Saturday, July 30, 2005

Final Sermon for Vicarage! Isaiah 55:1-3a

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is Isaiah 55:1-3a,

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.

I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t go shopping for groceries when you are hungry. According to some people, if you shop while you’re hungry, you are much more likely to buy more junk food or unhealthy food choices. Or you end up buying more than you need. I don’t really know if this advice is generally true, but I know that when I shop hungry I do tend to buy more snack food. Regardless of how true this advice is, here in today’s Word to us from Isaiah and also in the Gospel reading, we hear Christ calling the hungry to Him for food. In fact when God issues this call for us to come, He expects that those He calls are more than just hungry.

The Words of His invitation describe our condition. “Come, all you who are thirsty…” We are thirsty, but not just for physical water, which only satisfies for a short time, and then we are thirsty again (John 4:13). Rather, we are thirsty for a ‘living water’ that if we drink of it we’ll never thirst! (John 4:14). This living water that eternally satisfies our thirst is Jesus Christ. Without Him, our souls are parched and dry and thirsty. Without the living water of Jesus Christ, we choke on the dry dust of our sin, as we labor in this life for water that doesn’t satisfy. For on our own we are in a desert of sin, lost with only mirages of water always just beyond our grasp.

“You who have no money” further describes our condition. Not only are we hungry and thirsty, but we have no money to buy food! But are we talking about physical food and physical hunger again? No! The food we hunger for and that God offers is food that will delight our soul. But without money, we are no better than beggars, unable to ‘shop’ for our sustenance. Martin Luther expressed this truth a few days before his death, in the last words he ever wrote: “We are beggars, this is true.” Truly, we are beggars, with no spiritual goods or merits to offer God to purchase the spiritual food we so desperately need. We can spend our life toiling away after what does not satisfy, laboring for earthly food, for earthly pleasure—but it never satisfies. The void of physical hunger can only be temporarily filled, and then we hunger again. But the void of spiritual hunger can’t be filled by any earthly bread. And we don’t have money to buy the bread that can. And we can’t labor enough to earn the bread that satisfies our spiritual hunger. We are spiritually destitute in our sinfulness, without the means to help ourselves. No amount of good works will enable us to ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’ or give us greater ‘purchasing power.’ Instead, we must come as beggars, humbly holding out our hands to be fed at someone else’s cost; by someone else’s labor.

And we all know the hungry, thirsty, tired and poor aren’t far from death if their needs aren’t met. Their life hangs in the balance until someone delivers them. And such are we. Spiritually we are like the crowds of people in today’s Gospel lesson—the feeding of the five thousand. We are sick, hungry, and thirsty. So where did the disciples want to send the crowds to be fed? Away from Jesus! The disciples said, “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” But Jesus doesn’t send the people away, He feeds them right there by a miracle! And Jesus doesn’t send us away when we come like beggars to Him for food. For He alone is the ‘food that endures to eternal life’ (John 6:27). He is the bread of life. And He knows that He can’t send us away to be fed—we have no money to buy food!

So in the book of Isaiah He issues us the most remarkable call! “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, buy and eat!” How can we buy and eat without money? Because He charges nothing! The words ‘buy and eat’ in verse 1 become ‘listen and eat’ in verse 2. “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Apparently God isn’t too concerned about us shopping hungry! He’s not worried about us ending up with ‘junk-food’, because when we ‘buy’ food by ‘listening’ to Him, we ‘eat what is good.’ When we hear God’s Word, the good news about Jesus’ death on the cross, we are fed what is good. Our hungry soul is fed with the richest of fare, truly a meal to delight our soul! For God calls us to “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Hear and live. We all come here today as spiritual beggars, whether we knew it or not. And whether we knew it or not we were born into sin, which left us spiritually thirsty, hungry, and destitute. Yet Christ calls us to hear and live! Hear what? His Word. Hear what Jesus said after He fed the 5,000: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus told them and us that His flesh is the food they need, because the bread that He was going to give for the life of the world was His flesh. When Jesus went to the cross, His flesh was given up to death for the life of the world. He was nailed to a tree and killed, so that we could live. His death prepared a banquet of life for us! God is calling all beggars to come to His table, to buy and eat without cost. He’s calling the hungry and the thirsty to hear and eat what is good, so our souls will delight in the richest of fare.

God the Father spared no expense to prepare this banquet for us sinners, as Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” God paid the ultimate price to give us eternal life, and that price was the death of His own Son Jesus Christ. So that we truly are fed at someone else’s expense, and by someone else’s labor. The expense was God’s, in sending His precious Son, and the labor was Christ’s, who by His perfect obedience and death on the cross prepared such a feast for us. And though the Father gave Jesus up to death, He did not lose Him, but got Him back when Jesus rose again from the dead. So that through Him He will also graciously give us all things. And what a banquet it is! Could a beggar ask for more? Could we have hoped for anything better? See, it’s really not so bad being a beggar when you know where the feast is, and Jesus invites you to the banquet! And so we also find other beggars in need of Jesus Christ and invite them to where the food is, when we tell people the Gospel.

We who were thirsty have been invited to come to the waters—the living water of Jesus Christ, poured out in a soul-cleansing flood in our baptism. What a blessing to see [____] washed in that soul-cleansing baptism this Sunday! A reminder of the gift of water and the Spirit poured out on each of us in our Baptism into Jesus. A life-giving stream for our thirsty souls. We who were hungry and destitute, with no money to buy the spiritual food we needed have been given wine and milk and the richest fare to delight our soul. The pure spiritual milk of God’s Word nourishes us constantly as we grow up in our salvation (1 Pt. 2:2). And the wine and bread that we gather this day to eat and drink are far more than empty symbols and physical food. No, a table is spread before you with bread and wine that are the body and blood of Jesus Christ—a holy supper to take away your sins, by the eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood. The richest meal we poor spiritual beggars could ask for. A holy supper where Christ is both host and feast. Truly His body and blood are a delight to our soul as they cleanse our soul of guilt and join us in Christ’s one body. Thanks be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that He has called us to hear His Word and come to Him—that by hearing Him our soul will live. For His holy food truly satisfies—because through it we will endure to eternal life with Him, because Jesus fills the void of our spiritual hunger. Amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Submission to Gov't cont'd

Since the discussion I posted awhile back on "Submission to government or Independence" is still ongoing somewhat
here, I decided to start a new thread.
Rick Ritchie posted this comment:
Do you have a definition of revolution? Do we just go by the historical label?
The Continental Congress was called in part to respond to the king's actions, one of which was to restrict the activities of the Massachusetts legislature. So you have a legal question as to whether or not the king had the right to restrict such activities.
The term 'insurgent' itself begs the question.
While I would likely side with Bonhoeffer against Sasse, I don't see even Bonhoeffer's action in the same light as the American Revolution. You would have a better parallel if when Hitler dissolved the German parliament, it had continued to meet and it called for armed resistance.


So to offer some balance, perhaps, I offer a quote from Gene Veith's book that I just read, "God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in all of Life."
Revolutions can be lawful or unlawful. The French Revolutionaries guillotined their old rulers, abolished the law, and instituted a new legal system by force. The Communist revolution and the Nazi revolution installed regimes that were illegitimate, thus lacking any valid authority. The American Revolution, by contrast, tried to build a legal case, grounded on the necessity of parliamentary representation and other rights of citizens as found in English law. The American Revolution was not resolved until the Treaty of Paris, in which the King of England himself granted the colonies independence. (Christians who worry that the United States government is not legitimate because the Revolution violated Romans 13 need not worry. The ruler himself agreed to let us go and, in the treaty he signed, assigned legal authority to the American legistlatures.)
Then Veith goes on to describe when its permissible to disobey authorities: namely when they pass laws that violate the Law of God.

Now, this doesn't necessarily settle the issue, Rick, but its a slightly different perspective, closer to yours I'm guessing. Veith even seems to agree in some way with Sasse in that the legitimacy of the American government came AFTER the revolution, though for different reasons. Sasse argues that the legitimacy came from the new government fulfilling the God-ordained duties of government, while Veith seems to find the legitimacy coming from the sanction of the King of England. You asked me my definition of revolution? Well, I again freely confess that I'm not adequately informed about the precise historical sequence of events, including your reference to the Continental Congress. My definition of 'revolution' would simply be this: either open or secret rebellion against the government. As such, I don't believe anyone has that vocation or calling to be in rebellion against government (that's how I read Sasse, not Veith). Yet while both the government may be acting outside of its vocation (and therefore acting without divine authority) and also the revolutionary is acting outside of any God-given vocation--God still can perform His 'alien-work' of punishment and wrath through the revolutionary against the government.

In a similar vein, I don't see Bonhoeffer's actions in plotting an assassination as a legitimate vocation/calling from God. Yet had things gone successfully, God could have used Bonhoeffer and co. as God's instruments of wrath against Hitler. I guess the issue there is whether assassination is ever legitimate in the eyes of God. How would one determine when assassination is or isn't legitimate? Who would determine if a leader or government were sufficiently tyrannical? No, that is why I believe that such actions are not permissible, for the sake of an orderly society and government.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Sharing the Eternal Truth with an Ever-Emerging Culture"--a response

Just the other week I received an email containing this article by Rick Warren, explaining his philosophy or method of outeach:
Sharing the Eternal Truth with an Ever-Emerging Culture. Here follows my response and attempt at offering a Lutheran critique of Warren's principles of evangelism.

First I want to say that I do admire Warren's passionate desire to spread the Gospel, and his enthusiasm for evangelism. But his whole premise in this letter is that the church should be changing as rapidly as the culture. A few examples:

--Warren says, "In other words, someone who prefers a choir and more traditional music can worship in that atmosphere, and then at the scheduled time, see the exact same sermon as those worshiping in our main auditorium. This is duplicated across our campus with an acoustic worship, another aimed at Gen-X, and so on. "

This is one of the biggest mistakes of 'church growth' in my opinion. He openly admits that they are trying to make worship that will appeal to specific ages, music-styles, and tastes. This is NOT what is meant by being all things to all people. I think that Dad gave a good explanation of how Paul gave up his rights to work as a missionary among the Jews and Gentiles. He gave up Christian freedoms that he had, in order to reach others. He didn't go out and get a Greek drama troupe together and put on skits, or try to make other culturally-conditioned appeals to the people. I've heard it wisely stated that "The Church that seeks relevance has already made itself irrelevant." You simply cannot create worship styles to appeal to every different person. What if I prefer to worship with Jazz music? Country? Bag-pipe music? American Folk? Heavy metal? Will the church provide a new service for every worshipper who isn't satisfied with the worship style? The practical consideration is also this: that only in a church the size of Warren's, or with at least several hundred to a thousand people could you actually even begin to meet such a goal. But the underlying flaw in my opinion is the premise that worship should be catered to the desires and tastes of the worshipper. In fact Warren even takes it a step further and caters worship to the unbeliever/non-church goer! It's beyond me why he goes to the unbeliever for advice on how to design his church and worship. Paul told us "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom. 12:2). Warren's variety of church deliberately seeks to imitate or conform to the world and its culture to attract more people. He even goes so far as to say, "And I think that means if you're in California, you should have a California culture church. If you're in Ohio, you should have an Ohio culture church. If you're in Mississippi, you should have a Mississippi culture church." Contrary to this, I believe that worship, rightly understood, does not begin with US, but begins with God. Worship begins with God's gracious outpouring of His gifts to us through Christ Jesus. These gifts are wrapped and delivered to us through the Word and through Baptism and Communion. The wondrous gift of the Gospel of Jesus' forgiveness of us can't help but evoke a RESPONSE from us of praise and thanksgiving. So worship understood this way has no interest in appealing to the worshipper, but rather it flows from and is shaped by the Word of God that reveals and delivers salvation from Christ Jesus to us. The Christian church has worshipped with the historic liturgy for nearly 2,000 years, and it has in itself been relevant to people of all cultures, beginning in the Mediterranean Basin, including Greece, Rome, Northern Africa, and West and South of Israel the church spread to Ethiopia and India. And the church never saw fit to abandon the liturgy to create a culturally specific worship service de novo in every new land. The liturgy did grow and slowly evolve everywhere Christianity spread, but it can hardly be claimed that it is just the 'white-European' or even 'Germanic' worship service. Its much older than that. The contrast is sharp between this and Warren's philosophy of worship, because his idea of worship intends to try to appeal to specific age groups, music styles, etc; whereas the historic liturgy never has the intention of trying to make itself appealing. This relates to the other main premise of Warren's that I think is flawed: that to reach out to people in the culture today, with all its technology and media, we have to wrap the Gospel up in a clever, attractive, almost specifically targeted marketing scheme.

For example, Warren says:
--"In other words, our message of transformation must never change but the transformation of our presentation should be continual, adapting to the new languages of our culture. Consider this: the word contemporary literally means "with temporariness." By nature, nothing contemporary is meant to last forever! It is only effective for a while and only relevant in that particular moment -- that's what makes it contemporary."

So he suggests that our 'presentation' needs to be as 'temporary' as our changing culture. That 'it is only effective for a while, and only relevant in that particular moment.' The first problem I have with this is that it suggests we need to 'clothe the Gospel' in something else, to make it attractive, appealing, or relevant. If this is the case, why in the world would we clothe the eternal unchanging message of the Gospel in something less? Why dress the Gospel in admittedly 'trendy clothes' that are acknowledged to be short-lived or faddish? Shouldn't our presentation of the Gospel rather reflect its stark foolishness in the face of the world (1 Cor. 1)? The message of the cross that was so central to the early apostles' preaching (1 Cor. 2:2) is radically 'a-cultural'. It is eternal and unchanging, relevant to all ages, races, social classes in and of itself, because it addresses our universal common need--forgiveness from our sins and deliverance from death! A message that is so entirely cross-cultural and eternal, shouldn't be packaged into something that tries to fit the Gospel into something that is so narrow and specific and temporary that its driven to appeal only to a specific slice of American culture. This leads to the second main problem I have with this premise: namely that the Gospel message needs such 'packaging' to be effective! The Gospel doesn't become effective, or even 'more effective' by the trappings that we might add to it, rather it goes out from God's mouth and accomplishes the purpose for which He directs it (Isaiah 55:10-11). The Gospel is effective on its own, and it alone will produce the change in men's hearts that brings people to believe in the Gospel. That is why the Gospel message, of Christ crucified must be put forward in all boldness and at all times! When all of this 'packaging' and marketing takes front seat instead, you end up with the situation Warren himself describes, having to reinvent yourself constantly, because "What is considered contemporary and relevant in the next ten years will inevitably appear dated and tired in 20 years." If it is the Gospel itself which is in focus, not the 'trappings' of culturally-conditioned worship practices, then there is no fear of 'appearing dated and tired'--because the Gospel is eternally relevant! Thus I favor the liturgy (in my Christian freedom) as the best medium for presenting the Gospel in worship. The liturgy is not focused on itself or it's own relevance, but rather is literally 'full' of the Word of God itself, as nearly all the songs and responses of the historic liturgy are drawn directly from Scripture or are paraphrased. When the Gospel of Christ is central and in focus, then the message is automatically relevant!

Warren emphasizes:
--"The only way to stay relevant is to anchor your ministry to unchanging truths and eternal purposes but be willing to continually adapt how you communicate those truths and purposes."
But what does it convey about your message of 'unchanging truths and eternal purposes' if you are "constantly adapting; we've changed styles of worship, programming, and outreach many, many times in the last 25 years, and we'll continue to do so because the world keeps changing." Should an elderly person (let's say an unbeliever) who finds Warren's "Gen-X" worship unappealing therefore conclude that the message is irrelevant to them? Or vice-versa? Perhaps part of the problem of trying to run the treadmill of relevance is that the very attempt to 'be relevant' is getting in the way of the message that already is relevant on its own!

With that said, I do certainly agree with Warren that there are methods of outreach that are probably not the most helpful--like for example 'door-knocking.' But even here, it is not the method itself that does or doesn't make the Gospel effective. It is the Gospel message itself that is 'effective' to convert lost souls. And it can do so effectively wherever the Gospel is proclaimed--at a stranger's doorstep, to a friend or family member, from the pulpit of the church, or in a prison. But the question of 'Where am I most likely to find a person who will at least listen to me tell the Good News about Jesus?' is the question to be asked instead, I believe. The reason that telling a friend, family member or co-worker about the Gospel is more likely to see results than 'door-knocking', is because the people that you actually know are more likely to listen to you in the first place. Warren rightly points out that most people don't want to be bothered by a stranger at the door.

At another point Warren says,
-- "In almost every single sermon I preach every point has a verb in it -- something to do. What are you going to do now that you know this godly truth?" and then describes the reason for this as follows: "our entire purpose driven process at Saddleback is designed to move people, not only into intimacy with God, but also into service for him, where they'll experience a deep and broader faith in the midst of community and ministry."

The problem that I have with this is that his message of preaching seems to center around 'giving you a purpose' which he seems to equate with giving you 'something to do.' This message is the LAW, not the Gospel. What the Law instructs us to do in our Christian lives, regarding good works is certainly a necessary element in preaching--but it must never become the 'purpose' or central feature of preaching. The reason is that the Christian message is NOT centered around what WE are to do, but what Christ did for us (1 Cor. 2:2). Preaching that centers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is ultimately the only thing that will generate both faith and obedience in the Christian. Its interesting that Warren gives the message of 'what you are to do' such a prominent place in his preaching when he just a paragraph earlier criticized churches that provide a 'list of rules' for living. Isn't that exactly what Warren is doing by focusing his preaching on 'our purpose' and what we must now do? From my friend Wildboar's review of the "Purpose Driven Life" (here: Lutheran-critique of Purpose Driven Life ) I know that Warren provides 164 'steps' to finding your purpose driven life. What a 'list of rules' to follow! I certainly affirm the need to preach about the good works that are commanded for the life of the Christian, but when this supplants the message of the Gospel as central in the sermon, you no longer have a message that saves (Rom. 8:3-4), but a message that brings wrath (Rom. 4:15, 5:20, 7:7-25). And neither is the Gospel message of Christ and the cross just an introductory doctrine that we grow out of once we've become Christians. The message of Christ and the Gospel can never be absent from preaching. You never know whether an unbeliever is out in the congregation, who might be visiting, and this could be the only time he or she will ever get a chance to hear the Gospel. But even more importantly, the message of Christ and Him crucified must always remain front and center because this is the very message that forgives our sins and regenerates us to lead a life of good works (Eph. 2:10).

There is much more that could be said, as Warren's article spans such a broad range of topics, but I hope that this was enough to cover the main points. The Gospel, not the message of what we are to do, must be central, and that Gospel is in itself relevant to all ages, races, cultures, etc--and doesn't need our packaging to become more relevant or effective. Please let me know if there's anything you think was unclear, or if you found my critique of Warren to be unfair in any way. There is a drastically different frame of thinking behind all of this, and I think it shows how true it is that doctrine (teaching) and practice are so closely connected.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Pro-life apologetics

I just listened to an excellent discussion of Pro-life apologetics on Issues Etc, with guest Scott Klusendorf. One of the statements that really struck me, pertaining to the Schiavo case was this: "Terri Schiavo had no duty to get well." How true. Just because a person may not be able to recover from their handicaps, does not make their life any less valuable or worthy of our protection. Listen to the program here and here.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Sermon on Isaiah 44:6-8

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is Isaiah 44:6-8, (I’ve made a slight revision of the first verse to match with more accurate translations)

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

When the prophet Isaiah recorded these words, the Southern Kingdom of Judah was witnessing the Northern Kingdom of Israel fall to the Assyrian empire. The Assyrians were a ruthless people, known for their cruel warfare. It was a time of fear and uncertainty for both kingdoms of Israel, as their borders were pressed by this great and fearsome enemy. And in 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom fell. One of the earlier emperors of Assyria, Shalmaneser III, had boldly claimed that he was “the mighty king, king of the universe, the king without a rival, the autocrat, the powerful one of the four regions of the world, who shatters the might of the princes of the whole world, who has smashed all of his foes as pots” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p.120). Arrogant claims for a mere man—even for a great emperor—claims that verge on putting himself equal with a god. When men deny or forget God, they themselves become ‘gods’—legends in their own minds.

In many ways, the situation of the people of Judah was comparable to the one we find ourselves in today. Only we face the hidden threat of terrorists, posing danger on every side, with no respect for life, as we were so painfully reminded in London the other week. But the similarity is not only in that there was the constant threat and uncertainty of war—but that Judah found itself surrounded by polytheism—pagan religions that believed in many gods. Today you can find a small but growing number of self-proclaimed ‘neo-pagans,’ who are polytheistic, but the greater threat that we face in our times is that of religious ‘pluralism.’ The idea that all religions have an equal claim on the truth; that no single faith can claim to teach ‘absolute truth.’ Both for Judah then, and us now, the pressure is to give in and admit that our God is really no different, or at any rate not much better than any of the other gods or religious paths out there.

So this prophecy from Isaiah addressed their fundamental need to know who the true God is. They needed assurance that they had One True God who was able to deliver them from the hands of the Assyrians. Did they have a God strong enough to save from the might of the Assyrians, who boasted god-like powers in demolishing any nation that stood in the way of their imperial conquest? Ultimately, Judah would go into exile for their sins, but not under Assyria, whose boastful claims of power crumbled under the rise of a new Babylonian empire. And likewise we need the same assurance of the One True God so that we aren’t lost in a multiplicity of religions, and so that we know there is a Redeemer who can and does deliver us from the captivity of our sins.

First God declares who He is: the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts. He directly claims kingship over Israel, His chosen people, but no less does He claim kingship over all the earth (Ps 47:7). As such, He demands that He alone be worshipped: “You shall have no other gods beside me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Part of the problem in Isaiah’s day was that people were worshipping the true God alongside worship of false gods—mixing true and false worship. Or, they would try to worship God in ways that He had not commanded, especially by offering sacrifices at unauthorized ‘high places.’ This idolatry and religious pluralism is what ultimately led Israel, and later Judah going into exile. And so we ask ourselves today: do we fear, love, and trust in God above all things? Or are we caving in to the claims of religious pluralism? Have we conceded to put Jesus as one god among many in the religious pantheon?

Its also interesting that God calls himself “his Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts” and says “I am the first and I am the last.” In the New Testament, we find Jesus saying almost the same exact words in the book of Revelation: “I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 22:13). Jesus is our Redeemer, the eternal God from the beginning to the end, who redeemed us from the curse of the law and our empty way of life. So even here in the Old Testament, Jesus is referred to as the Redeemer, the first and the last. Not only is He the first and the last, He also says “apart from me there is no God.” This is especially important today as pluralism claims that God reveals Himself in different ways to different people. Contrary to that, God is only revealed through His Son Jesus, the first and the last. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (John 14:6-7a). Anyone that rejects Jesus, God’s Son, cannot truly know God the Father.

So when God declares in Isaiah that apart from Him there is no God, He follows this up with a challenge to any would-be ‘gods’ to prove themselves. How can they compare to the true God? He says, “Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come—yes let him foretell what will come.” God defies anyone to show himself to be God’s equal. The first part of the challenge is this: let any so-called god recount salvation history. Let’s see if any false god or prophet of a false god can show that he is eternal, just like the LORD is first and last. Can they recount what has happened since God established His ancient people? This may seem to be an odd challenge, until we remember that the record of salvation history, from Adam and Eve until now is really God’s “track record”—the proof throughout history that He is the true and only God who redeems His people. This was one of the primary ways that the church throughout the ages gives praise to God—by recounting the great deeds of salvation that He has done for us. Can any false god display such knowledge, or carry such a track record? But that is still too easy. The second part of God’s challenge is greater: let any pretenders also “foretell what will come.” Let these so-called gods predict the future—tell what is going to be! God alone knows the future with certainty, as He demonstrated time and again through His prophecies and their fulfillments, culminating in the fulfillment of all the prophetic word—Jesus Christ.

But again we come back to Judah, encircled by pagan enemies who would lead them into exile, mocking the true God; and to us, Christians encircled by competing religions and claims for truth, who mock any claim to one God as ‘intolerance.’ Yet from long ago God has called His people to believe that He is the One True God, and that all other gods are no gods at all. A God who is unapproachable in His majesty, enthroned in glory, armed with the might of the heavenly hosts, the armies of angels. Yet this almighty, powerful God, King of Israel and King of Kings and Lord of Lords, speaks gently with tender words to His people, His frightened creatures. Though surrounded by enemies both physical and spiritual, God whispers “Do not tremble, do not be afraid.” All these things—the persecution of the faith, the groaning of all creation under sin, the sin dwelling in our flesh—all of it has been proclaimed and foretold to us from long ago. Our life with its fears and dangers, and most of all with the challenges to our faith, happen just as He told us, from times forgotten. Yet He has set forth an eternal people of His choosing—throughout time He has set apart the godly for Himself (Ps. 4:3). He protects and redeems those who believe, and sets their feet on steady ground—the Rock of His Son Jesus Christ. Though a horde of demons and enemies of God should oppress us, the LORD of hosts is on our side, commanding the host of heavenly armies.

And the LORD calls us His witnesses! We are God’s witnesses of this salvation—seeing in Christ’s death on the cross His deliverance for us, and bearing witness of that salvation to others. Seeing Jesus as the very Rock of Refuge in which we hide securely from all evil. We have seen His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. No one has ever seen God; the only God who is at the Father’s side has made Him known. Do you know what this means? What we have seen and are witnesses of? Only the most amazing thing ever! The God who is unapproachable in majesty has revealed Himself in humility to us as our Redeemer! The God who dwelt in heavenly splendor came down and met us here on earth, for the purpose of redeeming us to Him by dying on the cross for our sins. A thing utterly unheard of from any other religion! So we can truly say “Is there any God beside Him? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one!”

He is an eternal God, the first and the last—not a god that comes and goes with the latest trends, or only appeals to one age or culture or race or social status at the expense of others. But rather He is the eternal and unchanging God, who is relevant to all people at all times, because Jesus is more than just a quick fix for our ‘felt needs.’ He is instead the eternal answer to our greatest need, that unites all of humanity, regardless of age, color, or social standing. That need is release from sin, the universal problem of mankind, which meant death and separation from God. And there is no other god that is equal to the task of fixing this great separation. For no other god exists than the One God Jesus Christ, who has bridged the gap and approached us because He was unapproachable.

Truly an incomparable God! What can any other god offer? Only the One True God, Israel’s Redeemer, offers forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation by grace—as His free gift to us, paid (redeemed) for by His own blood. What other God suffers for His children, His own creation? What other God does not demand that that we earn our way into heaven, but rather descended to earth Himself to give it as a gift? What other God would suffer an ignoble death to pay for the crimes and sins His creation committed? Truly, there is no other Rock but Jesus Christ. Every religion claims a god or gods of power, but none have a God of mercy like the True God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And no other religion ever claimed that God entered human flesh, died and rose again from the dead. Truly, a God like no other—a God who comes to us. And a God who would have us believe in Him and not fear false gods and the enemies of Christ Jesus. For we need have no fear when we are secure in the Rock who is like no other, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Friday, July 15, 2005

New and Improved! version 2.0

Well folks, I've finally done some tinkering with my blog, beyond the bare essentials. I've added a blogroll of the blogs that I read or browse, and I also changed my profile to include my email address, so that if anyone wants to send a private comment instead of posting publicly, they may choose to do so. If you want me to link to your blog, and don't find it on my list, feel free to shoot me an email.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Good advice for the young book-worm (me)

"It is not many books or much reading that makes men learned; but it is good
things, however little of them, often read, that make men learned in the
Scriptures and make them godly too. Indeed the writings of all the holy
fathers should be read only for a time, in order that through them we may be
led to the Holy Scriptures. We are like men who study the signposts ad never
travel the road. The dear fathers wished, by their writings, to lead us to
the Scriptures, but we so use them as to be led away from the Scriptures,
though the Scriptures alone are our vineyard in which we all ought to work
and toil."

I read this Luther quote today, and it happened to be while I was relishing the opportunity to begin reading the Church Fathers, which I purchased on Libronix software. He makes a good point about better learning coming from reading and re-reading few good books instead of the tendency (like mine) to just keep reading endless piles of books. I still greatly look forward to reading the Fathers, but its an excellent reminder that the Church Father's goal was to point to Scripture, which should be our true vineyard. A vineyard wherein lies Christ the True Vine!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Will heaven be boring???

Have any of you ever thought, as a child or as an adult, that heaven might actually turn out to be boring? I think as a child I had thought like that, but have long since abandoned such a notion. Yet I've heard it crop up again in various places, even among adults, which has caused me to ponder, "Why do people think that heaven will be boring?" Some of the images that no doubt lead to such a notion include: floating around on clouds playing harps and/or singing hymns to God for eternity. Maybe this picture of heaven seems almost as bad as getting stuck at choir practice for eternity :)

First off, I'd like to poll the readers here of what suggestions they have for the root cause behind the notion that heaven will be boring. (Ok, you with the short attention span :) --if you've lost interest already, please skip down to my third point and PLEASE read the sermon [it's not mine! :) ] )

Secondly, I propose my theory: I think that much of this fear of a boring afterlife is due to a subconscious gnosticism that views heaven as being the realm of disembodied spirits, rather than the fleshly bodies that Scripture teaches will be raised imperishable with Christ (1 Cor. 15). I think that even those who believe in a resurrection of the body sometimes drift subconsciously into this way of imagining heaven. And since there is much in this creation that we love--the beauty of creation, the sensations of physical pleasure, the enjoyment of food and drink, fellowship, etc; and since we tend to think of heaven apart from physicality--we fear that heaven will be sterile and lifeless. When people think this way, maybe the best they hope for is that there will be some ethereal bliss, but it all seems rather unexciting in comparison with life on earth. In contrast to these notions, I think that reminding ourselves of the physicality of the resurrection--having glorified bodies--indicates that heaven will very much be a place where we enjoy physical pleasure and beauty. I think of heaven in terms of the Garden of Eden, only far far better. But far more important than any of that is the fact that in heaven we will be with our God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the presence of our God and Savior, what could ever be dull or boring? After all, that is what we were created for--fellowship with God. If there were any fleeting pleasures that we enjoyed here on earth in our fallen state, apart from God's intention for us--how much more shall eternity be unimaginably greater?

Thirdly, while I was contemplating this post, I happened to read an excellent sermon by Pastor Mike Hintze of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Westminster, MA. He just happened to address this very question in his sermon, and I obtained his permission to post it here. I hope you'll read it: it captures the point far better than my ramblings. Here it is:


GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST. The text is Philippians 3:18-20
18] I TELL YOU ... WITH TEARS, MANY PEOPLE LIVE AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. 19] THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION, THEIR GOD IS THEIR OWN APPETITES, THEY'RE PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF. THEIR MINDS ARE SET ON EARTHLY THINGS. 20] BUT OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN.

I wouldn’t want to you think that I was, like, fixated on fireworks or anything, but since you bring them up, remember the ones at Ft. Devens? Holey Moley: Just coming at you and coming at you, colors and lights exploding and exploding ... And a couple of you who were teenagers back then came up to me after and said, "Wow, what's HEAVEN going to be like?” Now, if they'd said that in certain circles: "I can't wait for HEAVEN" – somebody would’ve arranged therapy for them, wondering what was wrong with those kids’ lives that they'd rather go sit on a cloud and be bored to death for ever and ever.

What was wrong with those kid’s lives? Nothing. They were healthy, bright, funny, and surrounded by people who loved them. They had it as good as it gets in the richest and freest country on earth. So why’d they want to go sit on clouds and get bored forever and ever? They didn’t! Where do people get this idea that Heaven could be boring? Like when you're tired of life, they put you to bed in Heaven? But Heaven is not being put to bed. Heaven is being let outdoors for the first time in your life! Big, bright, loud, gorgeous! FREEDOM! Nobody who's ever seen out into Heaven has ever been bored. Stunned, yes. Blown unconscious, frequently. Bored, never.

So where does the bad rap come from? It comes from Satan, who’s scared to death that human beings might look up and long for something more. And it also comes from people who, first, don’t want to believe that their sins have cost them anything they’d really want, and who, second and always, want an excuse, as the Holy Ghost says, V. 19] to keep THEIR MINDS SET ON EARTHLY THINGS. Not just enjoying earthly things, but SET ON them, as if "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was all there could ever be. Somebody says, “But Pastor, those’re good things.” Gee, ya think? They’re wonderful. But all of them: this short life, and political liberty, and the pursuit of happiness till you’re dead – all of them put together, they’re not worth one human soul, and if they become the only thing, if they have become the first thing, they will certainly cost your soul.

No, eternal life, eternal liberty, and the pursuit of eternal joy – nothing less is enough for a human being. But as I say, people who want to keep their heads glued to the ground are glad of an excuse not to look up. So, to their way of thinking, if you want to believe in a dull, white waiting room in the sky, fine. That's no competition. But they most intensely don't want anything big, bright, gorgeous, and alive overhead. Because that big, bright, gorgeous, living thing might turn out to be GOD, and not the nothing kind of God who’d run a nothing kind of Heaven, no, but the GOD who comes at you bigger and brighter and way more gorgeous than you ever were and coming at you and at you like singing lighting – Him they don't want to know about. Because how could anything on the planet compete with that? How could they keep THEIR MINDS SET ON EARTHLY THINGS with that overhead? Therefore, they keep their heads down.

The Holy Spirit says, V. 19] THEIR GOD isn't the real GOD. THEIR real GOD, He says, IS THEIR OWN APPETITES. He means that what they actually live for and long for is to feed their own bodies and their own self-worth – such tiny gods. And, to top it, He says, same verse, they’re PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF: PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THAT, in any clear moments, they ARE ashamed of. PROUD of such tiny ambitions, PROUD of how much of this tiny turf they’ve acquired; PROUD of how they serve their little appetites, PROUD of how they stimulate other people’s appetites, PROUD of how smooth, how worldly **, how open-minded, how open-mouthed... And at the same time, PROUD of how nice they are and how well they live – while they duck the One they’re supposed to be living for.

Don’t join them. The Holy Ghost says, V. 19] THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION. We’re here to help them, not to join in. THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION. We’re here to help them, not to join in. Remember Noah’s Flood. REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE. Remember her: She was on her way out when she was destroyed.

And St. Paul says, V. 18] I TELL YOU ... WITH TEARS, MANY PEOPLE LIVE AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. When he wrote that, he was crying for his neighbors and also crying because some of the people he was writing about at least used to claim that they were Christians. And now, he says, they’re living AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS. They’re not saying that they’re ENEMIES OF THE CROSS, but they’re living like it. What does that mean?

THE CROSS OF CHRIST is the Judgment of this World and the Open Door to Heaven. ENEMIES OF THE CROSS live as if this world were never going to be judged, and as if the Door to Heaven can wait. The CROSS says about the whole world, "This Property is Condemned" and the Cross says, "This Way Out!" But if I want to keep my MIND SET ON EARTHLY THINGS, who wants to hear, “This Property is Condemned”? If all I really want is here – who cares about a way out? Who even wants to think about it? Think about it!

But you know people who don’t want to think about it because, as far as they can see, it just hurts to think about it. Isn’t it hard enough to be locked into a life that's going nowhere but DESTRUCTION while the walls close in: every day one day less, and no time to do, no room to be –while you and the world go gray together – isn’t that hard enough without hoping that there could be something more, when there’s no hope that I could get it? I mean, isn’t it hard enough to satisfy my own appetites, without trying to satisfy God? Isn’t it hard enough to keep up my own self-image, without wondering how I’m coming across to a Holy Judge?

Sometimes, isn’t it hard enough to have hope enough to just keep going on earth, without being haunted by a yearning … So what's the use of longing? Why make yourself ache? And anyway, who wants it? It's just clouds and harps and boredom and .... And then there were these two teenagers looking up and out with shining eyes, longing for HEAVEN. Why? They’d figured they'd learn to like it? No. V. 20] Their HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN. It’s where they belong.

How? Were they amazingly holy? Ask them; they didn’t think so and they were right. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to be PROUD of how much they served God. That really would be being PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF. No. They belong in Heaven because all the things they ever could have been ashamed of were nailed to CROSS OF CHRIST. They belong out there because God came in from the wide Outdoors after them, into this gray, little world, in one small human skin, the God who’s like singing lightning all in one tiny human nature – I tell you, His whole life was a countdown to His Ascension TO FILL THE UNIVERSE! But first, first – you know, He was offered all the world and all the glory of it and He said, “Are you serious? When I could have Peter? When I could have Audi and Liv?” First, He said, “Give Me that CROSS!”

The great, bright, gorgeous, living God of Heaven took our DESTRUCTION in His body, took the DESTRUCTION, and took it, till He was a small, grey, cold, dead thing. He took our DESTINY to give us His DESTINY, all the way up and out into the wide, bright, outdoors. Because of His CROSS, God is satisfied, and you come across to God as paid for and Heaven-ready.

Since you’ve been BAPTIZED into His cross, BAPTIZED into that Judgment, BAPTIZED into that Open Door, BY WATER AND THE SPIRIT through faith, BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH. And CHRIST IS RISEN! We’re BAPTIZED into that life; which means that life in us: that brightness, those colors, that shout – the life of the wide Outdoors inside us, sealed and waiting, like a firework. Beloved, we may be cardboard on the outside, but inside, it’s a countdown to a launch into ANOTHER COUNTRY, another life, a new world, where we belong now, TO WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIS NAME - HE GIVES THE RIGHT TO BE CHILDREN OF GOD, BORN AGAIN FROM HEAVEN. And if God's your Father now, where's your Home?

OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, and that explains so much about us. I mean, look: our Father loves us here and now, and Christ is WITH US ALWAYS TO THE END OF THE WORLD, so how come we’re still not satisfied? It’s because OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN. Or why do things get to us so much? They didn’t used to, but now you look around you and you could just cry when you see what’s going on. Well, of course. You don’t belong here anymore. OUR HOMELAND'S IN HEAVEN. Or, look: our sins are forgiven, nailed to the CROSS, washed in the Water and the Blood and gone, so how come sinning hurts worse than it ever did before? Because we’ve had a taste of what it means to be well. OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, where everything’s straight and clear and sharp and fast, and love blows free as wind. You, child of God, you just want to run free in your own country. And every hard thing here makes us miss it, and every sweet thing here – "spacious skies and purple mountains’ majesty" – every sweet thing here makes you ache for more, till you can't go anywhere without the brightness calling you.

Not even to the fireworks. I watch all the hundreds of people there on their blankets, going, “Oh! Oh!” like little kids. Oh, Christians, we’ve got to love them; we’ve got to take them with us. And I look up at the fireworks and I watch the pyrotechnical display and I know why those teenagers had to think of HEAVEN. I mean the colors and the lights exploding at you louder and louder, till you ought to be afraid but you can't be. And then comes what has to be the finale - I mean, the sky’s alive and these huge fountains of fire shooting up from the ground - and it goes on and on and it isn’t the finale at all, because the finale’s still coming and my God, I'm Homesick!

I want where it's brighter and brighter and louder and louder and the color and the shouts and then comes the finale, and it's not the finale, cause here's another, and another, and another, past anything that I ever dreamed about and then comes the part where you ride the fireworks and then comes the part where you fly tumbling through the glory, and then comes the part where you realize that everything you've seen so far was only the hem of His robes and you lift your eyes and you see HIS FACE, and then comes the part where you go off like fireworks in the glory and the splendor and the love and know once and for all your HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, because your HOMELAND IS Him. Amen.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Submission to the Government or Independence?

Perhaps it was just coincidence, but I happened to be reading an essay by Herman Sasse this Fourth of July, that addressed several of the pertinent questions about the rise of new governments from the anarchy of revolution, and the fall of old governments that have neglected their God-given responsibilities in the maintenance of peace and justice. Some of those questions might be whether citizens have the right to rebel against government; what constitutes legitimate government; and how does a government become established as an authority under God? So on this Day of Independence, I thought I'd offer some particularly illuminating (and possibly controversial) quotations from Sasse's essay, "The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession." (For those who don't know Sasse, he was a German-born pastor/theologian who was a contemporary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and though he vigorously opposed the Nazi's he was not of a like mind with Bonhoeffer in regards to how this opposition should be carried out.)

First of all, regarding "legal government authority," Sasse writes, "There can be no doubt that every revolt against the legal governing authority is a grievous sin according to Lutheran doctrine. It can happen that governing authorities are overthrown because of grievous guilt, that the revolution comes as the judgment of God upon them. But the insurgent never has legal right...He can be the instrument of divine wrath, but his rebellion remains guilt. As God does his 'alien work' in the midst of war, so may he also allow the outbreak of human sin in revolution in order to fulfill his angry judgment. Anarchy follows revolution. From anarchy a new power arises, and the question is whether such new power can be a legally constituted governing authority. We must answer this question in the affirmative. For as far back in history as we are able to see, every governing authority once arose from anarchy....Any political power which has arisen out of anarchy may become a God-given governing authority, if it fulfills the tasks of the office of governing authority. "

So according to Sasse, the American Revolution was clearly a sin in revolt against the governing authority, but we may see it as the overthrow of a corrupt government by God's angry judgment, using the instrument of human rebellion. And though the action was sinful in God's eyes, that doesn't mean that our new American government was from that point on an illegitimate government, for once an authority rising from the anarchy begins to fulfill the tasks of a governing authority, it may become a God-given governing authority. So what about the fall or decline of a government. Here I thought Sasse's words were particularly prophetic--they might as easily have been written as an editorial on the state of the nation today (he wrote the essay in 1930).

Sasse continues, "A governing authority which bears the sword in vain, which no longer has the fortitude to decisively punish the law breaker, is in the process of burying itself. A state which removes the concepts 'right' and 'wrong' from jurisprudence and replaces them with 'useful' and 'injurious,' 'healthy' and 'ill', 'socially valuable' and 'socially inferior,' [a state] which in the place of the principle of remuneration places the principle of innoculation, a state which in its civil law dissolves marriage and family--such a state ceases to be a constitutional state and thus the governing authority. A governing authority which knowingly or unknowingly makes the interests of social position or class the norm for the formation and definition of law, or which allows the norms of the law to be dictated by the so-called 'legal consciousness' of the time, sinks to the level of raw power." [qtd. from p. 97-98, "The Social Doctrine of the Augsburg Confession", by Herman Sasse, in the volume of essays, "The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, Vol. 1" CPH, 2001]

Now I know that it has become fashionable these days to decry our government for all manner of reasons, while taking for granted the great freedoms we enjoy. This is not my intention here--I am proud to be an American, and thankful for our freedoms. But what I want to ask here, is this, "Are we not witnessing the very things Sasse describes?" The waning ability to punish wrongdoers, the relativizing of right and wrong, and the dissolution of marriage and family? If so, are we not also watching our country "burying itself?" Food for thought.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Sermon on Romans 7:15-25a "Saint and Sinner"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The sermon text is Romans 7:15-25a,

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In our Christian lives, it’s often easy to become disheartened or discouraged as we examine our lives. We feel deeply grateful for the forgiveness of our sins that Christ has given, and we desire to do better to show our gratitude. But as we look over our lives, and see the struggles against sin that we so often are mired in, we begin to despair, and wonder if God is really at work in our lives. It seems as though things aren’t changing sometimes. We expect more ‘progress.’ We find ourselves ‘stuck in a rut.’ Or perhaps we seem to have gotten past one particular sin, and then it returns on us and we feel defeated. And then there are some sins that we know and hate, but we can never seem to conquer them. No matter how hard we try to resist one or another sin, it always seems that somehow we cave in to temptation. And we are left spiritually and mentally exhausted. Does this sound familiar?

Dear Christians there is a reason for all of this, and its not because your Christian life (i.e. your sanctification) is failing, or that God isn’t helping you. In fact, part of the problem is the very mindset that looks at it that way. When we expect that kind of constant upward progress, defeating our pet sins one by one, inching ever closer to the so-called ‘victorious Christian life’—we are setting ourselves up for either hypocrisy or great disappointment like I’ve just described. You see, God has in fact set us apart for holy living—that is what the word ‘sanctification’ means—set apart to be holy. And God has prepared good works for us to do, He does desire for us to turn away from our old sins and walk anew in Him. But what He hasn’t done is to set us free from the Law in Christ, only to put us back under it again with new and higher demands! And God doesn’t promise a so-called ‘victorious Christian life’ here on earth where we will have risen to higher and higher levels of perfection and defeat of sin. But why, you might ask, do I say that having such an expectation of our Christian life will lead either to hypocrisy or disappointment? The answer is twofold. The first possibility is that by creating such a false standard (not given by God), and then expecting to meet it, this will cause us to become convinced that we have kept it (in which case we become hypocrites, for none of us can say we have no sin). Or the second possibility, if we are honest with ourselves and see our sin, is that this will produce despair as we realize we are not conquering our sins and/or rising to higher and higher levels of holiness, and therefore have not met the false standard. So put away your measuring stick! Really! This way of looking at your Christian life is not Biblical, and therefore is not spiritually healthy or productive.

So instead, when we look at our life honestly, we see it as St. Paul describes in today’s text. Rather than finding ourselves victoriously free from sinful thoughts, desires, and actions, we still find these things woefully present within us. Sometimes we lift up our hands in frustration and say with St. Paul, “I do not understand what I do! For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do!” And the tongue twister goes on! Despite our desire to do good, so often we find ourselves doing just the opposite. But in doing so—in doing what we hate—we recognize with St. Paul that God’s Law is indeed good. For both by desiring what is good and hating what is evil, we are in a small way acknowledging the objective standard of God’s Law being the determiner of what is good. Even if we find ourselves unable to do the good like we want to.

So we find a great disparity within us between our desire to do good, and the actual action of doing good. As reborn believers in Christ we have that desire to seek and obey God’s commands, but it doesn’t always turn out to be that easy, as I think you can all testify from experience. The sin dwelling in us, in our flesh, proves to be a great and compelling force still active in our bodily members to produce sinful desires and actions. Even though we know in our mind and heart what is good, we still find it so easy to put the members of our body to evil work. Our tongue is a restless evil, from which so easily we can pour out words of spite, hatred, or slander. Our hands can so easily take what is not ours or even be turned into weapons to hurt another person. Our eyes are so easily lead astray to lust after what is not ours. Our feet can easily lead us to places where temptations are sure to defeat us. And above all, our mind is susceptible to all sorts of evil thoughts such as greed, jealously, lust, hatred, etc. And so with seriousness and sadness, we confess with St. Paul that “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature.”

It really is as Paul describes: a war or fierce battle within us. Through our rebirth by baptism into Christ, we have entered into the great spiritual warfare between good and evil. When we want to do good, evil is right there at hand with us, coaxing us or even driving us to sin! As reborn, we delight in God’s Law, His just commands; but we find a contrary ‘law’ at work in us in the members of our body. This contrary ‘law’ Paul calls the ‘law of sin,’ which wages war against the law of God. The battlefield is drawn and the war is raging, and the battlefield is in us! In our flesh! And with our eyes opened by God’s Word to see this battle taking place, we become aware of the great power of sin in our lives—the power Paul calls the ‘law of sin’ waging war against the ‘law of God’ or the ‘law of my mind’, which is the desire we have to do good. Awakened to this spiritual conflict within us we see why the false expectations of a ‘victorious Christian life’ are unreal. We realize that we can’t underestimate the power of sin that still dwells in our flesh. Because that power of sin can lure us into the false security of an illusioned victory over sin like I described before: falsely thinking ourselves to have defeated sin. Or on the other hand, that power of sin can lead us to despair of God’s grace when we find ourselves locked in this constant combat against sin.
But St. Paul would also have us learn and believe that this battle can’t be won by denying that sin is our real problem, or by self-reliance. If we rely on ourselves to win the battles, we have already lost! The very law of sin at work in our members makes us a prisoner of that law of sin in our flesh. And where else is it easier to fall into despair than in the prison of our own sinful desires? Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? All our failures and desperation are wrapped up into this great cry for help. We’ve come to the point of realizing that our own efforts are helpless, and that only rescue from outside can save us. Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! He will deliver us from this body of death!
Jesus Christ waged the ultimate war against the power of sin, and its fruit: death, when He died on the cross. For there on the cross all the weapons of sin and Satan were shattered with a deafening blow as Christ spoke those conquering words of victory as He breathed His last, “It is finished!” And back He came from death after three days of rest to rise as the invincible conquering hero, the immortal Son of God! And now all that remains is the clean-up work and the gathering of the human harvest of those who were once enemies of God, to make them believers in Jesus our Savior. And since the sinful flesh that we were born with still lives alongside our new redeemed, reborn inner man until our earthly body dies—we still face that ongoing struggle or warfare within us. But by the Word of God we know enough not to fight on our own. No, instead, having been drafted by the Holy Spirit into God’s army, we wage war against our own sinful flesh by the weapons and powers of almighty God!

As we daily enter this battle with our sinful flesh, we take up God’s weapons against our sinful nature. One of these weapons is repentance, which is a powerful attack against the flesh. In repentance we acknowledge and expose our sin, calling on Jesus Christ to forgive our sin—which He of course delights to do. He crucifies our old sinful flesh with Him on the cross through our Baptism, and raises us new and alive, enlivened by His grace and the Holy Spirit to “suppress the old man so that the new [man] may come forth and grow strong” (LC, Baptism 75-77). So our daily repentance is really a return to our Baptism, the great weapon by which our old sinful desires are crucified with Christ, and the new man is raised again to be set apart as holy to God, which again, is the sanctification I talked about earlier. And through Baptism we set out to do good works not alone, by ourselves, but with Christ living in us. Through our baptism Christ not only takes away our sins, but also lives and moves in us to seek and do the righteous deeds of God’s Law that we delight in by our inner being. So that we can say with St. Paul that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). And no matter how much it may seem to us that we are not succeeding or progressing in the battle against sin, Christ has not abandoned us, and we can continue to return in repentance for our sins, to be restored by His forgiveness, available through His Word, through our Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. We are literally surrounded on all sides by forgiveness! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord for delivering us from this body of death! So as often as we find ourselves besieged by sin in our lives, and in fact even when we are not aware of the sins that we are doing, we should constantly repent and seek God’s everflowing forgiveness through Word and Sacrament. And so doing, by repentance and Christ’s forgiveness, our sinful nature is attacked, weakened, and put into check, so that Christ can produce good works in us. This is the realistic view of our Christian life, shown by the words of St. Paul in today’s text—a battle against our own sinful flesh, but the promised victory in Christ Jesus!

Now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.