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Friendship with the World

This is the second part of a prior post, uberChristianity and Humility. We take up what James is saying to us, beginning in chapter 4:

James 4:1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

When St. Paul reminds us that we are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), it is not by our own efforts that we remain "new" but our reliance on the Lord to strengthen us through Word and Sacrament. Our passions, lusts, as St. James would have us read, are not holy as we seek to control others by beating them into submission. Most of the above trouble is an inward focus, a selfish desire to keep or maintain what one desires and covets. When James calls them adulterers, he uses the feminine plural, "adulteresses", to call them out as not of the Holy Church--also feminine--but a rival, covetous, murderous, etc., that seeks their own god--Paul would say their stomach is their god. Think Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, who sought to destroy true faith in the ancient believers of God. 

When we pray, we are to think outside of us, not just give God a grocery list of our lusts. We are to think of the whole Church and all those within her. We are not to seek a life devoted to a wealth that is without God; a life devoted to accumulation and selfish ambition has no room for God. This life seeks comfort and conformity to the world, even in so-called godly ways. Truly seeking God in humble repentance and calling Him to deliver you from selfish gain and control--placing yourself in submission and humility--is seeking God's grace and mercy in Jesus Christ, a life of repentance and faith. Trusting God will bring forgiveness and healing to you, through Jesus' wounds. 

Jesus, grant that balm and healing
In Your holy wounds I find,
Ev'ry hour that I am feeling
Pains of body and of mind.
Should some evil thought within
Tempt my treach'rous heart to sin,
Show the peril, and from sinning
Keep me from its first beginning. LSB 421, stanza 1.

Center of the Universe

Once as a child, I was fascinated at where the geographical center of the various continents were located. I remember seeing that a place in North Dakota was the center of the North American continent. I even had been to the geographical center of the continental US, a place called Lebanon, KS. But now all you have to do is google each of the seven continents and in an instant, you can get the longitude and latitude that shows you where the center of each land mass connected to a set area lies. 

It is a canard and very artificial. Why? It depends upon whom is seen as directing the pinpointing and often betrays a sense of who is in charge and who is seen as the most important. I remember looking at a map that portrayed the world upside-down, looking at the world from a southern hemisphere point of view or seeing the entire landmasses as mere islands in a much larger water-centered world. It is all artificial.

The center of the universe is not found on a planet or star, on a landmass or in a country on any planet, but in the very heart of the One who made all landmasses, planets and galaxies. The center is found in One who holds all things together for the sake of His Church. It is found in the nail-scarred hands of the One who loves His world more than we love our loved ones. You know: Jesus the Christ is the heart, core and center of all things, and in Him all things hold together. While we like to pay lip service to the people and technology that sort of protect us, ultimately it is Him Who keeps vigilance and observance over all His people, regardless of continents or territories or geopolitical mapping. 

In the Gospel reading for this future Sunday, Mark 9:30-37, we see on what the ultimate Power in the universe focuses His attention: 

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”

For all people, and because of all people and their sin and sinful natures, the Son of Man--Jesus the Christ--will be delivered into the hands of those whom He loves and for whom He came--including us--a die. And in dying, He will pay for our sin and guilt--in essence, He takes our place in punishment and death. The center of the universe hinges on the Lord Jesus becoming dead last and the ultimate servant, who takes away our sin and punishment.

This is the center of the universe of all time and all places. In Him we find peace, hope, joy and an eternal future because in Him we have complete pardon and forgiveness. Through His cross and death we have life now and always. Because He gave up His life for you, you have life in Him, and you have life daily as you die to self and rise in Him.

O Lord Jesus, thank You for Your sacrifice for me, a poor, miserable sinner. Cause me to rise each day, forgiven and renewed, and center me in You, for You saw me from eternity and thought of us most of all. All praise to You! Amen.

 

UberChristians and Humility

Many a time I address sin that is so pervasive and painful that it does hurt me to even express what it is. But I also deal with believers who express their superiority over others, and in effect, make themselves into gods that dictate to others. When we who believe hold over others that they are not quite up to our level, then we are going beyond merely speaking the truth in love or judging and calling out sin; we are making ourselves a law unto others and putting our standard above what God calls us to do. This is one of the problems of which St. James wrote about in his general epistle and which we hear this future Sunday in chapters 3 and 4. It is too long of a section to adequately look at in one sitting so I will tackle it in two sections.

3:13-18: James wants believers to show the wisdom from above in humility, not an uberChristianity based upon forcing a model of Christianity from the works of another. We should encourage one another not tear each other down due to jealousy and selfish ambition. It can look like this: 

I am the most humble person I know. Why aren't you like me?

Or: When are you going to mature to the level of Christianity that I am living? James helps us in this:

15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

From such arrogance comes a double standard, hypocrisy and evil that poisons people who honesty seek the higher things. Back when I was in college--a Christian college--there were people who looked down their nose at others and tried to spiritually bully them into some conformity to their life at a cost of their faith, so that it became a works righteousness competition to see who was the most holy. Jesus was pushed out and all the confused immature could conclude was either they were going to hell because they did not comply to this demonic standard, or they would comply to this law of works, right under the guise of someone else's spiritual immaturity and insecurity. I do not remember anyone really confronting them with their hypocrisy, but St. Paul encountered this also, so you can read about how he took them to task in Galatians.

Please do not misunderstand me: I do believe that God calls us to repentance, but Christianity is not a garden club with which we beat others into submission. The Holy Church is a MASH unit that is in the soul caring business, using resources to bring healing through the Holy Gospel of Christ Jesus that lays bare the sin, but brings the medicine through forgiveness in mercy and peace that flows from the wounds of Jesus. As far as living out our lives in grateful response, the Holy Spirit is in charge of our sanctification, not another sinful human being. We as Christians are to encourage each other with the comfort we ourselves are given. And the Holy Sacraments are the means through which we receive the healing, so again, God is in charge of us and not we ourselves.

O LORD, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.

My Helper and Upholder

King David was a proponent of seeking the LORD to sustain and uphold him. He was also a sinner who abused his authority as king of Israel. He was one of us, sinner through and through. He was eclipsed by a greater relative, also a King of Israel, yet whiteout sin. Jesus the Christ is His name and in His name did David rule and in His name did David seek help, aid and comfort--but above all, forgiveness.

In the ancient understanding of the sacrificial system, it all hinged on an innocent, perfect animal being given over to death to cover the sins of the people, so we all look to the spotless Lamb of God, also our King and our High Priest, Jesus the Christ, to purge away our sin by becoming as sin for us all. 

David saw that from his day, on one side of the cross and we see it from this side of the cross. The point is the cross in the focal point. That is the throne on which Jesus reigned and we are drawn to the cross of His suffering, deaths and sacrifice for us.

The Psalm for this future Sunday is Psalm 54, where David suffers at the hand of fellow Israelites, and his words are the words of the whole Church, who suffers for being faithful to the Christ and seeks from the LORD strength and upholding in the midst of suffering and persecution.

54 O God, save me by your name, and vindicate me by your might. 2 O God, hear my prayer; give ear to the words of my mouth. 3 For strangers [fellow Israelites who have become traitors] have risen against me; ruthless men seek my life; they do not set God before themselves. Selah [a rest or sabbatical to contemplate the works of God for His people] 4 Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. 5 He will return the evil to my enemies; in your faithfulness put an end to them. 6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. 7 For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies. Amen.

Holy Cross Day

Today, September 14, Holy Cross day, is the time in the Holy Church's calendar where we commemorate the Lord Jesus' passion upon the uplifted vehicle of His suffering and death for each person in all history. We do not worship a piece of wood, but remember that on the cursed tree--Deuteronomy 21:22-23--Jesus took the curse of our sin and guilt and shouldered them Himself. St. Paul reminds us that even this cursing points directly to the Lord Jesus:

Galatians 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”).

Again, we do not worship a piece of wood, a created thing, but we worship Him who for us and our salvation, was lifted up and set apart as a curse for us, so that we would receive the forgiveness of sins flowing from His wounds. And in those holy wounds we have complete forgiveness and pardon.

In Jeremiah 11:18-20, the Old Testament reading for this next Sunday, the prophet realizes how important is the message God has given him to proclaim to the lost sheep of Israel, in that the people turn all their efforts to stop the message and kill the messenger. 

Persecution is real, and Jeremiah feels the pain of their rejection. But he knows that he will be vindicated in the great judgment to come, when Christ returns. Jeremiah calls upon the LORD of hosts, an expression that means God uses all of His creation to bring about ultimate good in the rescue of mankind in His Christ, who is raised upon a tree.

A cursed object becomes the means for rescue; not just a cross, but Christ, who is God and Man, becomes the most cursed in all creation: 

2 Corinthians 5:21 God made [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

O Lord Jesus, lifted up upon the cursed tree, becoming a curse so that we might become the righteousness of God--a borrowed righteousness from You--call us to repentance and grant us Your blood-bought forgiveness each day; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Newbies

In catching the late come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns (sigh), our Chiefs once again proved they are a force with which to be reckoned. i sigh because the Browns were once my team, but we grow as we go. Also, a bunch of new things occurred as an African American woman, Maia Chaka, made her debut as the first African American woman to officiate in the NFL. So many things going on and yet there is nothing new under the sun, as Solomon elucidates to us in Ecclesiastes. We should not be amazed about everything, but we should be in awe of what the Lord is doing and doing for us.

I did not see the game at all as I was busy on my one day a week of work, and I missed the fly-by--and so did my confirmands--as we engaged in studying God's word to us. It was a day of newbies: new confirmation class in a new venue on a day that I saw even more new things happening. It reminds me of what the LORD said in Isaiah's prophecy: 

Isaiah 43:19 Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (See notes below.)

Rather than looking back on the glory days of the past exodus, the Lord wants His people to see Him as their present provider of exodus, as He promises in Jeremiah 23: 7– 8:

7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where He had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”). (See notes below.)

He is their deliverer from Babylon. He demonstrates this by bringing life-giving water to His people living in the wilderness and desert. The Living water that brings life is prophesied and restated by Jesus in John 4:

14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. 2 The water that I will give him will become min him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (See notes below.)

Lord Jesus, give me and my entire family unquestioning faith in Your promises, for in them is life, hope and forgiveness. Amen.

Various Authors. The Lutheran Study Bible (pp. 4785-4786, 7179 and 7245). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition. 

The Open Road

Often, after major events, Sunday worship and other things that bring out joy in our lives, we get back to the "normal" of life, if there is any right now. We are reminded to not stay addicted to the "highs" of life, as they lead to a need for constant "feeding". And when we do that, we forget the marvelous mysteries of God, given to us to nourish and strengthen us each and every day.

The Word of God and His mysteries, the Sacraments, keep us connected and fed so that we can thwart attacks of the devil and his minions. The emotional highs of events, even public worship will not sustain us, but the "goods" that God places into us will. But that is not to say that the goods that provide us with the assurance of life eternal and forgiveness cannot give us a movement of inner peace that spills over in emotional gratitude. That is a wonderful feeling provided by God, as He taps into our inner joy that fountains out in physical ways.

Psalm 100 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Bless us, O Lord, with Your Word and Sacraments, which assure us of Your faithfulness and forgiveness, and nourish us in faith and knowledge of life that is all in Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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