Friday, December 21, 2012

On Your Permanent Record

The 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High featured a young Sean Penn (good actor, bad politics) as a pot smoking slacker that was constantly harassed by a teacher played by Ray Walston. (My Favorite Martian for all of you in my age bracket) Walston warned Penn that his bad behavior would be noted on his permanent record and would follow him forever. Acts 13:38-39, “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” Even slacker Christians that violate the law with regularity are justified by their faith in the Risen Christ. No, these offenses are not noted on your permanent record with God, and for many of us that fall short way too often, that is a welcome relief. Our God is a forgiving God that loves His children beyond any human’s ability to comprehend.

So, does that mean that we are no longer bound by or restricted by the law? Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” So, what of those who decide to invoke their bound conscience to overrule verses of Scripture with which they disagree? When we truly love our Lord and Savior, we necessarily want to please Him in all we do. And how can we better please Him but by being obedient servants? Scripture is the written word of God. His rules are set out before us, put to words by the Holy Spirit inspired authors of the Bible. Jesus said in John 14:23-24, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

It cannot be plainer to anyone who reads the words of Jesus, that the law remains important for every believer. In fact, the Gospel cannot exist without the law. The two are inseparable. The law demands righteousness, the Gospel bestows righteousness. Christ is the living embodiment of the law and it is through faith in the Risen Christ that righteousness is bestowed upon believers. In other words, any Christian deliberately behaving in a manner contradictory to what the law demands, denies that Christ is foremost in their lives for all to see. Our actions are to show the world our love for Christ so that others may see and also want to know Christ. Every action, no matter how small, is done to give the glory to God. When we place our opinion over the word of God, we give glory to ourselves and deny our God. This does not go unnoticed by the world. Those thirsting to fill that emptiness within their hearts are watching and just may be turned away from the cross and be compelled to look elsewhere, if we behave contrary to the law.

Our brothers and sisters in the ELCA continue to reach out with their imperfect love, allowing the doctrine of bound conscience to remain an open avenue to disregard Scripture and fulfill the cravings of a sinful humanity. Granted, it is difficult to deny oneself in order to please our God, but our obedience will not only be pleasing to God, it will fill our own emptiness by allowing Christ into our hearts. Actions pleasing to God are also very satisfying to those engaging in them. Every time one acts when the Spirit presents an opportunity to serve, the servant often receives as much satisfaction from performing that act as does the recipient of the service. This is how the Holy Spirit works in us. Our obedience leads us to proclaim the Gospel by allowing us to be filled with His love and then to pour out that love to those in need. All of this to bring glory to God. All of this to show the world the love our God has for His children. All of this to reveal the Truth to the world in order to bring all His children to faith in the Risen Christ.

As you celibrate during this Christmas season, remember who it is that you serve. Much is asked of those who serve the Lord and much more will be required, and those entrusted with much responsibility will receive even more responsibility. Once you become a good and faithful servant of the Lord, it becomes easier and easier to serve Him. Be a joyful servant and serve the Lord, obedient to the best of your ability.

Joy to the world for unto you a Savior has been born. Serve Him with all your heart, mind and soul ever mindful that your service is to proclaim the glory of God by sharing His love with those in need of Him. Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Other "F" Word

Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” It should be so easy, but forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks a human being may ever undertake. Anger is so effortless and although it eats away at our very own well-being by giving us a sense of bitter satisfaction, it somehow remains very appealing. After all, when someone wrongs us, it seems to be so right to carry a grudge against that someone who deliberately, or perhaps unknowingly committed that act that caused us so much consternation.

The song “Forgiveness” by Matthew West says it so well, “It’s the hardest thing to give away and the last thing on your mind today. It always goes to those that don’t deserve. It’s the opposite of how you feel. When the pain they caused is just too real. It takes everything you have just to say the word …Forgiveness. It flies in the face of all your pride. It moves away the mad inside. It’s always anger’s own worst enemy. Even when the jury and the judge say you gotta right to hold a grudge. It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’ …Forgiveness." 

God forgives each and every one of us, no matter how serious our sin may be. Complete, absolute, and unwavering forgiveness, each and every day, by faith alone, whether or not we ask for it. God sent His one and only Son, who took on human form and presented Himself as a sin offering for each and every human being, past, present and future. Jesus, one with the Father and the Spirit, God incarnate, became a man and experienced the ultimate form of forgiveness, willingly taking the punishment that a sinful humanity truly deserved. Even while dying on the cross in Luke 23:34, “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” As disciples of Christ, we attempt to achieve some small measure of the righteousness that our Lord and Savior demonstrated during His ministry here on earth. Yet, we remain steadfast in our refusals to grant forgiveness to those who slight us. In our politics, in our relationships, and in our biases, and even toward our fellow Christians we continue to hold that grudge. Matthew 18:21-22, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Forgiveness frees you and cleanses your soul, eliminates anger, and anger is a great toehold that the evil one uses to cause us to stray. Anger poisons the soul and along with any other negative emotion may seem to fulfill some need, but simply fulfills a sinful craving of a misguided human being. Colossians 3:8-10, “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Forgiveness truly allows us to become that new creation, one transformed by the love and forgiveness our Father has given us. From the last verse of the song, "By what you see through eyes of grace, the prisoner that it really frees is you...Forgiveness"
Many still struggle with the hurt and are angry with the leaders of the ELCA and withhold their forgiveness to those that have caused so much pain and strife. It is not for us to judge, but rest assured, our Father will make the appropriate judgment of those leading His children astray. It is difficult to retain that righteous anger that leads us to proclaim the truth so that all can hear and understand the fallacy of the wide and easy path of tolerance and diversity that has persuaded so many of our brothers and sisters to fall away from our Lord’s teachings. Our perceived anger simply causes those we are trying to reach and gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, to ignore our words and lash out in anger toward us. Forgiveness disarms those who would harbor a grudge against those that simply pray that their eyes be opened to the truth. But, as we forgive, we must also never forget. Far too many of our brothers and sisters continue to cling to the misguided belief that the ELCA is on the proper path. We are charged to continue to proclaim the truth and expose the heresies that may threaten the very salvation of those foolish enough to lift up these false gospels. Prayer can move mountains and we must continue to pray for our brothers and sisters adrift in the ELCA.