Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trusting in Christ Alone

God got my attention during my quiet time with Him yesterday. I read Luke, chapter 13, and two verses leapt off the page at me. No mystery in that: "...the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

Here's a little information on how I keep quiet time.

Here's my journal entry from yesterday:
Look: “‘Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”’” (Luke 13:26-27)

Jesus is asked, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (v. 23). Jesus ignores the issue of numbers of people saved. He basically tells people, “Tend to your knitting.”

Our “knitting” is to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (v. 24). Jesus is that narrow door. Jesus says in John 10:9: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent,” Jesus says in John 6:29.

In other words, our “work” is to trust in Jesus. He is the narrow way by whom we can be saved.

Jesus says at the judgment that there will be people who say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” They’ll be saying effectively, “We were in worship when Your name was proclaimed. We drank the wine of Holy Communion and ate the bread.”

“Yes,” Jesus is saying, “you may in fact have done those pious religious things. But I don’t know you.” There’s a difference between hanging around when the Word about Jesus is spoken and consuming the elements because it’s time to go up for Communion, on the one hand, and following Jesus, on the other.

The Small Catechism asks, “When is a person worthy to receive the Sacrament?” The answer: “Fasting and other outward disciplines are indeed good preparation, but people are truly worthy and well prepared who believe these words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’ But those who do not believe these words or who doubt them are unworthy and unprepared, for the words, ‘for you’ require truly believing hearts.”

Simply going through the motions, as the synagogue leader who condemned Jesus for doing an act of love--healing a woman afflicted by Satan on the sabbath day--did, is not belief in the God revealed in His Son, Jesus.

The question is whether we believe in Jesus rather than in our behaviors, be they going to church, receiving the Sacrament, or healing a person on “the right day.” Christians should worship regularly. They should receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins as often as they can. 
But those who follow Jesus aren’t just saved from something (condemnation), we are also saved for something: A life lived differently from the way it would otherwise be lived because we have been saved by Jesus, a life whose primary object isn't my personal fulfillment or enjoyment, but God's glory. (This, honestly, makes me uncomfortable.)

Jesus says in Matthew 3:8 (New Living Translation): “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” People who have entered by the narrow way of faith in Jesus “bear the fruit of repentance.”

This is why it’s so important for me to turn to Jesus each day. My default mode dictates trusting in things like the world, myself, and my good works, all things that I can see right now, to validate my existence or to save me from myself--my sins, my death, my darkness. Under this way of thinking I become the subject of my salvation rather than the object of God’s salvation, given through Christ. 
I must learn that even my own salvation is not about me! 
“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28). “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) And Jesus says in John 5:24: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

Those who don’t trust in Jesus have no relationship with Jesus. Those who breezily “accept” the proclamation of their forgiveness and promise of forgiveness that comes from the body and blood of Jesus, given in, with, and under the bread and the wine, going through the religious motions without surrendering trust in Christ, have no relationship with Christ. They are not saved. Those who trust in Jesus, including entrusting their sin and sinful desires, who trust Jesus to wage war against their sins and trustingly renounce sin to embrace Christ, are saved. They enter via the narrow door.

Listen: You show me in this Word, Lord, the subtle ways in which I allow sin to have its way with me. I excuse my sin, effectively saying, “I’m only human.”

Your grace is all I need for life; I simply need to trust in Christ for Your grace to forgive my sins, save from death, and save me to live.

But I can’t thoughtlessly drag my sin into Your presence and expect You to bless me when I fail to listen to Your call to repent and to avoid temptation, which is to say Your call to trust in You.

When I depend on self-righteousness, self-indulgence, or any other worldly thing to save me from my sense of guilt, inadequacy, or disconnectedness, I’m following the wide streets of the world. You are Who I need. You alone!

Respond: Today, Lord, help me to resist temptation. Help me to follow and trust in Christ alone. In His name I pray. Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Friday, July 14, 2017

What is the Magnitsky Act?

The Russian lawyer and former Soviet counterintelligence agent who had the now famous meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort about repealing the Magnitsky Act. That law, passed and signed in 2012, denies entrance into the United States of human rights violators. In retaliation, the Russian government began barring the adoption of Russian children by prospective American parents. This presents good background information.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

At Rest in Christ

Matthew 11:25-30
A few years ago, my dad was hospitalized following emergency surgery. My sisters and I took turns staying overnight with dad during his stay. One night, when I was going to be with dad, Ann dropped me off, but stayed a bit and was talking with one of my sisters. In the meantime, dad and I talked.

My sister told Ann, “I’m so glad that Dad has Bub [that’s what everyone in my family calls me]. He knows things about Dad’s life that none of the rest of us do.” I think that’s true. Sons, maybe especially first-born sons, have special relationships with their dads. They have inside information on their fathers. They get things about their dads and can share things about their dads maybe nobody else can.

Jesus spoke of Himself and we confess Him to be the Son of God the Father. In fact, in speaking of the first Person of the Trinity, the “creator of heaven and earth,” as His Father, Jesus was speaking of God in ways that were hardly known among God’s people, the Jews.

Jesus had an intimacy with God the Father that others noticed. And when Jesus taught those who believed in Him as the Messiah and Lord, God the Son, how to pray, He taught us to address His Father as “our Father.” Jesus shows us that, despite our sins, God the Father wants us.

Jesus, to put it simply, shows us the Father.

If we’re willing to see Him.

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus talks about who can see the Father through Him, those who can’t, and what belongs to those who do.

Our lesson begins with Jesus allowing us to eavesdrop on His praying, His intimate conversation with the Father: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.’” (Matthew 11:25-26)

It’s important to be careful here. Jesus isn’t here commending stupidity. He isn’t railing against learning, scholarship, or degrees.

Remember that the person the risen Jesus would later designate as apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, was among the most scholarly and learned men of his time.

Decades before, God chose to reveal Jesus’ birth to people we sometimes call “wise men,” because of their scholarship.

I think that God fully endorses it when parents tell their kids, “God gave you a brain; use it!”

When Jesus thanks the Father that the truth about Jesus as the way to life with God had been revealed to “little children” rather than to the “wise and learned,” He’s drawing a contrast between two different kinds of people.

The “wise and the learned” are people who are so wise and learned in their own eyes that they think they’re better than others. They close their eyes to the truth that sets before them. They’re like the people of Jesus’ day who saw Jesus feed crowds with a few scraps of food, raise people from the dead, cast out leprosy and demons, and still refused to believe that Jesus was God on earth.

Today, they’re people who write off answers to prayers offered in Jesus’ name; write off believers transformed by the love and grace of God; write off the faithful strengthened by God’s life-giving world. They say it’s all coincidence. Or rooted in feelings rather than facts. They ask for proof, even when surrounded by proof.

Little children, as Jesus puts it, aren’t people who are innocent or sinless. Whoever met a child who wanted a toy that belonged to another child knows that little children aren’t sinless.

But little children are open. They’re willing to acknowledge the truth of what stands before them.

It’s to “little children,” Jesus says, people who are open and willing to trust, who see Jesus for Who He is and through Him, see God the Father.

One of the things I say to atheists who wonder how I could be a former atheist who now believes, is that I came to faith after seeing Jesus in the lives of the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Columbus. By seeing them, I became willing to believe. The Holy Spirit took that willingness and is still weaving it into faith in Christ.

That’s why it’s important for the adults of Living Water to be involved in our youth and children’s ministries; kids need to catch your faith from you.

It’s why it’s important when you receive an invitation to be part of one of our discipleship small groups that you say yes; gathered around His Word, our faith is deepened and stirred in these intimate platoons of believers.

The Holy Spirit will give faith to anyone who is willing to have faith!

And faith is important business. Since we are saved from sin, death, and futility by our faith in Jesus Christ alone, we need, no matter how learned we become, no matter how many degrees we earn, no matter how accomplished we are, to have the openness of little children to see what God shows us in Jesus.

It’s to people like this that Jesus chooses to reveal all of “these things.” Look at what Jesus says next (He’s shifted now from praying to teaching others about the Father to Whom He’s just been praying): “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27-29)

A number of years ago, in the heyday of blogging, I became acquainted, just via the Internet, with a woman who described herself as a Jewish/Buddhist/atheist. She was a writer and we both occasionally contributed articles to the same group blog. She wrote an email one Saturday and I dashed off a quick reply, explaining that I needed to spend some time working on my sermon. “I’m not sure I know what God wants me to say yet,” I explained. She wrote back: “HA! You actually believe that God inspires what you preach on Sundays, that it’s the Word of God.” I wrote back later and said, “I pray that what I preach on Sundays is the word of God. I’m sure that it is when I get out of the way and let God speak His Word through me.”

She wasn’t convinced. I think that she was too “wise and learned,” too unavailable to the possibility of belief to believe.

Jesus doesn’t call us to check our brains in at the baptismal font.

But He does call us to cede control of our lives--brains, bodies, spirits, wallets, relationships, and every other part of our lives--to Him and to trust in Him. He wants to liberate our brains, bodies, spirits, wallets, relationships, and every other part of our lives from their imprisonment to sin and death, set us free to become all that God has made us to be.

When we lay ourselves open to the God we meet in Jesus through childlike faith, we see just how incredible the God revealed in Jesus really is!

When we see Jesus, God the Son, and through Him, God the Father, we’re ready to respond to the invitation that Jesus makes at the end of our lesson. “Come to me, [Jesus says] all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Only Jesus could claim to be God in the flesh and, at the same time, call Himself "humble" and do so credibly. Jesus voluntarily divested Himself of the advantages of His deity in order to serve and to die for us. That adds believability to His invitation.

And when Jesus addresses those who are “weary and burdened,” promising “rest,” do you picture Him speaking to you? I think that we human beings are almost born “weary and burdened.”
  • By things like trying to be in control in a world in which, literally, anything can happen. 
  • By trying to be worthy in a world where, it seems, there are lots of people who want to tear us down or push us down. 
  • By trying to get everything figured out. 
If you haven’t noticed, all of these things that we try to do-- seizing control, demonstrating our worthiness, figuring everything out--employing all of our wisdom, intelligence, and shrewdness, is futile if we do any of it on our own.

One of the passages we’re memorizing for our discipleship groups is Proverbs 3:5-6, which tells us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.” This isn’t fatalism; it’s faith. It isn’t passivity; it’s filling up on the power for living that only the God we meet in Jesus can give.

There is rest in that even when everything in our lives goes crazy. A woman I knew had just lost her husband. It was a tremendous loss. They had loved each other very much. Everyone commented on how calm this newly-widowed woman was. I know that she had her tears, when the pain of her grief was unbearable. But I too saw that calm. She was at peace, at rest in the Lord.

Those consumed with their own wisdom, who think that they must be in control, may never see Jesus--even when they read His Word, are touched by the fellowship of Christ’s Church, or receive the sacraments. Their minds, hearts, and wills are closed.

But when we come to Jesus with a childlike willingness to see and to believe, when we are open to Him, we see God. And in seeing Him, we rest, knowing that no one and nothing can ever separate us from God our Father. I pray that childlike openness and that supernatural rest for you today and always. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]