Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Love thy Neighbor

1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, told us to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This simple command was so important that it was repeated in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Our Lord teaches that it is the second most important command for God’s people to obey. So, why is it so difficult a task to master? We are by nature selfish beings and since birth we have demanded constant nurturing and attention. Placing anyone else before our own personal wants and desires is contrary to one’s human nature. But, if we try to succeed in this task alone, we are destined to fail. It is only through Christ, that we can accomplish this charge. In John 15:5 Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” When we foolishly try to accomplish these things of our own volition, pushing away the Lord, placing one’s self above Him, is when we will fall short.

To truly love someone is to place them before one’s self. We attend to our loved one’s needs, trying to anticipate their desires, and to fulfill them, even before taking care of ourselves. The object of our love becomes our soul reason for living. This is how our love should be directed at our Lord. When our love is directed to our Lord it completes us. Our Lord loves us so much that He wants to have a full relationship with us. Everything we have, ourselves, our time, and our possessions, are gifts from God. This entire world was created for us by our Father. His love for us is unending. Our Lord gave everything for us, including His life. In the ultimate act of tough love, He sent His only begotten Son to earth as a mortal human being, to suffer and die in our stead. Every piece of flesh torn from our Lord’s body was done so that we would not have to endure the eternal punishment that we so rightly deserve. This was done out of His unconditional love for us. Every sin He carried to the cross belonged to each one of us. Then as our Lord hung on the cross, bleeding and dying, God terminated His relationship with Jesus, leaving Him to die alone with the awful burden of our sins. But, out of that depth of desolation sprang our salvation. Because Jesus suffered the penalty for our sins, died in our place, and was victorious over death, we can now have eternal life with Him.

This salvation is offered freely. We need only to accept, believe and love our Lord. His love for us is beyond all human understanding. Why then is it so difficult to love our neighbors? Why can’t we lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer and in service? Why is it so difficult to speak out for our Lord, who loves us so deeply? With everything God has done for us we should not have to think twice before answering the Spirit’s call and place our neighbor before ourselves. With God’s help, we should strive to reach out to those that need assistance, not only with the physical world, but especially for their spiritual health and well being. The Lord said in Matthew 25:36 “The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Many of our brothers and sisters are falling prey to the false doctrine of bound conscience. By not lifting up their voices to stand up for Scripture as it is assaulted and transformed to fit the needs of the secular world, they are acquiescing to that false gospel. If our Lord can suffer and die for us, we should be able to defend His Word against this false teaching. As our Lord loves us, and through His love, we must support God’s Word and open the eyes of those that would continue on the slippery slope of this modern and enlightened society’s new norms that contradict Scripture. Eternity is a long time and speaking out for our Lord to help our neighbors return to the narrow road that leads to salvation, is the very least that we can do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Find Your Strength in the Lord

We can find our strength in the Lord in three ways;
Through the talents he blesses us with,

Philipians 4: 13 “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” No matter the task that is set before us, we can, through our faith in the Lord, accomplish God’s work. Every talent that we possess is a gift from God. Skills that the Lord has given us can truly make a difference in this world. Even those skills that we may view as unimportant may make the difference in someone else’s life. The Lord provides us with the tools necessary to enrich his kingdom and lead others to His Word. It is our responsibility to use those gifts to the glory of our God. Through the Spirit, He provides us with the opportunities to perform His work in this world. Remember the Sunday school song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” This song reminds us that we need to share the gifts that the Lord has given us. It is not enough to just put your offering in the collection plate each Sunday. The Lord instructs us in the parable of the talents. Matthew 25:23 “His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Do not waste your talents by not sharing with those in need.

With His Word that strengthens us,

Psalm 23: 1 “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” We are the sheep of His flock. Our Lord protects us, provides for us, and nurtures us. But, the Lord does not want us to be the sheep that stand and are led to slaughter. 2 Corinthians 10: 3-5 “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” God gives us the tools to counter the arguments against the knowledge of God and to expose the faulty reasoning of those that would promote a false gospel. If we choose to dwell in His Word, God will give us the counsel required to speak out for Him. Matthew 10: 16, 32-33 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 32 Whoever publicly acknowledges me I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Our Lord has made it abundantly clear that, as Christians, we are expected to be faithful witnesses. A faithful witness is compelled to stand up for God’s Word, not sit back and be “on the fence” or “not get involved’. Many of God’s sheep are trapped within the ELCA and are being led away from Him. If we do not speak out against this false gospel of bound conscience, we acquiesce to that doctrine and are no better than someone who denies our Lord.

By His love which He shares with us and invites us to share with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Lord also charges us to love one another, Matthew 22:37-39 “Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is a great responsibility. To love someone is to give oneself to them, place their needs before your own and to protect them above even yourself. If we truly wish to love one another, we need to support our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only with our prayers, but in action. Many sheep will be led down the easy path of destruction, by those invoking the terms tolerance, acceptance, and social justice that they use to fuel their ambitions in the secular world. It is not enough to stay true to our faith and remain an island within the ELCA.  As fellow children of God, it is our responsibility to help lead our brothers and sisters back to the narrow road that leads to salvation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Social Justice is Important

Social justice was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 25:40 and 45, our Lord said, “The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me.” 45, “He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Jesus was explaining that we are called to serve, not only our Lord, but also those brothers and sisters in need. Every time we answer the Spirit when we are nudged to offer our help to someone, we are doing this for our Lord. As well, in verse 45 He offers a rebuke to those that choose to sit on the sideline and ignore the Spirit.

Our Lord was also very welcoming and often ate with the sinners of that day. This particularly infuriated the Pharisees, who denounced Jesus. In Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, and Luke 5:13 our Lord explains that “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” In this manner also, our Lord calls us to reach out to those in need of healing, particularly spiritual healing. Our Lord not only healed the physically ill, He attended to their spiritual health and turned them away from sin. Any help for the physical body will be of no use to those that are dying in the Spirit. We must be able to temper our enthusiasm to answer to the needs of the physical being, while also ministering to those not on the path to salvation. We must also be careful not to place our goal of attaining social justice above the salvation of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to do your “acts of righteousness” in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Beware of the motives behind the ambition for social justice. Do not fall into the trap of putting these desires for earthly justice over and above our desire to reach those in need of the Gospel.

The ELCA website dedicates 5 short paragraphs to their statement of beliefs, 5 short paragraphs to the Bible, and its social justice page has links to 24 separate and distinct social justice agenda items. It would seem that, while the ELCA is doing God’s work to fight for these issues, the salvation of the world is not even being given equal time. Also from the website as to “Who we are”, the first sentence is, The ELCA is a community of faith that share a passion for making positive changes in the world. That making positive changes in the world is stated before acknowledging their strong belief in God made known to them through Jesus Christ is particularly telling. How can we make positive changes in the world without striving to bring that world to God? Why is the effort to lead others to the Lord taking second place to the worldly issues of social justice?

One of the most revealing elements in this struggle to promote social justice is how the ELCA appears to revel in the celebration of its good deeds. Promoting good deeds to the world is nothing more than placing one’s self above the Lord. It is making the social justice agenda your own god and pushing our Lord to the back burner. Everything we are and have is because our Lord, in His infinite love for us, gave it to us. We are nothing without our Lord and Savior. We may feel good about ourselves with our earthly accomplishments, but our Lord knows where our hearts truly are. We must do God’s work for Him, not to make us feel good about ourselves, or we become no better than the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. We are all sinful beings and fall short of the glory of God. When we try to glorify our good works and boast to the world rather than glorify our Lord, we drive a wedge between ourselves and God.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Responsibility of Correction

As parents we find out firsthand how important it is to correct our children’s wrong behavior. We soon understand that if a child is allowed to engage in detrimental behavior, they can eventually harm themselves or cause harm to others. It is a parent’s responsibility to lead their children on the proper path, to direct them to an understanding of what is expected in this world that God created for us. We try to instill in them a love of God that helps set them on a course to salvation. Correcting one’s child is a fine line though. We must temper our need to correct while making certain they know we do this out of our love for them. In other words we must always love our child, no matter what they do and separate that “wrong” behavior from our “right” child. We learn that we must love the child even while we hate the sin. Hebrews 12: 5-9 “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as children? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His child.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate children at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!”

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are also children of God. What is our responsibility as Christians when our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are in error, and wander away from God’s direction. How do we endeavor to correct these children of God. 2 Timothy 4: 2-5 “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the Truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of your ministry.” We need to be prepared to speak the needed word, whether of correction, of rebuke or of encouragement. We cannot sit back and ignore our brothers and sisters as they fall prey to a false gospel. It is our responsibility as faithful witnesses to do the difficult thing and speak out for our Lord.

The doctrine of bound conscience places man’s opinion above God’s Word. Many children of God that are not strong in the Spirit, will follow this false gospel, thereby putting their salvation at risk. Bound conscience minimizes and justifies those sins one truly believes are no longer wrong. This false gospel will eventually cause sin to be disregarded altogether. If man is left to his own devices and disregards God’s will, we will fall into the abyss of sin. 2 Timothy 2: 25-26 “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” We must speak out against this false doctrine of bound conscience. Any and all Scripture is at risk to be disregarded by those that place their own earthly desires above God’s will. If we fail to stand up for our Lord, will we bear the responsibility for all our brothers and sisters that embrace this false gospel and fall away from God?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How does Sin Separate Us from God?

Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes, we are all sinners. No matter how hard we try to live a godly life, we all fall woefully short. Before you fall into despair, know this; John 3; 16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Does this mean that sin is irrelevant? Even though we are saved by the grace of God and need only to believe, we are still expected to endeavor to follow God’s law to the best of our ability. But, sin is much more than our disobedience of God’s laws. Timothy Keller explains in The Reason for God “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from Him.” Our relationship is damaged with God when we give our own self identities, whether you view yourself as a conservative, liberal, police officer, LGBT, business executive, etc., precedence over our true calling, being a faithful servant of God. We must relinquish our own identities in order to place God first and foremost. If we fail to do so, we will remain apart from Him.

When our Lord suffered and died on the cross for us, He took with Him all our sin, all that had been committed and all that were yet to come. Without our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ dying in our place, we would be forever prevented from entering His kingdom. In addition to His death on the cross, our Lord felt the terrible aloneness when God the Father abandoned the personal relationship with Him as the atonement for our sinful natures. All the sins of the world and the abandonment by His Father brought our Lord Jesus Christ to a deep despair beyond all comprehension. But, when we place self above the Lord, we bring the same despair and aloneness to ourselves. We must also learn to suffer for our Lord. 1 Peter 3:14-15 "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

While we are called to respect and love all our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must still recognize that the path that the Lord has set before us is not the easy path. Matthew 7: 13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” There is much division in the ELCA. It may seem that the leaders of the ELCA have taken the broad road of acceptance and entered the wide gate of tolerance, and by doing so are leading many fellow Christians away from God. David S. Yeago said, while addressing the schism that has developed between the traditional and progressive factions of the ELCA, “What the law demands, the gospel bestows.” The law demands righteousness, the gospel bestows righteousness, and it does so by bringing Christ to us and us to Christ. He is the living fulfillment of the law, the one in whom all that the law requires is fully and unquestionably realized. His righteousness covers our sin, when we become one with him by faith, but at the same time, he lives in us, which means that righteousness dwells in us, alive and triumphant, and we begin to live a new kind of life. But, if the gospel bestows what the law demands, then without agreeing substantially on what the law demands, we cannot agree on what the gospel bestows. And pushed to the end, such disagreement will easily turn into disagreement about Jesus Christ and his saving righteousness.”

When we fall out of communion with our Lord by placing one’s self above Him, we reject God’s laws and replace them with our own selfish set of principles. Once we begin to reject God’s laws that don’t fit in with our modern, enlightened view of the world, we begin to die in our sin. Glorifying the ideals of social justice over and above God’s law just increases the distance between us and our salvation. If we seek to be welcomed into the Lord’s kingdom, we must humble ourselves before Him. We need to dwell in the Word and grow nearer to our Lord, not reject the Word and replace it with our foolish desires. We need to share with those weak in the Spirit and lead them into communion with the Lord. We need to pray, long and hard, for those that lead the ELCA so that they reject their secular identity and rekindle their relationship with the Lord.