Pursuing Desire

It was famous long before Pete Seeger put it to music and the Byrd’s took it to the top of the charts in the 60’s. Almost 3000 years before the song we know as “Turn, Turn, Turn” came on the radio King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes 3.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.   – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

It’s beautiful, right? It’s famous, it’s deep – this juxtaposition of the different seasons we go through in life…

But, if that’s all we take away from Ecclesiastes 3, we are missing the point. Continue reading

John the Baptist, a Witness to the Light (John 1:6-8, 19-28)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (12/14/14)

Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

Theme: John the Baptist, a Witness to the Light

As a pastor and missionary my mind is always coming up with some harebrained scheme or another to introduce people to Jesus. One idea came to me this last week that I’m really excited about.

Next week instead of meeting here in this building for worship, we are going to meet down at Algonkian Park, right down by the Potomac. That way we can worship in a place that really just exemplifies the wisdom and power of our God who created this beautiful world we live in. You may need to bundle up a little bit, but I think, in general, this will be a great outreach move. We’ll get out of the stuffy confines of this formal church and out in the real world, in the beauty and freedom of God’s creation.

And oh yeah, just a heads up, I’m gonna look a little different when you show up next week. Instead of a suit or robe like you usually see me wearing on a Sunday morning, I plan on getting my hands on some camel hide this next week, to make myself a new outfit. And if I look a little green in the face, or my breath smells a little funky, don’t worry. I’m just starting a new diet – one that will take some getting used to. I’ll be living off a diet bugs and honey for the foreseeable future.

So what do you think? I have to imagine that if your pastor started eating bugs, preaching his sermons wearing camel skins down by the Potomac, we’d stand a pretty good chance of making some headlines. I have to imagine we’d bring in a few interested spectators to see just what all this fuss is about down by the river. Seems like a pretty good outreach plan to me (kind of a “shock and awe” outreach plan, draw them in with something crazy and, hopefully, they’ll stick around for the message) – after all, it worked for John the Baptist, right? Continue reading

Article 9 of the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????Article 9: Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation* and that God’s grace is offered through Baptism. They teach that children are to be baptized. Being offered to God through Baptism, they are received into God’s grace.

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.

* We believe it is necessary but not absolutely. The thief on the cross did not have a chance to be baptized but he was saved. The Bible teaches that salvation is possible without this means of grace because there are other means of grace (Lord’s Supper and the Word).

If you had to pick one day in your life that you would label as the biggest, the most important, the most influential, which would it be?

For me it is a no-brainer, I have a plaque commemorating it hanging in my office. May 31, 1987 is by far the biggest, most important, and most influential day in my life. That is far and away the best day in my life because that was the day the waters of baptism washed over me and made me something I was not.

On May 31, 1987 I became a part of the family of God. Continue reading

Articles 7 & 8 of the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????Article 7 “Of the Church”:

Our churches teach that the one holy Church is to remain forever. The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies instituted by men, should be the same everywhere. As Paul says, “One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6).

I look around at America today and I can’t help but be a little sad. I read articles (like this one) that point out that almost 20% of Americans claim no religious affiliation at all, and my heart breaks. I can’t help but get upset when I see TV shows trashing God’s idea of a family with their own “modern” version of a family. I can’t help but be angry when I hear that a quarter of babies conceived in America are murdered (that’s one out of every four people!).

I look around and I suppose I feel kind of like Elijah the prophet of God.

As America continues down the road it is on, it will be important for Christians to keep in mind the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19.

We need to remember what not to do. It’s ok to be angry when babies are murdered. It’s ok to hate sin. It’s ok to turn to God when the troubles of this world threaten to get you down. It’s not ok to let a seeming increase in sin and godlessness make us loose hope, worry, or pout the way Elijah did.

It’s not ok to pout or worry because God is still in control. “Our churches teach that the holy Church is to remain forever” not because the people in the Church spent their time wringing their hands in fear and worry but because the God of heaven and earth promises it will.

So take heart friends. No matter how bad this world gets, the Church will remain. No matter how bad it gets, our God will still be at work shepherding souls to heaven.

 

Article 8 “What the Church Is”:

Strictly speaking, the Church is the congregation of saints and true believers. However, because many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled within them in this life, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2). Both the Sacraments and Word are effective because of Christ’s institution and command, even if they are administered by evil men.

Our churches condemn the Donatists, and others like them, who deny that it is lawful to use the ministry of evil men in the Church, and who think that the ministry of evil men is not useful and is ineffective.

Donatists: Followers of Donatus the Great who claimed that another pastor’s role was not godly because he had been consecrated by a man who later was shown to be a heretic.

This may come as a surprise to you, but it’s important that you know: Your pastor is not perfect – not even close. Sometimes he will put his foot in his mouth. Sometimes he will say or do something that offends you. Sometimes he will think and act in a selfish way. Sometimes he will wake up and loose some of his battles with the devil and come off as less than the perfectly cordial man you expect him to be.

This may come as a surprise to you, but it’s important that you know: That person sitting next to you in church is not perfect – not even close. Sometimes they will wake up on the wrong side of the bed and give you the cold shoulder. Sometimes their sinful heart will get the better of them and they will say something hurtful. Sometimes they will act as anything but Christians.

This may come as a surprise to you, but it’s important that you know: There are some people in visible church buildings (both pastor’s and members) that will not be in heaven. There are some people just pretending to believe the same thing you do. There are some people in the grasp of the devil sitting in pews and standing behind pulpits all across America.

Those facts may be uncomfortable to think of. They may be hard to swallow – I know they are for me. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are true. They are true because Jesus says they are true.

But here is one last think that you need to know: The Word of God is still the power of God whether it is preached by a hypocrite pastor or a saintly pastor. The water and words of Baptism still has the clout to wash your sins away. The bread and wine, the body and blood of the Supper still has the ability to forgive you your sins.

I know that, you can know that, because they rely not on my power, or your power, but on God’s power – and God’s power won’t ever let you down.

These two articles present us with a good opportunity to thank God, don’t they? They give us the opportunity to thank God because he will keep his true word active in this world through the Church. They give us opportunity to thank God because he will continue to work through his word in this world.

Articles 6 & 20 of the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????Article 6: Our churches teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit. It is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will. We should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. The forgiveness of sins and justification is received through faith. The voice of Christ testifies, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” The Fathers teach the same thing. Ambrose says, “It is ordained of God the he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving forgiveness of sins, without works, through faith alone.”

 

I’m just gonna come out and say it. I do not enjoy writing thank you cards….

There, I said it. I got if off my chest.

I’ve never liked writing thank you’s. It’s not because I’m not thankful, I just find it an artificial form of thanks. I would much rather tell a person “thank you” to their face, and show them my thanks  by my loving actions, than write a card that will go almost directly from their mailbox to the nearest trash receptacle. Also, (probably because of my stubbornness) I’ve never particularly liked “that’s how we’ve always done it,” as a reason to do anything.

Again, this is not because I am not thankful, nor does it mean that I do not find value in saying “thank you!” I do question the value of thanking a person with a few hastily scribbled words on some generic thank you card. I do not question the value of thanks. When someone loves you, it is right and proper to love them back out of thanks. When someone gives you a gift, it is right and proper to thank them.

Article 6 of the Augsburg Confession is all about the thanks that should and does naturally flow out of a person when they have been given a gift.

In the previous articles we have looked at the very Lutheran (the very Biblical) facts that we get to heaven only through faith in what Jesus has done for us. It has nothing to do with hard work. You don’t have to earn any of it. When you die, the reason heaven will be open to you is because of this little gift called “grace.” Grace – the undeserved love and forgiveness of God that you did nothing to earn.

A common complaint against this free gift of heaven is that it would make people lazy – it would enable them to live lives full of sin because they know tomorrow they can just ask for forgiveness.

The problem with this kind of complaint is that it fails to take into account the power of this little thing called “grace.” The love of God does a lot more than just forgive us our sins. God’s love, recorded in the Bible, has a power of its own. It has the power to change people like us – people who on our own would use grace as a license to sin. Grace changes us from the inside out.

When you hear and believe the love of God in Jesus it creates something new inside of you – it creates the overwhelming desire to say “thank you!” Faith leads to thanks not in only words, but also in actions.

The point is this.

When you have the gift of God sitting in your lap, you will do good works.

When you prune an apple tree properly, water it as needed, plant it in rich soil, and give it plenty of sunlight, it will produce fruit – that’s just what an apple tree does, it makes apples.

When your soul is regularly immersed in the word of God, when you sing about, pray about, and read about the love of God in Jesus, your soul will produce fruit – that’s just what a blood-bought soul does, it makes fruit, it does good works to say thank you for the gift of God.

Article 6 goes closely hand-in-hand with Article 20. Please take the time to read it. The language may be old, it may require you to reread and ponder certain points, but it’s worth your time. It’s worth it because it teaches the Word of God.

Article 20: Our teachers are falsely accused of forbidding good works. Their published writings on the Ten Commandments, and other similar writings, bear witness that they have usefully taught about all estates and duties of life. They have taught well what is pleasing to God in every station and vocation in life. Before now, preachers taught very little about these things. They encouraged only childish and needless works, such as particular holy days, particular fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, services in honor of the saints, the use of rosaries, monasticism, and such things. Since our adversaries have been admonished about these things, they are now unlearning them. They do not preach these unhelpful works as much as they used to. In the past, there was only stunning silence about faith, but now they are beginning to mention it. They do not teach that we are justified only by works. They join faith and works together, and say that we are justified by faith and works. This teaching is more tolerable than the former one. It can offer more consolation than their old teaching.

The doctrine about faith, which ought to be the chief doctrine in the Church, has remained unknown for so long. Everyone has to admit that there was the deepest silence in their sermons concerning the righteousness of faith. They only taught about works in the churches. This is why our teachers teach the churches about faith in this way.

First, they teach that our works cannot reconcile God to us or merit forgiveness of sins, grace and justification. We obtain reconciliation only by faith when we believe that we are received into favor for Christ’s sake. He alone has been set forth as Mediator and Atoning Sacrifice, in order that the Father may be reconciled through him. Therefore, whoever believes that he merits grace by works despises the merit and grace of Christ. In so doing, he is seeking a way to God without Christ, by human strength, although Christ himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

This doctrine about faith is presented everywhere by Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.”

If anyone wants to be tricky and say that we have invented a new interpretation of Paul, this entire matter is supported by the testimony of the Fathers. Augustine defends grace and the righteousness of faith in many volumes against the merits of works. Ambrose, in his book The Calling of the Gentiles, and elsewhere, teaches the same thing. In The Calling of the Gentiles he says, “Redemption by Christ’s blood would be worth very little, and God’s mercy would not surpass man’s works, if justification, which is accomplished through grace, were due to prior merits. So justification would not be the free gift from a donor, but the reward due the laborer.”

Spiritually inexperienced people despise this teaching. However, God-fearing and anxious consciences find by experience that it brings the greatest consolation. Consciences cannot be set at rest through any works, but only by faith, when they take the sure ground that for Christ’s sake they have a gracious God. As Paul teaches, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.” This whole doctrine must be related to the conflict of the terrified conscience. It cannot be understood apart from that conflict. Therefore, inexperienced and irreverent people have poor judgment in this matter because they dream that Christian righteousness is nothing but civil and philosophical righteousness.

Until now consciences were plagued with the doctrine of works. They did not hear consolation from the gospel. Some people were driven by conscience into the desert and into monasteries, hoping to merit grace by a monastic life. Some people came up with other works to merit grace and make satisfaction for sins. That is why the need was so great for teaching and renewing the doctrine of faith in Christ, so that anxious consciences would not be without consolation but would know that grace, forgiveness of sins, and justification are received by faith in Christ.

People are also warned that the term faith does not mean simply a knowledge of a history, such as the ungodly and the devil have [James 2:19]. Rather, it means a faith that believes, not merely the history, but also the effect of the history. In other words, it believes this article: the forgiveness of sins. We have grace, righteousness, and forgiveness of sins through Christ.

The person who knows that he has a Father who is gracious to him through Christ truly knows God [John 14:7]. He also knows that God cares for him [1 Peter 5:7], and he calls upon God [Romans 10:13]. In a word, he is not without God, as are the heathen. For devils and the ungodly are not able to believe this article: the forgiveness of sins. Hence, they hate God as an enemy [Romans 8:7] and do not call him [Romans 3:11-12] and expect no good from him. Augustine also warns his readers about the word faith and teaches that the term is used in scriptures, not for knowledge that is in the ungodly, but for the confidence that consoles and encourages the terrified mind.

Furthermore, we teach that it is necessary to do good works. This does not mean that we merit grace by doing good works, but because it is God’s will [Ephesians 2:10]. It is only by faith, and nothing else, that forgiveness of sins is apprehended. The Holy Spirit is received through faith, hearts are renewed and given new affections, and then they are able to bring forth good works. Ambrose says: “Faith is the mother of a good will and doing what is right.” Without the Holy Spirit people are full of ungodly desires. They are too weak to do works that are good in God’s sight [John 15:5]. Besides, they are in the power of the devil, who pushes human beings into various sins, ungodly opinions, and open crimes. We see this in the philosophers, who, although they tried to live an honest life could not succeed, but were defiled with many open crimes. Such is human weakness, without faith and without the Holy Spirit, when governed only by human strength.

Therefore, it is easy to see that this doctrine is not to be accused of banning good works. Instead, it is to be commended all the more because it shows how we are enabled to do good works. For without faith, human nature cannot, in any way, do the works of the First of Second Commandment [1 Corinthians 2:14]. Without faith, human nature does not call upon God, nor expect anything from him, nor bear the cross [Matthew 16:24]. Instead, human nature seeks and trusts in human help. So when there is no faith and trust in God, all kinds of lusts and human intentions rule in the heart [Genesis 6:5]. This is why Christ says, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” That is why the Church sings: “Lacking your divine favor, there is nothing in man. Nothing in him is harmless.”

 

Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession

 

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“So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.”

Anabaptists: Taught that the Holy Spirit comes without the Word but through their own devotion

 

Which relationship would you rather be a part of?

 

1)      Your significant other tells you that she will remain with you as long as she feels like it. As long as you make her feel warm and tingly whenever your elbows brush, the love will remain. As long as you make sure that she feels happy around you more often than sad, she won’t go anywhere.  As long as the first thing she feels when she sees you for the first time every day is what Hollywood would describe as true love, you can count on her. As long as she feels some ambiguous, indescribable feeling of love, she will love you. But if that feeling ever leaves, so will she. If that feeling ever starts to lose some of its luster, your relationship is in jeopardy.

 

2)      Your significant other tells you that as long as you both live, neither of you will ever be alone. As long as there is breath in her body, she will love you. No matter how she feels on a given day she promises before God and anyone who will listen that she will never leave you. Love isn’t something that she has to feel, but a decision – a choice she willingly makes.

 

I haven’t conducted any official studies, but I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of people would say relationship #2 is the better option (unfortunately, real statistics – i.e. the divorce rate – do show that the majority of people apparently don’t do what it takes to make their relationship look like the second option. But that’s another blog for another day).

 

What does this have to do with Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession? Continue reading

Article 4 of the Augsburg Confession

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Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight. (Romans 3:21-26; 4:5)”

** I believe and the confess the truth of the Augsburg confession because it’s doctrines are the teachings of the Bible. For every point that is confessed in the article above, I have linked a Bible passage that clearly teaches what the Augsburg Confession states. **

This should be an easy one. This should be an article that anyone with a basic understanding of the Bible gets. This is after all, what Church Fathers for centuries have labeled as the article on which the church stands or falls. The Bible is clear, when it says, “It is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES¸ it is the GIFT of God – NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast.”

There are some things in the Bible that require some thinking – some digging – because they make me scratch my head the first time I read them. This is not one of those areas. God could not have been any more direct and straight forward than he is on this one point: being saved – getting to heaven – has nothing to do with ME, and everything to do with HIM.

A gift is not a gift if I worked to earn it. Salvation is a gift, which means I did not earn it.

I did not DECIDE to let God love me; he just did and does love me.

I did not come half way, a quarter of the way, or even a millionth of the way. God came all the way, grabbed me by my shoulders, shook me, slapped me, raised me from spiritual death, and made me believe when there was no spark of faith in me.

God did not bring me to faith, and then leave it up to me to make the appropriate changes so that my salvation would be complete. God did it all – one sacrifice, by one Man, for all people and every sin I ever have committed, and ever will commit.

This should be an easy one. Continue reading

Article 3 of the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????Article 3: The Son of God

“Our churches teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God (John 1:14), assumed the human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So there are two natures – the divine and the human – inseparably joined in one person. There is one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried. He did this to reconcile the Father to us and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of mankind (John 1:29).

“He also descended into hell, and truly rose again on the third day. Afterward, he ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. There he forever reigns and has dominion over all creatures. He sanctifies those who believe in him, by sending the Holy Spirit into their hearts to rule, comfort, and make them alive. He defends them against the devil and the power of sin.

“The same Christ will openly come again to judge the living and the dead, and so forth, according to the Apostles’ Creed.”

 

Ok, this is a biggie. Article 3 and Article 4 (next week’s) are what distinguish a church from a cult (meaning, if a church does not teach this Article as truth, they are not a Christian church, because they don’t believe what Christ said about himself). If understood correctly, and believed, the doors of heaven are opened. If not understood, nor believed, hell is the only possible outcome. Either Jesus was God and Man, and he died for your sins, or you are still in your sins, and you are going to hell.

Maybe though, “understand” isn’t the best word to use with this Article. We can’t understand the God-Man Jesus in the same way I understand osmosis or how a combustion engine works. Continue reading

Article 2 of the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????Article 2: Original Sin

“Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.

“Our churches condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, thus obscuring the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits. Pelagians argue that a person can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.”

Article 19: The Cause of Sin

“Our churches teach that although God creates and preserves nature, the cause of sin is located in the will of the wicked, that is, the devil and ungodly people. Without God’s help, this will turns itself away from God, as Christ says, ‘When he lies, he speaks out of his own character’ (John 8:44).”

*For every point that is confessed about sin in the articles above, I have linked a Bible passage that clearly teaches what the Augsburg Confession states. Our churches teach the Augsburg Confession because it teaches what the Bible teaches.

Turn on the news and your senses will be assaulted with plenty of brutal, violet, and distressing stories. A little girl is kidnapped and forced to do terrible things.  A little boy is assaulted and abused in a locker room by a trusted mentor. A young man is sprayed with bullets because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A man who actually enjoys stalking and killing people, as if they were deer, is finally found and put in jail.

The local, national, and worldwide news is often a depressing thing. Every time I hear one of these stories, the thought naturally goes through my mind, “how could they?” What is wrong with people? How can humans commit such terrible atrocities as the holocaust? What went wrong in that man’s life that make him enjoy taking the life of another human? How could that man’s moral compass be so off that he molests a little girl, and thinks nothing of it?

The teaching of the Bible found in Article 2 of the Augsburg Confession is the answer to the question, “What is wrong with humans?” Continue reading

Article 1 of the Augsburg Confession

???????????????????????Article 1: God

“Our churches teach with common consent that the decree of the Council of Nicaea about the unity of the divine essence and the three persons is true. It is to be believed without any doubt. God is one divine essence who is eternal, without a body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. He is the maker and preserver of all things, visible and invisible. Yet there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are of the same essence and power. Our churches use the term person as the Fathers have used it. We use it to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself.

Our churches condemn all heresies that arose against this article, such as the Manicheans, who assumed that there are two “principles,” one Good and the other Evil. They also condemn the Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Muslims, and all heresies such as these. Our churches also condemn the Samosatenes, old and new, who contend that God is but one person. Through sophistry they impiously argue that the Word and the Holy Spirit are not distinct persons. They say that Word signifies a spoken word, and Spirit signifies motion created in things.”

*For every point that is confessed about God in the article above, I have linked a Bible passage that clearly teaches what the Augsburg Confession states.

 

How do you explain God in a blog? A professor I had at Seminary made the analogy that trying to understand God is like trying to drink the ocean. The only way to attack such a task is to simply drink one glass at a time. Let this blog be one such glass from the ocean that is God.

What we know about God we learn from the Bible. We believe that the Bible is the word of God, and that the teachings of the Bible will be forever relevant. The Bible tells us that there is only one true God, and that he sent Jesus to die for our sins.

A note on the condemnation in this article of the Augsburg Confession: Recall that the Augsburg Confession was written to defend the budding Lutheran Church from false accusations levied against it by the Catholic Church. It was necessary for the Lutherans to distance themselves from the false teaching to which they were being associated. These condemnations are understood in light of Titus 3:10-11, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” Only God can read the heart, and it is God’s job to judge on the last day. But when a church or individual publicly proclaims and teaches something contrary to God’s word, that we can and should condemn, warning of the danger of ignoring and changing God’s word.

Ok, enough with the disclaimers.

I am going to be straightforward and honest: There are some things about God that just don’t make sense to me Continue reading