Saturday, July 20, 2019

Six Important Guidelines in Life

And in all things rely on Christ alone!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Lord, Don't Let Me Cause Others to Stumble!

[These are reflections from my quiet time with God earlier today.]

Look: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.’” (Luke 17:1)

Because of our sinful nature, the fallen world, and the incessant meddling of the devil, temptations are inevitable in our lives.

Jesus knew all about this. The great gamble of the Incarnation--God the Son coming into the world as a human being--is that, during His time on earth, Jesus was constantly subjected to the temptation to sin.

Yet, in order to be the effective sacrifice for our sin, Jesus had to be a new human (Paul calls Jesus “the new Adam”), a sinless member of the human race Whose unjustified execution opens salvation to the rest of us by God’s the power of God’s grace to create within us faith in Jesus. Jesus, the Bible says, “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) “ just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6) I’m grateful that Jesus resisted temptation and won life with God for all who trust in Him.

In Luke, the conqueror of sin over us, warns His disciples--including modern day disciples, those who confess Jesus as Lord--not to put the eternal lives of others at risk by conduct or words that tempt them to sin. Jesus goes on to day in Luke 17:2-3: “It would be better for [disciples who cause others to stumble into sin] to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So [disciples,] watch yourselves.”

Listen: There are so many ways we can be the serpent to others, luring people into sin, even when that’s not what we think we’re doing.

In the New Testament, Paul tells Christians not to eat food offered to idols in the presence of those who are weaker in the faith. It wasn’t, he said, that Christians weren’t allowed to eat such food; all food is clean to the Christian. But those weak in the faith, Paul asserted, might derive the wrong impression from seeing mature Christians eating food offered to idols and be tempted into believing that a Christian could also worship false deities. But there’s only one God, the One definitively revealed to us in Christ.

In my own life, there are people with whom I won’t have a glass of wine because I suspect or know that they have issues with alcohol. I refuse to be an instrument of their temptation even though drinking an occasional glass of wine isn’t forbidden by God.

On the other hand, I must confess that I have sometimes caused people to sin. This has happened when I’ve said things I shouldn’t have or when I’ve become obsessed with my own grievances or desires. When we engage in this kind of behavior, we in effect, give permission to those who witness it to cave into temptation and sin too.

I ran across this quote from Martin Luther the other day: “Christ desires nothing more of us than that we speak of Him.” When we, in loving and appropriate ways, commend Christ to others, there’s no opportunity for me to become the instrument of temptation and sin in others’ lives. When we speak of Christ, it’s gratitude for grace, the peace of knowing Christ, and the call to others to experience saving faith in Christ that comes through.

Respond: Father, in the name of Jesus, I ask You to forgive me the obsession with self, the grievances, and the selfish desires that lead me away from Your will and have caused me to unwittingly tempt others to sin.

Give me Holy Spirit-saturated wits, Lord!

Today, speak of Christ to others through me. Make me an instrument of Your grace and the faith to which You call all of us and not an instrument of temptation or sin.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen

[The illustrated quote from Martin Luther was published this past week by the Institute of Lutheran Theology.]

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church.]

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

God, Arrogance, and Humility

"When [Jesus] noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 'When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, "Give this person your seat." Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, "Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11)

In a world in which arrogance is celebrated, Jesus' words are both Law and Gospel.

They're Law because God's condemnation for the unrepentantly arrogant is plain.

They're Gospel because inhering in them is God's promise that those who humble themselves in surrender to Christ will have a place especially prepared for us by God in His Kingdom, now and in eternity.

As the psalmist puts it, "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (Psalm 84:10)

[Reflections from my quiet time with God this morning. I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, July 14, 2019

God Says to Love Everyone...How Can We Do That?

[This message was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio , his morning.]

Luke 10:25-37
One point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which makes up today’s gospel lesson, is that every person in the world is my neighbor. Whether that person lives in Centerville, Washington DC, Iran, Haiti, Guatemala, or South Africa, whatever religion or whether they have no religion, she or he is a human being made in the image of God. She or he is also someone for whom Jesus died and rose and to whom He makes the offer of new and everlasting life through faith in Him.

But if we view Jesus’ parable as a simple admonition to see every human being as a neighbor we are obligated to love, we will be getting only one point. 

Since when has an admonition from God to we fallen human beings, ever been sufficient to change our behavior? 

The God we know in Jesus Christ also admonishes us not to have other gods, but we still tend to worship all kinds of things. 

God admonishes us not to take His name in vain, yet people do it all the time...even preachers teaching false gospels. 

God admonishes us not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to covet what belongs to others, not to lie, not to sleep in when we should be worshiping God; yet people still ignore God’s admonitions. 

Even the Christian who knows God’s Word inside out can say with the apostle Paul: “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me...I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21-23, 25b)

Our daughter has a dog, Peanut. He’s a loving and well-dispositioned animal who likes nothing better than being petted. But he’s still a dog. He still sniffs at the grass to find the right place to do his business, still barks at strangers, and still views anything within eyesight of our condo as part of the universe of his pack, which includes the three of us and him, and excludes anyone else. These are common dog behaviors. And no matter how compliant Peanut is to us, no amount of admonition will ever stop him from following his dog nature. I could tell Peanut, “Stop being a dog” until I’m blue in the face and it wouldn’t change him. 

Admonitions from God, God’s Law, can’t change us either. We can be given God’s commands--including Jesus’ command that we see all people as neighbors to be loved--and remain unreconstructed sinners who never stop following our sinful human nature. 

So, what good is it for Jesus to tell us to love our neighbor if, within ourselves, we have no capacity for loving our neighbor as we love ourselves? 

Well, Paul says, also in Romans 7, that God’s Law does have an important function: “it was the Law that made me know what sin is…” (Romans 7:7) God’s admonitions--His Law--forces me to wrestle with the fact that I am a sinner. And sinners deserve death and condemnation. That, in turn, should cause us to take the wise step of looking for Someone Who can save me from my sins and from myself. But that’s not the only reason that Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan!

Remember how Jesus happens to tell the parable in the first place. An expert in Biblical law asks Jesus, “[W]hat must I do to receive eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) The guy is looking for some plan of performance by which he can earn eternal life from God. 

We might paraphrase Jesus as asking the man, “Since you’re hung up on what you need to do, what does God’s Law in the Scriptures, say that you should do?” The man summarizes the Ten Commandments' admonition that we love God completely and to love our neighbors as ourselves. “Good answer,” Jesus basically tells the man. “Do those things and you’ll have life with God.”

Of course, if you and I could do those things on our own, we would have life with God...and there would be no reason for Jesus and His cross. The problem is that since Adam and Eve, the whole human race has inherited sin from them. We’re born sinners, separated from God. 

But the teacher of the law isn’t thinking about any of that at all. Instead, he wants to find a loophole in the law. There are people he apparently doesn’t love and doesn’t think God should unreasonably expect him to love. (Like maybe Samaritans.) So, he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” He would have been satisfied if Jesus had said, “Your neighbor is the good person you like.” But that’s not how Jesus answers the man.

Instead, He tells the parable of the good Samaritan that you know well. A man, presumably a Judean, is accosted by robbers on the road that descends north from Jerusalem to Jericho. Two religious figures, a priest and a Levite, respected Jewish persons pass by the man. But a hated Samaritan sees the wounded man, cares for him, takes him to a nearby inn, and foots the bill for the wounded man’s care. 

So, Jesus asks the teacher of the law, who of the three who encountered the wounded Judean on the road was the man’s neighbor? Unable to even say “Samaritan” in a good light, the teacher of the law replies, “The one who was kind to him.” Verse 37: “Jesus replied, ‘You go, then, and do the same.’”

Honesty before the Lord should have compelled the teacher of the law to respond, “Lord, I don’t love my neighbor like that. Forgive me. Help me to love all my neighbors.” 

Jesus is leaving the possibility of forgiveness and a new life born of complete dependence on Jesus for the man, it he will only repent and trust in Him. But he takes a pass. Uninterested in loving all people, certain that Jesus couldn’t possibly understand what it means to love the unlovable (like him, or you, or me), the teacher of the law asks nothing else of Jesus. He walks away, untouched, unchanged, unforgiven. Like most people in the world, including many in the Church, the man didn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus if following Jesus meant changing the way he wanted to live his life.

This encounter, by itself, would leave us only with God’s command that we love all people and that we, in fact, are incapable on our own of loving all people, if it weren’t for what happens next, in the verses just beyond our lesson, Luke 10:38-42

Let me explain why I take you there. 

In his gospel, Luke often pairs incidents. He'll have one incident involving a man followed by another one involving a woman. Sometimes he does it to create comparisons. Other times he creates contrasts.

For example, Luke tells us first that Zechariah was told by the angel that he would become father of John the Baptist and he greeted the news with skepticism. But immediately after that, the angel tells Mary that she will give birth to Jesus and she receives the news with faith.

When Jesus was taken to the temple in Jerusalem to be dedicated to God and circumcised at eight days old, His identity as the Messiah was affirmed first by a man, Zechariah, then by a woman, Anna.

At Easter, the women were told that Jesus was raised from the dead and believed it while the male disciples greeted this news with faith.

With the incident of Mary and Martha, we see this same male/female pattern, and in it, Jesus makes an important point.

There we encounter two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha is a kindred spirit to the teacher of the law, certain of her own righteousness. Martha is also hung up on doing, playing the hostess with the mostest. Mary, meanwhile, “sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching.” (Luke 10:39) Martha resented Mary’s apparent laziness. But when she bellyaches about things to Jesus, He tells her, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Now, we’ll look at this incident involving Martha and Mary in more detail next Sunday. But surely, Luke meant it to be the exclamation point to the parable of the Good Samaritan

It’s not enough to be told that God wants us to love our neighbor. Because, deep down, I have neither the inclination nor the capacity to love others as I love myself, the God we can only know through Jesus Christ needs to give us both the ability and the desire to love others.

How does that happen? 

It happens when we submit ourselves, day in and day out, to Jesus. This happens through the gifts of regular worship, the Sacrament, quiet time in God’s Word and prayer in Jesus’ name, and study of God’s Word with others that Jesus comes to us and God changes us. 

Jesus has perfectly fulfilled the Law of God for us and to those who trustingly surrender to Him, like Mary, He creates a new way to be human, He makes us new people who cease to look for loopholes in the Law and instead look for new ways to live in His grace while loving  others in that grace.

Who’s the neighbor I am to love? Everyone. 

How am I to do that? By relying on only Christ, Who forgives our sins and empowers us to love others with the same patience and charity He gives to us. And that, surely, is the second point of the parable. “This is love,” we’re told in 1 John 4:10, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 

Live in, daily absorb, and totally depend on God’s love given to you in Christ and He will not only give you eternity, He will also change the way you view others, He will also love them through you. 


[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]