Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thank Who?

“And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”

(Hosea 2:8 ESV)

Although it’s hard to believe, Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And even though Thanksgiving is almost lost to us today, even though it’s looked upon as nothing more than the beginning of the Christmas season, it is a very important holiday.  It’s very important because of the truth of which it reminds us.

Thanksgiving is a day of thanks.  And being thankful implies that someone has helped us, that someone has blessed us, in some say.  So, this thanksgiving is directed toward someone.  It’s directed toward someone who is the source of our blessing. 

Most of us understand, in our society, that as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are offering our thanks to God. We're acknowledging that he is the source of our blessing. We're acknowledging that we would have nothing apart from him.

As simple as this truth may seem, it’s very important. It’s very important because, if we fail to understand this, we will not continue to trust in the Lord. If we fail to understand this, we will place our trust in someone or something else that we view as the source of our blessing.

Our Wednesday night Bible study at Prince of Peace recently began our look at Hosea. Hosea was sent to tell the people of Israel that they’d been faithless to God. They had been an adulterous people. And, for this reason, God’s punishment was coming upon them.

They were chasing after other gods, believing that these deities were the source of their blessing. They credited these false gods with the provisions they enjoyed. They failed to understand, as we see in the above verse, that it was the Lord who had provided these blessings.

Even though the practice of idolatry seems archaic to us, in many ways, we have the same tendency. We have all of these wonderful blessings that have been lavished upon us by God. However, we chase after other gods, giving them the credit for the blessings we enjoy.

It could be a false religion or a false god. It could be nature, or the earth itself. It could be science or technology. It could even be ourselves, and our sense of hard work. But, whatever the case may be, we see this person or thing as the source of our blessing. And, for this reason, we pursue it and trust in it rather than God.

God planned to remove this delusion from the Israelites by withdrawing his hand of blessing. He would no longer grant to them his provision. And, in this way, they would come to see that these false gods had done nothing for them. They would come to see that these false gods could do nothing for them.

Although it seems harsh, this punishment was meant to accomplish something good. It was meant to draw them back to God himself. As they once again recognized the Lord as the source of their blessings, they would worship him and trust in him alone.

My prayer is that we would never come to this point. My prayer is that God would never have to withdraw his hand of blessing from us. My prayer is that we would continue to acknowledge him as the source of our blessing, that we would continue to trust in him, and that we’d give him the glory for the marvelous grace he bestows upon us.

However, as we see the ways in which we’re guilty of this sin, we must seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We must confess to him our sin, asking for his mercy, trusting in the atonement provided by Jesus. We must look to him not only for provision of our worldly needs, but also for his provision of forgiveness and mercy, which is promised to all who trust in him.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Called by Man or by God?

“Paul, an apostle--not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:”

(Galatians 1:1-2 ESV)

It’s often debated, as I’ve seen it debated a lot in recent days, whether God’s call for ministry comes from him directly (an immediate call) or through the church (a mediated call). Some insist that the call for ministry can come only by a direct revelation from the Lord. Others, however, insist that it can come only through the body of Christ.

As we consider this question, we must acknowledge that some, who feel an inner sense of call to ministry, are not truly called by God. I’ve encountered several people like this over the course of the years. Although they felt called to a certain type of ministry, it was clear that they were not gifted for this ministry. And as a result, even though they completed the required training, they were not called or elected by a congregation.

There are also those who claim the call of God upon their life, who sense the call of God upon their life, but do not meet the Biblical qualifications for such a role. They are not willing to submit to the standards given to us by God. And many within the church are willing to accept such claims.

However, we must also acknowledge that, without an inner sense of call, with only the call of the congregation, most people would refuse to serve in a ministry capacity. After all, ministry is an overwhelming job. It’s a role that few would dare to assume by choice. So, without that leading of the Lord, most would offer a humble “no” to such a call.

Finally, we must acknowledge that many churches, in a desperate search for those who will serve, look not for those who are gifted, nor for those who might be a good match for the church. They look only for a warm body. They want someone who will simply fill the role. As long as the individual possesses the required degree or training, or as long as they possess a willingness to serve, this is all that matters to them.

So, which is it? Does the call come from the Lord? Or does it come from the congregation? And to this question, I offer the answer of “yes.” The call comes from the Lord, but also through congregation. In fact, I would venture to say, it must come from both.

As we see in the above passage, Paul’s call as an apostle came not from man nor through man. His call came through Jesus Christ and God the Father. In other words, his call came directly from God.

This was an advantage to him because his primary motivation was not to please man, but God. His ministry was something that could not be stripped away by man. And he would not give up on his ministry because of the rejection of man, which is something he often faced.

That being said, in time, his ministry was recognized and approved by men (Galatians 2:7-10). Not only was it recognized and approved by those who heard the gospel he proclaimed. He was also given the right hand of fellowship by James, Peter, and John. They acknowledged that he’d been called by God to the ministry of the gospel among the uncircumcised.

Some might insist that, because this was Paul, his circumstances were different than our own. However, there is no real basis for such a claim. Regardless of our vocation within the church, it seems clear that the same principles apply.

This is certainly true of me. Without the inner sense of call, I would never have pursued ministry. And without the inner sense of call, I would have quit ministry many times over. It was the knowledge that this was a task to which I’ve been called by God that kept me going.

In the same spirit, without the call of the congregation, the ministry, entrusted to me by God, would be dead in the water. After all, you cannot preach to people if they don’t show up to listen. You cannot teach them if they refuse it listen. You cannot serve those who will not receive your service. It’s as they recognize your giftings and God’s call upon your life that they become willing to receive what you’re offering them.

So, as we carry out the ministry entrusted to us by God, no matter what role that may be, the same should be true of us. We must recognize the call placed upon our life by God himself. However, that call should also be acknowledged by the church, which recognizes our gifts and calls us into service.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Rescue the Perishing

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
(James 5:19-20 ESV)

Many of you have probably known someone who has wandered from the truth. Despite the fact he’d once confessed faith in Christ, and despite the fact that the fruit of his faith was clearly seen, things are now different. He’s turned from the faith to which he once clung.

Perhaps he’s strayed from correct doctrine. Even if he continues to profess faith in Christ, his faith is very different than it once was. He’s turned from the essential tenets of the Christian faith to a false gospel.

Or, perhaps, he’s fallen into unrepentant sin. Not only did he make a mistake. Not only did he violate God’s commands. He now lives in this sin. It controls his life, and he’s unwilling to acknowledge it as sin or to turn from it.

This person is now in a precarious position. By turning from a saving faith in Jesus, or by his fall into unrepentant sin, his salvation is in jeopardy. Perhaps things have gone so far as to separate him from the grace of God.

Too often, when this happens, our response is to remove him from our life. Our relationship with him is completely severed. Due to the change in his life, we no longer pursue friendship as we once did. Due to the change in his life, we no longer concern ourselves with his spiritual state.

However, according to James, we’re to respond very differently to a case like this. If someone brings back a sinner from his wandering, he tells us, they will have saved his soul from death and covered over a multitude of sins. In other words, they will have rescued him from the judgment of God and brought him to a place of mercy.

Although we don’t like to involve ourselves in the lives of others, this, you see, is a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of salvation or damnation. It’s not simply a minor issue that we can brush off.

When someone wanders from the truth, we are to be concerned with his eternal welfare. It should concern us that someone, who was once a brother or sister in the faith, is outside of the grace of God. It should concern us that they might miss out on the blessings of God that are received by faith.

And, out of this concern, we should reach out to him. We should seek his salvation. We must lovingly call him from false doctrine, we must lovingly call him from sin, to the truth and comfort of the gospel.

This reflects the heart of God, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. It reflects the heart of God, who wants no one to perish. It reflects the heart of God, who has called us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation, and to make disciples of all nations.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Lean On Me

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

(Jam 5:13-18 ESV)

Overall, my personal prayer life is pretty good. I regularly offer up to the Lord prayers of praise and thanksgiving. I regularly bring to him my own needs and concerns. And I regularly bring to him my intercessions.

However, that being said, I’m not very good at asking for prayer. This likely ties in with my reluctance to ask others for help. Although I’m more than willing to pray for others, and although I’m more than willing to help others, I’m terrible at leaning upon others.

I’m terrible at it even though I know many who will help, if at all possible. I’m terrible at it although I realize that many are willing to minister to me in my need. It’s a flaw that I both recognize, and with which struggle, all at the same time.

From what I’ve seen, as a pastor, I’m not alone in this. This is true of many of us within the church. I’ve, at times, wanted to shake some of my parishioners who, when they have something major going on, fail to let me know.

In the above passage, James calls us to task for this. We’re encouraged to offer up our personal prayers. We’re called to bring our suffering before the Lord. We’re called also to bring to him our praises. But he doesn’t stop there.

James tells us that, when we’re sick, when we’re unwell, we’re to call upon the elders of the church for prayer. However, although our Bibles translate this word as “sick,” it means much more. It refers to our weakness. It refers to those times when we are feeble. It refers to those times when we are powerless.

What I’m saying is that we’re certainly to request prayer when we’re ill. But this call can refer to other circumstances as well. It can refer to mental illness. It can refer to spiritual weakness.

This is suggested also when he says that, if we’ve committed sins, we’ll be forgiven. It’s suggested by his admonition to confess our sins to one another. It’s suggested when he says that, as we do so, we’ll be healed.

The point is that we’re to call upon the elders, in our need, for prayer. And we’re to do so in faith. We're to do so realizing that the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

James uses the example of Elijah to make his point. Although he was a man, like us, and although he too was beset with weakness, his prayers were a demonstration of this power. He prayed that it would not rain, and this prayer was answered.  For three years and six months, there was no rain upon the land. And when he later prayed for rain, it was also answered.

Yes, God has promised to hear our prayers. And, more than that, he’s promised to answer our prayers. But we are called to receive prayer also from others within the church. We are called to bring our needs to the elders, to the spiritual leadership of the church, that we might also receive their prayers. And we’re assured that, as we do so, we’ll receive healing.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Congregations - The Assembly of Believers

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…”

(Titus 1:5 ESV)

When I was in college at the University of Northern Iowa, I participated with Campus Crusade for Christ. As most of us know, Campus Crusade focuses on evangelism. The purpose of this organization is to reach students with the good news of Jesus.

However, one of the things that most impressed me about this ministry was not their focus on evangelism. What impressed me was their understanding of their identity. They constantly emphasized the fact that they were not a church. They emphasized the fact that they are a parachurch organization.

Although they sought to proclaim the gospel and to see students brought to faith in Christ, and although they had a focus on discipling those students, their goal was not to hang onto them. They encouraged these students to become part of a Christian congregation. They didn’t promote one church or denomination. But they encouraged the students to become an active part of a Bible-believing Christian Church.

I think that we, as Christians, can learn a lesson from their example. Most of us, as we think of the work of the church, focus on the Great Commission. We emphasize the call of Christ, to go and make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching. And there’s no denying that this is our mission. However, there’s another aspect of our work that’s often forgotten, an aspect that’s equally important to our outreach.

Once we carry out the Great Commission, once we proclaim the gospel and make disciples, what comes next? We then incorporate them into an existing congregation, or we encourage them to form new congregations. We encourage them to assemble together with their brothers and sisters in Christ for their mutual upbuilding, and that they might work together to carry out the Great Commission.

Although we don’t see it mentioned in Acts, it appears that Paul and Titus made a missionary visit to Crete. It appears that, as they proclaimed the gospel, people were brought to faith in Christ. And we get this impression from the above verse.

We see also that, as Paul was moving on, he left Titus behind. And he left Titus behind for a very important purpose. Titus was to put what remained into order and to appoint elders in every town.

What Titus was doing was assembling these new believers into congregations. He was organizing them into congregations. He was establishing congregations in each town.

This is also the focus of our mission work in the AFLC. Our Home Missions is focused upon establishing free and living Lutheran congregations here in the United States. And the focus of our World Missions is to establish free and living Lutheran congregations around the world.

We do so that believers might mutually edify one another. We do so that they might cooperate in carrying out the Great Commission. We do so that, operating as the body of Christ, Jesus’ purpose might be accomplished both in and through us.