Archives For December 2009

New Year Resolutions??

December 31, 2009 — Leave a comment

 Here it is December 31st again. I won’t tell you how many I have seen go by but it is quite a few. My wife and I are past the stage where we stay up and ring in the new year. I am now usually sound asleep when that time ticks by.  

I try to live in Christ  day-by-day but it still doesn’t hurt to look at the last day of the year as a time of serious reflection. How did I do last year? I, as usual, have to mirror the words of Saint Paul in that I still do some things that I don’t want to and don’t do much of what I know I should do. But overall I think 2009 was a pretty good year for me.  I spent a lot of time, but never enough, with my fellow Christians in worship to our Lord and Savior. But there were times where I made excuses for not doing things that I should have done. And sometimes I just wasn’t as diligent in doing them as I should have been.  I also gave of my time, talents, and resources to sustain and grow our small congregation of believers. But, I was painfully short on witnessing to others as I should have been.  

I spent more time in 2009 trying to be my brother’s keeper than I have any year of my life. But, the needs in this area just keep growing especially during these tough economic times. I have made several new friends at the homeless shelter/soup kitchen where I volunteer but I have, at least in my heart, judged too many of them  while I have the proverbial “plank” in my own eye. I pray that Jesus particularly help me with that one.  

I will try, with the help of Jesus, to do better in 2010 and I will pray for those I meet on a weekly basis who don’t have enough money to buy even food at the end of each month. I will try to be there for them with at least a friendly smile and my humble words of encouragement. Sometimes that is all they need to brighten up their stress filled days. As always I will try to be the moon and reflect the Son. Because the need seems to be growing so greatly I will also try to encourage my fellow Christians to be more active in this area.  I can indeed do anything with Christ on my side. Jesus said if I have faith in him even the size of a mustard seed I can move mountains. Please Lord, help me grow in faith in the coming year.

Happy New Year to all of you. Have a joyous season and may we all have a Christ filled year ahead.

RJ

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Many Calvinists like to try and pin the pre-destination label on Lutherans. I think maybe the Calvinists are just a little lonely in their corner of Christianity 😉 and are looking for someone else to huddle with.  

In tune with the last post here is another blog post by the CyberBrethren blogger on that topic. http://cyberbrethren.com/2009/12/16/refuting-calvinist-claims-that-luther-taught-double-predestination/ It does a pretty good job of refuting the claim that Luther believed in pre-destination. The post is pretty long, at least by my standards, but is worth the read if you are interested in this topic. I especially like the t-shirt shown.


Lutheran’s attachment to the phrase Sola Fida (By Faith Alone) as the foundation of their beliefs sometimes earns them the banner of being very weak in good works. I believe it to be generally true that many Lutherans (in all their synods) shy away from the concept of good works for fear that others will view them as adding works to the salvation pot. I believe that some do it to a much greater degree than others. 

A blog I frequent named Cyber Brethren had a post about works.  http://cyberbrethren.com/2009/10/16/how-to-teach-and-preach-about-good-works/ The author of the blog is Pastor Paul McCain who is currently the publisher of Concordia Publishing House and a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor. Pastor McCain is probably the most active Chirstian blogger I read. I don’t see how he gets anything done except blogging 🙂 ! I took the liberty of editing the post and including it below. The original post has literally scores of bible verse references that were removed to help the words themselves come out clearly. Go to the blog to see the original post with all of its references.

Here is my edited and reformatted version of the post. (I don’t believe I changed, added, or deleted any of the original words):

According to the “Second Martin,” that is, Martin Chemnitz, here is how we are to go about preaching and teaching about good works:

“Luther used to present this doctrine in a fine way in three points:

1. good works should be done for the sake of God’s will, because to do them is his command and will

  • because He is our Father, that we show ourselves to be as obedient children toward Him,
  • that we be God’s disciples as he loves us and has forgiven us,
  • because Christ has given himself to us, in order that we not serve sin, but walk in the new life
  • in summary, that God be praised through our good works

 

2. we are to do good works for the sake of our neighbor that he thereby be helped and served in his need

  • that we give no one offense,
  • and the doctrine not be ridiculed
  • rather the mouth of the gainsayers be stopped and that others may be won through our good conduct

     

3. we are to do good works, for the sake of our own need, so that through them we may have a certain testimony that our faith is true, and that we are truly righteous and saved by faith

  • that we not perchance deceive ourselves with a false and dead faith
  • so that faith, the Holy Spirit, righteousness and salvation not again be lost, if we live according to the flesh
  • rather that faith be exercised and the calling made sure
  • also for this reason, because God threatens severe punishment temporally and eternally for sin against conscience and promises forgiveness of sins and blessedness, they do otherwise, however, really have rich and glorious reward in this and in the future life, not on account of the worthiness of the works, but rather on account of grace

     

I don’t know if all Lutherans agree with these words of Luther or not but they do help me in understanding what may be the true meaning of good works from Luther’s standpoint. But, as is the case with some Calvinists straying from the original words of their founder, I would imagine that some, but I hope not many, Lutherans today believe that these words go to far in the “works” direction.

I particularly like the third item in the list. You will do good works so that you know your faith it true. I might have used a different word than true but that one is strong enough to get the meaning across. Good works, whether they earn us salvation or not, are commanded by Jesus throughout the red letters in the Gospel text. Let us all try to do good works every day of our Christian lives.

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2009 — Leave a comment


 
Merry Christmas to everyone.

 Let all Christians at least on this day join together to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. On that I’m sure we can all agree. I want to use the words of a very popular Christmas hymn to say what Jesus’ birth means personally to me. I have re-arranged them slightly to be in more of a poetic form than a musical one. If you are offended forgive me for that.

 
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see you lie;

Above the deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;

Yet in the dark streets shines the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.

 
 For Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above,

While mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

The morning stars together proclaim the holy birth !

And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth !

 
 How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given !

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.

No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,

where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

 
 O holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray;

Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels of glad tidings tell,

O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel !

About Jesus

December 23, 2009 — Leave a comment

 It’s good to remember that Jesus grew up as a poor Jew in a poor town. His life was not about having great material possessions, but about living for God in this humble and modest way.

 – Stephen Chapman, associate professor of the Old Testament at Duke Divinity School, on the discovery of the first dwelling in Nazareth that dates to Jesus’ era. (Source: USA Today)

…Get off the couch and back to work.

This is the final post in this series that highlight from Jesus’ direct words what he expects of us. I will repeat again what I said as we started this series.

 
I know that for those who believe that being a Christian just means taking an altar call and then laying back and letting the Lord’s grace flow over you these might have been some difficult posts. I hope you are at least struck by the number of times Jesus talked about these issues. Christianity is meant to be lived day-by-day. It is not just a one time altar call.

 We conclude this series with the last quotes from the Apostle Luke. To round out this exercise I will do future posts on Matthew and John on the topic. To end here I want to again emphasize that Jesus clearly tells us that being a Christian is a call to action, not a sit back and wait endeavor. These words are a stinging criticism for those who believe that being a Christian is only about the future in heaven and has nothing to do with our present actions on this earth. As shown by the sheer quantity of these verses Jesus just spent too much time telling us how to live on earth for that logic to be even remotely feasible. Is Jesus placing conditions on the entry to Heaven? I will let you come to your own conclusions on that question.

Luke 12:22-24 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  

Luke 12:40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  

Luke 12:49-53 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”  
 

Luke 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  

Luke 14:13-14 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  

Luke 17:1  “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.

Luke 18:17 I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  

Luke 19:43-44
The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

…Get off the couch and back to work.

 

In part three I will concentrate on the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’ words are rather direct in that he expects us to act like Christians. Jesus gave us abundant instructions on how to live our lives. He did his part and he expects us to do ours.

 Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 
 Luke 6:20-22 “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed to you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.

Luke 6:24-26 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

 
 Luke 6:27-31 Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.  
 

Luke 6:35-36 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 3  
 

Luke 6:41-42 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 11:51 Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.  
 

Luke 12:3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs. 
 

Luke 12:21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” 

 

…Get off the couch and back to work.

 

This is the second part of a four part series concentrating on Jesus’ words and what he tells us being his followers (disciples) really means while we live on this earth. This post includes the rest of the quotes from the Gospel of Mark. As mentioned in the previous post gathering these posts in one place is intended to show us what Jesus really expects from us. There are no couch potato Christians.  
 

Mark 9:35   “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  

Mark 9:37   “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” 

Mark 10:11-12   “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

  Mark 10:21   “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 Mark 10:25      It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mark 10:43-45  whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  
 

Mark 12:38-40   “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

…Get off the couch and back to work.

This being the Christmas season where more emphasis is placed on Jesus and His birth I thought I would spend the next several posts returning to the roots of this blog by concentrating solely on the words of Christ with particular emphasis on how he tells us to live. For the most part I will let the words speak for themselves. I know that for those who believe that being a Christian just means taking an altar call and then laying back and letting the Lord’s grace flow over you these will be some difficult posts that you may want to just skip. But I hope you are at least struck by the number of times Jesus talked about how we should live our lives. Christianity is meant to be lived day-by-day. It is not just a one time event.

The first two posts will be from the Gospel of Mark. The next two will be from Luke. I will reserve Matthew and John for a later time.  

Mark 4:16-18

Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

  

Mark 4:18-20

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 

  

Mark 4:24

“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you — and even more.

Mark 7:6-8

Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.

 {personal note: Jesus was speaking of the Jewish establishment but these words are equally true today}

Mark 7:13

Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

Mark 8:34

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. {personal note: the cross was the most tortuous means of death in Jesus’ day so I don’t think he meant these words to be enjoyable}   

Mark 8:36-37

What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

Jesus Commands…. (again)

December 7, 2009 — 4 Comments

I want to do one more post on the epistle of John before moving on. It is widely believed that this epistle was written by the Apostle John who also wrote the Gospel text of that name.

1 John 2:3-6
We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

 Many say that Christianity demands nothing of it’s believers but their faith. They take the message that Jesus died for our sins as being the total message of the Bible. They think that all that is required of a Christian is to lay back and let God’s grace flow over them as long as they have the “faith”. The words above go counter to these beliefs.

John used the word command several other times in this section of his epistle. He flatly says that if you don’t do what Jesus commands then you do not really know him and you are a liar! These are pretty harsh words from one who sat at Jesus’ feet. Any of you who have frequented this blog before know that I have identified several other areas in the New Testament where the writer uses the word “command” in relation to Jesus’ words. This definitely seems to fly in the face of those who adhere to a strict interpretation of the concept of Sola Fida (by faith alone). Martin Luther skirted this issue by saying “Faith alone but not by faith that is alone”. In other words you want to do what Jesus says because you have faith. That is a valid concept but still does not ameliorate the word “command” used so often in talking about the words of Jesus. The gospel written by John is widely thought of as the most revealing of the four gospels. John just seems to have a way with words that the others didn’t. And two of his stronger words are “command” and “liar”.