Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Love of Self Leads to Sin

How can this be? Did not our Lord say, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”? It is when our self becomes the center of our lives that we fall into the trap of sin. Yes, we do need to love ourselves or else we will not attend to our own basic needs, physically and spiritually. But first and foremost, we need to keep our Lord at the center of our lives. It is through our Lord that all things are possible and without Him, we are lost. Our selfishness shows when we cling to the notion that our accomplishments are due to our own innate abilities, not because we are able to use the gifts that God has so graciously provided to us. When we place our own modern and enlightened opinions over and above Scripture, we place ourselves upon a pedestal and diminish our Lord’s role in our lives. The First Commandment is “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

It is when we love ourselves too much that we place ourselves before our God, and we fall into sin. The more we turn inward to praise ourselves, the more we turn away from God. We must be able to humble ourselves before the Lord. James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Considering ourselves too intellectual, too enlightened, and too modern for an ancient book to be relevant today is akin to denouncing our Lord. When we place our causes of social justice, acceptance and tolerance above the Word of God, those things become our god. When we endeavor to interpret Scripture in a way that is more pleasing to us instead of what our Lord intended, we separate ourselves from Him, making us first and our Lord a distant second.

We separate ourselves from God when we lift ourselves, our possessions, or our self identities to a higher level of importance than Him. Searching for fulfillment in our lives, outside of Christ, leads us to neglect our Lord and not find the time to dwell in His Word. All the time we have is what our Lord has given us. Why is it so difficult to spend time reading the Bible and engaging our Lord in prayer? He loves us so deeply that He sent His only Son to die for us. He has given us everything we are and all that we have. All God asks of you is to return His love. There is always time to watch TV, text or call your friends, or surf the internet. Why can’t we give back some of time our Lord has given us, in prayer or by opening His Word and reading the good news that He has proclaimed for us.

In this day and age, we must become strong in the Spirit to successfully overcome the false gospels that permeate our society. We need to properly equip ourselves to proclaim God’s Word. Ephesians 6:13-18, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”Our Lord has given us the ammunition to defeat evil if we only take the time to read and learn His Word. Hearing the Word on Sunday is not enough to maintain your armor against the evil of this world. Read His Word often and meditate on it. We can all find a quiet ten minutes per day to read and dwell in the Word. This is not too much to ask of God’s children. After all, our Lord has spent an eternity preparing this wonderful world for us and it would only be appropriate to thank Him by placing Him first in our lives.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

This seems to be quite an unusual title for a Christian blog. But as we have discovered by the ELCA’s actions last August, when we become so enamored of ourselves and our accomplishments, we treat our Lord with contempt and place ourselves over Him. Obviously, the leaders of the ELCA believe that we are much too sophisticated and intelligent to accept a text, written long ago, by uneducated men, as the written Word of God. Apparently they truly believe that the Bible really was meant more for the people living long ago, and not unfailingly applicable for the modern enlightened man. If we feel that we can fend for ourselves, without God’s help, we deliberately turn away from Him. The leaders of the ELCA have dismissed and minimized the outrage of the Lutheran Synods in Africa and the Hispanic Lutherans in Central and South America. Those that are new in the Spirit have shown that they are often more fundamentally true to the Spirit. We have a lot to learn by the response to the ELCA Assembly actions from these supposedly unsophisticated Christians from third world countries. Click on the link to see Tanzanian Bishop Alex G. Malasusa’s response.

Our self righteous, enlightened leaders of the ELCA have, in their infinite wisdom, devised a way around Scripture to embrace secular values and make excuses for disregarding God's Word. Genesis 11:4, “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’ The plan to build the Tower of Babel showed how egotistical and full of pride the people were. Their arrogance was evidenced by their intent to build a stairway from earth to heaven itself. By doing so, they assumed that their authority was equal to or above God Himself. But God confused their languages so they could not understand each other, and did, in fact, scatter them throughout the earth as punishment for their arrogance. When we try to take our future into our own hands, we rebel against God and His plan for us. This attitude permeates the leadership of the ELCA. By placing a premium on social justice and diminishing the role of guiding people to the Gospel, the ELCA is building their own Babel, proudly proclaiming their role in the secular world, while diminishing the Lord’s role in their ministry.

So, what is our responsibility as Christians to help the ELCA see the error of its ways and come back to the Lord? We are called to stand up for our faith, to correct those in error, because if we stand idly by, many will be lost to the evil one. Proverbs 10:17, “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” Not only those who disregard correction are at risk, those who refuse to correct their brothers and sisters in Christ also place themselves in spiritual peril. If a loved one was in danger or behaving in way that endangered themselves or others, would we not try to prevent the loved one from harming him or herself? It is the same when one of our brothers and sisters in Christ are at risk. For our Lord gave us a new commandment, “That we love one another as He loved us.” So, to act as our Lord commands, we are to endeavor to help lead those astray back to the Lord. We must take up the Lord’s charge and get involved to combat this false doctrine of bound conscience. Standing by idly while so many are led to the path of destruction makes us no better than the leaders that contrived this false gospel.

We need to stand up and volunteer to be delegates to Synod assemblies and have the courage to speak out for our Lord and His people. We need to shout from the rooftops and speak to everyone who will listen about this bound conscience and how it is turning people away from God. Evil hides in the darkness and those that ignore or acquiesce to this evil will only serve to allow this false gospel to continue and grow stronger. We need to help bring this errant doctrine out into the light so that everyone will know that it leads those that follow it on a path away from our Lord.  Without our Lord we are nothing, but if we do God’s will, nothing is impossible. It may take time, but your voices will be heard. We cannot let the misguided leadership of the ELCA lead the church away from the Lord and into the darkness.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Where is the Spirit Leading You?

When we commune with God in prayer, we need to listen to hear where the Spirit is leading us. Often what we want to hear is not the direction that God intends for us. We need to be careful not to answer our own prayers and tune out the Spirit. Often when we pray, we want something so badly that we will only listen if the Lord tells us what we want to hear. It is difficult, but we need to remove our selfish desires from the equation when we petition the Lord. Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Do not place yourself before the Lord. Always keep God’s will as first and foremost in your prayers, knowing that He is in control. His plan for you may not always be obvious today, but it will ultimately become clear.

We need to submit ourselves to the Lord, to forget about ourselves and realize that our Lord is in charge. James 4:3, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives”. When we are selfish in our petitions, or do so with our hearts in the wrong place, our prayers will be ignored. Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer that, God’s will be done, not ours. A foolish person will ask for advice and not hearing what he wants to hear, disregards the advice and does what he wanted to do in the first place. We must not be foolish and only listen to what our selfish cravings desire, for this is not His will. 1 John 5:14-15, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us-whatever we ask-we know that we have what we asked of him.” God answers prayers, but we need to humble ourselves before Him and be content that whatever answer we receive is part of the overall plan He has for us.

Ephesians 6:7-8, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one of you for whatever good you do.” We need to perform our tasks well, as if we were serving the Lord, whether it be in our occupations, responsibilities as parents, or any other task that is set before us. 1 Timothy 4:10, 15-16, ‘That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” We work towards leading the type of lives our Savior desires for us, both in our spiritual lives and the performance of our earthly duties. Our faith in the risen Lord saves us, but others in the world are watching us and we can be instruments for our Lord, showing others the way to salvation.

The Lord works in mysterious ways. The trials and tribulations of today will give rise to our spiritual development and growth of tomorrow. Our Lord will not burden us more than we can bear, even if it seems that we are at our wit’s end. It is when we attempt to handle our troubles alone that they seem insurmountable. No matter what we are faced with, we can be triumphant when we uphold our faith in God, realizing that He is in control. James 1:12, “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God had promised those that love him.” When we are faced with these tests, we need to put our faith in the Lord that we accept His plan for us and that we welcome being used to give glory to our Lord.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More on Bound Conscience

When discussion of the ELCA ensues, the direction of the conversation tends to go one of two ways. Either its, “Can you believe that the ELCA is accepting homosexual behavior and is allowing homosexual pastors to preach?” or, “Why shouldn’t the LGTB community be accepted fully into the communion of the church with all rights and privileges, including having their unions blessed and allowing gay and lesbian pastors to preach?” Both of these arguments actually miss the real point of contention. In the ELCA’s “good intentioned” desire to be more welcoming and accepting of the LGTB community, they sought a way to legitimize the LGTB lifestyle. Bound conscience was conceived by Biblical scholars as a way to allow one to respect another’s interpretation of Scripture, as long as that person truly believes in their heart of hearts that it is acceptable to God. In the matter of human sexuality, this bound conscience allows one to respect those that believe that the LGTB lifestyle is acceptable in God’s eyes. The fact is that there is no Biblical authority for this bound conscience and allowing this bound conscience to supersede the authority of Scripture are the real issues.

In John 16:13-15, Jesus told the Apostles, "But when he, the Spirit of Truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you." In these verses, Jesus tells the Apostles that He, through the Holy Spirit, will lead them in their testimonies. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ absolutely confirms that the writings of the Apostles are the inspired Word of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the Apostle Paul testified that “All Scripture is God-breathed”. Who are we to disregard Scripture and place our own opinions before His Word? What has become acceptable in the secular world is often not acceptable in God’s eyes. If we choose to ignore God’s Word, we are not unlike disobedient children. We do not replace God’s Word with those that happen to be more appealing to us.

So, the ELCA has, by adopting this doctrine of bound conscience, placed man in authority over Scripture. This is the reason that every Christian should be concerned as to the direction of the ELCA. When man’s opinion takes authority over God’s law, we find ourselves in a quandary. Do we remain part of this denomination, nail our 95 theses on the church door and fight to have this doctrine repealed or do we leave for a synod grounded in Scripture? What happens when human sexuality is not the only part of Scripture supplanted by our bound conscience? The Reformation began in the 1500’s after the Catholic Church adopted man’s law and used it to replace God’s Word. (See indulgences) History repeats itself and our modern and enlightened church leaders feel a need to place their desires above God’s law, and another Reformation begins. Unfortunately, the leaders of the ELCA are doing more than disregarding God's Word, they are leading our brothers and sisters in Christ astray. Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples, "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come." Many will accept this false doctrine and learn to place more authority over earthly opinions, especially, as in “Human Sexuality-Gift and Trust”, if it means taking the easier path.

As Jesus hung on the cross, bearing OUR sins, God terminated His relationship with Jesus, causing Him to cry out in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God’s rejection of His Son was intended for us as the penalty for our sin. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, did this in our stead, so that we did not have to endure this great punishment that we so rightly deserve. When we place ourselves above the Lord, we push God aside and like a petulant child, turn away from Him, making our Lord’s sacrifice for us into a mockery. We need to bring ourselves closer to the Lord, not push Him away. God’s people must stand against this false doctrine of bound conscience. Do not fall into this trap that has been set by the leaders of the ELCA. We all are sinners, no better and no worse than any other child of God, and our Lord calls us to accept and love all sinners, no matter what their sin may be. John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Although this command was directed at his disciples, it also pertains to each and every one of us, as we are also His disciples. Our Lord desires our love and obedience. This bound conscience will only cause us to turn away from the Lord and suffer the loss of His presence. We cannot place ourselves before our Lord, who sacrificed all for us, in order to satisfy our selfish desires. If we diminish His sacrifice for us by accepting this false gospel, we jeopardize our gift of eternal life with Him.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Guest Post

Human Experience, or God’s Word of Promise?

A Lutheran thought for Good Friday.

I am part of group of Lutheran pastors throughout the country, from all of the synods, who share a common devotional practice. We use a resource for daily scripture reading and prayer titled “For All the Saints.” (Learn more about this incredible resource at The first reading for this morning filled me with a thought that seemed appropriate for this blog.

The text is Lamentations 3:1-33. It is obvious why it is chosen for Good Friday. While it was written by the prophet Jeremiah as a prayer of grief, after the fall of Jerusalem, its words also speak to Christ’s suffering on the cross. In particular, it helps us feel the sense Christ had of being the victim of God’s wrath against the sin of the world. “I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath.” Lam. 3:1 Phrases like “I have become the laughingstock of my people” apply directly to the crucifixion.

Verses 1 – 20 are a relentless description of the experience of suffering – especially that kind of suffering where we feel that God has abandoned us, and we have no hope. “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.” (3:17). But suddenly, at verse 21, the mood turns around: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:21-23).

What makes this passage so Lutheran is how places our human experience directly against God’s Word, especially God’s promises. On the cross, Jesus experienced in an intense way something that most of us have known – the feeling that we are lost, the experience of pain, betrayal, and loss of hope. At these times, if we only look at our experience of suffering, we will lose faith, leave church, abandon God, and lose our salvation. This is just what Satan desires. Luther taught us that scripture teaches us to NOT trust our experience, but to trust God’s Word. Judas trusted his experience of guilt and shame for betraying Jesus, and killed himself in despair. Peter felt equally guilt, but must have believed Jesus’ words promising forgiveness.

So, when we are faced with suffering, faithful Christians do not “trust their feelings” or “believe their experience.” Faithful Christians trust God’s promise, given in scripture. That trust opens the doors to God’s mercy and salvation.

This brings me to one of the things that has so deeply troubled me about the ongoing debates in the ELCA concerning scripture. Many voices are going against all genuine Lutheran teaching, and saying that we need to use our personal experiences to help us interpret scripture, even overturn the plain words of scripture. But once we let our own experiences be our guide, all hope is lost. Because our earthly experience is one of sin, failure, guilt, and ultimately, death. The Bible calls us to turn this around, and look at our experiences in the light of God’s promises. Then, even though we experience great loss, we can be like the author of Lamentations, and see the new hope that is beyond our experience, God’s promise of redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life.

Jay Thorson