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Restore Us, O Lord

Submitted by tmatthew on Thu, 10/05/2017 - 12:02

   A church that I know of invests every Wednesday evening to study the Book of Psalms. Each of those evenings is dedicated to just one psalm and to complete the entire Psalter (150 psalms) takes three years. I say they “invests” because that’s exactly what it is. About half of the psalms are of or for David, the second king of Israel circa 1050 B.C. Some of David’s psalms deal with being chased by the first king, Saul, who displeased God who chose David to replace Saul. Others deal with other matters, such as Psalm 80, which calls on the Lord to save Israel from the Assyrians.

   What had happened was that after the rule of David’s son, Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split with one of Solomon’s sons, Jeroboam, ruling the northern kingdom of Israel, while another son, Rehoboam, ruled the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom had continued Solomon’s later practice of including and worshipping false gods in the temple that was dedicated for Yahweh only. All of the Twelve Tribes of God’s chosen had incurred God’s wrath by insisting that they have a human king. God desired that they be ruled by judges who would deliver governance and judgments based on God’s Word. That was not enough for sinful man. We inherited the sinful nature in which is instilled in us the desire to be god and be worshipped. We want to impress others for the purpose of winning their approval. Both Israel and later Judah also celebrated diversity by intermarrying with people of false gods (yes, false gods—only the Triune God is God), thinking that they were clever, good, and persuasive enough to impress and manipulate others. What resulted was an invasion of northern Israel by Assyria that was pounding the walls of capital city Samaria when Psalm 80 was written.

   “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!” The song has good reason to begin with that because the next verse explains why—God had done wonders for them in the past, including delivering them from slavery in Egypt. “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.” Notice that the Israelites did nothing. God did it all.

   That’s a lesson we Christians often forget, as inheritors of the promise given to Abraham. Why we believe and others do not is a mystery, but it is not anything we do. God chooses His people. (Ephesians 1:4-5; John 6:44; Romans 8:29-30, et al) But we do not wait for others to join us in singing or saying Psalm 80 for His salvation. There is only one Savior and He is Jesus Christ. We can pray these verses from Psalm 80 as a prayer for ourselves and each other. The Psalm gives thanks to God for putting His hand on David “for yourself”. “But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself.” Jesus is strong for His heavenly Father. All things must be for the glory of God because only He is the granter of life. O come, let us worship Him… Gloria Deo—Glory to God

God's Word is the first and last Word

Submitted by tmatthew on Tue, 10/03/2017 - 20:46

Image removed.

From The life of Luther in forty-eight historical engravings.

 Courtesy, The Concordia Historical Institute, St. Louis

    The above engraving depicts Luther in a pulpit, with an opened Bible shining light into the eyes of the hearers of the Word. As one commentator wrote, “What was the fuel that drove the Reformation some 500 years ago? Historians have cited corruption in the Church, the realignment of various political forces, a critique of scholastic theology, the rise of humanism and the advent of the printing press. But according to Luther, “while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.”

  And as we will read this Sunday, God has done everything. Our OT reading for Sunday is from Isaiah 5:1-7 in which the prophet delivers God’s judgment on His chosen but wayward people. Comparing them to a vineyard, God asks why they lived fruitless lives in spite of His good providence and grace. But as Paul wrote in our Epistle reading for Sunday, like the Judeans of Isaiah’s day, we are not God’s fair-haired because we are worthy. Despite, he says, that he was born a Jew, well-educated, with all the proper credentials, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.(Philippians 3:4b-14) May the light of God’s Word be our first and last word which guides us forward to worship Him and live for His glory.

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

Incline our hearts, Lord

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 09/27/2017 - 15:36

   We know that Luther always prescribed the Holy Bible as the final authority of God’s revelation of Himself to His beloved crown of creation—Man. But Luther also quoted the early Church fathers of the first three or four centuries, showing how much the Catholic or Universal Church in Luther’s day had strayed. Our OT reading for Sunday is the benediction of Solomon’s dedication of the newly completed temple in which Solomon exhorts the Israelites to “Walk in all of (God’s) ways, to keep His commandments, which He commanded our fathers.” Those commandments are just as applicable (and ordered) today as was in circa 1400 BC when Moses brought them down from Mt. Sinai.

  Fifth century A.D. Church father John Cassian offers Solomon’s prayer to the Christian life. Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law, but our hearts are to please the Lord out of gratitude, free and in peace because our Lord has saved unworthy you and me. Cassian wrote [We pray to God] “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to avarice.” We will see Sunday (October 1) that Solomon’s prayer began an earnest re-dedication of God’s people to worship Him and Him alone. But Solomon later turned to other gods and Cassian turned inward, founding monasticism in the West. But the Gospel of salvation by grace alone by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone as He is revealed in Scripture alone frees us from guilt so we can be faithful to Him and come out of hiding. We come to His temple every Sunday, His church, to confess our sins, hear His forgiveness and hungrily devour His Word and Sacrament. Reformed and free—since 1517!

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

And a One and a Seventy-Two

Submitted by tmatthew on Mon, 09/25/2017 - 19:44

   Recently, a pastor told of a survey given to the members of a parish he once served which was an instrument designed to evaluate the congregation’s various ministries. The assessment also included a self-evaluation of the members themselves and as well as of each other. All questions in the five-page survey were on a rating system. The pastor said that the members who evaluated themselves with a “5”, the best, tend to rate others with a “1” the lowest. The pastor knew the members who gave themselves “5”s and said that most of them were more like “1”s. He highlighted one member named Ethel, whom he thought was a “5”, humble, joyful, always doing for others. She rated herself as a “1” and refused to evaluate anyone else.

   Recorded in Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus told his Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. A master hired some laborers early in the day yet some were hired later and some quite late in the day. At the end of workday, the all-day workers complained that others were getting paid as much as they, despite their day-long toil. Jesus reminded them that they were given all that He had promised them. Then, He told them something that should be a fundamental understanding that too many were (and are today) lacking. Jesus said, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” What Jesus said next would explain the Ethels of the wider Church: “So the last will be first, and the first last."

  For over thirty years, Fox network broadcast the television reality show “Cops” every Saturday night (except during baseball’s playoff post-season). A few years ago or so, Fox dropped the program, only to be picked up and broadcast on Saturday night on Spike TV (formerly known as The Nashville Network). Since becoming a pastor, the show has become part of my Saturday night habit as I prepare for the next morning’s worship service. No, I’m not writing my sermon or prayers on Saturday evening. I’m asking the Lord to prepare my heart. And watching people go to jail does not make me feel smug—not at all. God has blessed me as He has so many other believers with the realization that it is only by the grace of God that I, too, am not standing behind my pickup truck, with my hands cuffed behind my back, with my rights begin read to me as the patrol car’s blue lights flash across my face.

   I would concur with Ethel’s choice of a 1 for my own value to the Kingdom of God. I recall the excitement of the seventy-two disciples whom Jesus carefully instructed and sent out to preach repentance and heal. (Luke 10:1-20) They returned all excited, exclaiming, “…even the demons are subject to us in your name!” Jesus tells them of the fall of Satan’s grip on this world by the gospel and the then-coming defeat of sin, death, and the devil. “I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” But the Lord Jesus reminded them of the believers’ true status: “Nevertheless…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Amen, composer of Psalm 27, “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Forgive and Forget Him Not

Submitted by tmatthew on Mon, 09/18/2017 - 13:46

It doesn’t take long for us Christians to discover that Christianity is not a self-improvement program. We do not become “like Christ” although our behaviors may appear as a goodness that is in us that is Christ-like. What does often motivate people to do good things is to convince themselves that they are “good people”. But only the Christ is good, we cannot be Him, which is proper because we do not need another One.

  Our lack of ability to be good causes our sins, from which all who are breathing today are forgiven by Jesus Christ, although those who die outside of  faith in Him will not see the eternal benefit. God is pure, holy, and righteous—not mostly but fully. That status explains why He does not tolerate evil or sins and is the only One who can and will judge all people. We Christians accept forgiveness of our sins from our Lord. That is a faith foundation.

    But we tend to be stingy with sharing it with others. Part of the cross-bearing of us Christians is to accept the double damage done to us when someone sins against us, in word or deed. Not only must we suffer the hurt or loss from the act or words against us, but we have no choice but to forgive them for doing it. It has to be that way. Can we say yes to the Christ but no to others—people for whom Jesus Christ also died and was resurrected?

   Recorded in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus answers Peter’s question "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answers “seventy seven times”. Whether that number is 77 or 490, it still is not nearly as many times as we have sinned against the Lord and others. To drive home His point, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. One servant had been forgiven of his debts but once released, he refused to forgive the debt another owed him. The king who had forgiven the servant found out about it and rescinded the forgiveness and sent the servant to jail where he must stay until his reinstated debt was completely paid. Jesus promised to withhold His forgiveness of our sins if we refuse to forgive others. In other words, we never stop forgiving others because our Lord does not end His forgiveness as long as we are breathing.

  Occasionally, we are tempted to withhold our forgiveness of others because we do not believe that the offender(s) “is sincere” or that we have a right to make special exceptions against the clear teachings of the Incarnate God. But when have you or I been pure or sincere, certainly at the divine level of God? Never. And remember our sins, God’s grace, and the realty that we must forgive others even if they have never asked for it. That kind of love comes from the believer who takes God’s Word to heart, as recorded in Romans 14:8, “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.”

You are forgiven. Believe, forgive, and be at peace. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

From God's Word to Luther's Lips

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 09/13/2017 - 14:19

   In the historical docudrama on Luther on PBS last night, Luther requested time to consider his reply to Emperor Charles V on whether Luther would recant his earlier teachings that the Word of God, the Bible is the authority which we glean the truth about God, us, the meaning of life, sin, etc.—all important things of life. When Luther went to his quarters that evening, he prayed for God’s guidance, but the video shows Luther, to himself, whispering a key Scripture passage, appropriate for his dilemma: [Jesus said] “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 10:32-33)

   We Christians of the Reformation do not need to guess, check with horoscopes, or consult with other people when it comes to eternally important matters in life. In his prayer for God to help him, the film depicts Luther’s eyes light up with that verse. God had not let him down—once again—to be left without counsel and encouragement. When times of persecution or challenges to our faith come from unbelievers or temptations, we turn to God’s Word as there is where He has revealed His will for us. No guesswork needed. To be a Lutheran is not complicated, despite our flesh and the world attempting to make it so. There are circumstances that are difficult, but the solution is simple—trust the Lord Jesus Christ, who has delivered us believers from eternal death to life everlasting!

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Pastor

Your Status

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 09/13/2017 - 14:15

   I watched a YouTube video recently featuring a professor at Princeton University, Liz Harman, who says she “defends some of [her] work” in which she finds “nothing morally bad” with early-term abortions. (Google “Phil 103-Liz Harman on Abortion-YouTube”) She argues against anyone who says  “something bad happens when a ‘fetus’ dies” because Professor Harman claims that if the ‘fetus’ dies before being conscious or having any experiences, she believes aborting the child at that stage would not be immoral. She continues to “think” that among “fetuses” there are two different kinds of “beings”, some who have what she calls “moral status”, with she claims exists in herself and her two video interview hosts. She justified their “moral status” because they have turned out “successful”.

    But she goes on to say, “there is a real question of how could we know whether or not the ‘fetus’ has “moral status”. In the case of the mother who has already decided to have an abortion, the professor pontificates: “we already know that the ‘fetus’ is not the kind of thing that would become like us, [therefore it is] not something of ‘moral status’”. Yet she admits that a “fetus” is the “beginnings of a human being”, but she then adds, “Like, in my view, abortion is permissible because you had the abortion. But the abortion would not be permissible if you didn’t have the abortion.” She continues to compliment her hosts by telling them that “you had moral status when you were [each] a fetus, but it’s not that aborting you would be wrong because if your mother had aborted you, then you would not have had moral status.”

   Recorded in Matthew 18:1-20, Jesus faces his Professor Harman-like clueless disciples who ask Him, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" This is after they had seen Him perform miracles and praising one of them, Peter, for correctly identifying Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replies to their query by taking a small child and placing him or her between Himself and His disciples, saying, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Immediately He adds this standard: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

   Only Jesus humbled Himself like a child, even to the point of the cross for His beloved creation. Those whom He has called and believe in Him will be with Him forever, as He substituted Himself for His children. Jesus tells them this just before He sends them out to preach repentance, giving them the responsibility to forgive or withhold forgiveness that will be recorded in heaven: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” They were of the few humans God appointed to judge. But pontificators like Harman have no choice but to play god. They reject the Lamb on the throne and must create their own.

   But your true status, child of God, is that your sins are forever forgiven by your faith in Christ alone. Kingdoms fall and their ivy-covered walls will crumble, but the Word of God lives forever. Gloria Deo—Glory to God

The Onus Is not on Us

Submitted by tmatthew on Wed, 09/13/2017 - 14:12

   In the early 2000s, I enjoyed engaging the “angry atheist” in informal online debates. It was usually a draw, with no one side budging. While it may be true to say that “no one has ever been argued into the faith", some have been forced to at least rethink their position after one of their major premises has been successfully debunked. The occasion this would often happen would be with the unbeliever saying that my quotation of the Bible is not valid because he or she doesn’t hold the Scriptures with authority. I would counter that the validity of Scripture does not depend on their acceptance. It is true whether they believe it or not. Strangely enough, that reality alone startled more than a few because their positions were more appropriately put into the faith category, denying their claim of unbiased objectivity.

   In our OT reading for this coming Sunday (September 10), God warns Ezekiel that if he does not share God’s Word with the people and they sin, God will hold Ezekiel accountable as well. However, if Ezekiel does truthfully share God’s Word and will and the people do sin, Ezekiel will not be held accountable. (Ezekiel 33:7-9) Sharing God’s Word should be pressure-free. For one, we Christians are not held responsible for others’ rejection of God’s truth. And second, we have God’s Word with us—the collection of writings from men who had literally walked and talked with God or knew others who had. There is a third joy to be found in the Reformation Christian—we do not need others’ approval or agreement to confirm our faith. That has been a gift from God that is opened and shared every Sunday as we are in worship service, taking His Word and His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins!  

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

Whoas and Waverings

Submitted by tmatthew on Thu, 08/31/2017 - 09:44

   This Sunday, September 3, 2017 our Psalm reading (26) opens with “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.” You and I likely would react with a “Whoa!” with the “without wavering”. Every time we become angry with someone, insist on our own way, neglect to worship the Lord, lust after certain people or money, that’s certainly “wavering”, isn’t it?  In that psalm, David does not mention Bathsheba or other sins he has committed. If you or I were to write such autobiographical song lyrics about ourselves, we must limit the time of our “unwavering faithfulness” described within to maybe—one hour? Perhaps we were like that only one evening?  Maybe we dreamt it?

   Of course, David’s prayer of salvation was answered and completed by the Christ who would come 1,000 years after David’s death. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Both the Old and New Covenant (and Testaments) call for repentance. In Luther’s day, Rome taught that God in Christ was only the beginning of salvation and that we sinners must make ourselves worthy of God’s salvation. The only way we could do that is to be holy “without wavering”. But He imparts His goodness on to us as a gift we call grace. Because of His grace, we stand righteous before God. Isn’t that much more satisfying than having to manufacture delusional fantasies about ourselves? We are saved because God Himself says so. He never wavers!

Gloria Deo—Glory to God

 Pastor

Eating His Words

Submitted by tmatthew on Thu, 08/31/2017 - 09:41

Many church bodies follow what they call a lectionary series, an appointed set of Scripture readings to be read on a given Sunday of the Church Year. Our own church follows a three-year lectionary. Every Sunday, we will read a Psalm, an Old Testament Reading, an Epistle (which means “letter”, usually from Paul), and a reading from the Gospel. As a pastor, I prefer it that way. There are so much found in those readings, enough for thousands of sermons, and perhaps more importantly, I don’t trust myself to decide for myself which passage to choose because the sermon will end up being what I think the hearer needs to hear, instead of the Word of God speaking to them.

   No thanks. I’m too apt to be like David, as recorded in Psalm 26, the appointed psalm for the Thirteenth Sunday after (the Day of) Pentecost, which this year is September 13. David begins by asking God, “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.” Can I hear not an ‘amen’, but a “whoa”? When I do and have “walked in my integrity”, sin happens. And sin is one thing I can do “without wavering”. Watch that grin off your face. You’re no better.

   And neither was sixth century B.C. prophet Jeremiah. He turned down God’s “offer” to be His servant and deliverer of bad news to the Judeans by protesting his youth and inexperience: “"Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." (Jeremiah. 1:6) God literally touched Jeremiah’s lips and inserted God’s Word into his mouth and made Jeremiah eat them, as in swallow and digest. Later, as recorded in Jeremiah 15:15ff (‘ff’ means “and following”), the appointed reading for that Sunday, Jeremiah protested his suffering, “Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?”  After more of Jeremiah’s grumbling, the Lord called him back to repentance.

    Yet there is another of those thousand sermons here. Despite the Judeans rejecting Jeremiah’s faithful delivery of God’s Word, he wiping their spit from his face and having to be pulled out of  a well into which they tossed him, Jeremiah pled with God to save them—and no fewer than three different times! Jeremiah was not the first prophet to intervene on behalf of openly rebellious of God’s chosen. Moses and Samuel had also done so—successfully, but God told Jeremiah, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people.” (Jeremiah 14:11)

   Praying for the welfare of people who despise you is perhaps one of the hardest things for a Christian to do. Forgiving such people is likely the most difficult and maybe that’s why one effective strategy used to help us forgive others is to pray for them. We don’t know if Psalm 26 was written before or after David murdered his future wife’s husband. But you and I cannot feel smug in counting others’ sins. We have quite an inventory of our own. That’s why we attend church, as David encouraged worship. Worshipping God must include hearing His Word and returning to Him in repentance. In the meantime, read John 17:20-21 and digest God’s own prayer for you, in Christ Jesus. Gloria Deo—Glory to God