Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Tradition and the Word of God

33 I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:33-35 (ESV)
We don’t have these words of Jesus recorded anywhere but here. This isn’t to say that Jesus didn’t say these words. We know he did. The gospels don’t record everything Jesus ever said. The early church, the first generation would have had many different traditions of Jesus Christ, would have known much more about the disciples and the things they had done than we do today. Some of these things have been recorded through the efforts of men like Papias whose history is preserved today in the Church History of Eusebius. Others have been lost completely. Some of the extra biblical recordings can be helpful in understanding scripture, and yet scripture, that which we have recorded in the apostolic word, is what determines doctrine. The sola scriptura of the reformation doesn’t care to ignore tradition, reading Luther and the other reformers one is amazed at their knowledge and understanding of church fathers and the history of the church. On the other hand they also understood that tradition can’t be trusted completely. And of course, it would also be nice if what was claimed as tradition might at least have some roots to at least the second century if not the first.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Raising Children in the Faith

 4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [2] 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:3-7 (ESV)
This verse came to mind tonight as I was reading a newspaper article in which Richard Dawkins as parents not to force their religions opinions on children. It’s really an odd thing to say. I really don’t know if he has children or not, but I can assure you he raised them according to his religious opinions if he did have any. Atheists do not raise their children without religious opinion, the children understand right away what their parents attitude toward God is, good, bad or indifferent.
But this isn’t an idea that is new either. I’ve heard plenty of well-meaning Christian parents say the same thing over the years. Often it is something to the effect of we want to raise them to make their own decisions when they are old enough. As if raising them up in the church is going to keep them from making their own decisions when they are old enough. Neither does raising children in the faith hamper their ability to be open minded, inquisitive or free thinkers. I tend to chuckle a little bit though when I hear those descriptors, most people I know that describe themselves that way are far from any of those things.
Everyone raises their children with their religious opinions. Hindus can’t help but raise their children to be Hindus, what they believe about the nature of the world and the gods is naturally passed down through family ritual and community festivals. Atheists raise their children to be atheists, which is also a religious opinion, they do this also through family ritual, the most prominent being the avoidance of church on Sunday. Christians too will naturally raise their children to be Christian, not only because God has given them the command to do so, but because they can’t help it. We who have been given the wonderful gift of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in Christ, can’t help but desire to give the same to our children and grand-children. The command of God isn’t even a command to us, it’s a wonderful promise that comes as a sigh of relief when we realize that God loves our children as much as he loves us. This is why Peter tells the parents of Jerusalem that the gift of baptism is not only for them but for their children too. We love because he first loved us, and it is only natural that we want to share that love with our children.
We know our children will grow up to be independent, that they will be exposed to the smorgasbord of religion that is the center of American culture, and whatever choices they make later in life, whether or not we agree with them, as foolish as they might be, we will still love them, even as Christ and our Father in heaven loves them. In the meantime, while they are being raised we will thank God that he not only loves us, but loves also those whom we love, and will take advantage of those opportunities we have to help strengthen them in the faith and grow in the faith together. Prayers at bedtime and devotions at breakfast, bringing them to church and Sunday School, baptizing them and teaching them diligently the love of God who died for all sins and desires that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of truth, even our own children.  

The Word of Grace

29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:29-32 (ESV)

Paul warns the elders about what is to come, fierce wolves not sparing the flock.
It’s never an easy thing to see. Congregations and church bodies being torn to shreds. There aren’t any easy answers to this sort of thing either.’
Paul holds himself up as an example to the elders, to preach and teach ceaselessly. To admonish everyone, even with tears if necessary.
And then he commends them to God and to the word of grace that is able to build up. The gospel is the answer. It’s easy to lose track of that, as a pastor. When things go south and people are at each other’s throat, personal attacks are flying, it’s even conceivable that the pastor feels slighted, hurt, and for the life of him he can’t seem to extract himself and his emotions from the situation, it’s all too tempting to think the law can fix the situation, and it never will.

Of course this is always the delusion of man. We think the law can fix things, as if the problem was somehow that people didn’t actually know better than to do what they are doing. And then there are pastors who think there whole entire job is to get people to be better. Admonishment with the law is what they think is going to accomplish it. But it never works. Instead Paul refers them to the word of grace. It is this and this alone able to edify, that is build up and give you the inheritance among the sanctified. And of course, that is the purpose of the preaching office, to give this inheritance, to sanctify those who hear, and sanctification is always the result of the gospel. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lent II

“27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:27-38 (Esv)

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
These are the words of Jesus right after he gets done rebuking Peter, calling him Satan and telling him that he has in his mind the things of man, not the things of God. They were harsh words. And they are hard words to hear. They don’t quite make sense to us.
What does this mean, to pick up your cross and follow Jesus, to save your life by losing it?
Peter is having a hard time swallowing the cross. He just confessed Jesus to be the Christ. It is a confession of profound hope and optimism. He knows Jesus has caused a bit of a stir. He knows that Jesus has made his enemies in the world and that people are plotting to kill him in Jerusalem and if Jesus is a mere man it is only a matter of time before they catch up to him. The disciples follow him at great risk to their own well-being. But it is a risk they are willing to take, because they believe he is the Christ, the Messiah.
And for them, this entails the dream of Shangri-la. For them this is the fruition of the Jewish myths that Paul warns Titus about, the type of malarkey you find in the “Left Behind” series, Premillenialism and post millennialism the promise of a golden millennium. It was that sort of fantasy, that has ever plagued the church with fanciful readings of Revelation that whole heartedly ignore the rest of the Bible, or cherry pick and force read it to comply, that caused most of Israel to miss their messiah when he came. Glory and victory factored in to the concept of the messiah, a golden age of government, and peace, that would make David’s reign on earth pale in comparison. These things factored in. Victory over the enemies of Israel as a nation, the vanquishing of the Romans, these things factored in to their concept of  a Messiah. Defeat, the cross, betrayal and death did not.
But the minute Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus begins speaking of his defeat, his betrayal, his death. At least, this is the way the disciples would hear it. Three days and he would rise again? This didn’t make sense to them. What they heard is Jesus predicting his own death. A death they knew could be avoided. A death they didn’t think was necessary because they didn’t quite grasp the nature of the problem Jesus came to recon with. But the death of Jesus would not be defeat but victory.
Pick up your cross and follow me, he tells the disciples. And to follow Jesus is to do just that. To accept his forgiveness and grace is to forsake your own attempts at keeping the law, and to die to yourself. To follow Jesus means to put your life at risk for all the attacks of the devil. “It is enough for a student to be like his teacher.” To follow Christ is to invite the ridicule with which the world reviled our Lord. It is to lose your life in him. It is this that happened in Baptism, when you were buried into his death. It is this that happened in baptism when you were raised to walk in the newness of life.  Now you have lost the life of the old way, the life of the law constantly trying to keep a ledger of good works vrs. Sin. Constantly trying to preserve your dignity, your ability to stand before God on account of your own righteousness, to pull yourself up by your own boot straps. To secure your own place. No, that life is gone. Now you have the righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that comes through death and dying to this world and it’s ways of righteousness. A righteousness that comes with humility, and the indignity of accepting charity, of realizing that when it comes to the righteousness of God, your only option is that of a beggar. And to our Old Adam this comes as a cross. But in the cross there is victory because our Lord rose again on the third day, and we now walk in the newness of life, righteous and having salvation.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tending the Flock

25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, [3] which he obtained with his own blood.(Acts 20:25-28 (ESV)
The Acts 20 is full of great pastoral theology really. Paul honestly believes he will not see these men again. He doesn’t think he will survive Jerusalem. Yet he goes. Here in his farewell speech he talks to the pastors about what they are supposed to be doing. He holds himself up as an example. He didn’t shrink from proclaiming the truth, neither should you. His conscience is clean because he proclaimed the truth, he has no control over what others do or don’t do with the truth. He isn’t concerned for him it was enough that he preached and taught the truth. This is what they should do to. Pay careful attention first to yourself, then to he flock.
A pastor can never be finished studying, learning, growing in his understanding of the word, examining his teaching. The other day I was asked if I ever got a whole day off. I had to think about it. No, not really. It isn’t something I complain about. But how do you take a day off from the faith? It’s sort of difficult. I expect that my members pray for themselves and others and the congregation daily. It’s what I do anyway, and yet something like that is part and parcel of my job. You can’t control when people end up in the hospital. And honestly, the theological study part of it is just something I enjoy immensely, again part of my job. It’s fun getting paid to do what you love, and at the same time, it is a bit dangerous because you need to be able to take a break from your job even if you do enjoy  it. Then again, dairy farmers don’t get to skip milking cows just because they want a day off. The imagery is of a flock is an apt one. Being a shepherd isn’t a 9 to five. But you take the time you need when you can get it.

And then it is the honor that God makes you overseers of the flock which he obtained with his blood. He entrusts to your care those whom he values more than his own life. That’s incredible. He values you the same.  

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Righteousness of Man

“22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:22-24 (ESV)
Passionate words from Paul. It is hard to imagine this. Knowing the hardships that are going to face you for the gospel and yet being compelled to go at the same time. Paul has never intentionally looked for trouble, we have seen him try to avoid murderous plots before. But then he won’t let it keep him from doing his job either. Compelled to go to Jerusalem and yet still warned by him concerning the trouble that awaits him there.
He doesn’t count his own life of any value. He writes the Philippian’s that to live is Christ and to die is gain. He knows that he will be better off in heaven. He signed away this life with his baptism, it has been claimed by God. He will do his Lord’s will, he knows his life is forfeit.  All he cares about is testifying to the grace of God. The Lord died for him so he is now ready to die for the Lord.
This is profound faith, the result of having been forgiven much. Paul who once considered himself the most righteous of the righteous. But then he saw where the righteousness of man leads. The righteousness of man is good for what it is, serving the peace and tranquility of community. But when it is confused with righteousness before God, it becomes an affront. Before God our only righteousness is his forgiveness alone, confirmed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, whom Paul’s earthly righteousness of man had led him to persecute. It was through this righteousness that Paul had sought to secure his life. Now that he has the righteousness of Christ he is willing to give up his life entirely.
Today you hear people say, “I can be a good person without Christ.” Yes, you can. And no, you really can’t. This is the kind of reliance on the righteousness of man, earthly righteousness that is an affront to God. It confuses God with your neighbor, and your neighbor isn’t near as forgiving as Christ. It’s the kind of righteousness that in the end isn’t righteousness at all, but sin, because it despises the forgiveness that is given us in Christ. Yes, when we examine ourselves we find we really aren’t any better off than Paul was. We too have been forgiven much by Jesus Christ who purchased us with his holy and precious blood, his innocent death.

Monday, February 23, 2015

First Sunday in Lent

 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; [4] with you I am well pleased.”
12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God.”(Mark 1:9-15 (ESV)

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan and he was with the wild animals and the angels were ministering to him.
Every time I read the first chapter of Mark on the temptation of Christ I envision a version of Alfred Hitcock’s movie “The Birds” with the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove dive bombing Jesus and pecking at him as he gets driven out into the wilderness. The impetuous character of Peter, who gives Mark his story line, comes out vividly in this section of Mark’s Gospel.
Mark doesn’t dwell much on the temptation. It happens after baptism and it happens before Jesus begins preaching the gospel. He spends 40 days there and is tempted by the devil. He lives among the wild animals, and is in the end ministered to by angels, that is, helped by angels. What that help amounts to? Who knows? Perhaps keeping the wild animals at bay.
Forty days being tempted by the devil. These forty days are commemorated by us during the forty days of Lent. Jesus is not overcome by the temptations, as we so often are, giving in to the basest desires of our flesh, which we try to teach ourselves to subdue during Lent by giving up small indifferent things we enjoy that perhaps we can teach ourselves to endure and thus prepare for those times when endurance will be required, and then absentmindedly we find ourselves eating that chocolate. No, Jesus conquers the temptations. He conquers the temptations by choosing the cross, by picking up his cross and going to Jerusalem, by determining to die for the sins of the world, to count his earthly life as naught, that he might secure for us eternal life. This is really at the center of Christ’s temptations. And it often makes our temptations look trivial in comparison.
By refusing to give into Satan’s temptations Christ picks up his cross. It is what he came to do. And he did it alone because no one else could help him do it. He was victorious over Satan and rescued us from sin death and the devil while we were still enemies of God, while we were yet dead in our trespasses, while we were still children of the wrath of God, still yet servants of the devil.
Yes, this is who we are apart from Christ and his victory over temptation in the wilderness, his victory over the devil’s temptations on the cross, who spoke by the crowds saying he saved others let him save himself. No, in order to save others, in order to save you he had to forsake himself, he had to pick up the cross, he had to be forsaken by his father.
The temptations, they really weren’t the things of this world. Jesus who knew the splendors of heaven could hardly be tempted by even the most glorious nations of this world marred as it is by the devil’s handprints. Temptation, it’s a word that we don’t often give enough credit too. We think the devil tempts us with the allure of hedonistic living, we think of temptation as that chocolate while you are trying to diet, gluttonous feasts, money, prestige, power. All of these Jesus forsook. All of these things for which we vie in this world at work and at home, that we lust after as we escape into an evening of entertainment on the television, or at the movies. And in that sense these can be real temptations for us, but the devil’s temptations go much deeper. It comes about as we suffer in this world, as Jesus suffered in the desert, and indeed his whole life spent with hunger and thirst, strained family relations, and poverty, the son of man poorer than these beasts of the wilderness, the foxes with their holes, the birds with their nests, and where has the son of man to lay his head? Perhaps a stone for a pillow like Jacob on the run, the same stone Satan would ask to have made into bread.  And all this for what? So that he could end up lifeless in the noon day sun, stricken beaten and afflicted? Buried in a borrowed tomb? Yes, so that there he could finally fulfill the Sabbath rest for us laying upon that same stone his head when he was cold, stiff, and dead.

Yes, that was exactly why, so that he could do that for you, that there he could be forsaken by God for you, to free the captives of sin death and the devil, the children of the wrath of God, the enemies of God who we were, to reconcile us to our Father in heaven, so that believing in him, trusting in him, being baptized and buried into his death we could pick up our own crosses and follow him through borrowed tombs, knowing they no longer have any power over us. They can’t hold us anymore then the grave of Christ could. That we too will rise again. We too because we have died to death. Now we live in the newness of life. And whatever comes our way we know, Christ bore this for us, Christ is here with us even now holding us in his hand. Now we live because to live is Christ, and to die is gain.