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Engaging with Our Lord

Jesus Christ loves you. There is no ambiguity. There is no reason to doubt this. He has come to you specifically in the waters of Holy Baptism where you were joined with Him. You are part of His body, the Church, His bride.  You have been made holy and clean by the washing of water with the Word. Your sins have been forgiven. You have been rescued from death and the devil. You have received eternal salvation. You were sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Jesus purchased you with His blood, brought you into Himself, and made you a new creation. You are part of God’s holy family, adopted as a son, a joint heir with Christ. Because of Jesus, you will be raised incorruptible and live with Him and all the saints in the New Heaven and Earth without sin, death, and evil.

Though we cannot do anything to merit the grace and mercies God has poured upon us in Christ, there is an appropriate response in our lives now. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 11:36-12:2) And the Lord enables our response, bringing to death our sinful flesh and raising us up in Christ. 

Our Lord Himself actively engages with us through the ministry of the Word. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). He does not avoid doing what is necessary and good for us. This includes confronting us in our sin and putting to death the sinful flesh that clings to us, so that He may raise up in us the new life that will continue in eternity. We will not get this from the world, which does not love us or care about us. The world will encourage you to do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be. But this is a lie. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

When we avoid engaging with the Word of God, whether at home with our Bible or in the Divine Service where His Word is preached and administered in the Sacraments, we are avoiding our Lord. However, when we engage with God’s Word and Sacrament, we are engaging with our Lord!

Hear and Love

Hear and Love

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

Because of their concise and memorable language, creeds help us to teach, talk about and keep in mind important truths. In the Mark text above, Jesus cites the creed from Deuteronomy known as the “Shema” (“Hear” in Hebrew), which is still said or sung twice a day by observant Jews today. This is also God’s Word and creed for us today.

God calls us together at Zion so that we may hear His Word and respond in love to Him and neighbor. We are hearing God’s Word together at Zion, so let us consider how we may also respond in love as a congregation together. If you have thoughts about this, please let me know

In the “Shema” in Deuteronomy, the Lord instructs the people of Israel to teach, talk about, and be mindful of His Word, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 4:6-7). His Word is precious. As you hear it, ponder it, treasure it up in your hearts, teach it diligently to your children, talk about it in your home and wherever you are. 

As you love your neighbor, tell them what you hear and know about the Lord. Maybe use the Apostles’ Creed as an outline. Tell your neighbor that you “believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”, and you may stimulate a conversation. Explain that “Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord was crucified, died and was buried”, and they may ask some questions. Continue through “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting”, and pray the Holy Spirit work saving faith in them through the hearing the Word of God. Would that not be hearing the Lord our God and loving your neighbor?

One Thing, and Only One Thing...

One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11[:25], ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live’; and John 8[:36], ‘So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed’; and Matt 4[:4], ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. This is why the prophet in the entire Psalm [119] and in many other places yearns and sighs for the Word of God and uses so many names to describe it.”

-Martin Luther

Yes, the Word of God is necessary! It is a priceless treasure. We who have it are truly blessed and rich beyond measure. And yet, “finding” the time or desire to take in God’s Word can be a challenge. 

As an encouragement and practical advice, I suggest that you simply make reading the Bible part of your daily routine. Make it a priority, knowing how necessary it is. Pick a time of the day that works, especially if you are doing this with others in your household, and stick to that same time every day. Start small and easy if you want with shorter readings and prayer to help establish the routine. When you miss a day, just pick it up the next day. Find a method or devotional resource that works for you. Our congregation’s weekly “Guide to Daily Prayer and Devotions” is intended to help you in your devotions, whether you use all or parts of it. It can also connect members around the same scripture and catechism lessons. (Since the readings correspond to the daily lectionary in our hymnal and the “Treasury of Daily Prayer”, it also connects us to Lutherans around the world going through the same text.) 

If you would like help finding a resource or developing a routine, please let me know. I am also happy to discuss with you any observations you make or questions that arise from your time in the Word. 

And, in addition to Sunday divine services, you can take in God’s Word at Sunday morning Bible class, Wednesday at the 9:30am study of the upcoming readings, and Wednesday at the 6:30pm divine services. Your soul will appreciate the nourishment.

Built on the Rock, the Healthy Congregation

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27

At our Board Training last month, DJ Schult cited the book, Built on the Rock, the Healthy Congregation, as an encouragement for our leaders to be in regular Bible study and devotions. This book, written by respected church reconciliation consultant, Ted Kober, presents biblical insights and observations of many churches. Kober writes, “The healthy churches I encounter benefit from larger percentages of people in regular Bible study. Their leaders demonstrate scriptural knowledge and trust in Christ as they practice repentance through confession and forgiveness. Unhealthy churches have small numbers of people who know God’s Word or apply it to their own lives…Healthy churches are those whose leadership and membership are solidly grounded in Christ, nourished by God’s Word, and able to apply it to their lives…Church leaders and members who are unfamiliar with God’s Word and fail to apply the Word to themselves are spiritually immature. The result? Their churches are unhealthy. The lack of spiritual maturity is shown in their inability to admit their faults and forgive one another. The consequences? Great harm is done to individuals, the church as a body, and its public witness.” He also writes, “The lack of a church’s health becomes revealed in conflict.” 

As Jesus parable instructs us, we want to be securely founded upon Christ, the Rock, so when the storms of conflict come, our congregation remains strong. 

Paul says, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3: 16) Letting “the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” is necessary for spiritual maturity. And bearing good fruit comes from spiritual wisdom and understanding, gained from an increase in the knowledge of God. “…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9b-10) 

Let us “increase in the knowledge of God” by studying and meditating on the Bible often with others and in personal devotions. 

Hope is a Captain

Here is Martin Luther’s discussion of the difference between hope and faith from his Galatians 5:5 commentary. (Thanks to Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller for this gem.) 

Therefore faith and hope differ first in their subjects:
because faith is in the intellect and hope is in the will; yet they cannot be separated in fact, just as the two cherubim of the mercy seat cannot be separated (Ex. 25:19).

In the second place, they differ in their function:
for faith commands and directs the intellect, though not apart from the will, and teaches what must be believed. Therefore faith is teaching or knowledge. Hope is exhortation, because it arouses the mind to be brave and resolute, so that it dares, endures, and lasts in the midst of evils and looks for better things.

Furthermore, faith is a theologian and a judge, battling against errors and heresies, and judging spirits and doctrines. On the other hand, hope is a captain, battling against feelings such as tribulation, the cross, impatience, sadness, faintheartedness, despair, and blasphemy; and it battles with joy and courage, etc., in opposition to those great evils.

Finally, they differ in their objects:
as its object faith has truth, and it teaches us to cling to this surely and firmly; it looks to the word of the object, that is, to the promise. Hope has goodness as its object; and it looks to the object of the word, that is, to the thing promised or the things to be hoped for, which faith has ordered us to accept. (Luther’s Works 27:22-23)

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

It's What We Do

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:9-10)

What do you do when you mess up? Confess your sins, out loud. Silence is not an option. “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found…” (Ps 32:3-6a) And thanks be to God, it is a time when the Lord may be found. He is found in His church where His Word is proclaimed and His sacraments rightly administered. So we confidently confess our sins when we gather for Divine Service, and we hear Christ speak forgiveness to us through His called and ordained servant. 

We are not stuck in our sins, sitting in silent guilt, stewing in remorse, crushed by their weight. But Jesus opens your lips to declare His praise and a whole lot more. 

Scripture gives us plenty of words and bold requests to cry out to God in our sinfulness. Psalm 51 is a great example. This is King David’s psalm of repentance and contrition after the prophet Nathan had confronted the king about his adultery with Bathsheba. David confesses his sin and evil, and he asks God to “blot out” all his transgressions, to “wash” him thoroughly from his iniquity, to “cleanse” him from his sin, to “create” in him a clean heart, to “renew” a right spirit within him, to “not cast” him away from God’s presence, to “not take” God’s Holy Spirit from him, to “restore” to him the joy of God’s salvation, to “uphold” him with a willing spirit, and to “open” his lips. An astonishing prayer from a depraved sinner. All David has to offer God in exchange is “a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart”. And yet, this is exactly the sacrifice God would not despise. This is because of the Lord’s steadfast love and mercy – the basis of this bold prayer.

The words of this psalm were given to David by the Holy Spirit to speak, sing and cry out to God in his sinfulness. These words and all the words of Scripture are given to us as well.

The Lord knows your sins, and He invites you to confess them out loud, so that He may forgive, renew, and restore you with the joy of His salvation through the words of the pastor. In addition to joining the congregation Sunday mornings in speaking words of confession and hearing the words of absolution in the Divine Service, I also encourage you to go through with me the rite of Individual Confession and Absolution (LSB pp292-293) where you hear God’s words of forgiveness spoken directly to your sins. You may stop by my study when I am at church or schedule a time that is convenient for you. 

“The great treasure of the church is the message of forgiveness of sins. Where there is forgiveness of sins there are also life and salvation. To dispense this treasure God not only instituted the ministry and gave us the sacraments but also instituted the office of the keys. He bestowed upon his church the authority to remit or retain sins in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only where this authority is exercised can the church live. For unforgiven sin destroys the fellowship; forgiveness creates it. Therefore every Christian is called to confession.” (statement presented for discussion in the Lutheran Church in Germany, 1949)

Approach with Humility

Luther’s Lectures on the Psalms contain many declarations concerning the Scriptures, including the following where he points out the need to constantly go back to them and to approach them with humility (bolded by me):

“What pasture is to the beast…, the nest for the birds, the stream for the fish, the Scriptures are for the believing souls. To the arrogant, of course, they are a stumbling block; he will have nothing to do with them, since they offer him nothing. But to him who approaches the Scriptures with humility they open themselves and themselves produce humility, change man from a desperate sinner into a child of God. They give everything which the soul needs, and it is to tempt God, if anyone will not be satisfied with the Scriptures. They are the fountain from which one must dip. Each word of the same is a source which affords an inexhaustible abundance of water to everyone who thirsts after saving doctrine. God’s will is completely contained therein, so that we must constantly go back to them. Nothing should be presented which is not confirmed by the authority of both Testaments and agrees with them, It cannot be otherwise, for the Scriptures are divine; in them God speaks and they are His Word.” Lectures on the Psalms, 1513-1515

I encourage you to “constantly go back to” the Scriptures with humility, knowing that that “in them God speaks and they are His Word” that they may give to you “everything which the soul needs”

To help you and your family to regularly go to “the fountain” of Scriptures and be “satisfied”, we introduced A Guide for Daily Prayer and Meditation on November 27 (the start of the new church year). With the help of the Lord, we hope to further develop the guide to be a beneficial tool for you. Each week, the guide will be prepared and included with the Sunday bulletins and posted on the Zion website. We hope you will use it to enhance your current practice or to develop a new practice of daily prayer and meditation in God’s Word. As you try it out, please let me know how it is working for you and if you have suggestions on how to improve its use. 

As we have now entered the Season of Advent, the church emphasizes our Lord coming to us in four ways: 1) coming through the prophets pointing to Christ’s birth, 2) coming in the flesh as a baby in Bethlehem, 3) coming to us now in Word and Sacraments, and 4) the final coming at the end of the world. In addition to Sunday Divine Services, please join us for Wednesday meals (5:30p) and worship (6:30p) as we gather to contemplate and prepare for His coming. Then on Christmas Eve at 6:30pm, we’ll have a candlelight service before returning 9am Sunday, December 25, to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord.

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