Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Word of the Week for June 29

What affects our Faith? Word and Sacrament

For the past few weeks I've been focusing on what affects our faith in Christ in a negative way. At the same time I have been driecting readers in those same articles to the Word of God and His Means of Grace.

The great enemies of the Christian faith are summarised by Dr. Martin Luther on the Sixth Petition of the Lord's Prayer in the Small Catechism:

“And lead us not into temptation.” “What does this mean?”

'God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and gain the victory.'

A fuller description of these enemies is found in Luther's Large Catechism;

“Temptation ... is of three kinds, namely, of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil. In the flesh we dwell and carry the old Adam about our neck, who exerts himself and incites us daily to inchastity, laziness, gluttony and drunkenness, avarice and deception, to defraud our neighbor and to overcharge him, and, in short, to all manner of evil lusts which cleave to us by nature, and to which we are incited by the society, example and what we hear and see of other people, which often wound and inflame even an innocent heart.

“Next comes the world, which offends us in word and deed, and impels us to anger, and impatience. In short, there is nothing but hatred and envy, enmity, violence and wrong, unfaithfulness, vengeance, cursing, raillery, slander, pride and haughtiness, with superfluous finery, honor, fame, and power, where no one is willing to be the least, but every one desires to sit at the head and to be seen before all.

“Then comes the devil, inciting and provoking in all directions, but especially agitating matters that concern the conscience and spiritual affairs, namely, to induce us to despise and disregard both the Word and works of God, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love, and bring us into misbelief, false security, and obduracy, or, on the other hand, to despair, denial of God, blasphemy, and innumerable other shocking things. These are indeed snares and nets, yea, real fiery darts which are shot most venomously into the heart, not by flesh and blood, but by the devil.” (paragraphs 101-104)

But set in contrast are the three witnesses God has placed on the earth through which the Holy Spirit brings us forgiveness, comfort, endurance, and eternal life.

He has given us His Word, the Bible. It is to be read, preached (Mark 16:15), proclaimed in the Absolution (John 20:22-23) and relied upon. In His Word He teaches us His Law and His Gospel. The Law is that Word of God which tells us how we are to be, and what we are to do and not to do (Leviticus 19:2). The Gospel is that Word of God wich reveals the salvation Christ has won for all people (John 3:16). The shows us our sin and the wrath of God (Romans 3:20); the Gospel shows us our Savior and the grace of God in Christ (Romans 3:21-26). The Law must be preached to all people, but especially to impenitent sinners (I Timothy 1:9); the Gospel must be preached to sinners who are troubled because of thier sins (Matthew 11:28).

He has given us Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20) where He takes our sin and guilt from us and places it upon Himself on the Cross (Romans 6:1-14). Baptism is also where He clothes us with His righteousness (Galatians 3:26-29). Through Baptism Christ washes away our sins (Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21), grants us faith and pours out into us the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39; John 3:5-6; Titus 3:5-8) and cleans our consciences of the guilt of sin so we may stand before the thone of God on Judgment Day (Ephesians 5:25-26; I Peter 3:21; Mark 16:16).

And He has given us the Lord's Supper where he nourishes us with the forgiveness of sins by the same Body and Blood that were given on the cross (Matthew 26:26-29; I Corinthians 11). In the Lord's supper the real and true body and blood of Christ are given to us sinners (I Corinthians 10:16). He gives His body and blood to us to forgive our sins and strengthen our faith; as He said “given for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He unites Christians together through His body and blood (I Corinthians 10:17). The Supper is for sinners who are sorry for their sins and desire Christ's forgiveness (I Corinthians 11:17-29).

These great gifts testify here on earth to the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word, the Water, and the Blood: as St. John wrote:

“And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.” (I John 5:8)

And these gifts are the answer and cure for the attacts that come upon us through the devil, the world, and our own flesh. This is were God feeds, heals, comforts, and secures us in His grace. Word and Sacrament are where God has said He comes down to us for our good.

“For He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whome we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Word of the Week for June 22, 2010

What affects our Faith? Self-interest

It was difficult choosing the phrase “self-interest” because “selfishness, self-centered-ness, sinful nature, self-esteem, ego, the flesh” all are terms that overlap and describe various aspects of our own self-serving nature.

Of course popular society and those stongly affected by popular society don’t want to think of this as a problem. But on the night He was betrayed to be crucified, Christ said: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And He both suffered and died to demonstrate that love for you. But most of America and Europe would rather side with Whitney Houston when she sang “I found the greatest love of all Inside of me. The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself: It is the greatest love of all ”.

So why is it that we should go to Church? Most go to Church for Whitney Houston’s reasons: self-interest, selfishness, a self-serving desire to feel that we are better than others for some reason or another, or at least, better than we were before. In being better, perhaps, somehow God will be more pleased with us.

But self-interest is exactly the wrong reason. We do not go to Church to get things from God based on our self-interest. Professor Daniel Deutschlander rightly says:

“We do not come to church to do our own thing, anymore than we go to the emergency room in the hospital to do our own thing. We go to both places wounded, in need of help that only comes from another. We go to both places for healing, where our opinion and preference is of no consequence; only that of the healer matters.” (p. 6)

Our own sinful natures crave self-satisfaction from any experience, especially religious experience. But Christ pomises the Cross.

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)

What do we seek from worship? Is it genuine or merely counterfeit Christianity? Again, Prof. Deutshlander points out:

“We see on every hand a desire to make Christianity fun and happy-go-lucky. Some churches and their leaders go so far as to claim that God really wants Christians always to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Others turn worship services into hours of self-discovery; the goal is to give the Christian personal fulfillment and better character. If the individual can learn to get along better with himself, then he will get along better with everyone else too, and God should be happy about that. Still others are obsessed with the notion that the true church should be successful, big, and influential in the world and national politics. Within the church, no matter what denominational label the particular church may wear, many members want to be their own bible; they want the freedom to pick and choose what doctrines to believe and what behavior to praise or blame. Their choices change with their circumstances of the moment, and woe betide any preacher who tells them on the basis of Scriptures that they are wrong and their choices damnable in theeyes of God. All of that is a theology of glory, a theology which lets man be his own god and turns the God of the Bible into a creature subject to personal whims of the moment.” (p. vi)

But the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ, did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). The Son of God “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:7–8)

Christ did not go to the cross for His own self-interest. He went to the cross for the benefit of those who hate Him by their own natures. He went to the cross for sinners. And we are those sinners. He served us! God served us!

So Church should not be a place where we look for something relevant to our needs and desires. It should be a gathering around God’s Word where we confess our sin and utter inadequacy to satisfy His justice. Church should be a place where we depend upon His Word to forgive our sins in the ways He has established: through the Bible, through the Absolution, through Baptism, through the Lord’s Supper.

Many years ago a friend accused me of depending upon Christ and my religion as a Christian as a “crutch” to get me through life. I replied, “No, Christ is not a crutch. He’s the whole life support system of someone who cannot live without medical intervention. He is the operating table, the anesthesiologist, the doctor, the recovery: He is all that we need in this body and life. Because He has given us His own body and life for us, so that we will rise again at the last day to live forever with Him as He originally created us.

It is not our self-interest, but Christ’s love for us.

Prof. Deutschlander’s book is called “The Theology of the Cross” from Northwestern Publishing House, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2008.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Word of the Week for June 15, 2010

What affects our Faith? Media.

The Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15: “33 Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.” 34 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”
The members of the Church at Corinth were greatly affected by society around them. Corinth was a multicultural city situated on a major trade route. People from everywhere came through the city. And they brought with them their goods, their money, their habits, and their beliefs.

The city of Corinth was as diverse and multi-cultural as any city today would want to be. They had schools, gymnasiums, sporting events, great shopping centers with goods from everywhere, theaters, temples with a wide variety of beliefs, and they had a night life that would equal modern Amsterdam or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

Entertainment meant a great deal. Entertainment, news, religions were all tied together in commerce. And through the media of their day, the Christians at Corinth had begun to fall prey to all kinds of sin and perversions.

They had begun to look at worship as an entertainment and merely a social gathering(1 Cor. 11:17–22). They would form groups around which ever pastor seemed to please them the most with his sermons (1 Cor. 2). They looked for the latest worldly wisdom and for dramatic miraculous signs (I Cor. 1:18–25; 3:18–23). They accepted homosexuality, divorce, polygamy, fornication, incest, prostitution, and even the use of children for sexual pleasure (1 Cor 5–7). They had allowed themselves to view religions just as a way to get along with others and to improve their cash flow (1 Cor. 5–6 and 8).

They allowed themselves to be so affected by the media of their day that they had defiled the Lord’s Supper, and taught that those things which God condemns were really not so bad. After all, some of those things God condemned were fun. They could figure out how to improve their bottom line and their social standing by letting some of these commandments of God go by the wayside.

Proverbs 1:10 My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.

I suppose that some readers might think that they are smarter or wiser than the Corinthians of that day. But we are not. Just as they were, every day we also are flooded with shows, articles, movies, internet, TV, radio, and conversation that entice us to put God’s commandments aside. And all for the same reasons that the Corinthians did: personal pleasure, personal gain, and avoiding looking like a fool in front of the neighbors.

God doesn’t change. His commandments do not change. It is we who change and leave His Word to do our own thing. God does not make exceptions for us because we think that we know better in our time. If we really knew better, why do we engross ourselves with the same old sins that they did?

Looking foolish to the world is not bad, just uncomfortable for our sinful natures.

Paul wrote in I Cor. 2

 1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Instead of immersing ourselves in the media, let us immerse ourselves in the Wisdom and Knowledge of God. Proverbs 9: 10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Let us abide in His Word, the Bible. And through His Word gain a heart of wisdom and salvation. Let us never underestimate the affect of the media and popular culture have upon us. But let us turn always back to the reading and teaching of His Word of Salvation as our Way, Truth, and Life.

God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant while words endure,
We keep its teachings pure
Throughout all generations.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Word of the Week for June 8, 2010

What affects our Faith? Pluralism. 
As I wrote last week: None of us grows up in a vacuum. We are affected by all the social, political, philosophical, educational, and media influences that surround us as we grow up in this world. But we don’t always know what these influences are, where they come from, or how they might contradict the truth of God’s Word.

Let me start with a question. Would you want your doctor or your banker to be a liar?

This week we focus on Pluralism. Religious Pluralism is the idea that all religions are really different paths that lead to the same place. The term “Pluralism” is used for several different religious views. What I want to focus on in this article is the religious parallel to cultural pluralism in the politically correct “diversity” movement. In order for Pluralists to make their claims they need to lie. Pluralists need to lie about what each religion considers to be its central truths. And, in order to fit them into their own false views about the nature of God and the world, the Pluralists also need to distort what every other religion teaches.

Religious Pluralism makes these three main claims:

First Religious Pluralism claims that Christians and other religious observers are intolerant (and possibly ethnocentric) to claim that their religion is true to the exclusion of others. This kind of thinking, the pluralists argue, has lead to religious wars and bloodshed.

Second, when the Pluralists compares and contrasts the teachings of various religion, they claim that none of them have the whole truth, like the blind men with the elephant.

Third, Pluralists hold that all religions have the same basic teaching on ethics: the Golden Rule. Furthermore, they claim that each religion is just as effective as the next at causing positive change in a person’s life.

Each of these three claims distorts the truth, and deliberately misrepresents every other religion. The first claim is simply hypocritical. Pluralists claim that their view of religion is the only right view. And they are intolerant of any other view. So they lie.

They lie about how each different religion views the ultimate truth of God. Let’s take the blind men and the elephant story as the example. A king wants to stop religious quarreling so he gathers blind men to demonstrate what religion is like.

The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.

A wise man explains to them: “All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.”

But the problem is that none of them is right at all. You, the reader have to know what an elephant really is before the story makes any sense. The story wouldn’t make any sense to most readers if, instead of an elephant, the story used the word cthulhu. The king knew what the elephant really is, so did his wise man. And they deliberately withheld this truth from the blind men. That is, even in the old Buddhist, Hindu, Jainist versions of this story, the people who promote this notion of pluralism base everything on lies and deception.

Pluralists deliberately steer people away from knowing 1) who God really is, 2) what happens when we die, and 3) that sin against God is the real cause of all our unhappiness and problems in this world.

Unfortunately, religious Pluralism permeates our society at every level. The proponents of “diversity” promote this web of lies to dumb down people and make them conform to their own way.

The way for Christians to deal with Pluralism is to know the Bible. Read it. Know that every word of the Scripture is given by God’s inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16). Besides, there is a better example to show what reality is like. In Luke 16:19–31 Jesus tells us about The Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man, through lack of faith, ends up in hell. Lazarus, though poor, trusted that God would deliver him. Through faith, Lazarus is in heaven. The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to teach his brothers: so they won’t have to go to hell.

Does Abraham say “there are many ways”? No. He says: ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ That is: They have God’s Written Word. That written Word will save them from Hell.

But the rich man argues: ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

Abraham emphasizes again the power of Salvation is only through the Scriptures: ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’

There are not many ways. On the night He was betrayed Christ told us: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Word of the Week for June 1, 2010

What affects our Faith? Materialism.

This week we celebrate the festival of Holy Trinity. During the first half of the Church Year we focused on three main festivals. The first was Christmas. This included everything from the First Sunday in Advent until the end of the Epiphany Season with the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ.

The lessons during the Christmas Season teach us about the gift that God the Father gave to us by sending His Son into our world, born of the virgin Mary.

The second main festival was Easter. The Easter season includes everything from Ash Wednesday, through Lent, Holy Week, and all the 40 days following Easter until we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus Christ to the Right Hand of God the Father. The lessons during this season teach us about the gift that God the Son gave to us with His life for us, His death in our place, and His resurrection from the dead. All of the lessons focus us on Christ as our redeemer from Satan, sin, and death itself. We have the resurrection from the dead because of Christ’s work for us.

The third main festival was Pentecost. The Pentecost festival celebrates the gift that the Holy Spirit gives to us of faith, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life through the Word of God and the Sacraments established by Christ. These Sacraments are given to us to refresh us in the forgiveness of sins, to build our faith, and to keep us as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23)

The Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the Festival of the Holy Trinity as a summary of the previous festivals and looking forward to the application of the Word of God on our lives as sinners in this world who look forward to the resurrection on the day when Christ will return.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 2: 4–10

Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words. For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ. 
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 
None of us grows up in a vacuum. We are affected by all the social, political, philosophical, educational, and media influences that surround us as we grow up in this world. But we don’t always know what these influences are, where they come from, or how they might contradict the truth of God’s Word.

Let us focus on just one of the world views that strongly influence us: Materialism. Materialism teaches that only those things which we can know by our own senses, reason, and tools are of any value. Materialism rejects the spiritual. It rejects miracles, angels, demons, the devil, and God. Materialism places its hope and trust in the ability of humans through their senses and intelligence to be able to figure out anything and everything that might be of any value. Materialism is utilitarian. That means that the main argument of Materialism is that “the ends justify the means.”

Materialism is the foundational philosophy behind Communism, Socialism, eugenics, evolution, modern astrophysics, sub-atomic physics, and all so-called “scientific” branches that deal with the origin or end of the universe.

But Materialism is a blind faith in human reason as the power that can solve all problems: physical, emotional, societal or otherwise. It is an empty deceit of human pride. It is used to justify all kinds of atrocities against living people in the name of “the greater good.” Which means that someone in higher human authority tells you that you must go without and suffer so that many others can be served by the authority.

Throughout the 20th century the German death camps, the Soviet gulags under Lenin and Stalin, the Chinese prisons under Mao and his successors, the workings of Pol Pot, Che Guevera, Castro, and many other Materialist governments have killed hundreds of millions of people. All of these deaths were justified by “the greater good.”

Of course, this “greater good” was only what they could try to make out with their reason.
Think about the number of people killed. That number dwarfs the total of all those who died fighting the wars of the 20th century added together with those who died of crime. The only cause of death that comes close to this record during the 20th century is the number of babies killed by abortion. And abortion is fully justified by Materialism.

For the Christian, Materialism is a very strong influence. While we have been taught that our home is heaven; and while we live here in this world under the temptation and isolation that confronts every Christian of every age—we tend to doubt God’s presence in our lives. We doubt His Love because our senses do not tell us He is there. We want to feel His presence and Love, but we simpley do not at times of trouble.

But where did God say He would come to us? In His Word and Sacraments. His Word is not spoken lightly. The Son of God gave his life and suffered great torment to build the “many mansions” for us. Do you want to know how much God loves you and stands by you? Look to the pain of Christ in His great suffering from the time of His betrayal on Maundy Thursday until the time He gave up His spirit on Good Friday.

Our senses cannot confirm this truth. But it is true. God died for us that we have forgiveness and eternal life. Materialism is a way that leads to death. But faith in Christ gives us eternal life. Only through His Word and Sacraments does God confront us with His gift of love in Christ. We cannot find Christ in nature or by our reason. Only the Word of God gives us Christ.

As we celebrate the Festival of Holy Trinity we remember the great gifts of each person of the One True God who has secured our eternal salvation. This gift is beyond our reason and our senses.

For we know that if our body is destroyed, God will resurrect us, a body not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this sinful flesh we groan, earnestly desiring to be resurrected at home in heaven, if indeed, having been having been brought to faith in Christ we shall not be found faithless. Because we who have been given faith in Christ groan, being burdened, not because we want to die and leave this world, but because we want to live with God forever, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now the One who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.