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36And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38But Paul thought [it] best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:36-41, ESV)
Just for clarity: “John called Mark” is often referred to as John Mark, or simply Mark. And he was inspired by the Lord to write what we situate as the second of the four Gospel accounts in the New Testament. He’s also the one who, when he fled the armed men at Jesus’ arrest, left his garment behind and ran away dressed the same way as when he was born. Perhaps by the time the Spirit led him to recount Jesus’ ministry, John Mark could laugh at that old embarrassment.
Midway through a missionary trip with Paul and Barnabas, John Mark seems to get homesick. He detaches himself from the missionary team in Pamphylia and returns home to Jerusalem. And for that reason, Paul opposed making John Mark part of the team for the next missionary journey. But Barnabas is no light-weight, no more than Paul. And Barnabas stands up for his nephew, insisting that John Mark accompany him and Paul on the trip.
The “sharp disagreement” between these two well-educated, vigorous, faithful preachers of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus might shock us, or perplex us. How can two Spirit-filled vessels clash like that? But then we recall two key facts. First, it happens all the time. And second, there’s a reason why. Even Spirit-made saints (believers who are being sanctified and strengthened by the Holy Spirit) still struggle with the Old Adam (or Old Eve) within. The battle continues between the Inner Sinner and the New Person in Christ. We are, every one of us, “simul justus et peccator”—at once sinner and saint.
The “peccator” (sinner) part of each of us is no cause for celebration. But the tussle between the Old Adam in Paul and Barnabas, as well as the ongoing reality of “church politics,” should not discourage us. As the editors of the Lutheran Study Bible point out, the split between Paul and Barnabas has this result: instead of one missionary trio going forth to refresh and encourage recently planted Christian congregations, there are now two pairs. In effect, since both pairs likely had additional helpers, the work is cut in half and efficiency is doubled.
I’d like you to take (at least) two things away from this event in Acts 15. First, even when we act selfishly, foolishly, or otherwise fail to show spiritual maturity, God can bring about good for the Gospel and for Christ’s Church. And second, it’s not how much press you get that counts. After this parting of ways, Luke’s focus rests on Paul’s ministry: but that doesn’t mean Barnabas’ ministry stops. We just know less about it. Indeed, the Scripture stops the story of the launch and spread of the New Testament Church before Paul’s ministry is over, and with little mention of anyone else’s ministry in action.
Still, I have to smile when I imagine the day Barnabas and Paul reconciled. Did they share dry wine, or sweet? Well, either way I’m sure they laughed at their bullheadedness: each at his own primarily, and both with a warm chuckle over the whole silly thing. And surely both gave God thanks that their journeys bolstered the faith and confidence of so many new Christians. God be praised. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:16-20, ESV)
The Greek word translated “authority” means “authority and the power to exercise it.” Further, “all nations” is not a reference to political entities: it means all ethnicities, or all ethnic groups (Greek: panta ta ethne). Also, baptizing “…in the name of…” can best be understood to mean baptizing “into the name that belongs to…,” which would be the name God delivered to Moses: Yahweh—the one, true, triune God. Finally, “always” really means “every one of the days.”
If we try to take stock of the mystery of the Holy Trinity intellectually, or even using metaphysical philosophy, we’ll probably end up with a headache. If we believe in the triune God (“…one God in three Persons…three Persons in one God”) with the trusting faith of a son or daughter looking up to our heavenly Father, we can boldly confess that our heavenly Father lives and reigns with the Son and the Holy Spirit, “…one God, now and forever,” Amen!
Sometimes on Trinity Sunday, if I’m doing the Children’s Message, I ask the young kids (most of whom are under 10) this question: “Kids, is it true or false that if a(x)2 + b(x) + c = 0, then x equals negative b plus, or minus, the square root of b2 minus 4(ac), all divided by 2(a), provided that b2 minus 4(ac) is greater than or equal to zero?” Of course, they look at me with quizzical expressions; and I tell them it is true, but I don’t expect them to understand all that. God doesn’t expect us to understand him fully, so much as he wants us to receive his love in Christ and love him back.
Paul says that presently we know “in part,” and that in the age to come we will know “fully.” But we entrust the details, dynamics, and particulars of that “full” knowledge to God. In other words, what will we learn when we get to Heaven? God knows! Meanwhile, we stand in awe of God’s majesty; even as we bask, and grow, in the warmth of his mercy. What matters most is now how clearly or fully we understand God, but how completely and lovingly he understands and blesses us. In Jesus’ name, Amen!
4And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” … 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. 10And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:1-5, 8-11; ESV)
The phrase, “while staying with them” could be rendered, “while eating with them.” Also, “in the same way as you saw him go” refers to a miraculous transport between where we dwell and where God dwells. I believe the lack of detail, the absence of any stated dynamics, is intentional. To quote “Spies Like Us”: Information—including details about how Jesus left one realm and entered another—is given on a need-to-know basis, and at this point we do not need to know. That’s God’s call.
My description of our Lord’s visible departure, and his attendant return to the Father, is simple: “Up, up, and away.” That’s what the apostolic band saw. And “two men dressed in white” is code for angels: they’re described the way they look to those seeing them in their “human suits.” Being addressed by a noncorporeal spirit could be rather unsettling; God directed his messengers to be merciful by appearing to be human. And those messengers labored to prevent the eleven ambassadors of the Gospel, and any others who’d accompanied them, from being bombed by birds passing overhead.
The cool thing we don’t want to forget, or lose sight of, is this: the next time Jesus makes that transport, we get to go along for the ride. And if we’re with Jesus when he returns to this world, it will be a “round trip” for us. Remember what he said: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:2a, 3-4, ESV). And what is the way to the place where Jesus went? That’s actually rather simple: Just hold onto him, and enjoy the ride! In his name, even Jesus, Amen.
14But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” 15“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. 16Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:14-16, ESV)
“Even these may forget”: and it happens. But God will never forget us. And for many of us, our mom is one of his gifts we prize most. My mother will turn 90 on Mothers’ Day this year. We used to joke that she often got shorted one gift, any time Mothers’ Day fell on her birthday (May 9th). Now, it seems that one gift for both occasions is plenty in her view. My mother-in-law shares her birthday with “her firstborn, a son” (I thought I’d put that in biblical terms). A healthy mother-child bond is a special relationship that only gets any serious competition from diligent fatherhood.
Not everyone becomes a parent, and no one should feel obligated or “duty bound” to procreate or to parent (unless they end up with kid[s]). Some would love to, but are unable. And an adoptive mother who’s devoted to her child(ren) is no less a mom than a birth mother. One of the ways God declines to forsake us is to provide surrogates and subs when needful.
As we know, godly motherhood is among the best and brightest expressions of agape, unselfish Christlike love. One recording artist wrote a song to her unborn baby, and it included these lyrics: “I’ll show you what love is, and all that you’re worth; you show me how to put somebody else first.” Mothers and fathers ache when their children suffer; and both would readily give their lives to protect and defend their daughters and sons.
Surely that calls to mind any number of Gospel statements from Scripture, which such unselfish solicitude imitates. I close with this one:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32, ESV).
Thank you, mothers! And thanks, Mom. God bless one and all in Jesus’ name. Amen.
30So Philip ran to [the Ethiopian official in the chariot] and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so he opens not his mouth.” (Acts 8:30-32, ESV)
This weekend’s sermon (Saturday at 5:00 pm, Sunday at 10:30 am) begins a series on Gospel Outreach, one that will cover the end of the Easter Season; carry us through Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity; and conclude relatively early in the “Green Season” (referring to color-coded Liturgical Calendars), i.e., the roughly two-dozen Sundays after Pentecost.
This event recorded in Acts 8 is an example of a witnessing opportunity being dumped in a believer’s lap. The fuller epistle reading for Easter 5 (May 2nd this year) tells us that the Holy Spirit told Philip just where to go, and just whom to speak to. Plus, the target was reading Isaiah’s passage about the Suffering Servant—Jesus, of course—who “…was pierced for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5, ESV). In this instance we’re granted to see how the Holy Spirit orchestrated a Gospel witnessing event. How lovely to behold!
Of course, not every witnessing event unfolds like that one. Still, each one can be beautiful to behold. I recall the director of a mission school in Iowa relating the story of a student at their Lutheran day school who came from an unchurched home. Perhaps in Religion class, perhaps at chapel, perhaps both: one way or another this young child heard the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit caused it to take root in her. She went home and insisted that per parents attend church with her on Sundays. She said she knew she was going to Heaven one day, thanks to Jesus; and she didn’t want to be there without them! Brings tears to my eyes every time.
If you like, please share with me witnessing events you were part of—whether you shared your faith in Christ and the Gospel, or you got to see someone else doing so. The more we encourage one another as Gospel ambassadors for Christ; and the more we celebrate witnessing events that are beautiful to behold, the better prepared we will be to speak about what we believe—thanks, of course, the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16Let 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.17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17, ESV)
Did Martin Luther, at the Imperial Diet of Worms, say: “I can do no other. Here I stand. May God help me”? Some say yes (including me); others say that was added on later, as a sort of appendix, either by Luther or by someone else. The reality is that the presence or absence of the “Here I stand” line changes nothing of substance. Even before that comment is believed to have been made, Luther had already taken his stand, with words like these:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.”
What’s more, as soon as he uttered the words translated, “I cannot and I will not retract anything…,” the meeting room likely fell into audio pandemonium: half the onlookers cheering Luther; the other half jeering; and all of them filling the place with a whole lot of noise. So, at that point, how could anyone hear anything else Luther said, whether to himself or to others? I suspect that anything Luther said after his firm “No revoco” was recovered only later, as the reformer reflected on the event. At any rate, I stand by the words, i.e., I believe Luther did say them: “I can do no other; here I stand; may God help me; Amen.”
The song would be penned centuries later, but had it been available in the 16th century Luther could surely have sung it: “I stand upon the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!” For whatever the precise words spoken by Luther at the Diet of Worms, what that kids’ song says is just what Luther was saying. And Lutheran Christians (among others) say the same thing, and take the same stand—using a wide variety of vocabulary, yet echoing the same Bible-based stance of faith.
And “…the word of Christ” is the Gospel that says his sinless life, innocent suffering, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection obtain for us and for all who believe forgiveness of sins, sanctification, salvation (body and soul), and life everlasting. So, our hearts sing: “O Savior, precious Savior; whom yet unseen we love. O name of might and favor, all other names above. We worship you, we bless you; to you alone we sing. We praise you and confess you, our holy Lord and king” (LW 282:1). In that same name, even Jesus, Amen.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(1st John 1:8-9, ESV).
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13, ESV)
C.S. Lewis put it well: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive…” (Mere Christianity, III:7). We are frail, but God is not. If we are to let go, to forgive, to absolve on a personal level—to let the one who hurt us “off the hook”—we need grace from God. The Inner Sinner (“Old Adam”) knows but one mantra about this matter: “Don’t get mad, get even.” But God forbids that: “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (see Romans 12:19)—and rightly so, because we’re lousy at it. Let me give an example.
I understand the feelings that generated the behavior described in this citation from a Carrie Underwood song. But I’ll comment on the problem it contains shortly (how else could I?):
“Oh, and he don’t know… That I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive, Carved my name into his leather seats. I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights. I slashed a hole in all four tires. And maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.”
We’re lousy at revenge. The subject of that song just turned a perpetrator of infidelity into a victim of vandalism. With good reason God tells us to leave recompense to him. It’s as simple, really, as a young child listening to Mom or Dad when they say to look both ways before crossing the street. The nice part here is that we can also ask God to heal the hurt that the other person inflicted on us.
I suppose the quintessential example of forgiveness is Jesus on the cross, as the soldiers pounded heavy, rough-hewn nails through his skin, flesh, and bone: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Now, you may say, that’s not a fair example to motivate us: he was God as well as man. Ah, yet that’s precisely why he can (1) understand what hurt is just as we do; and (2) supply the grace and strength we need to forgive as we have been forgiven. We can’t achieve that without a healthy prayer habit. With one, we can forgive. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Words of Institution from our Lord Jesus Christ
“Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread and gave thanks; then he broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: “Take and eat; this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup and gave thanks; then he gave the cup to his disciples and said: “Drink from it, all of you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Scripture passages from which the Words of Institution are compiled:
Matthew 26:26-28 Mark 14:22-24 Luke 22:19-20
1 Corinthians 11:23-25
You have likely heard (and read) several variations on the Words of Institution for Holy Communion. The precise English wording can properly vary, as long as the meaning is not altered or garbled. This is true for two reasons: (1) the Words of Institution are a compilation from the four Bible passages listed above, not a direct citation of any single passage; and (2) the Bible passages were written in an old version of international Greek, so the exact translation into English cannot be mandated.
The import of the Words of Institution is stated nicely by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (10:16, ESV): “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”
To understand what Paul says here, please note two points. First, “a participation in” means “a sharing of.” When we eat the bread, we share (receive together) the body of Christ. When we drink the cup of wine, we share (receive together) the blood of Christ. Second, we bless the wine, not the cup(s): Paul uses a common literary device here, called metonymy, in which a container stands in for its contents (the cup represents the wine it holds). You’ve probably heard another example of this literary device: “There goes a suit.” The word “suit” refers to the business person who is clothed in the suit: surely the jacket and pants are not walking on their own.
One of the hymns we Lutherans sing during the distribution of Holy Communion (LSB 628, verses 3 and 4) says: “Your body and your blood, once slain and shed for me, are taken at your table, Lord, in blest reality. Search not how this takes place, this wondrous mystery; God can accomplish vastly more than what we think could be.”
We believe, based on Scripture, that we are fed the body of Christ “…in, with, and under” the blessed bread; and that we receive the blood of Christ “…in, with, and under” the blessed wine. We are not called to perform either a metaphysical or a laboratory analysis: just humbly to receive God’s gifts in faith, the trusting faith of a little child—one who knows that her Father loves her (or, who knows that his Father loves him).
I believe the Christian faith is true: and our holy faith is wonderfully filled with mysteries and blessings that go beyond our understanding. We don’t need to be able to explain or fathom every way in which God gifts us and blesses us. We need simply to fall back into his saving arms and remember that he will never forsake us. In Jesus’ name, who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen!
13Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
(2nd Corinthians 4:13-15, ESV)
Faith, proclamation, resurrection, thanksgiving, eternal life: all to the glory of God, and to the blessing of his faithful people. The final Lenten “R” is Reaching Out (I know, two words, but the first does start with “r”). You could say “outreach,” but that doesn’t start with “R.”
A fun fact about faith is this: the more you share it, talk about it—“give it away,” so to speak—the more it grows within you. “I believed, and so I spoke,” or sang, or invited someone to my church, making sure to tell them how much I love it. We pray for and seek opportunities to introduce someone to the real Jesus, or if they’re already acquainted with him then to celebrate our shared faith. A blessing from above either way!
Some of our cultural traditions or habits may seem (at least at first) to discourage witnessing about Jesus to other people. We may have been trained to “mind our own business” and leave others alone when it comes to “religion.” But mentioning how much Jesus means to us, or how much our congregation means to us is, in fact, our business. C.F.W. Walther, the first LCMS president, said: “The Church is a large mission house and every Christian in it is a missionary.” I, for one, don’t care to dispute the wise words of a man with that many names.
The specs and details will vary widely as to how a given Christian shares his or her connection to Christ in a given time and place. Just keep in mind how creative God is. And always remember you’re never alone, whatever specific form an evangelism event takes: the Holy Spirit is right there with you every time. God is good!
May he who gave up his only-begotten Son to save rebellious sinners such as us richly bless your sharing of your faith—a faith that connects you to Jesus every minute of every hour of ever day! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2nd Timothy 2:3-7, ESV).
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.’” (Revelation 2:1-5a, ESV)
This week’s Lenten “R” is Reignite. We ask God graciously to ramp up virtue and clear away vice, both in our hearts and in our lives—individually, and as the Church in a given place. What we have let slide that is good or healthy, we ask our Lord to rekindle for us (a consistent prayer and devotional life, Bible Study, acts of unselfish kindness, gentleness, etc.). And what we have allowed to creep in we ask the same God, the one true God, to excise and remove from within us or among us (self-centeredness, faultfinding, gossip, impurity, judgmentalism, etc.).
We also ask our giving Father to supply “grace upon grace” for Jesus’ sake, so that we are not merely aware of Jesus and his blessed work on our behalf, but fired up about it! Excited! We want to be better reflectors of Jesus’ light, to be salt for the earth and light for the world. We want to run the race of discipleship and faith in Jesus like we mean to win the prize. If things are in order, we are no more content with mediocrity in our Christianity than we are with heresy or impurity. Tall order? Yes. Awesome God? Yes again.
May God so bless you during the remainder of your Lenten journey, and (of course) beyond! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
3:1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 12Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:1-14, ESV)
Today’s devotion is about Renewal. I will comment on renewal on three levels: individual, corporate, and societal.
Individual renewal is, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us: “Renew me, O eternal light…” He convicts us of sin and leads us to repentance. He assures us of the redeeming love of the Father for the sake of the Son. He shows us what he needs to remove from us (Paul gives a kind of grocery list, as it were, here—sexual sin, deceit, rage, greed, etc). The Spirit also shows us what we’ve let slide that we need to practice or cultivate—a forgiving spirit, compassion, kindness, humility, patience, etc. And then he sets about his holy work. And we get the benefits. Thank you, gracious Lord!
Corporate renewal—in a congregation, workplace, classroom, or school, for example—involves similar components. We seek to identify what we allow that we should expel: things like gossip, backbiting, competition for influence, faultfinding, etc. And we ask God for grace and strength to combat such things like we mean to win. Complacency can set in when we revert to an old, familiar childhood excuse: “But everybody’s doing it…” The response to that is that everybody had better repent.
We also need to cultivate and practice what we might have neglected: brotherly and sisterly love; mutual forgiveness; intentional affirmation and edification of the brethren (the opposite of faultfinding). This will lead to fraternal admonition in cases where we would have engaged in raw accusation. The goal is simple: the strengthening of the Body of Christ in a given place.
Societal renewal is clearly needed in our nation today. We pray for the curbing and abandonment of vilification, and the resumption of civil dialogue (you know, the kind where we actually listen to each other even if we don’t agree on an issue). Our guide for right and wrong is the Bible, and we cannot let anything else take its place. Yet even if we must call something wrong, we do so with as much gentleness and respect as we rightly can. And of course, differences in ethnicity, appearance, language, and culture must be seen as gifts. Our unity springs not from monolithic external similarity, but from mutual respect.
God bless your journey of renewal during this Lenten season and beyond. God bless your congregations. And God astoundingly bless our land. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. (Psalm 133, ESV)
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4, ESV)
We went to Middle School Orientation for Abbey. Principal Cathy Walker—who would later hire my wife, Melissa, to teach ESL—vigorously warned the students not to share their locker combinations. Not even with their BFF (best friend forever, she cautioned them. She said that, inside of a couple of weeks, that BFF might become a frenemy (a friend turned enemy). What strikes me about that is this: it is so much more work, so much more depleting, to squabble and fight than to affirm and be friends. Sinners aren’t necessarily geniuses in this matter.
The second “R” of Lent is Reconciliation. Imagine the burden lifted if the two kids who became “frenemies” were to set aside their complaints, bury the hatchet, and make up. But sometimes that might just make too much sense for the pair of egos to actually do it! Yet if they manage to make it happen, they will be blessed.
You may recall that in an earlier devotion I referred to the movie “Raising Helen.” In one scene Aunt Helen’s surviving sister returns the three kids to Helen, their appointed guardian, in New York. I mentioned that the high school girl mouths the words “I’m sorry” to Aunt Helen, whom the teen had previously hurt with harsh words. Then that girl, Audrey, joins the group hug and feels Helen’s motherly embrace. Reconciliation: it’s a good thing.
St. Paul notes that “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV): that while we were enemies of the Father due to our sin, he reconciled us to himself by the bitter suffering and innocent death of his dearly loved Son. Clearly, this reconciliation is the granddaddy of them all.
And, thus reconciled to the Father by the sacrifice of the Son, who rose from death never to die again, we can reconcile with others. We can bury the hatchet, and our pride along with it. And we can know the joy of mending broken relationships. O Lord, grant this to us in abundance. And thank you for reconciling us to you through Christ the Lord. In his name, even Jesus, Amen.
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. (Joel 2:12-16a, ESV)
During the rest of Lent the midweek devotions will be sent out on Thursdays. Each one will be a reflection on the sermon text from the day before. I am going through the “R’s of Lent,” starting with Repentance.
In ancient times one indication of penitence and remorse over sin was to wear a robe made from sackcloth. It chafed everywhere. Another signal of repentance was to tear that sackcloth robe, perhaps symbolizing a broken spirit (or, you could say, a contrite heart). But the prophet signals flexibility in the area of outward (or bodily) signs of repentance: he tells God’s penitent people, “…rend your hearts and not your garments…”
If fasting works for you, if it moves you closer to Christ (and so, closer to the Father), that’s fine. If not, that’s also fine. I say this because the New Testament doesn’t say much about fasting (in contrast with the Old Testament); and because the Greek word for repentance can be rendered, “a change of mind,” or, “a new mind (as in mindset).” Let me explain.
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the crew of the Enterprise travels back to the 1980’s in search of a certain species of whale. In one scene Kirk and a woman from the 1980’s are parting ways with Spock, who doesn’t want to join them for dinner at an Italian restaurant. The woman from the 20th century asks Spock, “Are you sure you won’t change your mind?” Spock, in total innocence, replies: “Is there something wrong with the one I have?”
Of course, to see repentance as a change of mind has nothing to do with any brain transplant. The “new mind” is a new attitude, one that rejects sin and hungers to be more like Christ. The new mindset, if you will, refuses to continue to excuse sin and is contrite for having committed it. The new frame of mind is eager to “…Return to the Lord…, for he is gracious and merciful…”
And please note: what this looks like outwardly depends on the personality and circumstances of the individual penitent. In “Raising Helen,” a young woman is assigned guardianship of three orphaned siblings. The oldest is a high schooler named Audrey. Her aunt Helen orders Audrey to surrender her fake ID, and reads her the riot act about making bad choices. Just before Audrey turns about and storms up to her bedroom, she shouts at her aunt: “I hate you!!!” But later, with tear-filled eyes, looking across the room directly at Aunt Helen, Audrey mouths the words, “I’m sorry.” That may not seem like much in the way of remorse; but remember, the character is a fragile, self-conscious teen. For such a one that was nothing short of an act of bravery. And it clearly signaled repentance.
May the Holy Spirit convict us of our sins, endow us with a hunger for righteousness, assure us of the Father’s cleansing mercy on account of Jesus, and inspire us to take up our cross and follow Christ. In his name, Amen.
14Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these [events], be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and on the day of eternity. Amen.
(2nd Peter 3:14-18, ESV)
Wow, Peter, no pressure: “…be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” Lent began yesterday, so we say: “Lord Jesus, think on me, and purge away my sin; from worldly passions set me free, and make me pure within” (LSB 610:1). And as to being “…without spot or blemish…,” we know how that works: “Just as I am, and waiting not To rid my soul of one dark blot, To thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God I come, I come” (LSB 570:2).
As to being “…at peace,” that comes with forgiveness. Jesus told his fledgling leaders: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you … Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven…” (see John 20:21-23, ESV). As the Holy Spirit works within us, and assures of God’s love and forgiveness, we are able to “…not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [to] let [our] requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6b, ESV).
Regarding Peter’s comments about Paul, well, he’s right! Along with John (the son of Zebedee) the apostle Paul goes deep into the mysteries of our holy Christian faith. Paul uses scholarly Greek, John the simpler vocabulary of a former fisherman. But both go deep in explaining and applying Law and Gospel. And the writings of all the penmen of the Old and New Testaments are priceless gifts from above.
So, we made our way through 2nd Peter. I’ll have to figure out where to go next. Meanwhile, may our grace-giving triune God bless your Lenten journey with a closer walk with Christ; with astounding spiritual growth; and with whatever else he knows you need about now. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
11Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, 12because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
(2nd Peter 3:11-13, ESV)
“Hasten” is used here to mean (1) fervent anticipation of the arrival of God’s Home of Righteousness, at the time he has already appointed; and (2) consistent prayer: “…Thy kingdom come…,” and “Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!” The schedule remains wholly his.
Of course, we want grace so we can make good use of our time. We want to be ready witnesses who answer people’s questions about Jesus; and who ask, or wonder, what’s wrong with the human condition and the world we live in; and to winsomely share with them the solutions we have to our various problems, all found in Jesus Christ.
We also ask the Lord for grace to maintain—and often, if we’re honest, to return to—“…lives of holiness and godliness.” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The first part of being hungry for something is realizing—or perhaps admitting—that you’re not yet full.
In Romans 8 Paul teaches that creation itself—consigned to decay when humanity, its crown jewel, fell into sin—groans mightily in eager anticipation of the glory to be revealed on the Last Day (see Romans 8:19-22). Sometimes we do too: and sometimes “the cares of this world” distract us, and we temporarily take our eyes off the prize. O Lord, whenever that happens, wake us back up! We don’t want to remain long like the driver who isn’t looking to see when the signal turns to green (because they’re wrapped up in such an important text message).
In times of trial, pain, or loss, we can draw encouragement from the promises Peter reiterates here. We draw comfort from our Savior’s promise that he will make ready for each of us, and all of us, a place in the Father’s house. It’s the meanwhile that can be the kicker. So, we pray the Lord of the Church, the Shepherd of our souls, to hold us tight and remind us of what he did to save us; and of the bodies he will give us; and of the prayer ministry he continues to do for us. In his name, even Jesus,
8But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2nd Peter 3:8-10, ESV)
It will be “…the end of the world as we know it…”—and the start of a world that we, here and now, can only begin to imagine: the Home of Righteousness to which Peter refers to in v. 13 (later in this chapter). Only God fully understands eternity, and only he knows the details of the age to come, and the specifics of our eternal home.
What’s more, only God can orchestrate the events of the Last Day. For us to imagine that we could explain the mechanics of the cataclysm Peter describes, or direct the events of the Day of the Lord, is either outrageous cheek or simple lunacy. I trust we all know better.
If anyone didn’t know better than to leave in God’s hands the final moments of this sin-stained creation, that would amount to an exponential enlargement of the absurdity employed by an ad campaign years ago. An injured victim lies helpless on the pavement, and a man says, “Let me through! I can help!” A bystander asks, “Are you a doctor?” The man replies, “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.” Sorry, sir: wherever you slept, you’re not qualified to treat an injury victim. And neither are frail humans qualified, when it comes to the end of what we call “history.” The Last Day is God’s show.
Wise Bible scholars also remind us that the apostle’s citation of the 90th Psalm (“…with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”) does not provide a formula for calculating the date of Jesus’ return. It simply conveys the fact that God is beyond time, that God does not age, that he has something called “eternity” ready for us—something we will understand only when it surrounds us.
So, the age to come: Will it be glorious? Yes. How will it be glorious, and what will life be like in eternity? Those things we don’t yet know, such matters we cannot yet understand (nor describe). All we’re given are tiny, fleeting glimpses and cryptic metaphors—like a sea made of glass, and trees that are always in season.
So, let’s be patient. Let’s strive to stay spiritually vigilant (a steady prayer & devotional life, daily contrition and repentance, staying mindful of the love and forgiveness we have in Christ). And may God grant us a continuing supply of grace so we can be loving toward brother, sister, and neighbor; and confident in God’s power and promises. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
5For they [the scoffers] deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2nd Peter 3:5-7, ESV)
This part of the apostle’s second letter is powerful. Hearing the dire warning about “…the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly,” and knowing our own frailty, we are reminded daily to confess our sins, and to ask for mercy, and to remember God’s unfailing love for us in Christ Jesus. We also do well to pray for the lost, that God would open the eyes of their hearts to see the truth of the Gospel of Christ.
Peter refers to Genesis 1 when he discusses God’s work of creation and “…by water and the word” (the content of “these” in verse 6): “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said…” (Genesis 1:2-3a, ESV).
He also refers to the flood as an act of judgment for the wicked, and deliverance for the righteous (those who lament their residual sin, and call upon God in Spirit-given faith). He did the same thing in his first letter (see 1st Peter 3:18-21). Again, we have access to God’s mercy thanks to our bond with Christ, forged by the Spirit’s gracious work. This will surely inspire us to sing, both loud and long, “songs of thankfulness and praise”!
And when Jesus returns for the Final Judgment—and to take us and all believers home to Paradise restored—the world we know will be replaced by one we cannot yet imagine. Peter calls this new creation “…the home of righteousness…” (see 3:13, later in this chapter). Scoffers and skeptics will say we believe these words because we want to, but the scary things that Peter describes won’t really happen. We know better; and our goal is to pray and study, and to reach out before it’s too late. Again, if God wants all people to “…be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1st Timothy 2:4, ESV), so should we. And we do.
God bless your faith with growth, your prayer life with consistency, and your witness with winsome grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
1This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
(2nd Peter 3:1-4, ESV)
“By way of reminder”: the older I get the more I appreciate that. The apostle wants those to whom he writes, and all Christians, to hold tightly onto the pure Christian message drawn from God’s Word, and to be steadfast in their defense and practice of godly living. In other words: Let’s be diligent in the study of sacred Scripture, let’s get the message straight, and let’s live it out as we imitate Jesus.
We are obliged to answer skeptics, but not to buy into their framework of thought about the world, history, and the human condition. They say there is no sin (the scoffers do), only dysfunction; we say most (if not all) dysfunction in human relationships is due to sin. The focus here, though, is on the mockery by skeptics of our claim that Jesus will, in fact, return to earth to “…judge the living and the dead.”
Christians believe Jesus will return, displaying all his divine majesty—even through his human nature. We believe that he will judge the wicked; and that he will take us, his believing “sheep,” home to Paradise. We believe in “…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and in the Second Coming of Christ. Not that we can calculate the date or set the schedule: we can’t. But we believe Jesus, who promised that he would come again to take us home. We take him at his word: Jesus does not lie. And God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen” in him.
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