Friday, November 14, 2014

Cool Lutherans

One of my friends, Tracy, had a temporary roommate.  Tracy's roommate was finishing up a job assignment in town, while her retired husband was at their new home in another state.  June was going to be joining him as soon as her job assignment was complete.

Our small group from church will do things together outside of just doing church-y things.  We attended a dinner and a play together and June came along.  She came to our house when we had bible study here.  It was after we finished studying the Gospel of John and decided we would compare it to the movie, "Son of God."  We had dinner together and watched the movie over two weeks' of meetings. We are a group that likes to laugh and have fun, as well as dig into scripture.

At our last weekly meeting, where we are beginning to study Ruth, Tracy reported that June is happily in her new place and adjusting to their new life in their new community.  June and her husband decided they would look for a Lutheran church because she thought we were so cool as a group.  We whooped it up and praised God when we heard this news.  We were chuckling at the thought of someone thinking we are cool.  I think she was attracted to the Jesus in us, the delight we can have in being with one another, we were just being ourselves.  No program, no agenda, just sinners learning of their Savior.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rethinking Gerhard Forde

The 20th Century Theologian Gerhard Forde likes to say that "the Gospel puts an end to the voice of the law".  The reality is that it does not.

The accusations of the law to reveal our sin still has teeth, still chase us to Christ Jesus our Savior. We continue to see the horrors of our own sin, where we fall short.  The old Adam needs to be drowned daily by baptism.  By seeing who we now belong to, by remembering whose name was placed on us in our baptisms.

Jesus never teaches us to hate the law, or to behave as if God's commandments are non existent.  When I put my faith in Mr. Forde's words, I hated the law.  It scared me, chased me to and fro.  Now that I see the reality of Law and Gospel, I have peace restored once more.  We do not have Gospel alone.  Lutherans teach, believe and confess both law and gospel, all of God's Holy Writ.

One day God's commandments will be a reality for every believer.  We will dwell in them forever.  We will live in the house of the Lord, where pleasant lines are made for us.   Take delight, like King David did, in meditating on God's commandments. We will no longer be accused by our failures.  Until then, cling to Jesus and His Words about us, that we are forgiven and loved.

God is pleased with us.  He even likes us in our shortcomings.  After all, he knows we are weak and that we need a savior, so Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, was provided.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Lonely Way

There is this peculiar phenomenon that happens to me on occasion.  I've mostly experienced it online, but last week or so have experienced it offline.  I am outcast, ignored, not included, avoided.

Other than my husband, parents, daughter, family, I am rejected.  It feels like a shunning.  It can be caused by sin on my part, or sin on the other person's part. It is the law I'm seeing, not the Gospel, not forgiveness, not Christ.

Sunday morning comes.  I remember my baptism.  Then in The Lord's Supper, I hear Jesus' voice.  I am purchased.  I am His and He is mine.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Lutheranism for the Rest of Us

I love theology.  Ask anyone who knows me well and they will confirm my first sentence.  Living, breathing, and discussing God and the Bible. We can never exhaust our knowledge of God because we are finite and He is not finite.  He is a bottomless well of endless treasures and delight.

He is also bigger than I can get my arms around, or wrap my brain around.  So much so, there are times I need to put theology and theological terms aside.  There are times when I must live out my faith without discussing it, without trying to fathom the depths of God.

There are many more books to read about God than I will ever be able to finish.  Including heretical ideas about God.  In Lutheranism, The Holy Bible and the Book of Concord are enough to keep one engaged for a lifetime, let alone all the other books out there that are not an official part of our confessions.  It is wonderful to have such a plethora of reading to choose from, except when your mind spins in circles. Round and round the thoughts go, never landing in a peaceful, restful place.  Stop it. Just stop.

That's my sure sign to do something else.  It is unnecessary for me to read every book on why Lutherans catechize, or why we accept the Book of Concord, or how the LCMS differs from WELS and ELCA.  Am I a Philipist or a Gnesio Lutheran?  Yes.  Am I a Radical Lutheran?  No.  How about a pietist?  The questions on topics like those can go on for a long time.  They've worn me down and out.  I am a member of a local LCMS, I think catechism is good, I'm working on understanding scriptures and the Book of Concord.  Help me to understand the basics.  I want to delight in the basics.  I love Jesus and He loves me. He even likes me.

At some point I may be more curious about why Lutherans did what we do.  But for the time being, I am living and trusting in my savior Jesus Christ.  That is enough.

I'll think about that!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mid-night Adventures

You've had these kinds of nights if you're over your teenage years.  You wake up about 2:30 am either to get a drink of water or to use the bathroom.  You pad around the house in the dark, searching for what you want.  You stumble your way back to bed, slide back in, pull up the sheets and lay there.  Tossing and turning, unable to get back to sleep. Oh, it's maddening.

Our window has been ajar at night to let the cool breezes in after the warm days.  It's always easier to sleep when it's cool at night.  I could feel the cool air, and I could hear the neighbors.  They were newer neighbors. Apparently, they can be quite chatty at 2:30 am.

I listened.  Back and forth they called to one another without regard for anybody else.  Oh, how I wanted to blame my sleeplessness on them. It wasn't their fault. I lay there eavesdropping. I couldn't understand them.

"Whooo.  Whooo."


My irritation turned to joy. I had heard one voice on previous occasions, but now there was back and forth banter.  Our lone owl neighbor was chatting with a friend!  I continued to listen. Never having seen these neighbors, I imagined they were Barn Owls, big and burly.  I refused to get out of bed again, so I continued listening.

Then I began thanking God for these owls who were keeping me company and bringing delight in the middle of the night. They stopped hooting.  Did they begin to hunt?  Maybe they will get a few gophers that permeate the neighborhood and terrorize all our plants.  It's still quiet except for the beginnings of the workday, as a few trucks were on the freeway.  My thoughts turned to the new heaven and new earth where we will dwell with God's creatures the way we are meant to dwell with them. They will live with us the way they were meant to.

What sleepless delight.  Praise God.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Who Possesses Salvation

Salvation belongs to the Lord;    your blessing be on your people! 

Salvation is possessed by God.  He is the owner of it, He distributes it as He pleases, He is liberal with that distribution of salvation.  It is not something we own, it is not something we distribute, it is not for us to horde.

Yes, I hear the objections already.  "BUT, it's now mine.  God gave me my regeneration!"  I would urge you, if you have this objection or one similar to read that quote from Psalm 3 again.  The plain text says Salvation belongs to the Lord.

Our Heavenly Father dispenses salvation through a variety of means:  baptism, hearing The Word, and at The Lord's Table.  It is He who keeps it and gives it to us.  It is why we never outgrow our need for the Gospel, it is the milk that we yearn for like newborn babes with childlike faith.

Are you fearful because of Psalm 3?  Does that make you uncomfortable?  I hope it does if you believe salvation is your possession.  Why do I hope you are uncomfortable with those words?  Because it means you know what they are saying is true.  When you wrestle with God over scripture's plain reading, you and God both win.  You get each other in the end.

Here is the promise of God in dispensing His salvation:

For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Cling to that!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

John 8:1-11 The Woman Caught in Adultery

John 8:1-11

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst  they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.  Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.  Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said,“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The Pharisees are at it again.  Wanting to trap Jesus, they brought to him only the woman caught in adultery, and not the man.  This shows how the Pharisees viewed women in Jesus' day.  The trap was that no matter how Jesus answered their question, it would get him in trouble.  Either with Rome, or with the Pharisees.  Rome was the only one allowed to execute a person, and the Pharisees knew that the law required Jesus to answer that the woman should be stoned.  It was a failproof trap!  But look at Jesus' reply.

What reply, you ask.  And you rightly ask that question because Jesus did not give an answer. He allows the accusers to keep talking.  He makes no eye contact with anybody.  Look at this verse:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. James 2:10

Jesus knew the Pharisees were guilty of failing in all points of the law and were accountable for all of it.  In their continued attempts at forcing Jesus into a corner, they condemned themselves.  Can we learn from the wisdom Jesus exhibits here in answering accusers?  Jesus allows them to walk away.  The sad part about the departure of the Pharisees is that they did not stick around to hear Jesus forgive them as well.  But the woman.... well, there she is all exposed, physically and spiritually, in her shame.  And Jesus does not condemn her.  She does not deny her sin, but stands in the midst of all the men, hoping for mercy, fearing for her life.

Jesus gives her so much more.  He gives us the same. Rejoice in that!

What is a Balanced Life?

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. ~Luke 2:52

As a child, Jesus had a balanced life.  He grew in his mind and in his body; he had favor with God and with us.  He did not neglect one aspect of life in order to achieve another.  He grew physically which requires exercise and healthy eating.  He grew in wisdom, which requires time to learn, reflect and apply that knowledge.  He grew in favor with God which means learning of God, gathering with people where God promises to meet us, in his church (Matthew 18:19-21-“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”).  He grew in favor with man, so Jesus was around people and in community with them.

There are many good things in life that are gifts from our Heavenly Father.  Our jobs, our families, our church family, physical activity, sports programs, gaining knowledge and wisdom.  All of these things can lead one into a ditch and throw us off balance.  When one gift is overemphasized at the expense of other gifts, we have lost balance.  Have you known someone who is a workaholic?  The gift of employment has been misused at the expense of family.  Do you know someone who chooses sports activities at the expense of Sunday morning worship?  How about someone who cannot exercise enough?  They also abandon other gifts from God to attain endorphins. 

Often these good gifts that can be mishandled try to lure us in with unsure promises.  With exercise comes the promise of youth and beauty never leaving you.  Employment holds the allure of earthly treasures and praises of men.  Sports activities, for families offers an often unfulfilled scholarship.  But we, the children of our Heavenly Father, have a sure promise from God that He will meet us where and when He says He will, in the gathering together of believerson Sunday mornings.  His Word never returns to Him without doing what He intends.  Sometimes the hard decisions look as if we are choosing the weakest and least wise, but being with God and his family is the wisest choice.

In our families, it is very challenging to find balance.  There are many good gifts that call us.  Some gifts beckon us away from other gifts when they are in conflict. “Welcome to the Lord’s Table” is for all of us.  My prayer for you and your family is for balance in your lives, and an ability to enjoy all the good things our heavenly Father has blessed us with: growth in wisdom and stature, and favor with God and man.

Monday, March 3, 2014

John 3 - Bible Study Reflections

John 3

We continue to see light and dark in John 3.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, hiding from his co-workers, the other Pharisees.  Nicodemus is a teacher of the law, has heard about this Jesus guy, and as a good teacher investigates him.  Nicodemus still hungers after truth, so he sneaks in a visit with this dangerous fellow, Jesus.

Poor Nicodemus cannot understand what Jesus is talking about.  "How can a man be born again when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"  Jesus continues to answer Nicodemus with truth, even though Nicodemus is confused.  Jesus answers him that baptism saves, spirit and water.  Not John's baptism, but the baptism Jesus sent with the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters of new birth, new creation.

Do you see how our Savior takes away Nicodemus' presuppositions?  He reminds Nicodemus that he is a teacher of the law yet doesn't know spiritual things.  This forces Nicodemus to cling to Christ's words, not what he thinks he already knows about God.  He must rely on what Jesus is telling Him.

Jesus calls us to not cling to our own presuppositions.  He calls us to trust Him alone, not our past experiences or knowledge.  How has Jesus challenged what you thought you knew?  What rugs has He taken away from you so that you can trust Him more?

There is more we can learn from Nicodemus here.  When you come to difficult bible passages, how do you react?  Like Nicodemus, cling to God's word even if you don't understand it.  Jesus never lies to us.  We may gain understanding later.

Thank God for removing presuppositions from you.  It's a good thing from the giver of all good gifts.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

John 2

John 2
Two Opposites

 Jesus obeys his Mother and turns water into wine.  He fulfills the commandment that we are to obey our parents so that we can have a long life.  He seems reluctant to do so, "Woman, what has this to do with me?  My hour has not yet come."  But he obeys, and He does it with flourish.  He turns that dirty water, that was to be used for washing, into the best wine.  

Jesus shows his care for this wedding celebration and the celebrants by providing what was desired.  He gives us more than we ask for.  The wedding party expected the lesser wine, and they got the best.  Jesus, too, cares about your desires.  He cares about the individual and the seemingly insignificant things in our lives.  Nothing is too small for him.  Jesus takes us ordinary, unclean humans and sets us apart for Himself..

The bookend to this tender first miracle is the clearing of the temple.  St. John is showing us again, in black and white comparisons, Law and Gospel at work.  There was blatant, open, unrepentant defilement of the Holy Temple.  This defilement was encouraged by those in charge of the temple.  Everybody was getting their piece of the money pie from the trade developed by the money-changers and sellers of sacrificial animals.  

God has specific ways we are to worship, specific ways we are not to worship.  Jesus is showing that this is not the way to worship.  This is the Father's house, and Jesus was making way for us, taking out the middlemen.  Jesus is showing the Jews that He is the temple, that He is God.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

John 1:19-51

Three points from John 1:19-51
Come and See

St. John the Baptist is a straight shooter.  He doesn't beat around the bush when he confesses that he is not the Messiah, that he is one who points to Christ.  In these verses we see John the Baptist's ministry diminishing.  His disciples are leaving him and going to follow Jesus.

The next day John was standing there again with two of his disciples, 36 when he saw Jesus walking by. “There is the Lamb of God!” he said. 37 The two disciples heard him say this and went with Jesus.

All of Israel knew of John the Baptist.  He had a large following.  That crowd was beginning to diminish because of Jesus' arrival.  John knew he was a prophet and his job was to point to the Messiah. I wonder how he reacted to seeing the reality of it. If you were in John's shoes, would it be difficult for you to see the large crowd who followed you, turn away from you to follow another?  My self-esteem, ego, sinful self would bristle. I believe I would experience pain, confusion, doubt, anger, and jealousy.  We are all called to be like John the Baptist to point others to Jesus, and it may mean they walk away from you.

This passage, we also see the old fading away and the arrival of the new.  Jesus is now on the scene, beginning his ministry, so John's baptism is becoming the old one, the prepatory baptism.  This is the paradigm shift in scripture from Old Testament to the New Testament.

I find verses 37-40 humorous.  John's disciples turn to follow Jesus, the heralded Messiah.  In my mind's eye, they are following Jesus from a bit of a distance, like puppy dogs.  Perhaps they were unsure of who they were following and wanted to hang in the back until they figure things out.

37 The two disciples heard him say this and went with Jesus.38 Jesus turned, saw them following him, and asked, “What are you looking for?”They answered, “Where do you live, Rabbi?” (This word means “Teacher.”)39 “Come and see,” he answered. (It was then about four o'clock in the afternoon.) So they went with him and saw where he lived, and spent the rest of that day with him.

Really?  That is their question of the Messiah?  "Where do you live, Rabbi?" Don't you think they have other, more probing and serious questions they'd like to ask.  More along the lines of, "Are you really the Promised One?"  Not, "Where do you live, Rabbi?"  They are all vagueness to hide their doubt and conceal what they really want to know.  But Jesus knows what they want and He calls them to "Come and you will see."  So they follow Jesus at His invitation.

The rest of the chapter is about accruing disciples.  Andrew, goes to get Simon Peter, and compel him to follow Jesus.  Andrew is not heard of after this, is he?  But Peter sure is.  Andrew's job was to go get the "big fish" we know and love as Peter.  We could not function as a church without both of these men, the background worker who invites and the boisterous disciple who speaks our thoughts.

Then there is Philip, who believes easily and follows Jesus quickly.  Philip doesn't seem to bat an eye or have any doubt.  His first reaction is to follow and then find Nathanael.  Nathanael, who is skeptical about anything good coming from Nazareth.  Philip doesn't let Nathanael off the hook that easily, "Come and see."  

As believers, we do not have to know all the theological answers that people ask of us.  Oftentimes, I feel so inadequate to talk to others about salvation in Jesus.  But it really is not about me and what I know.  It is me introducing them to the only Savior who can rescue them, as I was rescued.  The One who forgives us and sets us free.  We are then freed to follow Jesus and continue to invite others.

We can introduce others to Jesus, just as Andrew and Philip did, just as St. John the Baptist.  Evangelism truly is simple.  It is an invitation to "Come and see Jesus."

Monday, February 3, 2014

Introduction and John 1:1-18

In this series on the Gospel of John, I will be writing about one or two points that stood out to me through studying this book.  I hope you find these points interesting and true to God's Word.

John 1:1-18

John is pictured as an eagle in Church Art.  He is seen as the eagle because he can fly close to God to see His Glory.  This Gospel is about Jesus' deity and John tells us so here:  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (20:31).  In church art, Luke is represented as an ox, a faithful worker; Matthew as a human, emphasizing Jesus'  humanity; and Mark as a lion, proving Jesus came from Judah.  

When I heard this about how the evangelists are represented in art, I thought immediately of the creatures around the throne in Revelation.  It is Revelation 4:6-11.  These creatures are covered in eyes and are in God's presence.  Their sight is clear and unveiled.  What they tell us are true and trustworthy as they see God, so they see us.  God is at work in and through the evangelists to bring us to our senses, to give us faith. 

The connections between the Gospels and Revelation assure me it is God's Word to us.  

Oftentimes, as a Christian, I feel rejected by others.  They snicker and mock my beliefs.  I'm sure you have experienced this as well.  But Jesus knows rejection. He knows how it feels. Everytime someone does not receive forgiveness from him He is rejected.  We have the pleasure of following in His footsteps.

 John 1:10-13
He came to his own, and his own people[c] did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tell Me Again!

I was gobstopped.  I couldn't open my mouth to brush aside the compliment because I was speechless. It was one of the best compliments I have had.  "What happened to you?  You look like Jesus."  At that moment, I felt like my feet did not touch the earth.  I look like my God and Savior.

Over the weekend I heard these sweet words from my loving Larry, "I want to take you to this restaurant I like."  It was the "I want to take you..." that melted my heart.  He was bringing me into his work world and wanting to show me a place he appreciates.  I was being included in one of the highlights of his working world.  Unfortunately, that restaurant was closed so we will share it another day.

From our amazing daughter I heard, "You should do that, Mom!"  I was telling her about ways of expanding and creating a business.  Such words of encouragement and support from one so young, yet she has much wisdom.  She often amazes me with her incredible insights into people.  With that kind of insight, she makes a terrific daughter and friend, and one day she will be a terrific wife and mother.

Monday, after telling a friend that I had not gone to church but didn't know why I was telling him that, he said, "For the sake of Jesus' innocent suffering and death our Father forgives you all your sin in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  Then after awhile he said, "You confessed to me so I could tell you that."  They were words I needed to hear.  Jesus forgives me.

Our families should be the place where we speak God's forgiveness to one another.  Oftentimes we don't do so, because this is the place where buttons are pushed and hurts are grasped like an outfielder catching a baseball.  Family is where we can practice our Christian lives with those closest to us.  If you are harboring hurt and anger, take it to Jesus.  As often as it comes into your thoughts, take it to Jesus. Over and over.

Then speak sweet words of forgiveness to your family members and friends.  Again and again give the words of absolution, the sweetness of the gospel.  Become liberal in your sowing of grace. Watch as hearts melt from receiving the needed good news,  including your own.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Christians Are Hypocrites

Did I get your attention?  Good!  Then this is written for you.

Have you ever said thought that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites?  Have you thought it? You've witnessed Christians behaving badly toward others.  Perhaps even toward you.  You've heard cutting, harmful words, maybe those were spoken to you as well.  Christians are supposed to behave better, right? Christians should be the most moral people on the planet.

If you've thought that about Christians, I'll let you in on an oft-kept secret. Christianity isn't about living the most moral life imagineable. Let me reword it to be sure you heard it. Christianity isn't limited to morality.
We aren't the moral majority.  We're the forgiven majority.

Christianity is about forgiveness. Forgiveness of our sin and hatred of God. The difference between Christians and others is:  Forgiveness received through faith in Jesus Christ.

That forgiveness exists for you as well.