In the Correct Order?
^ Audio/Slideshow Link Above ^

23 Oct 2011
Trinity-Sturgis

Grace, Mercy, Peace – text from Holy Spirit – Apostle Matthew [22:34-46 (37-40 spec.)]

   I.            Intro

In 1537, while preaching on today’s text, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther asked:

What, then, are we to do when the Law constantly demands and drives us on, and, after all, we cannot keep it?  For my conscience is ever judging me (I tell myself):  Because I should love God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself, and, after all, I cannot do so, I must be damned; and God says yes and confirms the judgment.  Who will help me in this predicament?  Says the Law:  I know of no way to help you.  The Law simply desires and requires you to be obedient.  (WLS#2362 preached by ML 30 Sept 1537 against Agricola & antinomians)

Father Luther was preaching against the attitudes of his day that were prevalent among many of the non-Lutheran reformers of his day, those which he called ‘antinomians’.  To that matter, non-Lutheran protestants of today and sadly some who call themselves Lutheran, believe that because of our being saved by faith alone, there is no need to be obedient to any religious code…or law…INCLUDING that which God has given His children in the Old Testament.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had just the opposite problem.  They believed and taught that strict adherence to the Law was all they NEEDED to do to obtain God’s favor. This can be understood from our Gospel lesson today…

II.            The Law

(Matthew 22, ESV) 34 But when the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.
 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

As I stated, the Pharisees knew that, because they followed ALL of the Law, they were not really concerned with how Jesus answer would affect them.  No – they were rather prideful of how they followed the Torah and rabbinical law.  They knew in their hearts that anything Jesus could say would not convict them.

The Pharisees were very much like many self-professed Christian believers of today.  They knew in their self-proclaimed intellect that God is the Creator of all things and they loved Him so much they lived according to the Commandments (1st Commandment).  They attended worship each weekend (2nd Commandment).  They had always respected the elders of their family (4th Commandment).  They had never stolen, murdered or committed adultery (5th, 6th & 7th Commandments).  They had never lied about their neighbor nor did they want anything from their neighbors’ possessions (8th, 9th, 10th Commandments). As a matter of fact their neighbors weren’t as well off as they were, so why WOULD they want anything of theirs? (4’)

So they sent one of their best Law interpreters…a lawyer, to trip Jesus up with a very provocative question.  And how did our Lord answer him?  We read in…

(Matthew 22:37-40, ESV)  “And [Jesus] said to [the Lawyer],‘You shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Now, at first glance, we may not recognize our Lord’s restatement of Deuteronomy 6:5 nor the implication that I believe God had when these words were recorded, not only by Moses, but by Matthew and Luke.  For God underlines where the primary place is for this love in Deuteronomy 6:6:  “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (emp. added)

The Pharisees of Jesus day….the non-Lutheran church reformers of Brother Martin’s day AND many Christian believers today all suffer from the very same problem.  It is common to attempt to use one’s intellect to determine if we are pleasing God.  To rationalize how well we are following the Law.  Perhaps to justify, to ourselves and others, that even what MIGHT be seen as a sin is really spiritual discernment and love.

The Pharisees thought they would send a scholar, one who ‘thought he knew’ what God’s Law said.  They would do this, in their minds, to protect God’s people from a man with delusions of grandeur.  After all, in their own minds, the Pharisees were intellectually superior to this…this…carpenter’s son from Galilee.  And they had followed ‘to the letter’ the Law as given to Moses.

Today, there are many who think that they know how to please God.  Thus they will come up with new a better ways to prove so.  If they give more time and talent, if they spend more time at church, if they tell the public how good they are, if they vastly expand the roles of their churches, then…THEN God will truly be pleased with them.  AND if God is pleased with them…their devotion to Christ will be recognized by not only those around them, but by GOD Himself.  Yet, [NOTABLE PAUSE] God tells us through Moses, through Luke and through Matthew here that, our minds are the last place we should be concerned with loving Him.

First, we should love our God “with all our hearts”…..”and with all our souls.”  But, WAIT!  If we love Him first THERE, how will anyone ELSE know of our devotion!?

[PAUSE] That, brothers and sisters in Christ, is EXACTLY the point!  It does not matter what others know or see.  It most assuredly matters what our Father in Heaven sees when He looks upon us.  Unfortunately, we know from Scripture that, if left to our OWN intellect and our OWN methods, when God looks upon us He sees our poor, miserable, sinful selves.  He sees the heart that would spend time at the lake rather than attend worship.   He sees the heart that is angry and spiteful when someone cuts it off in traffic.  He sees the anger and verbal abuse which is cast at our government leaders.  He sees the financial, property and other lusts which are felt when watching the successes of neighbors. Yes, although our neighbors may not ‘know’ of our inabilities to follow God’s Law…our Father in Heaven most assuredly knows.  And He knows our inability to intellectually explain why we don’t follow His Law for He tells us through St Paul in Romans 7:(:15-21 ESV)

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.[ 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.] 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. [For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.] 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.[ 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

III.            The Gospel

Yes, our Heavenly Father knows all too well of our physical and mental failings.  He is fully aware of our inability to keep His Law in our own actions, on our own accord.  Thus, He sent His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born, by the power of the Holy Spirit, of the Virgin Mary.  He was made Man.  Jesus was wholly Man and wholly God.  He came to teach us of the Father’s love for us.  Yet, unlike you and me, Jesus could physically demonstrate His Love.  Not only His Love for His Father in Heaven, but His Love for you and me.  Jesus did this with clear demonstration through His betrayal, through the punishment which Man placed upon Him during His trial before Pilot and…Jesus demonstrated His love for you and me by giving up His very Body and Blood on the Cross of Calvary.  He was nailed to that cross because of your sins and mine, because we CAN NOT, on our accord, do anything which is pleasing to God.  ONLY due to the power of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts, are we found pleasing to God.  ONLY due to the power of the Holy Spirit calling out to Him is the Father able to hear and heed our prayers.  ONLY due to the faith granted us by the Holy Spirit can you and I be called “the children of God”.  And that we are….Children of the Most High God.

IV.            Conclusion

So…when the time is right, when all is accomplished in God’s eyes, Jesus will come again.  Jesus will come and all will look to Him and know in their hearts, their souls and their minds that Jesus is Lord.  Those who have attempted to intellectually explain their faith may look upon Him in absolute fear and horror, for it will be clear to THEM at that moment that their hearts had not been first in loving God.  However, for you and me, as well as for all the saints gone before, WE will look upon our descending Lord with thankfulness and faith.  You and I will, in our hearts, in our souls and in our minds know that we will join with all the saints, with all the angels and archangels of Heaven giving all the glory to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Giving all praise and honor to our Triune God while living in His peace and confidence for ever.

+ in nomino jesu +
Amen.

May the Peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

[Audio to Come]

Funeral – 20 June 2011
For Luella of Emmaus, FTW

GMP from God our Father and our Savior Jesus Christ – to the family and friends of Luella.

And there shall be a unique [Hebrew=“one”] day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. (Zechariah 4:7)

Notable milestones in life in this world always seems to be defined as experienced of darkness.

David – Valley of the Shadow of Death
Daniel – darkness of the lions’ den
Even our Lord Jesus Christ, as He gave His very body and blood as payment for our sins, as he hung on the Cross – “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

For those of us drawn by the Holy Spirit into faith, there are cloudy days,
Those times when we anger our parents as children, or our spouse as adults
Those times when we struggle with job loss, failing health, loss of a friend or family member,

we struggle as we become afraid of what might happen if the darkness and gloom never leave
what will we do with what we see as a hole in our lives?
we think we will never see them again.

Then the Holy Spirit draws us into the Light.  Perhaps through the words of a caring friend or a mediation offered in a book we read or when we remember how our departed friend once spoke of a particular passage. Regardless of how the Spirit draws us, we find ourselves in The Light perpetual which is in the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we find peace.

The difficulties are still there – they are not gone.  Yet as we walk in the Light of Christ we are given God’s Peace which allows us to deal with the challenges the evil one or our sinful world may throw at us.  Our doubts vanish as we hear the promises of our God.

Was true darkness ever upon Luella?
I am confident she had her difficulties. We all have them.

Perhaps during the time surrounding the passing of family members
Perhaps as her earthly vocation came to a close
Or when her waning abilities required that she leave her home
We can be sure that Luella had shadowed valleys in her life

Yet, we can be equally assured that in her earthly walk, Luella was ever in the Light.  And where does this assurance comes from? How do we know Luella had light around her?  The fact that she was a baptized child of God – that is how. In that baptism she heard the words,

You have received Christ who is the Light of the world. Live always in the light of Christ and be ever watchful for His coming that you may meet Him with joy and enter into the Marriage Fest in His Kingdom.”

During those times of gloom in her life, we can be confident that she heard the words of our Lord “I am with you to the very end of the age”.  We can now understand as she does the words of the prophet Zechariah, “There shall be one day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.”  She has passed from the evening time of life into a new life – an eternal life with Christ.  An eternal life in eternal Light.  Not the blinding brilliance of the sun, not the dull shadowed light of the moon, but the Blessed Light of God’s Glory, His Joy, … His Peace.

We may sense a gloominess, a darkness, right now – as we mourn Luella’s passing from our midst.  Yet we can be confident that Luella is in the presence of God. And we can be equally confident that God is with us – He knows our sadness,  He speaks to us in the words of:

the Angel to the shepherds “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
Lord to those on the mount – “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt 10:31)
Lord to those who have little – “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
Lord as he Ascended to the Father – “I am with you until the very end of the age.

God our Father is with you – as He has been since the moment of your conception, God the Holy Spirit is with you – since the moment of your baptism and God the Son is with you until the very end of the age.

As we depart the services today, remember that Luella is resting in the blessed light of our God, remember that Jesus is a lamp unto your feet and a Light unto your path, remember that we will all, one day, join Luella in the New Creation where there will always be light.

In the Name of Jesus.  + Amen +

The Long and Winding Road

Posted: 16 May 2011 in Ramblings

How should Christians approach Islam?  This is an interesting question, perhaps the most poignant question of the 21st century.  With the new century beginning with possibly the single biggest event to be framed by the two religious groups, people have been looking for ways to  answer this question in such a way to curtail the violence which has been prevalent since the fourth century.  There are many facets to the issue and no true ‘easy’ answer.  Perhaps the best place to begin the topic is to ask what should the Christians do before approaching Islam?  That question can be answered with more succinct points such as:  First, Christians which choose to be involved in the ambassadorship must become very familiar with their own faith; second, they must take an academic approach to what Islam believes based on the Qur’an; third, they must take a painfully slow approach to open dialogue with those who call themselves Muslims.  Only after these starting points are fully developed and carried out should Christians attempt to approach those who follow Islam.  Relations with Muslims will only be harmed if Christianity makes a full-force, frontal attack to ‘convert’ those who have chosen to follow Muhammad.

The first step is absolutely necessary.  Christian laity typically has such a remedial understanding of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God that they tend to be over simplistic or even rude to those who don’t understand.  The ‘kill them all and let God sort them out’ is inappropriate for approaching Muslims, but so is listening to some of today’s so called scholars when it comes to Christian-Muslim relations.  When people such as Jesuit Father Thomas Michel make comments such as “… what religion is about … is the way we relate to God… what does God want and how does God want us to act to others?”[i]  Here Father Michel is suggesting that the god of Islam and the God of Christianity have the same desires in human relations.  This could not be farther from the truth.  Our Christian God, teaching through His Son instructs Christians to “…love one another as I have loved you…” (John 13:14)[ii] Yet, Islam teaches that their god instructed them to “…kill the idolaters wherever you may find them; and take them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every place…” (Qur’an 5:9)[iii]  These two primary tenets of faith, considering their opposing goals, do not appear to allow for the followers of Islam to calmly sit down and agree that their gods desire for them to live in harmony amongst Christians.  Thus, the teachers of the Christian faith must first leave all geopolitical goals behind and focus on teaching the Holy Will of God.  Until they do this, proper education of the Christian laity will not occur in their endeavor to have dialog with Muslims.

After those who follow Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, have come into a greatly improved understanding of the teachings of their faith, then and ONLY then will they be ready to learn of the doctrines of Islam as delivered through the Qur’an.  Yet, this can offer difficulty when considering that those teachings are muddled due to geopolitical forces which cause incorrect translations of their divine text.  A single example is offered here in reference to the previously quoted Qur’anic text.  Just compare that quote of Sura 5:9 with the following:  “…you may kill the idol worshipers when you encounter them, punish them, and resist every move they make.”[iv]  Just the simple relocation of the word “may” has changed the definitive action which Muslims should act upon when they encounter the “idol worshipers” or infidels.  This one point is enough to demonstrate that Christians must be selective in choosing scholars to teach them of Islam.  The selection is of utmost importance and only secondary to those who are to teach them of the proper Christian understanding.  Christians should select their educators of Muslim beliefs in such a way to assure a correct understanding rather than receive a ‘kinder – gentler’ view of Islam.

Only after Christians recognize the doctrine of their own faith and that of Islam are they prepared to begin dialog with Muslims.  In this last step, great endeavor must be made for them to be able to communicate the differences after there are relationships to be built on.  If a ‘door-to-door evangelism’ is the intent, the Christian is doomed from the outset, for these methods are confrontational to say the least and most recoil from them.  Building friendships with those who follow Islam is important so that communication avenues can be developed in a non-confrontational way.  That is, relying on the teachings of Matthew 28, “…go into all the world…” and remembering the previously quoted John 14 text will greatly assist the Christian when they seek to have dialog with their Muslim neighbors.  The best way to do this is with the intention to ultimately speak the Gospel to them in such a way to not be threatening or argumentative.

The best way for Christianity to approach Muslims is to view it as a long and winding road.  This writing has been to briefly illustrate the important steps that must be taken as Christianity extends itself into communication with and ministry to those who follow the Muslim tradition.  The only commonality which the two faiths truly have is that they both teach their followers to convert those who don’t believe properly.  Christians can not communicate what they believe unless they know what they believe.  They can not apologetically discuss with those of other faiths unless they know the teachings of those other faiths.  These understandings are of absolute importance, yet only useful if followed with an equally important, intentional, slow, methodical approach to those in the Muslim faith.  If these three points are expanded upon, then and only then can Christianity approach Islam with a hope to open communications which will allow the Holy Spirit to work upon the hearts of Muslims and bring them to understand that Jesus is the Son of the Living God and the One who has paid for all their sin.

 Sola Dei Gloria


[i] Josh Walsh, “What Next for Muslim-Christian Relations?”, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, (May-June 2008): 68.

[ii] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001.

[iii] The Qur’an, translated by E.H. Palmer, Oxford University Press, London, 1900, 1942.

[iv] The Qur’an, translated by Dr. Rashad Khalifa, Sura 9:5, http://www.quran-islam.org/93.html.

‘Mixed’ Marriages

Posted: 20 March 2011 in Ramblings

Pastors have varied views regarding how to handle the marriages of couples who are not of the same denominational or faith background.  Further research demonstrated that these views have changed over time depending on the prevailing cultural norms.  In the distant past, only those with familiarity would become married and not a lot was specified regarding the affair.  In the recent past, it was assumed that the approval of the immediate family would be necessary.  In our contemporary culture, many relationships leading to marriage take place entirely in the ethernet-world and completely outside the knowledge of the families of either party.  When these changes are considered, it is not surprising that those officiating over the Rite of Holy Matrimony have a wide variety of opinion in the methods of dealing with the wedding of those who are of differing religious backgrounds.

Turning to the writings of Martin Luther (1483-1546), it is difficult to find any opinion on the topic of inter-faith marriages.  Specifically on the topic of marriage, Dr. Luther writes five articles, apparently only after being badgered to do so.[i] These articles dealt with: 1) Marriage should not be based on secret engagements; 2) a secret engagement yielding to a public one; 3) if two public engagements have been announced, the first should take precedence, but punishment should ensue for the second; 4) if someone touches the woman of their second engagement to break the first, the action should be regarded as adultery; and 5) forced engagements should not be valid.[ii] It should also be noted here that the parties who have been betrothed[iii] were assumed to be married in the eyes of God and thus the church.  Although Dr. Luther may have made comments about marriage throughout his career, these are the only specifics he made in regard to pre-marriage.  From this point it could be derived that society at the time apparently assumed the Christian faith was common among those who were to be married.

During the period where the roles of men and women were becoming more blended, the families of those involved were the predominant officials regarding the intermarriage of individuals. Between the 1930s and 1970s, the approval of blood relatives was the cultural expectation necessary for marriages to be ‘good’.  It was not socially acceptable for inter-faith to occur.  Although it could be expected that weddings of Jewish-Christian or Roman Catholic-Protestant couples to be forbidden it was also extremely unusual for inter-denomination weddings such as Lutheran-Baptist or Presbyterian-Roman Catholic to be allowed.  When considering those outside a given parish,

A pastor should be very careful in marrying strangers, of whom he knows nothing except that they have a license to marry.  He should make doubly sure that such people have, from the viewpoint of the Church, a right to marry. [iv]

However, due to the cultural shifts during[v] the same half-century, families and the church became more permissive regarding who should or could be joined in marriage.  During the 1950s and 1960s, the courts of the United States were responding to issues of inter-racial marriage and by the 1990s, the single biggest topic on record regarding marriage was that of homosexual union which is topic of a different nature entirely and is not discussed in this writing.

As we enter the 1990s, the culture has become more permissive in regards to marriages of various mixtures.  Marriages of inter-faith, inter-racial and inter-nationality are rather common place as we enter the twenty-first century.  The topic of inter-faith and especially that of inter-denomination are persistently discussed among those who have been placed in the Office of the Holy Ministry.  The opinions of those who serve range anywhere from ‘only those of the same doctrine’ to ‘it doesn’t really matter’.  One Lutheran pastor, speaking of an agreement with a justice of the peace and a Unitarian minister, states he is “willing to do weddings for those who want a Christian service officiated by a Christian pastor” to those who were seeking to do so in a popular resort environment.[vi] Another Lutheran pastor, who once found marriage ceremonies were once one of the least favorite activities of the vocation states:

Is it fair for us to insist on [a ten-week course of instruction before the wedding] just to be married in our church?  I would strongly argue that it is.  More than that, I would argue that we owe it to couples to seek to share Christ and the meaning of the Christian faith with them without being manipulative in the process.  To do less may be to cheat them out of an opportunity to establish a Christian marriage. [vii]

Just considering the views of these two men should be enough to see the varied perspectives which Lutheran pastors have.  One very experienced, semi-retired LC-MS[viii] pastor said that he had changed from refusing to marry a couple where one or both were non-members.[ix] In recent years he had come to see that refusing to marry them would be nothing short of slamming the sanctuary door in their faces.  Another LC-MS pastor stated that his practice had changed ‘over the years’ with the exception of retaining the requirement of pre-marital sessions.[x] Still another LC-MS pastor, who has married several non-member, inter-denomination couples in the past, insists on regular worship attendance during the time of weeks in which he meets with the couples for pre-marital counseling.[xi] All of these men are devoted to their call and are humble servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through their study of Holy Scriptures, the doctrine of the Lutheran tradition and prayerful deliberations, they have come to the conclusions that to be legalistic in certain matters which are not specifically spoken of in the Word, would be to create barriers for some people.  These barriers could be used by the evil one to keep some from being exposed to the love and saving grace of our Lord.  Thus careful counseling and proper teaching of those entering marriage would be preferred.  Allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of those seeking marriage would be the result.

In conclusion, should inter-faith, inter-denominational marriages of member and non-members of congregations be carried out in a confessional Lutheran sanctuary?  History has a varied perspective on the topic, yet the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther would likely say ‘yes’.  Those currently in the Office of the Ministry would also answer in the affirmative; although there would be those who would place the requirement of pre-marital counseling to ensure those being married understand the ramifications of what they seek.  That is a personal relationship of a man and a woman which demonstrates inwardly and outwardly the union between husband and wife which reflects the loving relationship which our Savior Jesus Christ has shown for His Bride the Church.

Sola Dei Gloria

A rather comical view of ‘inter-Lutheran’ marriage.
(There are several sad, but true commentaries to be made about this video clip.)


[i] Luther’s Works, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, vol. 46, The Christian in Society III (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 267.
[ii] Ibid., 268.
[iii] engaged
[iv] John H.C. Fritz, Pastoral Theology, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1932), 162.
[vi] Kevin Murphy, “Non-Member Weddings: A Moment of Opportunity,” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 310.
[vii] Richard Foege, “Non-Member Weddings: A Time for High Expectations,” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 311.
[viii] Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod
[ix] Rev. S.U., interview by author, 10 October 2008, Ft. Wayne, IN.
[x] Rev. J.G., discussion with author, 03 November 2008, Ft. Wayne, IN.
[xi] Rev. R.T., practice observed by author, 2006-2007, Streetsboro, OH.

Sources Consulted

Dosser Jr., David A. “Including Families’ Spiritual Beliefs and Their Faith Communities in Systems of Care.” Journal of Family Social Work 5.3 (2001): 63-78.

Flouri, Eirini and Ann Buchanan. “What Predicts Traditional Attitudes to Marriage?” Children & Society 15 (2001): 264-271.

Foege, Richard. “Non-Member Weddings: A Time for High Expectation.” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 311, 313, 315

Fritz, John H.C. Pastoral Theology. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1932.

G., Rev. J. discussion with author, 03 November 2008, Ft Wayne, IN.

Larson, Jeffry H. and Holman, Thomas B. “Premarital Predictors of Marital Quality and Stability.” Family Relations 43.2 (April 1994): 228-237.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, edited by J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald and H. T. Lehmann, vol. 46, The Christian in Society III. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999.

Murphy, Kevin. “Non-Member Weddings: A Moment of Opportunity.” Word & World 20.3 (Summer 2003): 310, 312, 314.

T., Rev. R. practice observed by author, 2006-2007, Streetsboro, OH.

U., Rev. S. Interview by author, 10 October 2008, Ft. Wayne, IN.

C Pent19   03 Oct 2010
Prince of Peace – HC

GMP – Text from the Holy Spirit through the Prophet Habakkuk in Chapters 1 and 2 of his writing.

Intro

As you all know, the Lord has led me to proclaim His Gospel within the internet gaming community.  Through this ministry I have the pleasure of telling folks of the Good News of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the sins of the world.  Of course, it also offers opportunity to hear people complain of how God seems to have forsaken His flock, how God seemingly punishes His children for their wrong doings and is unfair to those who strive to do His will while rewarding those who obviously strive to violate almost every one of His commandments.  Yes, some spend an incredible amount of time and energy moaning ABOUT God, without actually going to the source of their angst.  Yet, Habakkuk, a man of God, a prophet, seems to have the correct idea.  His example would be helpful for us to follow, for

GOD HAS MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR US TO APPROACH HIM PERSONALLY:

[I. God wants to hear directly from each of us]

Habakkuk 1:1The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

Where many, perhaps each one of us, tend to talk of the evil around us, the sin others do, and then complain to our neighbor of how God does not punish them, the prophet Habakkuk goes directly to God with His heart-wrenching questions.  We can look upon ourselves as being more righteous than THOSE folks who don’t strive to live as God has commanded.  We ask others why God would allow such practice.  If God would give us just some of His strength, we could bring the world into a better understanding of His blessed promises.  Why, even without our involvement…He could bring about great change in the world, if He would just SMITE a few dens of inequity!

Yet, as we moan and complain amongst ourselves (and inflict our friends with our lament), we are in fact ignoring the one who could answer our questions.  We seemingly ignore the ONLY one who can do anything about them.  We are ignoring the important fact that Jesus died so that we could approach the Heavenly Throne and ask our questions of the ONLY righteous one.  God.

For you see, when God caused Habakkuk to have this oracle, the people of Israel had wandered far from the path which God had laid before them.  They had wandered far from their Holy purpose given them by God.  The people of Israel had been scattered by internal strife and by external forces as well.  Since the people Israel had decided that a Heavenly King was not good enough and demanded a earthly king (Saul, David & Solomon), God had allowed them to demonstrate their inability to follow.  As time progressed, they came to the time of Habakkuk, when God had used Assyria to punish Israel – to conquer them with an evil, ruthless, multi-god people who enslaved them and denied them their purity.  Thus, the people of Israel were in anguish, they moaned amongst themselves of how God was using these evil ‘unchosen’ people to punish His Chosen Israel.  They felt that, due to their lack of success and lack of wealth, their decline from being a conquering nation, God had forsaken His promise to them to “always be their God”.  In other words, they believed that they were already lost in the eyes of God.  This feeling of being forsaken caused them to again, to doubt the promise of God, to heed those words of the serpent spoken in Genesis 3, “God did not surely say….”  God did not surely promise to be with them always??  Yet, they mumbled amongst themselves ABOUT God about how terrible He was making their lives.

And as the prophet heard this, he was drawn to speak directly to Yahweh, the God of Israel, the One True God.  Rather than lamenting of how God no longer cared for him, Habakkuk and for His people Israel, he directly confronted God with the same questions people were asking each other.  Habakkuk offers the example of trusting in the promises of God.  The promise of always being the God of His Chosen People.  The promise of always hearing their petitions offered to Him as the One God who will hear them, just as He heard them in Egypt.  Habakkuk knew that He was still their God – as He had promised.  And just as a child knows he can approach his earthly father with a problem, Habakkuk knew that he could approach the God of his fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  [PAUSE]

What of us?  Are we like Habakkuk?  Or are we like Israel.  Do we know that we can approach God with all our problems?  Or do we mumble about our ‘lot in life’ ?   Do we give thanks to God for the blessings of life, sustenance, shelter, worldly freedoms and relative health?  Or do we moan about how He allows us to be sick, poor, have a leaky roof or overly controlled by our secular government?  Do we see that He loves us and demonstrates this through the good things?  Or do we assume that all the bad things happen because we have sinned?

Is THAT it?  We have sinned, so just as He used Assyria to punish Israel in the seventh century BC, He uses the forces of the world to punish us until we are sinless.  Until we, under our own will and strength, stop our sin and become more like Him?

We talk of others as if we could do better.  We expend our finances on things which will be gone in no time.  We over indulge on food and leisure.  We avoid thinking of Him when we KNOW we’re involved in things He does not approve of – in business and in personal lives.  We forget to place Him above all things.  We raise other gods before Him in such a way to obscure His promises.  Yes, we are very capable of displeasing Him.  Is THAT why our bodies fail?  Is THAT why our finances seem to dwindle?  Is THAT why we are not gifted with apparent gifts like those who make no attempt to live as God has commanded? [PAUSE]

Let us not get too wrapped up in our self-pity.  Let us not sit here and think that, since we sin God has forsaken us.  Let us not mumble amongst ourselves of how BAD and EVIL we are that we forget that God does understand.  He knows of our inability to meet His expectations.  For after all, just as God spoke to Israel through His servant David (Psalm 14, 53), God has spoken again to us through the Apostle Paul in Romans 3[:10-12]:

“None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

[II. God has & will respond to our requests.]

Habakkuk 2:1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
2 And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.
3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.
4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

Habakkuk proclaims that he is standing guard.  He’s on the lookout for God’s answer to his laments, his complaints.

The Prophet knows that if he directly asks God for answers the He must patiently and diligently await the response.  He knows, as we should, that God always answers prayer which are offered.  The ONLY difference between Habakkuk’s time and now is….(in the words of the Order of Evening Prayer) “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.

And Yahweh answers Habakkuk. Even without the details of the remainder of Chapter Two, God warns the evil one and encourages Habakkuk in these four verses!  God states that if His words are written down, the evil one may run away when he reads it….God then states that the evil one has a soul which is ‘puffed up and not upright”.  The evil one knows he is done for, that he has lost.  God also tells Habakkuk and Israel that the vision awaits it’s appointed time, the promise is hastening and shall not lie.  But wait!  How does a promise “not lie”.  Well….simple!  The Promise is…the Holy One of God, the Anointed, the Son of God, the Prince of Peace….Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World is that Promise!

Times were hard in Habakkuk’s time.  Times are hard now! In other words…..Times haven’t changed!!  If you and I think the promise of God is slow….”wait for it, It will surely come”  The one whose soul is puffed up – self-righteous, will not be able to strengthen himself, he will fail.  Yet, the righteous shall live by faith.  Faith in the promise.  Faith that God has fulfilled His promise and opened the door so that ALL may come into His Glory.  The Promise was that God would save the world from the necessary payment for our sin.  Just as He provided a ram rather than have Abraham sacrifice Isaac, God has provided His Son, Jesus the Christ, such that the righteous may live by faith.

When we speak directly to our Father in Heaven, He answers us directly.  Each and every one of us is able to respectfully approach and speak with God, thanks  be to the gift HE has given us in the death and resurrection of Jesus .  Jesus paid the price for your sin with His very body and blood.  Since our Baptism, you and I are clothed in the righteousness of Christ such that you and I may approach the Holy Throne of God seeking His council and, yes, even demanding answers.  When God looks upon you, He seea the One whom He loved before the beginning of time.  When you call out to Him for explanation, it is the Holy Spirit living within you who speaks with God.

So what of the answers?  Why don’t we lie awake at night and hear God whispering to us?  I would never suggest that God does NOT speak in words, although I DO know that He “speaks to us by His Son”.  And that message, those answers are recorded in Scripture.

When we ask “How can I deal with this illness?” – He answers in Isaiah 41:10b

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

When we ask “Why must our loved one(s) die?” – He answers in John 11:4

“This illness does not lead to death, It is for the glory of God,
so that the son of God may be glorified through it.

When we ask “How can we meet our financial needs?” – He answers in Philippians 4:12b-13

“I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

You see?  God hears.  He understands.  Let us not moan about how God has laid trials out in our lives.  The evil one, the Liar is doing everything he can to weaken our faith, to strike and claw out our trust that God has and will provide for our needs.  Let us have faith that we can approach God personally. Go to Him in confidence that He loves you and cares for you and wants only what is best for you.  Have faith.  Your sins are forgiven.  And the Promise will return to bring you to your heavenly home.  To live with God the Father, God the Promise and God the Holy Spirit – for all eternity.  – Amen

[STAND]
At any time you and I cry out in anxiousness or fear – He hears and responds in  Philippians 4:6-7

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Amen.

While we know…

Posted: 5 March 2011 in Ramblings

…the peace we find in our faith and the joy we have knowing that all our sins have been forgiven, some are distressed because they do not know how to help others find it. Those of us who have been brought to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ sometime have difficulty when we discuss our faith with our friends who have not been so blessed (yet?).   While we know…

…that all followers of Jesus the Christ wish to share their peace and joy with their unbelieving friends. The peace we find in Christ is not logical and the joy we have exceeds any other happiness we can experience in our lives. Yet, it can be frustrating when our friends simply don’t understand when we try to communicate these things.  While we know…

…that some disciples of Jesus have been led to understand that their inability to ‘bring friends to Christ’ is a representation of THEIR lack of faith. They are told that if their faith was strong enough, then they would escort more friends into a saving faith in Jesus.   This is most unfortunate. For those who believe are NOT the ones responsible for “bringing people to faith” or as some would say “bringing them to Jesus”. When folks are walking in their own way, the prophet Jeremiah (31:18) tells us that it is the Lord who does the turning, “...bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the LORD my God.”  Believers cannot force or rationally explain faith into anyone. It is God Himself who performs the work, the action. For our Lord tells us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44 emphasis added)  While we know…

…that God shall raise those who believe in Jesus, some might ask “what means does God use to do this?” Simply stated, the means of grace. In regard to talking with unbelievers, an important ‘means’ would be speaking the Word of God to them. As the Apostle Paul instructs us in Romans, “So, faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (10:17) Offering living examples of the teachings of our Savior through our interactions with the fallen world around us. Speaking explicitly from Scripture of the teachings of our Lord. Quoting the promises of the world’s Messiah:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

or

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)

and one, among MANY, more

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

So what’s the ‘short answer’ to the question “how do we bring more people to faith in Christ?”

The short answer is……We don’t……God does.

God’s peace to all of you….while we wait.

While we wait…

Posted: 21 February 2011 in Ramblings

..we’re given things to do which enrich our understanding of what we wait for. Having spent two years with one international on-line gaming community as a server admin and unofficial chaplain, I have become involved with a beloved group of brothers-in-arms in a separate gaming ‘clan’. While we wait…

…we’re led into new places in which to gain our enrichment. I’ve been with ‘the church’* [note my small ‘c’] for just short of a year now and have found friendships amidst men who have become dear to me. ‘The church’ is not a Christian congregation, nor are all her members necessarily believers in my Lord Jesus Christ, yet they welcomed me into their midst and created an official ‘Chaplain’ position for ‘Worf’.  Since then, God continues to work through them by illustrating the need which is ever-present among internet communities. A need for the Gospel to be shared as a way of life without requirement for ‘pay back’. (Romans 3:28)  While we wait…

…we guided into the midst of others who portray the need we seek to fill.  The history of ‘the church’ won’t be shared here. Suffice it to say that her members are all either active military, military veterans or military retirees with a few exceptions. Besides service to their country, they also share an interest in simulated combat situations. Their vocabulary would cause most folks’ mothers’ hair to over-curl or perhaps fall out, plus their banter amongst themselves is typical of those whose lives have been forever changed (improved?) by a stay in the military. Their humor may be seen, by some, as…warped…. but when it is set aside, there is a camaraderie which can ONLY be found amongst those who have served as our nation’s finest example of selfless people.  Finally, while we wait…

…God continues to use us in ways we may not understand.  As I describe ‘the church’ to believing friends, some suggest that I find a “more wholesome” place to enjoy my gaming hobby. There are even some in ‘the church’ who have asked me why I, as one in the ministry, want to hang around those who know they’re lost and forsaken. One asked, “Aren’t you afraid for your soul hanging around us?” My response? The words of our Savior Jesus Christ, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

Soli Deo Gloria

*more about ‘the church’ at a later time