to spending one-on-one time with God.  In a busy world, the experience of retreating can be calming and re-invigorating.  The other end of this, though, is that Scripture is a kind of launching point into a ‘cloud of knowing’ (analogous use of Scripture).  Ultimately, it denies the incarnate nature of Christ and Christianity.

The Speculation scaffold presents a very attractive possibility.  It lies within the reason and logic of man.  It is ‘familiar’.  It leads to a greater growth and understanding of the human mind.  It is logical, clear, organized and clean.  Unfortunately, it struggles with reality.  Speculators look at Christ on the Cross and see it as the stained glass through which one can see ‘God as He really is’.  They want to deny that Christ on the Cross is God as He really is … the dying-for-me-God.  Scripture is evaluated through the lens of a certain logic, and massive efforts are made to make it ‘fit’ the human mind.

All of these have long traditions, histories and adherents.  And, it may seem that I am attacking the big three.  The real issue is not the big three, though.  The real issue is the Adam that produced the big three.

This Old Adam wants nothing more than to be left alone by the Jesus who infiltrates our world.  He doesn’t want to see a passive righteousness given to us by a God whose greatest work was His passive death on the cross.  He doesn’t want to hear that God became sin for us.  He doesn’t want to hear that the big three are the beautiful flowers of a plant that is dead.  He doesn’t want to accept forgiveness, because he didn’t ‘earn it’.  In short, the Old Adam wants to maintain control of his own spirituality.  And that, my friends leads to death.

Romans 5:

     15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

 

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