Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Most Wonderful [Anti-Enthusiast] Time of the Year, Part 2

As a follow up to my previous post:

...are those "wise men" who travelled to a specific location in Bethlehem worshiping the King of Kings by presenting tangible gifts contained in actual BOXES!?!? "God in a box" jokes aside for a moment, when do we get to the relativistically gnostic spiritualism part of this story?

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'

"Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.' Then they shall dwell in their own land."

Jeremiah 23:5-7

The Most Wonderful [Anti-Enthusiast] Time of the Year

I have to say that this time of year warms the cockles of my objectively-minded, confesionally Lutheran heart. It is this time of of year when we hear the story of how The Son, the second person of the triune godhead, came down from heaven and took on human flesh only to be laid in a man-made feeding trough for livestock so that shepherds and and magi could come and worship.

...or as I sum it up for my charismatic Christian friends:

"Look! There's God putting Himself in a box just as He had promised us all the way back the Garden of Eden! And look there! There's Mary placing that incarnate box in yet another box filled with hay as they all rest from the elements inside a large box designed to house livestock. So... "God in a box" has been placed in a box which is inside another box ...sure does make you wonder, huh?"

Have a blessed Christmas filled with joy as we celebrate the tangible, objective truth from a God who has promised to reveal Himself to man through Word and Sacrament.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - Examples of Faith

Yesterday was the commemoration of Daniel and the three young men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). You can read about it here.

Some thoughts about this story. First, lets not forget that if they had just done the simple act of kneeling before the idol of their captors, the fiery furnace would have never happened. Let us not forget that persecution is a response to a stand that a believer takes... a stand that--if not taken--assures you a life free of persecution for your faith. I would submit that part of the reason why the American church is not persecuted today is because she has done everything that the pagan culture has asked of her.

Second, let's look at this picture of what real faith looks like. In the face of future uncertainty, they cling to God's merciful provision and remain adamant to live the life to which they have been called... the essence of "Thy Will Be Done."

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." [Daniel 3:16-18]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thankfully, God Hates Divorce!

Rev Eric Brown was talking about the Christian view of divorce a few days ago. You can find that conversation here. Someone named "Jace" left the following comment on the thread:



divorce is necessary for many who are trapped in an unhealthy relationship, i do not believe God would allow man to live his life unhappy just to prove he is faithful


As is my custom, I blew him off with a derisive laugh and a sharp comment, but I've been thinking alot about what Jace said. It takes at least 24 hours for my maturity to kick in. All too often we look at divorce from a man-centered point of view... as if what the Scriptures have to say about divorce only applies to our various situations. But there is incredible gospel here if one takes the time to look!

How blessed we are that God does not think the way that Jace thinks He does about marriage and divorce! ...for God Himself is deeply grieved by the sins of man and yet remains faithful to His marriage covenant to Israel through Christ Jesus our Lord. He proves His faithfulness to us in spite of our dreadful adultery and whoring as we greive Him with our idolatry and wickedness. He has borne our griefs and endured our blasphemies and yet does not cut us off from His love and covenant.

For God has rescued Jerusalem from the bonds of slavery and called her to Himself as His bride and has adorned her with blessings and riches beyond compare:

"When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD." [Ezekiel 16:8-14]

And this chosen bride took those gifts and turned to whoring after other gods and presented these lavish gifts that God had given to her various other lovers:

"But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be.You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord GOD. And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood." [Ezekiel 16:15-22]

...and yet, God did not cast Jerusalem aside and divorce her from His sight in spite of her filth and treachery, but he seeks her out and draws her to Himself and promises forgiveness, hope, reconciliation, and points to His steadfast keeping of His covenant to her through grace:

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me 'My Husband,' and no longer will you call me 'My Baal.' For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD." [Hosea 2:14-20]

So God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, born of a virgin. This savior, fully God and fully man, lived the perfect life that we could not and died on the cross to bear our guilt and shame so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." [Ephesians 5:25-32]

Jesus Christ, the Lamb, sanctifies and cleanses His church (Israel) "by the washing of water with the word" so that He might present the church to Himself without spot or blemish. And so, in spite of her wickedness and adultery, God does not cast His chosen people aside, but renews and purifies them on account of Christ by the power of the Gospel through the Means of Grace: Word and Sacrament which are the marks of the church and the essence of the apostolic Christian faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." [Revelation 21:9-14]

Rejoice Jerusalem! Praise be to God for His steadfast love, faithfulness, and grace!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Word of the Day

Conversate (kon-VER-sate)..... as in:

"That person is difficult to conversate with."

Please... please... please... this monsterous perversion of the English language is not a word. Maybe you are having trouble "conversate-ing" because that person speaks English and you do not. Trust me, the word that you are looking for is: "converse". Let's fix that sentence.

"That person is difficult to converse with."

Much better.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An Ethical Position Stands on Something

An ethical system is a wall made of many interlocking stones. They all effect each other and the higher ones rest on what exists beneath it. You do not build a wall from the top down, but from the bottom up. You lay foundation stones and then stack other stones upon the ones laid before in a systematic and thoughtful way. The base stones carry the most weight. In this analogy, they are the basic principles of any ethical system. From this foundation, more advanced concepts are developed, derive their context, and are provided their significance.

But no stone in a wall floats freely at its appropriate height, but must first be placed and rest on the lower stones. A stone by itself, devoid of support and context, will not keep out evil. Building up ethics is as time consuming and tedious as building a wall. You must lay stone upon stone and build up the structure piece by piece.

In the ancient ways of warfare, a popular way of taking down a defensive wall was to undermine it. Tunnels would be dug beneath the wall to deprive the foundation stones of their stability. Once the security on which the wall was built was compromised, the entire wall collapsed under its own weight. Defending the top of the wall was not enough in this case. The bottom of the wall was also in great danger.

Today, the carefully built wall of the Judeo-Christian ethical system is being undermined--not from above, but from below. It is the foundation that needs to be defended and secured, but the majority of the defenders remain on the ramparts worried about their pet piece of the rampart. It is no wonder that these defenders (like the "Moral Majority" and the "Religious Right" as examples) find themselves tumbling to the ground as their footing gives way. They had no idea where the attacks were actually directed.

Lets be honest: topics like gay marriage, contraception, and divorce are pretty high up on the wall. They rest on the stones of selflessness, duty, love, compassion, patience, dedication, integrity, sacrifice, gender roles and differences, and even vocation. Topics like evolution, higher criticism, and narcissistic theological interpretations rest on the stones of scriptural authority. Those lower stones are the ones that are really under attack and those are the ones that must be reinforced, secured, and replaced... first! The failure at the higher levels is just a symptom of the foundation problem. Trying to dress the cracks in the mortar at the top is not going to address the fundamental threat.

Yes... the entire wall is important. The entire wall must be defended, but do not think that the top of the wall--or even the middle of the wall--can stand on its own if the bottom falls out from underneath it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Everything in Love (Even a Rebuke!)

Christians do good works to help and serve their neighbor. Everything is out of love and concern... EVERYTHING.

Even a rebuke must come out of concern for the spiritual health and safety of our neighbor. We do not rebuke because we know that we are right and they are wrong (as the Pharisees did). We rebuke out of the same concern that a parent has when they try to stop a child from touching a hot stove.

So even when the law is applied to secure sinners, it is not done out of wrath, pride, or vengeance... but from the selfless love that flows from the Holy Spirit who does not desire the death of the sinner, but that the wicked would repent and live! [Ezekiel 18:32]. If we are to emulate Christ, we must learn to come from this same place of selflessness and compassion.

This should be a constant petition in our prayers, because none of us do this as we should. We do not love our neighbors as we ought. We want to defeat them and be better than them. We want to stand in the high places, be respected, and have the authority to correct their errors and stand in judgment of their life choices. We want to be the gurus that are respected for our sage advice. But who among us can boast? Who is so free of sin that they can feel confident to cast the first stone of condemnation in any situation?

We are not called to be the greatest. We are called to be the least. We share in the cross and in Christ's humility. By the power of the gift of a living faith, the Holy Spirit that dwells in us creates new passions and naturally produces fruit such as love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the great gifts of God that we must share with our neighbor. How will anyone know God's love and mercy through you if they are shown nothing but hardness of heart, enmity, anger, and pride?

Entering the Mission Field

I have seen signs at the exits of churches or as you leave their parking lots that say:

"You are now entering the mission field."

I understand this sentiment. I get it. But... does that mean that the church is not a mission field?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Judging Others... in the Positive Sense?

When we think about "judging others" we almost always approach the topic from the same direction. We talk about being overly critical of others from a sense of superiority. We talk about dealing with people in the negative direction. I wonder, "Is that all that's to this?"

I've been thinking that this way of judging is not the only way that Christians judge their neighbors... and in my estimation it is probably not even the most harmful way that we judge. Nobody likes a self-righteous critic, but--thinking out of the box for a second--what happens when we judge the heart of another in the opposite direction... not negatively, but positively?

In dealing with other Christians especially, what happens when we judge others in the positive direction by assuming that this person is spiritually equipped enough to the point that we don't need to teach doctrine... or remind them the gospel that saves and redeems sinners? What happens when we look at a "leader" in the church like a pastor, elder, "strong Christian" in the congregation, or even a spiritual mentor, and wrongly just assume that they have it all figured out because of their outward appearances? What happens when we judge them to have the gospel locked down at all times? What happens when we assume that they don't need to hear the Word of God for themselves?

We know the analogies of the wheat and the chaff or the sheep and the goats. When the topic of judging others comes up with these analogies, we naturally assume that we shouldn't treat wheat like chaff or assume that a sheep is a goat... but can't the mistake can go the other way too?

No sinner is "too good" for the Gospel. No person is "so spiritual" that they have no use for the Gospel. No one has "plenty of time" to grow in Christ at some later date. No neighbor is so mature as a Christian that they have no use for your evangelism. No one is strong enough that they are beyond the need for encouragement from you. There is no situation where the Gospel "goes without saying" or where there is a particular truth "that does not need to be verbalized".

The church is full of people that have been written off as being beyond all hardship or struggle. In my experience, these are the ones who languish in a place of greatest need.

Friday, December 3, 2010

God's Law: The Universal Context in All Human Cultures

There is alot of talk about "contextualization" these days. The idea is that, since cultures are all different, you have to place your mission approach into that culture's (or subculture's) context. While this is true about basic apologetic approaches, it is a false argument to assert that the church's mission can only be successful if it adopts contextual approaches unique to each culture.


Because it overlooks the fact that there is one universal context that all human cultures have in common... by virtue of the fact that they are human.

God's Law and original sin. There is no culture that can avoid this context. They may ignore it or describe it differently, but this crucible sits at the core of every human experience. There is no culture, group, sect, or individual who does not understand this fundamental struggle because it is a part of everyone's nature since the fall.

To frame missional approaches by any other context is to dance around the central theme that binds all human cultures together and cuts to the center of the human problem: sin. Do you want to be contextual and relevant? Rightly divide Law and Gospel.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Addiction: The Speck in Your Brother's Eye

Whenever the topic of repentance comes up, you always hear people bring up the topic of addictions and habitual sinners. They will bring up the guy who struggles with his particular sin constantly and--while he comes back for forgiveness time and again--never seems to gain any traction in resisting this particular problem. It is usually something like alcohol, drugs, violence, and pornography.

This matter is obviously a complex issue that is well within the grounds of individual pastoral care between a sinner and his minister.

That said, what is often the case is that individuals who bring up this situation are only talking about "those people" over there. The addicts. I saw this alot in the you-should-be-getting-progressively-more-holy-and-sin-less-and-less mentality of evangelicalism, but it strikes right here in Lutheranism as well. Too often, the implication here is that these people who struggle with habitual sin are just not serious. They are luke-warm Christians and hypocrites. They are taking advantage of God's mercy by not fighting their addiction hard enough. What they really need is to get their lives in order.

My response to such thinking is: "...and how is it that YOU do not consider yourself an addict? Are you not addicted to lying? Are you not addicted to envy? Do you not repent over and over again and yet continually fall back into taking the Lord's holy name in vain, despising the proclamations of His word, and trusting in the false gods of your own making? Do you not find yourself getting bored or thinking about other things during divine worship? Do you not refuse charity to those in need so that you can have all the riches you desire? How is it that you do not consider yourself a gossip addict? Do you not laugh at crude jokes, think impurely of others, and even commit murder in thought if not deed?"

"In what way do you not continually dishonor your parents and other authorities? In what way do you not habitually and constantly violate your marriage vows or stain the purity of chastity in singleness. Why do you read God's Law and get the notion that you do not daily struggle with loving God above all things and loving your neighbor as yourself? Do you not get off on the 'high' that your sinning gives you? Does it not shame you to the point where you hide your sins from your neighbors, friends, and family? How are your addictions any different? Do you think that God gives you a free pass because your dependency is not chemical or because your wretched acts don't leave any track marks on your arms? Why is it that you are just not taking your sin problem seriously enough? Why don't you stop? If you are honest, you realize that you can't. You have a problem. You are an addict, too. The old adam in you is addicted to sin and can't get enough. Just admit it and receive the ever present gospel remedy."

The obvious addict who falls into sin again and again and returns to God for forgiveness 70 times 7 times is not the exception. It is merely a more apparent example of what happens in all of us. The truth is that you are exactly like other men... even that sinner over there. The constant, unrelenting struggle against sin is the picture of the Christian life as we labor and wait for the perfection of our flesh on the Last Day.

So take advantage of God's mercy which is offered to you freely and without condition because of Christ Jesus who purchased you, a poor miserable sinner, by death on the cross. The real tragedy is not the individual who struggles with particular sins, but the poor soul who does not realize that his need for constant and repeated forgiveness through the Gospel of Christ Jesus is just as great--if not greater--than his neighbor's need. Even repentance itself is a free gift of God since people who are dead in the trespasses and sins do not turn to God or love Him. We are by nature sinful and unclean. We are desperately sick and are in need of the Great Physician, Christ, who did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance [Luke 5:32]. By the power of the Holy Spirit, put to death the old flesh and make no provision for sin as you await the eternal rest that will come to all who believe when our Savior returns to judge the living and the dead.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sound Doctrine: A Source of Unity

It is a common complaint that digging too deeply into doctrines, standing firmly on positions, and even formulating creedal and confessional statements to express our beliefs is divisive. It is an activity that always harms the unity of the Body of Christ.

I submit that this is not true. While unnecessary speculation and the development of previously unknown doctrines does cause schism and division in the church, seeking to formulate a solid confession of "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" is the exact opposite of division. In fact, it is unity.

The clear expression of the faith is the language of the Body of Christ. This common tongue unites us rather than divides us. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit that overcomes all of the confusion and babel. We gather together around common ideas rather than wandering aimlessly in the chaotic masses as we search to hear a single common voice out of the din of a myriad of human opinions.

And even in those places where confessions differ, the first step to resolving these issues is to identify where the sources of difference lie. How can people with two differing opinions ever learn from each other if neither knows the clear position of the other?

Clear doctrinal statements also remove the temptation to judge people's motives. When someone demonstrates a willingness to engage in full disclosure and works to remove doubts about his intentions and private opinions, the seeds of trust can finally grow. Clearly revealing someone's foundational ideas and presuppositions helps to provide a context for all further discussion so that no one need to wonder if he should "read inbetween the lines" or search for hidden meanings that reveal his brother's true purposes.

It is only in the hands of the tyrants, heterodox, schismatics, and rebellious that differing opinions cause division. This is not the fault of the proclamation of truth, but is a manifestation of the sinful deficiencies in all human beings.

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Langauge

10. Faith

I can hear it now, "WOAH THERE, Buddy! You have gone to far now! How can "Faith" be Law?"

Answer: When it is perverted and twisted by sinful man so that it is a quality that man possesses and maintains rather than a gift from God. When it is understood to be nothing more than the understanding possessed by the devil and his angels... or when it is understood to be a synonym for "doing right by God"... or when it is henotheistically understood that non-Christians can possess the same qualities as Christians when it comes to "having faith" in something.

When the church talks about faith, it is talking about belief and hope... in what? That's an important question because in the Biblical definition of "faith" that word always has an object that it points to: Faith... in Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Savior of the World. On top of that, it is not a human creation, but is something that is given by the Holy Spirit as pure gift. Faith, rightly understood, is extra nos. It comes from outside of you as a gift from the Holy Spirit.

The world has a different meaning for the same word and you start to hear Christians using it more and more these days. This faith needs no object. It is a cognitive analysis of trust that is given from the individual that possesses it... usually based on evidence or convincing propositions. This kind of faith is better described as "loyalty" or "allegiance". The military oath of enlistment has the phrase "I will bear true faith and allegiance". That is what we are talking about. I know that this is a little bit of hair-splitting on words, but the practical application of this seemingly minor difference is truly significant. This is how a word as fundamental to the Gospel as "faith" can become a human quality that must be preserved by human effort... and therefore is perverted into Law.

Many times you will hear people talk about "having faith", or about how their "faith is important to them", or that they are a "people of faith", or that they are afraid they are "losing their faith", or even that they "have faith in Jesus". When you investigate through asking questions, you learn that this word they are using does not really have an object and is something that they have to preserve through their effort. It is a very secular use of the term... a term that they do not really understand from a theological perspective. You learn that this "faith" word is really a pious sounding synonym for "loyalty" or "obedience".

This is where decision theology comes in. It takes the gift of faith and blurs it. It confuses it by making it seem as though the work of the Holy Spirit is not the free gift of "faith". Instead, it makes the Holy Spirit seem as though He is an advisor or salesman that provides very convincing promptings and propositions that influence the sovereign individual and cause them to decide to have faith in what is being presented.

...then you start to wonder in times crisis........ did I respond in faith properly? Did I do it right? Did I do it enough? Should I do it again?


Decoding Law Usage in Modern Langauge

8. "What Would Jesus Do?" (WWJD)

Who can forget about WWJD?!? Oh man, that was a huge fad when I was in school! The really appealing thing about it is that it is complete and total Law... but it has "Jesus" in the name so people think it's Gospel. To counter increasing teen promiscuity, drug use, violence, and lewdness (in the church especially), this program sought to create a kind of cosmic version of Simon says. The idea behind it is "Jesus wouldn't do that so you don't do that either." or "Jesus would do this so you have to make it happen." Just like the implied imperatives we talked about before, WWJD is built on the same concept except Jesus is in place of Moses and His perfect life is in place of the two stone tablets.

You think this fad is dead? Think again. Yeah, some Jehovah's Witness wannabe hasn't handed me one of those cheapo bracelets in a while, but just yesterday I heard a woman on national television use "WWJD" as the reason behind a particular behavior choice. The problem with fads is that--once they die--they are very susceptible to necromancy. The zombie-returned-from-the-grave-to-haunt-us version of "WWJD" is "Christ Follower". More on that in a minute.

Getting back on point, some people did their best to turn "WWJD" into a Gospel message. They started going with "WDJD" and "WHJD" for "What Did Jesus Do" and "What Has Jesus Done". I know some people love this turn of phrase, but it really is garbage. First of all, it is only kind of sort of Gospel-ish. It is a classic case of talking about the Gospel without ever mentioning the Gospel. The problem here is that the implication of the question is too vague. Jesus DID alot of stuff... like heal the sick... feed the poor... teach really neat lessons about loving people. Secondly, the "What Did Jesus Do" got perverted and it has largely become the Gospel guilt trip to motivate people to do more law. As in, "Jesus died for you and you are going to repay Him by acting like this?!?" Not good. Read C.F.W. Walther's Thesis XV in his Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.

9. Christ Follower

Trendy guys with square-framed glasses, designer shoes, frosted highlights, $150 jeans, and artificial tans came up with this term a while back. Thankfully, I had left the Purpose Driven movement in time to miss this one. For 2,000 years, the church has used words like "Christians", "Believers", "The Faithful", "The Elect", "Brothers and Sisters" and "Saints" to describe those who have been won by Christ.

Apparently this was just not good enough. We took the ideas already expressed in WWJD and made a new kind of disciple who was obsessed with the moralistic example of Jesus instead of the saving work of Jesus. Unlike most people, I don't think that this was just a move solely motivated by contemporary impulses. They keep words like "tithe" and "Bible", so why ditch traditional name of the people in the religion? It's not about being contextual because "tithe" is much more offensive than "believer". I think there is an actual theological argument being made here and it all has to do with Gospel and Law. Stay with me:

Traditionally understood, "Christians" and "Believers" are made. Alot of people say that they became a Christian, but a more exact term is that you were made a Christian. God creates faith. We put on Christ through the waters of baptism. No one comes to Christ unless the Father draws them to Him. We are sons and heirs of the Kingdom and everyone knows that you don't decide to become an heir. You are made one. You are born again... something totally out of your control. This concept is Gospel.

We can't have that though in the Law-dominated church. Already weakened by decision theology and revivalism (thanks for nothing, Charles Finney...), this historic understanding of God making Christians has been thrown out the window and replaced with something that places the emphasis on the man and not God. A "Christ Follower" is one who follows Christ. It's right there in the name. Do Christians follow Christ? Of course, but what I am pointing out is a change of emphasis. We have gone from language that was largely understood in mongeristic terms to a focus on the human activity that occurs in response to faith: i.e. discipleship. Those are works... and if you listen to some of these seeker-sensitive guys, they think that the start of this "following" process can precede coming to the faith and prepare someone for conversion! MMmm... smells like... legalism... and sulfer....

"Christ Follower" is not just dumb and unneccesary... it's a Law term. It's not even a good Law term because Law and Gospel are badly confused in how it is explained and defined.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Geography Class, Islam, and the Gospel

I vividly remember sitting in World Geography one day in High School. By this time I had become a good little Pharisee in the Purpose Driven and Contemporary Praise Band movements of the Southern Baptist Convention. I remember watching a few films in class about various world religions. I honestly can't tell you the name of the film series or even the individuals they got to speak on the program. I do remember a young charismatic Muslim with a Koran in his hand speaking about the merits of his religion.

At one point he said something to the effect of, "Islam actually tells you what you need to do and then tells you how to do these things. Christianity does not do this. This is the strength of Islam. It teaches the principles and then it teaches you how to actually live by what it teaches."

For a moment, my young impressionable mind was threatened by what he had said. It was true that I carried a great deal of guilt and sense of failure about these standards that I was supposed to meet. For a moment, the legalist in me envied the Muslim for his attainable religion. Then my charismatic sensibilities kicked back in. "He's totally off base!" I mused. I thought back to all the practical preaching I had sat through. I thought about all the promises and commitments I had made. I thought about all the principles that my church had shown us buried in the Scriptures. We had Purpose, Spiritual Gift Surveys, the Prayer of Jabez, Promise Keepers, Small Groups, Accountability Partners, etc, etc. All the "progress" I had been making along the path. I thought about all of the works and steps and programs. I thought about all the training in sanctification.

Over the next couple years, I was impressed by the progress that the church was making in these areas. Eventually, the "Bible as Life's Instruction Manual" had been perfected and several cottage industries had sprung up in support of it. In my own mind I had thought back to that guy in class and been proud of how we sure were proving that silly Muslim wrong!

Looking back, that Muslim understood the Law in the Christian Bible better than I did. The reason why I found such commonality in my own faith and his description of Islam was that my faith was in my own works. The proof was in the things that I turned to for comfort: my works. I thought I was pulling things off just like he did. I was a legalist... just like him. No wonder we had so much in common.

Where was Christ in all of that? Did Christ even matter and was He even needed? On what had I set my hope and faith? Did I really believe in Christ or was "belief in Christ" just another self-righteous work that I had achieved on my way to pleasing God? All of the other stuff had obscured the cross... the very thing that I needed most.

The missing piece that he had not said on that video was something that I should have been clinging to all along. Yes, the Christian Law cannot be followed by sinful man. Yes, it cannot be done because it must be done perfectly. That is true. But Christ has fulfilled the Law on my behalf and justified me, a poor miserable sinner, through His vicarious atonement by death on the cross. There is nothing left for me to do. Christ has done it all in my stead.

And yet many churches today fall for the arguement that I first heard from this Muslim in Geography class. The church has to be practical. It has to be relevant and achievable.

It has to be like Islam. Achievable Law... no Gospel required.

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Language

7. "Have to", "Got to", "Ought to", "Need to", "Should", and "Must"

Along with their Southern Baptist cousins "Havta", "Gotta", "Otta", "Needta", and "Shoulda", these words are all verbs and verb phrases. Verbs--as I'm sure you learned in grammar class--are action words. Now when one thinks of the Law, one thinks of direct verbs that you use when you want to form a good imperative phrase. An imperative phrase is a command... which is Law. "You start acting right." and "You repent!" This is obviously Law and, when we think of Law preaching, we invision some red-faced parson yelling these kinds of phrases at his parishoners with a finger wagging.

But it doesn't just stop there. Verbs can be used to make all kinds of phrases. How about an indicative phrase? Indicatives are descriptive statements. Here's a good example: "Fathers should be spending time with their kids." Or here's one: "The people of this church are a people who care about the poor." Now one wouldn't think that phrases in the indicative mood are Law exactly. That's not "fire and brimstone" stuff. It's just good advice and descriptive phrases, right? Indicative mood isn't Law, right? Check out your Ten Commandments:

1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
4. Honor your father and your mother.
5. You shall not murder.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

...well what do you know! The LAW of Moses is all indicatives! They aren't in the command mood at all, but are--in fact--descriptions of what good behavior looks like. And yet the Law always accuses... because you do not meet this discription, do you? That's the implied imparative inside of most Law-based indicatives. Everyone knows the mom who uses the indicative, "We don't curse in this house." The command is implied. She is saying, "Stop cursing!"

So when a pastor says, "Fathers should be spending time with their kids." The implied command is "Take care of your kids!" When a pastor says, "We need to be a people who care deeply about lost people." The implied command is, "Get off your lazy butt and go care deeply about lost people."

If it has to do with human action the statement is Law no matter how it's worded. When understood and analyzed, we find that most churches these days are actually 90% or more about Law and Law-related concepts.

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Language

3. "Principle" can mean an "idea" or "concept", but in the modern church it is a Law term.

Principle: 1. a basic generalization that is accepted as true and that can be used as a basis for reasoning or conduct; 2. a rule or standard especially of good behavior; 3. a rule or law concerning a natural phenomenon or the function of a complex system; 4. a rule of personal conduct.

Coming from a Latin root that means "foundation" or "beginning", a principle is a rule or standard. It is a system of conduct. It is a work. It is law.

4. "Step" as in "Here are four easy steps to a happy marriage" is mega-Law [for full effect say "mega-Law" out loud like you are booming into a mega phone at a monster truck ralley].

Step: A measure: any maneuver made as part of progress toward a goal; "the situation called for strong measures so the police took steps to reduce crime".

If it is something that you must do, it is a work and therefore it falls under the purview of the Law.

5. "Purpose" as in "Purpose Driven Church" or "Purpose Driven Life" or "Discover Your Purpose" etc, etc, etc, etc

Purpose: 1. A result, end, aim, or goal of an action intentionally undertaken, or of an object being brought into use or existence, whether or not the purpose was a primary or secondary effect. 2. A function: what something is used for.

Every tool has a purpose. That purpose is to perform a specific kind of work. Those are Law categories.

6. "Love" as in "We don't get all tied up in doctrine. It's just important to love God and love other people."

Love... Perhaps you should get tied up in doctrine because you have no idea what you are talking about. You think you are protecting against legalism, but the Law is summarized in our love for God and our neighbors. This one doesn't need a dictionary definition. Instead, what is appropriate is a Bible verse:

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And [Jesus] said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

-Matthew 22:36-40

Decoding Law Usage in Modern Language

Often times, the common misunderstanding is that the contemporary church is Antinomian and is not teaching much of anything. The truth is that they are often teaching nothing but the Law. They may be doing it badly and they may be using non-Biblical language to do it, but the themes are essentially Law when they are analyzed. Just because the Law is delivered with a hands-off smile and some trendy music doesn't make it any less distressing for those who hear it. Allow me decode some of the langague for you.

1. "Encouragement" is almost always a Law term.

Encouragement: 1. the expression of approval and support. 2. The act of encouraging; incitement to action or to practice; as, the encouragement of youth in generosity; That which serves to incite, support, promote or advance, as favor, countenance, reward etc.; incentive; increase of confidence.

A term from Old French that means "to put in courage", encouragement is used several ways in contemporary churches. They are almost always related to the Law. Most often, encouragement is used to "encourage" someone to do a particular thing... which is a work... which is Law. There is also a kind of encouragement which is intended to lift the spirit up (which is not the same as the "hope" one finds in hearing the Gospel). In this use, it is almost to counter discouragement which is a consequence of previous applications of the Law. Instead of providing the Gospel, this form almost always turns us back to more works. This is what we converts who have left Purpose Drivenism cynically call the "rat wheel". Most often encouragement in Christian circles is equated with "strength for the day" which is essentially the power to do what you are supposed to do. That's Law... fuzzy-sounding hippy kind of law... but Law none the less.

2. "Practical" is another Law term.

Practical: concerned with actual use or practice

Having something in the church that possess the quality of being "practical" sounds good... but then again the Law makes alot of sense to us because it is written on our hearts. Practical means that you can do something with it. That's a work. That's Law. It may be nice, useful Law... but it's still Law.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Psych on Biblical Knowledge

As indicated by my "Skydiving Judi Dench" reference, I am a big fan of the TV show Psych. Here is a wonderfully hilarious case of art imitating life. :P


Shawn: "Samson, that's just a great name. Straight out of film noir, like an old detective who drinks hard, but loves even harder. Or, go with me on this, Samson, a tiny little orphan mouse who must find his way home to Wolverhampton."

Gus: "...Or Samson, the legendary figure from the Bible."

Shawn: "Naw, that doesn’t work. All those guys had names like Ben Hur and Prometheus."

Gus: "You have never read the Bible, have you, Shawn?"

Shawn: [counting the book titles on his fingers] "Pfffhh. Genesis. Exorcist. Leviathan. Dooo…the right thing…"

Gus: "Oh. My gosh."

Lassiter: "Stop Talking!"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What Have I Been Missing?!?

I just ate something called "Bacon Ends and Pieces".

Skydiving Judi Dench! ....why in the world do they cut the tastiest part of bacon off?!?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Proper Perspective and Materialism

It's sad when pagans understand certain ethical matters better than many Christians. A while ago I came across this clever quote:

"He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Finally Counting the Cost

The feature article for the November edition of Lutheran Witness is interesting. It is called "Living a Life of Significance in a Post-Christian Culture" by Dr. Kurt Senske. You can find the article here.

I have to admit, the title worried me when I first saw it. An article with that kind of title could go a bunch of ways in the wrong hands. With great relief I saw that there were no trendy gimmicks or new doctrines here. Instead, Dr. Senske did a fantastic job of communicating some very old ideas about the doctrine of vocation in a fresh, new way that uses the modern language of today's audience to address the modern perceptions of the timeless problems of discipleship. It's a good read.

I got to thinking about the topics discussed in this article in view of the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Dr. Senske's reference to Bonhoeffer reminded me of many things that I had considered for the first time when reading the "Cost of Discipleship".

It's sad really. Sometimes I get it in my head that I am pulling this off to some extent. I look at the Pearl of Great Price and think that I am eagerly selling all that I have and turning my back on temporary materialism for the eternal treasure in Christ. I realize in my head and my heart that these things pass away and that my security is in Jesus. Then what happens? The moth comes in and destroys. The thieves break in and steal. The cost of discipleship actually requires something of me more than mere lip-service. The cause of Christ heaps the smallest amount of shame, persecution, and hardship on me. The test comes.

...and I find myself resenting it.

I find myself hating that I can't have my cake and eat it too. I find myself disappointed and dissatisfied. I find myself getting angry that the wicked prosper and the cheaters always seem to finish first. I find myself upset that I am losing at a pointless game that I told myself I was no longer playing. I talk a good game about being counter-cultural, but my heart is not in the fight like I thought it was. I realize that in my heart of hearts I really want it both ways. I want the Pearl of Great Price and I want my worldly treasures. Like the disciples, I claim to be willing to follow Christ to death, but I shun participating in His rejection and shame.

I want to be a disciple of Christ..... but also remain a son of the world at the same time. The truth is that I really love this materialism and self-worship. Denial of self just causes me to miss self-gratification more intensely. I've been paying bills with my mouth that my pocket can't afford. I've been arrogantly building my tower and have not first sat down to count the cost. What does this theology of the cross really mean in my life? Where has my heart been set really?

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Day - The Church Militant Continues Her 2,000 Year Journey of Reformation and Exile

In 1949, a communist uprising and takeover within the Republic of China resulted in the Chinese Civil War. The war ended with the freedom of mainland China being handed over to the communist dictatorship that remains to this day. The original government, still called the Republic of China was forced into exile to the island off the coast of their country.

The usurping government took the name "People's Republic of China" even though the humanitarian record of the regime proved that it is not a government of the "People" and it is only superficially a "Republic". The power, size, and propaganda of the communist government has been such that the name "China" now refers to the communist regime and the Republic of China in exile has been largely forgotten. They still call themselves "The Republic of China" 50+ years later, but everyone knows them as "Taiwan".

If you say "China", people think of the communists. If you try to call Taiwan the "Republic of China" to the uninitiated, great confusion abounds. Yet the people of Taiwan remain true to their roots and look forward to the day when freedom may return to their homeland.

On this day, hundreds of years ago, a reform movement from within the western church began to restore the freedom of the Gospel to millions of Christians. The defense of the gospel met with only limited success and the reformers were expelled by imposters who stole the moniker "Catholic" (meaning "Universal") for themselves. These reformers in exile have come to be known as "Lutherans" a name as unfortunate as "Taiwanese" but a name that must exist to differentiate the tyrannical majority from the freedom-loving minority in exile.

Are the Taiwanese the Republic of China? Yes! And they are fully entitled to the name. Are the communists also called and well known as the Republic of China? Yes! ......but it is not a Republic in any real sense. Are they Chinese? Yes! ....but unfortunately they are also tyrannical communists.

By the same token the Lutheran church is catholic ("universal"). We are fully entitled to the name but it confuses the uninitiated. It is just easier to use the name "Lutheran" to tell us from those who are not Lutheran. Is the Roman Catholic church also called and well known as Catholic? Yes! ....but it is no longer "universal" in any real sense because it casts out Christians who seek to return her to the freedom of the Gospel. Are they Christian? Yes! ... but unfortunately they are also papists and legalistic enthusiasts.

Are there faithful Christians in Rome? Yes! ...but they labor for Christ under duress in spite of their church in the same way that communist government of China rules over her victimized, silenced, oppressed, and deceived citizens who are in desperate need of freedom and relief.

And so the Lutheran quest to reform the visible church here on earth and return her to the teaching of Scripture continues as she labors as an exiled, marginalized, and mocked minority. Lutheranism is in good company because--unlike the Chinese War that only occurred recently--the true church of Jesus Christ that clings to pure doctrine has always been rejected, hated, and rather small when she is compared to the false religions, persecuters, sects, heretics, and other enemies around and among her. The true church of Jesus always shares in Christ's rejection [Matt 21:42, John 16:33, Matt 10:5-42].

The Reformation of the middle ages was started by Martin Luther, but he is but one in a long line of prophetic voices of reform that have corrected error and legalism since the very dawn of the church 2,000 years ago. In fact, this lineage traces back through Christ's wrestling with the religious majority of His day, through John the Baptist, and through centuries of Old Testament prophets and judges who watched over the spiritual Isreal that was always kept by God within the visible body of the Israelites. Like those who come before us, we bold and faithful few continue to call ourselves and our neighbors back to Christ to hear the Word of the Lord and live in unity under the truth that was once for all delivered to the saints.

Let us always remain orthodox, catholic, and Christian as we hold steadfast to God's Word within the exile of the Lutheran Church... our island and last line of defense against legalistic tyranny and false doctrine.

The Church's One Foundation
Lyrics by Samuel J. Stone
Music by Charles Wesley
(LSB #644)

The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation
by water and the Word.
From heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation,
yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, "How long?"
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
with God the Three in One,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Folly of "Immersion Only Believer's Baptism... Only"

I used to hold that the only valid baptism was a believer's baptism (consenting confessing adult) by immersion (full dunking). Not only was that requirement not Biblical, I never stopped to consider what that means.

Using some rough estimates, here is what this accusation says when taken to its logical conclusion:

1.115 billion Roman Catholics are not properly baptized.
225 million Eastern Orthodox are not properly baptized.
75 million Calvinists are not properly baptized.
75 million Methodists are not properly baptized.
73 million Anglicans are not properly baptized.
72 million Oriental Orthodox are not properly baptized.
70 million Lutherans are not properly baptized.

...that adds up to almost 1.75 billion Christians currently living who are not properly baptized according to your particular interpretation of some pretty vague passages. It doesn't end there. Imagine if we add to that total the incalculable sum of all the Christians who ever lived and held to these denominations dating back to the early church. That is a HUGE majority of the church. This immense throng of your brothers and sisters were all baptized as infants.

You are saying they were never baptized and their rite is an erroneous violation of Holy Scripture. That's a pretty serious charge to make.... especially when you have no Biblical text that explicitly forbids the practice.

It's okay to make a charge that accuses so many faithful in all times and places if it is clearly supported by Scripture, but this is why the burden of proof is on the Anabaptists. The church shouldn't have to defend itself from such an unwarranted attack. Where is your clear proof? You are the ones accusing the majority of the current church and all or their ancestors of not being baptized in accordance with Christ's institution. That is a more serious charge than you realize. Since you consider baptism an ordinance of God, those who do not follow it are being disobedient. You are accusing 1.75 billion Christians and all their ancestors of disobedience to what Christ commanded of them. One should never accuse a brother of disobedience without clear proof from God's Word... especially when that blanket accusation numbers in the billions of brothers and sisters both living and dead.

Wouldn't you want to base such a sweeping accusation that effects so many of your fellow brothers and sisters on more than just mere human opinion, a few fallible lexicons and commentaries, and a textual interpretation that amounts to nothing more than the logical fallacy called "an argument from silence"?

.......if I'm going to publicly rebuke that much of the Body of Christ, I want to be absolutely sure that I am right beyond any and all doubt. I want to be able to point to some very clear passages that support my position and clearly reject all other positions.

Friday, October 29, 2010

My Dictum on Lutheran Practice

After over a year of throwing thousands upon thousands of cluttered words into the aether of the Lutheran blogosphere I have finally managed to cobble together a single witty phrase that appears relatively popular. Feel free to use it to impress (and anger) your friends and family.

You cannot have charismatic Lutheranism for the same reason that there are no flaming snowballs or air-filled vacuums.

Be ready to back this dictum up with the Smalcald Articles (Article VIII:3-13)

The Folly of "Getting Back on Track"

If you think of the repentance that comes with sanctification as a point where you decide to start "getting back on track" with God....

...I have to ask...

...when exactly where you ever ON track before?

Examine yourself in light of the Ten Commandments and be brutally honest with yourself.

Being on a track that is laid by the abilities of mere human achievement is not a train that I would want to be on... ever.

Repentance is not "getting back on track". That is the talk of legalistic moralism. Instead, repentance is the process of being drawn to the cross by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Folly of the "Bound Conscience"

Do not appeal to your "Bound Conscience" and be wary of those who do. To appeal to your captive conscience is pure folly. Why? Three reasons:

First, your conscience can be trained and conditioned. Your conscience is not sovereign and you exert influence (sometimes unintentionally) over your conscience. Appeals to conscience are all well and good so long as that conscience is sound, but consciences have also been appealed to for some of the most dastardly evil acts in history.

Second, you should not be bound to your conscience. Your conscience should be bound to the word of God. Do you see the subjectivism and subtle idolatry in the former and the humble piety of the latter? Your conscience is YOURS. Binding yourself to it is saying that you are binding your actions to yourself. That's not selflessness. That's narcissism. That is the road to egotistical self-righteousness.

Third, the Gospel of Christ is not about binding consciences but freeing them. A man who deals happily with his bound conscience wanders dangerously close to legalism. It is not the primary intent of the Law of God to hold people to a system of moral edicts. It is the intent of the Law to convict and kill. The Law always accuses and drives sinners to desperation and repentence.

Notice that Luther said, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God," and not "I am bound to my conscience." The Word is authoritative. The Conscience is your human opinion which is only helpful when it is conformed to the authoritative Word. You see here that Luther makes God's Word the master of his conscience and himself. Alternatively, people today make their consciences master over their actions and thereby make themselves their own god by placing their own interpretations and opinions between God and their choices. It allows other influences to shape their conscience that do not come from the objective truth of divine revelation. From there it is a very simple thing to have the conscience dictate opinions and interpretations to God as is prevelant in the liberal and enthusiast church bodies.

More often than not, when people speak of their bound conscience, they are using it to justify a false opinion or ill-conceived scheme. It is only when they say that their consciences are bound to God's Word that they are dealing with God honestly on His terms.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sanctification - Let the Little Children Come

In meditating on the gospel reading for last Sunday [Luke 18:9-17], I have been wrestling with what sanctification looks like. Obviously, I'm still working through my thoughts which are still quite unrefined. :P

The tendency is to take away with one hand what you give with the other. We offer the gospel and then we take it away with works righteousness. We hold up the tax collector from this text as the ideal and cast a jondis eye at that mustache-twisting villain the Pharisee. But with the same breath, we subconsciously think that the Christian life is to be a Frankenstein's monster combination of these two people: humble and self-aware like the tax collector but independently ethical and practically minded like the Pharisee.

Obviously the Third Use of the Law is valid and necessary in the life of the Christian. We are not to be slaves to sin. The Law of God does show us what a God-pleasing good work is, but how do we apply this "guiding use" of the Law without falling into legalism and works righteous behavior like the Judaizers and the Pharisees before them? How do we keep the Law a guide without making it a whip, an idol, or a shackle? After all, isn't artificial humility really just a veiled version of pride? Isn't it all too easy to say, with words eerily similar to the Pharisee, "God, I am glad that you are helping me to become someone who is not like these other men..."?

To combat this, St. Paul always presents the concept of sanctification in its proper context: in light of the Gospel that won salvation and rebirth for us through Christ's work.

In the sermon for this last Sunday, my pastor wisely directed us to the often overlooked and misinterpreted last portion of this lectionary selection: the tale of the little children coming to Jesus. Here we see the heart of the Christian life. Here the desperation of the tax collector segways seamlessly into the complete dependency of the powerless children being brought to be blessed by Jesus.

I have heard many people bemoan that Lutherans are "weak on sanctification". As a recovering legalist and enthusiast, this comment makes me feel that the people who hold this opinion have no idea what sanctification really is. I think it is because they don't know what sanctification looks like so they construct what it must be like using their own reason... which takes them back to legalism and works righteousness every time.

So before we even start looking at sanctification, we need to ask "What does the Bible say Christian sanctification even looks like?" Is sanctification a system where we become holy? Or is sanctification a gift of God whereby we are made holy?

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."
-Romans 1:16-17

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
-Philipians 2:12-13

Why do people not see sanctification in Lutheranism? Because, to be frank, they don't know what they are looking for. They have a preconceived notion that sanctification should be some amazing system of works or punch-list when it is not. They think that sanctification should resemble some system of improvement or enlightenment because that is what makes sense to our fallen human reason. Rather than a guide, they think that the Third Use should take the shape of some kind of ruler to judge one's spiritual progress up the ladder. This is just not true.

Instead, sanctification is in the shape of the cross. The holy life is a life that is conformed to Christ crucified. It looks like the broken and miserable sinner who is drawn to temple of God to be covered in the blood of the sacrifice to forgive his many sins. It looks like the little children being brought to receive the blessing from Christ. Sanctification is a sacramental life where God gives His gifts to His people and cares for His sheep through water, word, absolution, bread, and wine. It looks like the blind, the lepers, the crippled, the dying, the dead, the harlot, and the desperate being healed by a Savior who did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. It is an external holiness given to the unrighteous that is revealed "from faith for faith" whereby the sinner is declared righteous and "lives by faith".

The daily dying to the old self and the fulfillment of one's vocation is not glamorous. It is not what man thinks of when he thinks of holiness, but this is what sanctification actually looks like. It is the life of humble service to which the saints are called. So away with the life of veiled pride dressed up with pious intent. Let the cruciform life of the sinner redeemed by grace always be our aim.

And in this cruciform life of faith in the Gospel, the Holy Spirit performs mighty works within the sinner which are His fruit that naturally flow from faith in Jesus. Good Works are--first and foremost--His works after all. The Christian life does not excuse or tolerate sin, it exposes and forgives sin. Sanctification doesn't look like anyone or anything we do which is constantly tainted by sin. Instead it looks like the cross. That's why well-intentioned Christians overlook it and misunderstand it. That's why we get tied up in systems and methods of self-improvement that distract us from Christ and His gifts to us.

Too often, we present the Gospel as what gets you in the door and then we turn people back to a system of works that they should be doing to grow in Christ. That's just not biblical. The good works always flow from faith and are presented in view of faith. The Christian never gets away from the cross and the empty tomb. The Christian never gets past Word and Sacrament. The Christian never moves beyond the Gospel. To do so would be to get away from the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, Himself. Sanctification is not a heavy burden but is pure gift in the freedom of the Gospel. It is a work of God that is ongoing and culminates in our Glorification on the Last Day at Christ's Return.

"And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
-Philippians 1:6

And in this freedom of imputed righteousness, you are finally free to perform truly good works that are not self-motivated because of compulsion, terror, or duress. From this freedom, you can finally do good works with a glad and grateful heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. From this freedom, you can help your neighbor in His every need secure in the knowledge that God has provided (and will continue to provide) for your every need for Christ's sake. Do not make sanctification a cruel taskmaster in your own mind that compels you into legalistic and bitter obedience. Just like justification, sanctification is a pure gift of God. Let the Gospel reign in the life of the Christian.

"At that time Jesus declared, 'I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 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 11:25-30

Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
For faith alone can justify;
Works serve our neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

-Salvation Unto Us Has Come
LSB Hymn 555

Thursday, October 21, 2010

For Many, the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will Last a Lifetime

"The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war." -Douglas MacArthur

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq begin to fade from public attention and discourse, I would like to remind my readers that there are many military veterans who will continue to "bear the deepest wounds and scars" of this most recent conflict... some for the rest of their lives. I see a growing temptation in the public mindset that is starting to forget and move on to other pressing issues, but we cannot leave our veterans behind as we push forward as a people and a nation. A mark of a true patriot is one who continues to care for the troops even when it is no longer fashionable and popular to do so.
In the past, I have had the honor and privilege to work with The Wounded Warrior Project which was founded by veterans to assist our own who now battle lingering injuries and disability. This non-profit and non-partisan organization seeks to assist and comfort our wounded veterans and their families and they do an excellent job by providing caregiver retreats, assistance programs, and public advocacy. I was lucky enough to be able to serve as an escort on a joint military/civilian initiative that assisted wounded combat veterans who were still in recovery in military hospitals. Through generous financial support and the charity of local businesses, we were able to provide these heroic men and women with a weekend vacation from the hospital environment so that they could enjoy free time filled with much deserved entertainment, food, public recognition, and relaxation.
...but the Wounded Warrior Project does so much more than this simple gesture of compassion and gratitude. I would encourage any of you who are interested in thanking these veterans by suggesting that you get involved with this worthy program. They can always use financial and material help in the form of donations and volunteers.
As a veteran of Iraq myself, I always hear how thankful and proud everyone is of our service. I respectfully invite everyone to put their money and time where their mouth is by contributing to this and/or other worthy charitable organizations. I have personally seen the good that this program does and so I am happy to vouch for it. I have also seen how underfunded they are and I know that they could certainly use your help. There are alot of scams out there, but these guys are a credible charity.
It is now time to serve and sacrifice for those who have so selflessly served and sacrificed for us. It is now time to begin to pay these individuals back for the immeasurable debt that we now owe them. It is very easy to neglect our neighbor when our own financial situation is difficult or uncertain, but we are called to love our neighbors as ourself. Here are some neighbors who could use your help.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Gift of God

Against some of the foolishness that comes with decision theology (i.e. altar calls, acceptance prayers, etc), the following verses are often quoted:

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord." -Romans 6:23

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." -Ephesians 2:4-10

From there it is easy to discuss the difference between a "wage" (something you earn) and a "gift" (something you are given and don't earn).

The common reply is, "......well, you have to accept a gift" as if to say that a gift isn't a gift until you actively and consciously receive it.


While it may be customary to accept SOME gifts, leaning on this limited custom to defend an indefensible position that comes from deficient Biblical familiarity is just bad reasoning. It is easily refuted.

Example 1: Joe is hit by a car and is flown by helicopter to the ICU. He loses alot of blood on the pavement and his kidney's are badly damaged. He wakes up months later and is told that he received "the gift of life" from anonymous donors. At one point, he was legally dead, but the doctors refused to give up and did everything they could to save him. While in a coma, he was given several blood transfusions (giving blood is called "the gift of life" after all) and a new kidney. Did he accept this gift? No. It was externally given to him without his knowledge or even explicit consent. Similarly, while we we were "Dead in our trespasses and sins" God "made you alive with Christ". (Colossians 2:13) Salvation is that kind of gift.

Example 2: Suzy is a brilliant child. She is only four years old and she can already read children's books like someone twice her age. Everyone calls her "gifted". The implication here is that she was given an extra serving of smarts. What did Suzy do to accept her abilities? Nothing. She had no say. She was born with them. Did she have to read books in order to be smart? Of course not! She's been given the gift of high intelligence and her book reading naturally flows from her gift. Salvation is that kind of gift. [John 3:1-21]

Example 3: Terrance grew up in the United States where he is free to live as he chooses. He enjoys freedom, economic prosperity, and hope. Terrance did nothing to bring this about aside from being born here. Terrance learns in history class that generations of Americans before him gave him this great life he has through hard work and sacrifice. He learns about all of the patriots who died in all of the wars so that he can remain free. He learns about all of the great minds and hard workers who built this country up from nothing so that he can have food anytime he wants it, a cell phone, and Facebook. Terrance is reminded that his own grandparents and parents worked their butts off to give him a better life. He did nothing to deserve or accept any of this. He did not consciously accept what was given to him before his birth. What did Terrance do to accept this gift? Nothing. The gift was purchased and given to him before he even existed. Salvation is that kind of gift.

The only thing that makes a gift is that it is given and not earned. This acceptance garbage is not biblical and it's barely even rational.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Twits and Twitter

Yes, folks, we finally have a study that shows that Twitter is as lame as I have always said it was.

Almost no one is really listening to you (and the few that do actually read what you say don't really care). Twitter is just playing to everyone's vanity, poor writing skills, and ADHD. Go read a book.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Two Great Quotes

In this world that is being seduced and stupefied by subjective speculation, here are two great quotes:

"Any mental activity is easy if it need not take reality into account."
-Marcel Proust

"Facts, facts, facts. It is a capital mistake to theorize in advance of the facts. I can discover facts but I cannot change them."
-Sherlock Holmes

HT: John Warwick Montgomery's lecture here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Helpful Analogy

Here is a helpful analogy that I use when explaining goodness among men versus the goodness of God. Like all analogies it is imperfect, but I thought I'd share and get your thoughts.


The problem with descriptive words is that they are almost always relative to what you are talking about. Descriptions are relative. So the question one must always ask is, "compared to what?" Here is what I mean:

A basket ball is BIG when compared to a golf ball...... but compared to the planet Jupiter, the basket ball is TINY.

A stained, dingy rag that is straight out of the wash is CLEAN when compared to a pair of muddy boots..... but compared to a spotless wedding dress, it is DIRTY.

By the same token, descriptions of goodness and holiness are relative based on what we are talking about. According to what standard are we talking about goodness? Ours? Or Gods?

A generally nice person who stays away from scandal, gives to the needy, and pays his taxes may be GOOD when compared to a child molesting serial killer.... but when compared to the perfect holiness and righteousness of God, that good man is actually revoltingly EVIL.

This is why the "at least I'm not like that dude" excuse does not work. This is why the relative "goodness" that we see here on earth is but a tiny shadow of true holiness of God. This why "I am basically a good person" is a horrible farce when we are talking about God's expectations. We cannot try to deal with God on our terms (dirty rags and basket balls). We need to deal with our omnipotent, perfectly righteous God honestly on His terms.

...because when we are talking on terms of Jupiter, calling a basket ball big is just silly. When we are talking about the demands of perfection in God's law, calling any man good is a sad joke.

There is none righteous, no not one. [Romans 3:10]

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

+ In Memoriam Jancy Baker +

My mother, Jancy, went to be with her Lord this morning only a few months after being diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. I have posted my open letter to friends and family below:


Dear friends and family with special words of consolation for my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Expressing grief is good. Feelings of loss, regret, and sadness are healthy. In a world that increasingly shrinks away from anything difficult or painful and insists that every aspect of life contain at least an element of fun, it needs to be said that you are not expected to feel good all the time. It is okay to hurt. It is okay to mourn. With the example of Jesus weeping at the death of His dear friend Lazarus, we need to recognize that there is nothing sinful in feeling anguish and loss when someone dies [John 11:1-44]. We can look to the example of Jesus weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane and see that there is nothing inherently wrong with tears [Luke 22:35-46].

As flawed, finite creatures we’re understandably afraid of and shaken by death. Even as Christians, death can be a daunting thing to face… but there’s no shame in that. Funerals make us uncomfortable. We have clever euphemisms to soften how talking about death sounds to our ears. We use Botox and plastic surgery to hide the ugly signs of death creeping up on us. We put off writing our wills and we push thoughts of our own death as far away from our minds as possible. We marginalize, avoid, and impugn the dignity of our elderly and fear the day when we will be like them. We go about our daily lives and do our best to distract ourselves from the subject of death as much as possible by staying busy. We don’t want to confront the harsh idea of our own frailty will give way to a final moment when we will breathe our last breath.

The judgment of our souls still looms over us and that makes us afraid. We all know that there are evil things that we have done for which we will have to give account and there are good things that we’ve failed to do that we will have to answer for [Romans 2:1-16]. Somehow we know that “Well, I tried the best I could with the opportunities that I had… most of the time” is just not going to be enough on the Day of Judgment [Matthew 25:41-46]. Regret, shame, and guilt set in. We all have a sense that perfect justice should—and will—prevail in the end. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that we are all criminals in God’s court who have committed so many wrongs against so many people. If we are honest, we are all terrified of facing the end and what lies beyond it.

So we lie to ourselves and assume that death is—while terrible and inevitable—at least distant in the far off future and not something that could happen to us at any moment. Our relatively safe and long-lived culture makes it easier to believe these misconceptions about death, but this man-made illusion is not how Scripture describes our situation. Our end comes like a thief. It interrupts our plans and it comes unexpectedly [Luke 12:22:31]. Every death, no matter how much or how little warning we may have, seems to shock and trouble us. It is abrupt, unnatural, and does not ever feel like this is how things are supposed to happen. Death is just a bad deal.

Death was not originally a part of the human condition as God created it. Instead, the creation account in Genesis describes Death as a curse, a corruption, which was not part of the creative work of God who originally made Adam and Eve sinless, eternal, and very good [Gen 1:26-31; 3:14-24]. The temptation is to blame God in times like this, but we were not created by God to suffer and die. That came later when Satan entered the picture. Deceived and tempted, Adam and Eve chose the path of disobedience, ate the forbidden fruit, and fell into sin. Through that sin, death entered the world [Romans 5:12-21].

But we’d rather not even think about all that. Our relative security and affluence here in western civilization clouds our judgment and lulls us into a false sense of apathetic comfort. Undaunted by sin and death, we have turned modern Christianity into a shallow system of vaguely Judeo-Christian moral suggestions; an entertaining, satisfying subculture where many of us think that “being a spiritual person” is little more than a system for enjoying life to its fullest and serving a God that can be summoned or invoked to serve our whims exactly like the New Age philosophy of the power of positive thinking or pagan white magic.

Christianity has cheapened itself to such a degree that we seem obsessed with living our best lives now, our spiritual progress now, and realizing our God-given potential now. We have trivialized the essence of our faith so that it is little more than drinking a spiritual energy drink or cashing in all of our frequent flier holiness miles for well-deserved prizes on occasion. The problem with this naive approach is that it is incomplete, false, and only pseudo-biblical. Authentic Christianity has always centered itself on the firm foundation of nothing less than the bold and unwavering proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins through Christ.

When we ignore Christ or minimize His role throughout the entire Christian life, we place our faith and trust in the shifting sands of our own works, feelings, empty prayers, and achievements rather than in the immutable power and promises of Almighty God [Matthew 7:21-29]. It should come as no surprise then when we become frustrated by the fact that all of our hard effort is rendered futile, we fail time and time again, and the storms of life constantly remind us that so many things remain far beyond our control. It is not enough to hope if that hope is misplaced in something that is incapable of delivering on our expectations. Our hope and trust must be placed on a firm foundation that does not fail us.

Rather than learning and submitting to what God’s foundation is according to His own words in Holy Scripture, we like to make up divine promises that He never made and are surprised when God does not deliver on what we decided that He should do for us. A faith and confidence in ourselves and what we are doing rather than what Christ does for us is hopelessly weak and doomed to fail when it is tested. It is no wonder then that so many of us have a spiritual life characterized by ecstatic emotional highs at first that quickly fade and give way to dark crashes of prolonged confusion, depression, isolation, abandonment, and agony.

Obviously not all of the other things that we get distracted with in this life are bad. Many could be good things in moderation and proper context. It’s good to have fellowship with fellow Christians. It’s good to enjoy God’s gifts to us. It’s good to have a good time. It’s good to be optimistic and have a vision for where life could be going. It’s good to train disciples who understand good morals, productivity, and life skills. The desire to grow the church can be a good one. The problem comes when we allow the merely good works and things in life to take the place of the one best thing: The historical events that make up the saving, freeing message of the gospel of Christ [Galatians 3:1-14].

In the First Letter to the Corinthians chapter 15, St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth and makes clear what the church’s priorities should always be:

”Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you now stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [also called Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

This passage echoes what St. Paul writes earlier in the letter where he reminds the Corinthian believers that the entire Christian life from start to finish is tied up in a humble, single-minded focus on Christ alone. In Chapters 1 and 2, he writes:

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The story of salvation through Christ and Him crucified is the Biblical definition of the gospel. The gospel of Christ crucified for the sins of man is true. Anything that could be false cannot be a part of the gospel, and, while other teachings or ideas may be true and good, they are not the gospel. The gospel is what we are to be about as Christians. We need to hold fast to the message of eternal salvation. It is always to be of first importance among us especially at times like this when death causes all other approaches, strategies, and plans to fail.

This is a teaching that St. Paul reminds us of again in his letter to the Galatians. In chapter 1, He writes:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Why is this Christ-centered focus on the gospel so important for believer and nonbeliever alike? Because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:21-25]. Because “the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:19-25]. Because “If we think that we are without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us [1 John 1:8-10].” No man receives the Holy Spirit by works of the law. [Galatians 3:2] Our “…heart[s] [are] desperately wicked…” [Jeremiah 17:5-10] and our tongues are “...a restless evil, full of deadly poison…” [James 3:1-12]. We all love evil and hate good [Romans 7:15-25]. In our natural state, we are evil, alienated, hostile in mind, and enemies of God [Colossians 1:21-23; Romans 5:10-11].

In this desperate situation, Christ Jesus came down from heaven and took on our flesh to redeem a lost and fallen mankind [John 6:35-40]. In His perfect, sinless life He achieved every one of God’s requirements in our stead so that His holiness could be credited to our account [Romans 3:22; 4:3-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:10-14]. Moreover, He died on the cross for us so that the judgment and wrath that we so justly deserve was inflicted upon Christ in our stead [Isaiah 53:1-12; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18].

On the third day, He rose from the dead and in doing so overcame death so that it no longer has any power over us [2 Timothy 1:8-12]. He mercifully sends and bestows upon us the Holy Spirit so that we can come to this knowledge of Him by faith alone apart from works so that no man can boast [John 16:6-15; Ephesians 2:8-10]. This faith in Christ comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God [Romans 10:17; Galatians 3:2]. With His Word, God graciously draws us to Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit so that our sins may be forgiven and so that we may be continually renewed and strengthened [John 6:35-46]. In baptism, we are crucified into Christ’s death so that we might rise in newness of life [Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27].

These truths are not just an evangelistic recruiting tool that applies only to heathen folk, backsliders, or something that we only teach to new Christians and little kids. It’s the foundation and essence of the entire Christian faith for all people [1 Corinthians 15:3-5]. It is a message that we all need to hear constantly because we all are in constant need of God’s forgiveness and restoration. God extends love and forgiveness to everyone in Christ—even you [John 3:13-18].

We learn from Scripture that divine forgiveness is not some abstract concept that we pull out occasionally for nostalgia’s sake and it is not something that we can just gloss over. We need to constantly revisit it and be transformed over and over again by what Christ has done for us. This constant returning to repentance under the cross of Christ is what it means to be a Christian and not all these other things we get distracted by. Rather than arrogantly writing off any evangelistic message as something we have no use for because we have already heard it before, we are called to recognize that everything that is good in our lives in the Body of Christ is caused by, springs out from, circulates around, finds inspiration in, is vivified through, speaks explicitly about, and draws us back to this amazing life-giving message of the cross and the empty tomb.

In times like today, it alone is the only true comfort for our grief and fear because the proclaimed word of the gospel is the only message that carries in it the Holy Spirit and the very promises of God that offer true relief, faith, and salvation to hurting sinners in need and the means by which those sinners are forgiven, restored, and uplifted [2 Peter 1:16-21]. The gospel is for the whole world—including you [Matthew 24:13-14; 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-16].

Christ said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance [Luke 5:31-32].” Christ said, “Does [a shepherd] not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and search for the one [sheep] that went astray [Matthew 18:10-14]?”

We need to remember that what we consider to be the great “evangelism” letters like Romans and Galatians were actually written directly to specific groups of Christians and churches [Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:2-5] as the rule of expression for the faith so that the explicit gospel messages that they contain would be a divine promise that should be read aloud and declared constantly to all people: believer and unbeliever alike. This is where we find a true mystery of the faith: that the work of Christ on the cross is for everyone because it is in Christ that each one of us lives and moves and has our being [Acts 17:28].

This centrality of the gospel message in the life of the early church was so important that nearly all of the letters in the New Testament take great pains to explicitly remind believers of what Christ has done and they present this truth of gracious mercy as the foundation and standard of the life for the Christian so that the gospel message is presented as the fount from which all other teachings flow and the reality by which all other teachings and good works are to be framed. It is not as though this teaching appears in only a few places so that it can be safely ignored or trivialized [2 Cor 2:14-4:6; 5:11-21; 13:1-10; Eph 2:11-22; Philippians 1:27-30; Col 1:11-24; 2:6-15; 1 Thess 1:2-8; 2 Thess 2:13-17; 1 Tim 1:15-20; 2 Tim 1:8-14; 4:1-5; Heb 2:1-18; 10:19-25; 1 Peter 1:3-25; 2 Peter 1:8-21; 1 John 1:5-2:6; 4:1-6; 5:1-12; 2 John 1:7-11; 3 John 1:1-4; Jude 1:1-8; 17-23; etc, etc]. It is this faithful clinging to the message of Christ crucified for our sins that is presented by the apostles as the standard by which the health of any Christian, pastor, or congregation is to be judged (and not by merely by outward things such as wondrous signs, clever presentations, worldly wisdom, external growth, or zealous piety.)

I say all of this so that, as you mourn, you keep this same gospel message in mind and realize that you don’t need to worry about my mom. She is in a better place. And I don’t say that because I’m some sentimentally religious sap who desperately wishes to feel better by imagining or hoping that maybe there could be something good after all this but I lack any clear evidence to prove it. Unfortunately, there are many funerals where I cannot truthfully say such a thing because the deceased was not in the one faith that saves sinners from hell. Thanks be to God, this is not one of those times. Eternity is as daunting and terrible thing. I do not believe in life after death because it is therapeutic or useful to me here and now. I believe it because it is true.

I know that eternal life for Christians is a fact. As evidence for this claim, I am able to present the corroborated actual testimonies of multiple eye witnesses to the life, death, and miraculous resurrection of the historical man Jesus of Nazareth who demonstrated His divine authority by performing miracles that no contemporary witness was able to refute and modern science still cannot duplicate. This man claimed to be God in human flesh and that He had come to save us from hell by faith in His all-atoning sacrifice on the cross. His coming had long been foretold by hundreds of years worth of prophets [John 5:37-47; Luke 24:25-35] and from the very mouth of God Himself in the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:12-15].

While all other religions depend merely on human opinion where you have to take the prophet’s word for it, this Jesus proved His authenticity, truthfulness, and ultimate power over all created things by His crucifixion, death, and miraculous resurrection from the dead just as He had predicted about Himself on numerous occasions. As much as His detractors and enemies hated this Jesus, they could not find persuasive evidence to discredit Him during His public ministry and could not present any evidence or witnesses to disprove His bodily resurrection despite their enormous influence, wealth, and authority in Judea, Greece, and Rome.

After He ascended into heaven, His apostles and disciples went on to perform similar miracles, signs, and wonders in the name of this Jesus and proclaimed the story of Jesus that they had witnessed to anyone who would listen. They encouraged anyone who doubted their story to go speak to all of the other witnesses who were still living at the time confident that the truth would be made apparent as one investigated deeper into what actually happened. With nothing to gain by their insistence on the factual accuracy of these events and everything to lose, they each went on to endure torture, imprisonment, exile, and unspeakable methods of execution and none of them wavered in their accounts of what they saw take place. These testimonies still ring true in spite of two thousand years of skeptical criticism and vain attempts to discredit their veracity. None of the other hundreds of actual witnesses to the resurrection of Christ ever came forward and presented an alternate explanation to refute the claim that Jesus Christ was the Son of God.

This dedication to the truth continued after the death of the apostles. The converted followers who remained, many of them first hand witnesses themselves, were equally stalwart in the face of religious purges and willingly submitted to being burned alive on poles or fed to wild animals rather than renounce the events that they had seen and experienced. Speaking from a purely intellectual standpoint in view of all of the historical, textual, and archeological evidence, we can be as sure that Jesus Christ lived in first century Palestine and rose from the dead with the same degree of certainty that we can have regarding any other historical event that ever took place.

So I am not guessing, speculating, or grasping at straws here. My hope is not misplaced. Christ rose from the dead. I know for a fact that He has saved Jancy and that she is now in heaven because the testimonies about Christ and His promises are trustworthy.

And it’s not as if Jancy went to her grave foolishly thinking that she going to go there because she was “basically a good person” or “faithful and dedicated enough”. Not at all! Rather she has been rescued from death’s grip solely because the crucified and risen Jesus purchased her with His blood; not because she had some desirable quality, inner strength, pious decision, or secret spiritual discipline, but because of His great mercy in spite of her undesirable sinfulness and frailty [Titus 3:3-8]. We serve a God who says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness [2 Corinthians 12:8-9].”

Of all the blessings, valuables, and gifts that she enjoyed in her life, my mother possessed a single treasure, a pearl of great price [Matthew 13:45-46], and she cherished it: She had her Savior, Christ Jesus. Let all other treasures pass away and be rendered worthless by comparison. She’s in paradise right now because of Jesus.

I say all of this so that, as you consider that your own death is approaching, you will resist the lies of the Devil and remember that the assurance of your eternal salvation does not require that you hit a set “heavenly entrance standard” regarding your own worth, morality, or dedication to God. Rather assurance rests solely in the promises of God and the faithfulness of the same Jesus who didn’t abandon His apostles even though they abandoned Him [Matthew 26:55-56].

Jancy was purchased and cared for by the same Jesus who reached down and pulled St. Peter up out of the sea when the disciple miraculously walked on the water out to meet Christ only to sink because of his “little faith”. As Peter cried out “Lord save me!” Jesus did not abandon him to his pitiful fate, but pulled His beloved sheep, Peter, to safety [Matthew 14:22-40].

It is this same Jesus who is faithful to His sheep [John 10:11-18]. Jesus Christ freely handed Himself over to evil men to be killed on our behalf. “…God made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God [2 Corinthians 5:18-21].” The wage of death that we have all earned for our many sins has been paid in full so that we no longer bear our damning guilt in the eyes of God [Romans 6:20-23]. Instead, His own perfect Son, Jesus, willingly received our punishment on the cross [John 3:10-16].

And all of the good that Christ did on our behalf has been credited to our account so that God looks at us and sees RIGHTEOUS instead of SINFUL, PERFECT instead of FLAWED, HOLY instead of WRETCHED, and ETERNALLY SAVED instead of WORHTY OF ETERNAL DAMNATION. There’s nothing left for us to do to win God’s favor, prove ourselves worthy, or merit this divine favor from God. Jesus has done it all for us already.

We need to do away with all this unbiblical, foolish talk that always seems to place the ball in our court, hang the heavy lifting in our human hands, and cause us to doubt when adversity strikes. In whose strength and faithfulness should we place our trust: in Christ or in our own abilities? Do we hope in a false hope or is our hope in Christ? In many ways this “me generation” has gotten the person doing the work and the person for whom the work is done completely backwards so that we are expected to hope and trust in what we have done or are able to do to cause God to love and forgive us. This is wrong.

Times like this demonstrate why we must place our faith in Christ Jesus alone and return Biblical Christianity back to its proper way of speaking.

He is the one who has chosen you [2 Thessalonians 2:13; John 15:16]. He has revealed God the Father to you [Matthew 11:27]. He has dedicated Himself completely to you [Isaiah 53]. He has granted the gift of repentance to you [Acts 11:18]. He purchased you [Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. He brings you to faith [Ephesians 2:8-10]. He will never leave or forsake you [Hebrews 13:5]. You have been invited into fellowship with Him [1 Corinthians 1:9]. It is He who works sanctification in you [Philippians 2:13]. He invites the weary and heavy burdened to come and receive rest in Him for His yoke is easy and His burden is light [Matthew 11:28]. He is the one who has done all the work. “It is finished [John 19:30].”

My mother knew this to be true and clung to it even in the final, difficult days of her life. These things were proclaimed to her and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the gift of faith was given to her, she came to believe, and was held fast in that faith until the day she died. While many of us who knew her were hoping and praying for some spectacular miracle that could only delay her inevitable death for a few decades, God had already performed the greatest miracle in her heart which few bothered to recognize: the miracle of salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.

The lesser miracle that did not happen would have restored her physical body to some semblance of temporary health only to face death again later on in the future, but the greatest miracle—the perfect healing—that did happen restored her body and soul to a healed relationship with her Lord through the cross. The lesser miracle that did not happen would have seemed spectacular as it would have returned her to temporary health for a short period of time only to face death again later down the road, but the greatest miracle that did happen was mysterious and unseen as the Holy Spirit gave her life eternal in heaven so that the grave had no victory over her because the gift of faith in Jesus.

This perfect God-Man, Jesus Christ, overpowered the grave. United with Him in His death, we who are poor miserable sinners are also united with Him in His resurrection [Romans 6:5-11]. The grave stands defeated, bound, and killed by Christ. Death has been swallowed up in victory [1 Corinthians 15:50-58]. Death, that terrifying thing that breathes down our neck every day as a specter, a thief, a sudden destroyer, and an unknowable pit, is now a toothless doorway into life everlasting in heaven for all who believe in God’s promises by faith.

What a blessed hope it is in all circumstances to know that in the face of our overwhelming sin we have an advocate, Jesus the righteous, who now sits at the right hand of the Father [Hebrews 12:1-2]. Scripture says that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words [Romans 8:26-27].” By the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ Jesus, God has adopted us as dear children and heirs of the kingdom of heaven [Ephesians 1:3-10].

What a wondrous miracle of healing and life! By faith, my mother is resting with her Lord as I speak. By faith, she has been rescued from sin, death, and the devil. Where she is now there is no weakness. Where she is now there is no cancer. There are no tears. Instead there is the Holy City where the triune Godhead dwells surrounded by the angelic host. My Granny Baker is there along with all of the saints of God from every time and place to include all of your loved ones who have died in the apostolic Christian faith [Revelation 7:15-17].

Dear friends, take comfort in this: Goodbyes between Christians are not permanent. Those of us who are in Christ will see Jancy again.

And we must never forget that the Last Day will come where Christ will return as a triumphant, conquering king. On that glorious day of days, Jancy will be raised from the dead and will live again in the flesh just as Christ rose from the grave though He was stone-cold dead in the ground for three days. Her flesh will be perfected and glorified and she will live body and soul for all eternity in heaven.

1 Thessalonians chapter 4 says:

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

We will remember Jancy and everything that she has done for us. We should celebrate her life. More importantly, we should above all celebrate the God-given gift of eternal life that she now enjoys in Christ Jesus Our Lord [1 John 1:1-3].


Mike Baker