Unearthly Courage

It was quite the lineup we had on Saturday. Charlie Kirk—someone I don’t know that well, but have gotten to know much better in the past few days—he did a splendid job. Dinesh D’Souza and Rafael Cruz—both men that I know and respect and call friends—they, of course, spoke to the issues facing the Church with passion and clarity. They were inspirational in so many ways, and their verve was contagious.

Then there was Jack Phillips. And I must say, I’m not the same man I was before I met Jack.

For those of you who attended, you know it sometimes took Jack a minute or two to find the words he wanted to say. And when he finally reached to where the words were hiding, he took them, wrapped them in an easy gentleness, and handed them to us in a way that warmed all in the room. The love in his family and the story of his new life in Christ made us all smile. Sometimes we gave a chuckle as he attempted to add humor in his descriptions of situations of sheer terror. Other times he brought us to tears as we saw him doing what he could to hold back his own.

After he and his lawyer, Jake Warner, were done speaking, I took Jack back to the green room so he and his wife, Debi, could rest a little before lunch. While there, we visited a little further on some things. Before I left to get back to the conference, I confessed to Jack that for all the good he is doing for the cause of Religious Liberty in America—and specifically in the moment for my own congregation and the community in which she is serving in so many ways as the tip of the spear—I confessed that I don’t think I like being responsible for Jack and Debi having to relive the horrors they’ve endured. The death threats. Terrorized children and grandchildren. The six-figure debts. The years in court he’ll never get back. The verbal attacks and the vitriol he endures day after day. The badgering from his own state rulers and the constant dread of a new lawsuit threatening to shatter everything he holds dear and to bury him in hateful rubble. With each moment that he struggled to communicate to us the seriousness of his predicament and the concern he has that the same things are facing many of us, too—each of his words being born from a severe and tortuous pain—I was sad that he was called upon to retell it. I wanted him to know how thankful I truly was that he took the time to be with us, and I told him I would forever be his servant in the Lord. He needed only to call me—anytime—and I’d be there to help, to speak, to pray, to listen.

Jack shook my hand and smiled. He thanked me and in a few short words reminded me that even as it hurts to tell the story again and again, such care from others makes it better. And ultimately, Jesus has already figured it all out. With that, everything will be okay. In the meantime, as a Christian family, we’re in this together.

Before worship yesterday, my own devotions began with a portion from Ephesians 3:16, which reads: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…” Luther offered the following regarding those words:

“Worldly people are full of courage and of high spirits, and so are Christians. Christians are much stronger through the Holy Spirit, for they fear neither the world nor the devil, neither death nor misfortune. This is called spiritual strength… Worldly courage endures no longer than there is some earthly good on which to rely; but the true courage trusts in God alone and has no other good or gold than God alone; in Him it withstands all evil and wins an altogether different heart and courage from that of the world.”

It would seem that we need that unearthly courage more than ever before these days. Those who attended the conference were fortunate enough to see such courage in full bloom in Jack and Debi Phillips.

This reminds me of something. Do you remember the shooting incident at the outdoor concert in Las Vegas a few years ago? Such a horrific tragedy. A day or so after the ungodly event, I remember reading a news article about reporter interviewing a survivor of the incident who offered some startling words. The survivor said, “I arrived at the concert an agnostic. I’m leaving a believer.”

While I don’t know the fullness of what the person meant by that, I assume from the context that his agnostic beliefs (which is the belief that it’s impossible to know whether or not there is a God, and so the person neither claims faith nor disbelief) this man’s position changed to one that admits God is real. Whether he saw God at work through the people involved in the rescue and caring for others (Matthew 5), or he was willing to admit that only devilry could move a heart to such darkness, thereby inferring such evil must have an opponent, whichever it was, this man took a step toward recognizing this world is coming undone and it needs rescue.

Yesterday, Sunday, those of you who made it to church here at Our Savior, you heard the Good News of that rescue. We were blessed to have some visiting clergy. Reverend Rahn from the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, and Bishop Peter Anibati, the Bishop of the South Sudanese Lutheran Church, were both with us. Reverend Rahn preached the Gospel, and as he did, you met with and received from the One—Jesus Christ—who provides for the rescue of a world steeped in terror. Last week you heard me preach, quite literally, that on the cross, Christ gave Himself over—horrifyingly, grotesquely, vividly. He plunged into Death’s mouth, down its throat, and into its belly to be digested. From there, he was the poison that killed Death. And then He tore back up and out of Death’s corpse by way of His resurrection at Easter. You were told by way of the story of the Widow of Nain that never before has there ever been someone who could contend with the terrors of this world, namely Death, and win. And yet, the Gospel declares that the day has come, and the One who can do it is Jesus. The week before that, Pastor Zwonitzer delivered the same Good News of incredible power. Receiving a steady diet of this Gospel here at Our Savior, whether you realize it or not, you are being forearmed for meeting with a world that would seek to crush and utterly destroy you. You are being fed by His Word and Sacraments for the courage Luther described in the portion above. This supernatural food meets you where you are, and it instills the very message that supersedes the world’s hope and gives true Christian hope.

This is the same kind of hope many of you saw beaming brightly from Jack and his lovely wife, Debi—two of the humblest, and yet fiercest, heroes in American Christianity. Period.

My prayer for you, dearest Christian, is that even as you go about your day and week and are confronted by struggles—as you watch and listen to the newscasts, as you behold the sadness, the terror, the creeping hopelessness that seems to pall a Christian’s world day after day—my prayer is that you would first be calmed by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, which is a message not just of God’s existence, but one that actually displays and works His wonderful love revealed in Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. Sturdied by this, emboldened by this, made courageous by this and by this alone, go out into the world to be salt and light. Be the ones whom God will use to show a suffering world that He exists, He loves us, and He has reached out to us in our moment of greatest need. Be emitters of a Gospel that proclaims that on the cross, Jesus has already figured it all out, and with that, everything will be okay. And in the meantime, as a Christian family, take comfort in knowing we’re in this together. In Him, no matter the terrors that appear to consume this fallen world, we are and have been well cared for in and through the person and work of our rescuer, Jesus Christ.

“I Am Concerned to Know Nothing Else…”

We’re nearing the endpoint of Lent. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and with that, we’ll begin the journey through the city streets of Jerusalem in Holy Week and we’ll find ourselves situated at the foot of Good Friday’s cross.

That’s where we’re going.

In a sense, as Christians, that’s always where we’re going, to the foot of Good Friday’s cross. Each and every day, by way of our baptism into Christ, we are those who stand alongside the preaching of Saint Paul when he declares, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Why does he say it this way?

Because there on the cross, we not only see the results of Mankind’s innermost nature in Sin—the immense cost of all that we are as fallen creatures—but we also see in that terribly grotesque sight the most beautiful of occurrences: the Hope of the nations, the Rescuer of the lost, the Redeemer of the entire cosmos willingly submitting Himself to being spiked to wood as the perfect sacrifice.

This image will never be fully mined of its significance in this life. Countless theologians throughout the ages have tried to get to the absolute bottom of Calvary’s depths, but in the end, have all been forced to settle with the vocabulary and limitations of human language. Still, the power of the image, as it feeds faith, has provided for the right words to be put into the right order in order to create opportunities for the Church to sing hymns like “Jesus, Priceless Treasure.” By such sacred hymnody, the Church calls out words like, “Yet, though sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me,” followed by, “Satan, I defy thee; Death I now decry thee; Fear I bid thee cease!”

Only by way of Christ’s outpouring on the cross can we sing these things with the confidence they intend.

Like other theologians in history, Luther tried to simplify the image when he wrote things like:

Look at this picture and love it. There is no greater bondage or form of service than that the Son of God should be the servant and should bear the sin of every man, however poor and wretched or despised. What an amazing thing it would be if some king’s son should go into a beggar’s hut to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth and do all the things which otherwise the beggar would have to do. All the world would gape with open mouths, noses, ears, and eyes, and could never think and talk enough about it. Would that not be a wonderful humility?…But behold, what does it mean? The Son of God becomes my servant and humbles Himself, saying to me: ‘You are no longer a sinner, but I, I Myself step into your place. You have not sinned; I have. The whole world lies in sin, but you are not in sin, but I am. All your sin shall be upon Me, and not on you.’ No man can comprehend it. In this life hereafter we shall have a knowledge of the love of God and gaze upon it in eternal blessedness” (Exposition of John I, W.A. 46. 680 f.).

Of course, Luther is right, and as I said, we’ll never fully understand the vast dimensions of what was happening that day on that dreadful hill outside of Jerusalem’s walls, a Friday we now call “good.” Still, Lent has been helping us. It is in place to keep before us the Word of God, which reveals to us our frailty and offers the supercharged Gospel of salvation through the One who took our place in judgement.

Yes, the message is vast and powerful, but as Luther explained, it can be held so close in relative simplicity. Jesus died for you. By this act, He took your Sins on Himself. Through faith in Him and His sacrifice, all is well and you have eternal life.

Thanks be to God for this! Thanks be to God for the freedom to live in this each and every day by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Even the Sun Will Blush

I hope you had a wonderful and restful Thanksgiving time with your family. I know I did. I had a chance to play with the kids, do a little reading and writing, and enjoy the Christmas décor we managed to get into place the weekend before.

Speaking of reading, if there were ever a reason to read from Luther besides his theology, it would be because of his practiced handling of language. He sure has a way with words.

I recently read a small devotional portion from one of his sermons from 1532. In particular, he was dealing with the text of 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 in which Paul describes the resurrection at the Last Day:

“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that was sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Luther said a lot of things about this text. Still, there were two parts that peeked through to the forefront. The first was the following:

“If we stand firmly in (Christ) and do not waver, our righteousness is so great that all our sins, whatever their name and nature may be, are like a little spark, and our righteousness is like an ocean…”

Did you catch that? He just set forth a most splendid image of what it means to be counted righteous before God at the Last Day because of Jesus. Imagine the ability of a tiny spark to maintain its life let alone grow to become a fire while the entirety of an ocean’s vastness is washing over it. That spark is anything and everything pertaining to your Sin. Covered in the ocean-sized righteousness of Christ, it doesn’t stand a chance.

Simply wonderful.

The other portion that resonated with me was this:

“Further, our shame which we shall bury so ingloriously is covered with a glory that is called ‘The Resurrection of Christ,’ and with this it is so beautifully adorned that even the sun will blush when it sees it and the angels will never be able to turn their eyes away from it.”

Wow. Even the sun will blush. Even the angels will be entranced, their attention held captive.

All of this matters to us as we come up and out of the Last Sunday of the Church Year in preparation for the holy season of Advent. Both of these have as their focus the return of our Lord in glory, but also the fulfillment of the promise that we, too, will see the resurrection of our bodies at the Last Day and will stand before the throne of Christ and behold him with eyes of flesh. Not with failing eyes, but rather with perfected and gloriously restored eyes. We will be united with our bodies that went into the ground, but in an instant, they will be changed and fashioned as unto the Lord’s own body for all eternity. Luther says that the glory of this event and all who comprise it will be an astounding emittance, a shining of magnificence that outpaces the sun in its brightness. Even the angels will be amazed.

Again, wow. Can you imagine it? By the inspired Word of God through Saint Paul we know it’s true. With Luther’s skillful help, we can almost see it.

I pray that this wonderful Gospel brings you peace as you enter into a time in the new Church Year designed to remind you of your salvation while at the same time setting your heart in anticipation of the coming Lord, not only in Bethlehem, but at the Last Day. I pray that your anticipating heart is filled with a faith that stands firmly in Christ and the knowledge of His immense love. I pray that by that same love, you will be stilled to know by faith you have a place with Him in the glories of heaven when your last breath comes.

Conviction: The Yes and No of Faith

In one of my morning devotions last week, Luther said something rather interesting regarding the work of the Holy Spirit and the faith He instills by the Gospel in Christians. I found it almost as startling as I did comforting.

“The Holy Spirit is no skeptic,” Luther wrote. “He has not written an uncertain delusion in our hearts, but a strong, great certainty, which does not let us waver, and (may it please God) will not let us waver, but (praise be to God) makes us as sure as we are that we are now alive, and that two and three makes five” (On the Enslaved Will, 8 ff.).

Incredible. And when you consider the words of 1 Thessalonians 1:5, you know he’s right.

“Our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”

That Greek word Saint Paul uses here, which typically translates as “conviction,” is πληροφορίᾳ (plerophoria), and it means “complete certainty and full assurance.” Paul uses the word in other places, too. Colossian 2:2 and Romans 15:29 are a couple of examples. It is a word that, unlike so many words in our English vocabulary, is unmistakable in its purpose. It can’t be bent in a way that lessens the impact of its drive. When a first century Christian heard this word while listening to Paul’s epistle being read, he or she knew that there was no mistaking Paul’s own confidence in the Gospel and the commanding skill of the Holy Spirit at work within those who trust in Jesus as the Savior of the world.

And if for some reason they didn’t quite get it, they needed only to look around to see Christians laying their lives and livelihoods at Death’s stoop rather than forsake the One who gave His life as their ransom. Luther affirmed this when he kept on in the paragraph I mentioned above.

“We Christians must be sure of our Gospel and must be able firmly and without any wavering to say yes and no and stand by it.”

Yes and no.

Yes, I believe in Christ. No, I will not deny Him. Yes, I confess His Word as inspired, immutable, and inerrant, and the only source for faith, life, and practice. No, I will not deny His Word and follow the whims of the culture. Yes, I trust in Jesus for all that I have. No, I will not put my faith in the transient and mammonous things of this world.

Yes and no.

By the way, Jesus said this way before Luther.

“Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no; anything beyond this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:36).

Part of the Lord’s point here as He preaches the Sermon on the Mount: Don’t overthink or confuse your confession in ways that can, and often do, only serve to allow loopholes of escape from what is right and wrong, true and untrue. By the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel for faith, be found confident in your stance on Him as the truest foundation. He isn’t a wobbly Savior. He’s steady and sure. And He’s not out to make you a wobbly Christian. The Word He gives to you is powerful. Its force is nothing less than tidal by size. And when it comes to the information it brings—Law and Gospel—it is so much clearer than many in this day and age would ever confess it to be.

The Holy Spirit by the verbal and visible Gospel—Word and Sacrament—feeds to you the fortitude to say yes and no in a way that aligns with this. Without it, we become the wobbly ones. We become those who aren’t sure of what we believe or who we are as baptized children of the Heavenly Father.

Conviction—complete certainly and full assurance—is located in Jesus alone. He is the birthplace of salvation and the very reason we can have confidence in the forgiveness of sins He has won on Calvary’s cross. The Father sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name by the message of the Gospel to establish this within us. Be completely certain and fully assured by this promise. Trust that what’s being given at your church—Word and Sacrament—is of utmost importance and is good for you and your family. When you are sitting there in the pews, when you are handling the Word of God in Bible study, when you are engaged in these things, the promise is that, actually, these things are first engaging with you. You are being given things that Paul told the church of Ephesus are divine elements of “power” and “conviction.” The Holy Spirit who works through these, while at the same time being alive in you, is by no means skeptical of these heavenly gifts. He can’t be. Instead, He is devoted to them, and He’s fully committed to taking up residence and establishing the same confident devotion in you.

Thanks be to God for this!

You Have Weapons. Take a Stand.

For those who were in the Sunday morning Bible study, maybe you’ll recall that there was something very Lenten-esque that we happened upon during the discussion. You’ll remember that we talked a little bit about the Greek word ὅπλα (hopla), which is translated in both the ESV and the NIV as “armor” and yet is also reliably translated as “weapons.” The verse in particular where we met this term was Romans 13:12 where Paul boldly encourages us to be rid of the works of darkness and to put on the ὅπλα of light.

From this, there were a few very important points made during this discussion.

The first is that when Paul speaks of “putting on,” he is using the exact same word he used in Galatians 3:27 where he said that all who have been baptized into Christ, have been clothed in or put on Christ. That is important for us to know. It is a hint as to the source of the ὅπλα of light. In our baptism, we are clothed in the victory of the One who is the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, and His life, death, and resurrection. Baptized into Him, we are divinely armed.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul gives definition to the armament, calling it the πανοπλίαν (the full weaponry) of God.

Another point of the discussion was for us to keep within the framework and consistency of Paul’s words. What I mean is that whether we use the word “weapons” or “armor,” both are defensive and offensive in nature. Visiting again with Ephesians 6, verse 11 in particular, Paul describes the motion of those who are dressed in these wartime accessories. Very specifically does he say that to be clad in the armor/weapons of God, is to be made ready for engagement—that is, “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” But again, there’s an interesting word being used here. The phrase “take your stand” (στῆναι πρὸς—stand toward) isn’t a shaky description of stance. It is an expression of confident strength. It infers forward momentum—the digging in of one’s posture and pressing into what’s coming. In other words, it isn’t reactionary. It means to face off with the foe, to lean into his attacks. Again, in a military sense, it carries a substance of being both defensive and offensive.

So, what’s the point?

It all comes back to baptism. Your baptism is a powerfully re-creative thing. Not only have you been joined to Christ—having been made a member of that great body who stands before the throne of God’s grace, having a washed robe made bright white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7)—but you have been fortified as one ready to engage in the world with a posture of unearthly courage and strength that proves unbending against the evil schemes of that old evil foe, the devil, who would see the Gospel light dimmed and your hope extinguished.

Pay attention to the readings during Lent. In one way or another—whether prominent or tiptoeing around the scene in concealment—the devil is present in each one. He had to be. As Jesus made His way to the cross, the devil wanted nothing more than to thwart the Lord’s efforts. And not just to stop His saving work, but to keep everyone the Lord met from putting their faith in Him. It’s the same for us. The devil is scheming to keep us from the Lord, and he’s using every weapon at his disposal to do it.

But we have weapons, too. Paul pointed to our baptism as the heavenly weapons cache. Interestingly, when Luther considered some of the same texts, he said that the most deadly of the weapons in that baptismal cache for use by the Christians, the ones capable of slaying the devil, are the Word of God and the regular study of it.

Who can argue with that? In essence, Luther just said that the frontline for the supernatural warfare is played out in Holy Worship, the event where we are immersed from head to toe in the verbal and visible Word of God; and then Bible study, the place where we dig into and embrace that Word for the benefit of salvation and for leaning into the earth shaking might of the oncoming forces of this present age each and every day of our lives.

A lot of folks practice fasting for Lent, that is, they give up something. How about giving up your after-worship routine and attending the adult Bible study with so many others in your Christian brigade?

It will be worth your while. Although, don’t feel as though you need to take my word for it. Take the encouragement of Saint Paul and Rev. Dr. Luther.

Cue the Bolt of Lightning

I pray all has been well with you so far this week, most especially since the recent snowfall made travel for some very difficult. It certainly does give each Christian behind the wheel an opportunity to pause before setting out to seek the Lord’s care and then pause once arriving to give Him thanks for the safe keeping. If in between those two points, an accident occurs, it remains an opportunity to call out to Him as Luther once urged: “O, you have helped me before, help me now!”

Speaking of Luther…

I read the following line from Luther in my morning devotions yesterday: “Man does not even know his own sin, and thinks his blindness is the highest wisdom.” When I finished that sentence, even as it was right in the middle of a paragraph, I paused. In a way, the comment struck like a lightning bolt to a weathervane, and it made me think. In fact, it sort of reminded me of the warning that God gives to His priests in Hosea 4:4,6: “For with you is my contention, O priest… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”

The point: Without God’s help, without God revealing to Man in some way that he is doing wrong, it is highly likely that Man will continue to move along in the ignorance of his sin, perhaps even considering his own efforts—all things he does with the best of intentions, things he does for the benefit of family, for self, for work, for life in general—as being wise, when in reality it is harmful to the soul and dreadfully diminishing of his relationship with Christ.

I share this as I look back on the events of this past Sunday—Anniversary Sunday. As a good number of you know, Reverend Dr. Peter Scaer was with us, and at one point on Saturday evening while he and I were sitting together and visiting over a couple of my nicer whiskies, while Jen had gone upstairs to tuck the kids into bed, he asked about attendance numbers and the basic demographics of the congregation. I shared some of the details—about how things are really turning around in this place in some pretty amazing ways. But somehow in the midst of the conversation, I was drawn to confess to him a very personal frustration: Many of our families with young children appear to care so much more about making sure their kids are involved in sports—hockey, wrestling, or whatever—rather than being in worship and Bible study. Confirmation responsibilities on Sunday morning? Sure, when hockey season is done. Worship and Sunday School? No, not this week or next. We have indoor soccer tournaments that will consume the next two weekends completely.

Not all, but unfortunately, far too great a number of families are caught up in this swirling torrent of making sure that our children are socially adaptable or well-rounded individuals, seemingly unaware as to just how harmful it is, that by doing this we are actually training them to see time with Jesus as optional—and for that matter, that the time with the Lord isn’t even the most preferred option among the ones vying or our attention. All of this is pretty much an unabashed casting aside of the First and Third Commandments, as well as the duties of parents well-established by the Fourth Commandment. It doesn’t even seem to blush as it shuns all of the New Testament texts which mandate togetherness with Christ and His church for the benefit of our souls as He feeds us through Word and Sacrament.

I dare say, the attention given to these other priorities is the very reason we saw our usual 220-per-week attendance number drop to 165 this past Sunday. But in the end, I suppose that what bothers me more than anything else is the fact that we continue to do this deliberately. Christian parents are starving and killing the souls of an entire generation of children. And they think they are doing the right thing.

Cue the lightning bolt.

So, what did the good doctor say to me this past Saturday night with regard to this?

“You’re the pastor, Thoma,” he said in a round-about way. “What have you done to show these people their sins?”

Hmm. What have I done? I guess I sort of preach about it here and there. I touch on the topic in Bible study occasionally. But again, if people aren’t in regular attendance in these places, they will have missed it. Have I steered into it directly? Have I ever thought about dedicating an entire newsletter to the issue? Have I come right out and given the knowledge of the Scriptures to God’s people? Perhaps not.

For with you is my contention, O priest… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…

People of Our Savior, forgive me for failing you in this way—whether it was because of a fear of offending you or because of a level of apathy—forgive me. And hear now, first, the Word of the Lord’s Lawful warning as it meets this challenge among the gathering of saints in this place.

Worship and Bible study is not optional. Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that it is. There’s only one other character outside of you with such a scheming intention: the Devil. He does not want you in worship (or study) because he knows that it is of the utmost essential for your life and faith and it is where you belong. And so, when you begin to consider it as just another gathering of like-minded people—a country club measure of sights and sounds that you can take or leave—behold as the writer to the Hebrews (chapter 12) pulls back the spiritual curtain on holy worship and warns:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them… But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven… Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

With this in mind, step back in the same inspired Word to chapter 11, which speaks not only to the confidence of our baptismal right as Christians to be with God in worship, but to be careful not to refuse those who warn us when we fall away to other distractions, or even worse, when we set our hearts and minds upon other things and deliberately refuse Christ as He comes to be with us, most especially by the preaching and the Lord’s Supper:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

I know. These are tough words to hear. And not just because they speak to some, but because they speak to all of us. Every one of us is guilty of such spiritual recklessness. Even me. Again, please forgive me.

Now hear the Word of the Gospel—and I will most certainly be listening to it for myself as I write it.

God knows the heart of sinful Man. He knows the innermost desire to absent ourselves from His presence. He knows it well because it was the very first thing Mankind did in the Garden after the fall into sin. We hid from Him. But God did not leave us there. His first words to fallen Man were to seek and find him. “Where are you?” He called to Adam—to us. This tells you a lot about your God. He loves you. He does not give up on you. He does not want to lose you. He does not want to lose your children.

In Jesus Christ, He has reached out to all of us in the fullest of ways. He took upon Himself human flesh and gave up His life to redeem us—to buy us back from Sin, Death, and the power of the Devil. In our baptism, He has poured upon us the merits of this work and He has recreated us to be His children—little ones of faith who see the world and all of its trappings around us in a very different way; to have priorities that are no longer as that of the world. How can this be? Because we are forgiven. We are holy. The Holy Spirit lives in us as God’s people. We are no longer as we were before.

Thanks be to God for this!

Now, repent. The Gospel gives all that is necessary for amending the sinful life. Repent and change. Don’t be mad. Don’t get angry and begin seeking out a church that keeps silent on these things, one that is unwilling to steer into this with you for fear of offending you. You don’t want that. The Lord’s Word already told you that you don’t need that. You need truth. Rejoice now that the one God has set in place to give this to you has indeed given it. Why? Because it stems the results of God’s own dreadful foretelling: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” I don’t want this for you.

Now, before closing, I should make a quick clarification. If you are planning to be away for a tournament, no sweat. Just be sure to find a faithful Lutheran congregation and go to church. I know for a fact that some of our families do this, and for that, I commend their faithfulness. Either way, just know that you don’t have to be here, but you do need to be in worship. That’s the priority. Be fed. Don’t skip it and think you’ll pick it up next week. Habits form and it becomes all too easy to slip away. And if you don’t know which church to go to, let me know. I can help with that. I want to help with that!

And so, with all of this being said, know that I’m praying for you. Know that I am trusting that by the Gospel truth that has been given, God—the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit—will strengthen you, and He will bless and preserve you as His holy child.

I won’t stop moving with this important kind of encouragement. You need it. I need it. We all need the rightly divided Law and Gospel. Thanks be to God that our Lord has given these to us as the treasures that they are!

Indeed, thanks be to God!

It’s Not Given to You to Destroy Sin

In my devotional reading this morning, I came across the following, which is Luther speaking from the perspective of Jesus regarding John 15:16:

“It is not given to you to destroy sin; that is for you too lofty a thing, and it belongs to My calling alone. But you should bear fruit, first, that God thereby be honored and praised, and that you may show your obedience; therefore to the good and betterment of your neighbor, so that it can be seen that you truly believe in Christ and belong to Him.”

Two phrases in particular stood out for me in this paragraph. They were: “It is not given to you to destroy sin…” and “…so that it can be seen that you truly believe in Christ and belong to Him.”

The first one hit home because it brought to mind the fact that for many Christians, they believe that their faith means policing the world and everyone in it—that as Christians, we must be out and about like super-spiritual vigilantes crushing all those who would oppose Christ and His Church. And while there are times when we must do all that we can to impair or crush the sinful world’s efforts—some of those things being precisely what we as a congregation are doing as we interface with the Kingdom of the Left on issues of Abortion, Marriage, and Religious Liberty—it’s impossible for sinners to actually do all that would be necessary for winning the war being fought against the devil, the world, and the sinful flesh. Only Christ can do that.

With that, the second phrase gathers some momentum. It reminds us that Christ does indeed call for us to step up, to be steady and faithful in the combat—to show forth the fruits of faith so that the world will be able to see who we are and to whom we are obedient. As I mentioned before, sometimes that obedience means marching off and into the war to crush enemy strongholds in sin, but more often than not, it may not be that exciting. It could just mean being who you are as a Christian right where God has placed you—as a mother, a father, a student, a teacher, a business owner, a grandparent, a giver, a helper, a speaker, and so many other things. Believe it or not, it’s right there that your witness is often most potent. It’s in these daily regimens of faithfulness that so many challenges are met head on and the devil is frustrated. He hates diligently faithful Christians. He hates Christians who, as it has been said, “believe loudly.” This means not only those who are willing to stand up and speak for truth, but those who live it each and every day right where they live, breathe, and have their daily being.

I suppose that’s my encouragement to you today—to know that this congregation, as she exists in her mission to seek and save the lost, is not one requiring that all involved in the efforts be all-stars. Many of you have heard me say the following before: We don’t need all-stars, but rather we need people who know the fundamentals and come to play hard. The “playing hard” means not only knowing what you believe and why you believe it, but simply showing forth the fruits in a way for the world to see and know that you have a Lord, His name is Jesus, you trust Him, and you’d give up your life before ever forsaking Him.

That itself is a powerful witness that can and will happen no matter where you are, and in my experiences in places where the heat has been turned up, the Christians emitting such substance were the ones the opposing forces knew wouldn’t roll over in the face of challenge. And those same Christians served as beacons that led others to Christ’s hopeful deliverance in the face of a world that’s coming undone.

That’s a picture of the kind of people who comprise the ranks of Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan. I say that unreservedly, and with that, I am so incredibly proud… and blessed… to serve here.