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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

 

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rung out

Jacob's Ladder, sculpture by Eddy Gabriel for ...

Jacob’s Ladder, sculpture by Eddy Gabriel for Tempus Arti, LAnden, Belgium, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone who believes in God has a ladder theology.  Christianity utilitzes various ladders that have been developed over the centuries.  These emerged (either consciously or unconsciously) from a narrative in Genesis 28:

10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He [e]came to [f]a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it [g]under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood [h]above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your [i]descendants. 14 Your [j]descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will [k]spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your [l]descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have [m]promised you.”   (emphasis mine)

The idea that we can climb up to heaven to see God in all His glory is very attractive.  It has so enveloped some people that they actually gave up their “normal lives” to live in communes of one sort or another.  This was so they could pursue direct, unencumbered communion with the Almighty.  Adherents to this purpose developed what was called the “monk’s ladder” (From Guigo II, Scala Claustralium in Latin).  It included four rungs: 1. reading Scripture, 2. Meditating on the Scripture to find the hidden meaning (seeing all scripture as analogy; an error), 3. Prayer as response, and 4. Quiet contemplative living.

Others have developed ladders based not in a personal encounter with the Almighty, but on the personal effort of satisfying God’s moral demands.  Their ladder is a morality that was derived from Scripture and other sources, including socio-cultural norms.  Scripture is useful for becoming more like God.

Finally, the last group has developed a ladder that satisfies the mind and fills in the gaps of understanding that Scripture presents.  These people have developed a ladder based on speculation.  Disatisfied with the tensions of Scripture, they attempt to resolve these tensions through logical reasoning.  For the most part, they, like the other mentioned earlier are recipients of Platonic thought.  Their error is that they don’t take God at His word, but need to justify God’s words.  They climb the ladder of an intellectual form of Christianity that doesn’t need to wrestle with the self.  Instead of facing the crucifixion, they narrowly avoid it by rationalism.

All of these have inherited the disease of the tower builders in Genesis 11.  We all believe that we can reach God(hood) if we have the right method.  Only one problem: it’s idolatry of the self.

Into Babel, God brought the judgment of dividing people based on language.  Into our idolatry, he brings the curse of death.  And , in fact, these ladders are a proof that we are dead.  We need someone to descend into our burial hole to rescue us from the death we are in.

That person has already come.  His name is Jesus, and He has come to crucify our idolatry and utterly demolish our ladders.  In fact, He has come to replace these ladders with the original one promise from Genesis 28.  A very small reference in John chapter 1 will make this clear.  It is so brief that you have probably read over it:

51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, youwill see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”  Jesus, alone, is the Ladder who has come out of heaven and brought heaven down to earth.

Amen

Want to stop sinning?

Why the Law cannot help you stop sinning by Tullian Tchividjian:

http://networkedblogs.com/xqcc2

 

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.

 

My first video instruction on Bible structure – 5 minutes

http://www.screencast.com/t/fzTDCjLWf

Meditatio

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Eugene Delacroix c. 1861

Jacob provides a good example of Christian meditation.  I don’t mean that he picked on angels in bar fights.  I mean he was willing to go to the mat with God until he received the blessing from the Angel of the Lord (see Genesis 32:26)

Christian meditation is reading, or listening to, or reciting out loud a particular passage of scripture expecting the Holy Spirit to give a person an understanding of the passage.  The Holy Spirit will show one who “wrestles” for understanding the Law and the Gospel in the passage.  This is what makes a true theologian.

Christian meditation is not sitting in some sense-deprived environment and emptying the mind to have an “alpha state” experience of God.  It is not employing the words of scripture as a mantra to repeat over and over again with a view to have an ecstatic experience.

In comparing Roman Catholic Lectio Divina “Four Moments” practice to Luther’s concept, Rev. Jeffrey Ware wrote:

“Luther also completely redefines meditatio.  Whereas in Lectio Divina meditation is focused on the human memory and its ability to make the text personal through the recollection of past events, Luther’s understanding of meditation focuses on God’s word.  For Luther, meditation is simply the continual study of scripture.  God’s word is not a mere sign that needs to be internalized in order to be heard properly, it is the very voice of God that comes with power both to kill and make alive” (A Lutheran Perspective on Lectio Divina, from SoundWitness.org)

As Luther noted:

Let him who wants to contemplate in the right way reflect on his Baptism; let him read his Bible, hear sermons, honour father and mother, and come to the aid of a brother in distress. But let him not shut himself up in a nook . . . and there entertain himself with his devotions and thus suppose that he is sitting in God’s bosom and has fellowship with God without Christ, without the Word, without the sacraments (The Kindled Heart – Luther on Meditation, John Kleinig).

What is the result of the type of meditation that wrestles with God through the word?  First, one is humbled through the working and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  Second, one’s faith in Christ is deepened and grown.  Third, one serves others selflessly.  Fourth, over time, a desire and ability to teach is developed in the one who practices Christian meditation.  Fifth, one is brought into trials and temptations, which I will describe in my next article: Tentatio.

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.

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