Good Christians

June 27, 2011

“A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. . . . For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:16,19-21

What makes someone a good Christian? Is it the fact that they are in church almost every single Sunday? Or that they give 10 percent or more of their income to the work of the church? Or that they always seem to be helping a neighbor in need? These certainly are wonderful fruits of the Christian faith, but they do not make someone a good Christian.

In the Apostle Paul’s day there were some who thought being a good Christian meant keeping certain Old Testament laws like eating the right foods, observing the right holidays, and being circumcised. Unfortunately, they began to think that doing such things somehow contributed to their salvation. They believed that their obedience to certain laws played some part in being declared innocent of their sins before God.

Being a good Christian has never been about keeping God’s law, and if it were, none of us would be good Christians. “A man is not justified by observing the law,” the Bible says. That’s because the law demands 100 percent obedience 100 percent of the time. According to God’s law, even one slip-up means total failure. Just one filthy thought, one hurtful word, or one unkind action disqualifies us from being declared not guilty by a holy and perfect God. God’s verdict in his law on mankind is absolutely true: “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). There are no good Christians when it comes to observing the law.

This is why we so desperately need Christ. He is the only one who perfectly observed God’s law, and he did it in our place. As the Bible teaches, “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” But Christ didn’t die for nothing. He died for all of our failures to keep God’s law. Through faith in him we are declared not guilty before God. We are connected to Christ in his death and resurrection and set free to live our lives in thankful obedience to God’s law. Not to be good Christians, but because through faith in Jesus we already are.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, help me to continually see that my obedience to your law has nothing to do with my status before your heavenly Father. Lead me to trust in your righteousness alone which becomes mine freely through faith in you. Amen.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

June 26, 2011

Matins, Page 208, Lutheran Worship

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Jesus Wants You in His Family

June 20, 2011

A crowd was sitting around Jesus, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” – Mark 3:32-35

On Father’s Day we celebrate families. Families make the Christian home of which the Father is the head. The Christian family is like nothing else not even a team.

What’s the difference between being a member of a softball team and being a member of a family? On a softball team, people usually have the same jerseys. In a family, people usually have the same facial features. On a softball team, you get together for an hour or two each week and then you go home. When the season is over, your relationship is likely over. But in a family, you are together for the long haul, more than just an hour or two per week. The “season” is never finished, for you are always a family member, and always will be. On a softball team, you share time pitching, hitting and fielding. In a family, you share the most exhilarating joys and the deepest of sorrows.

To summarize, the difference is this: a family relationship is deeper than a softball team relationship. “Blood runs thicker than water,” as the saying goes.

Is it inspiring for you to know that Jesus wants you in his very own family? Not just for a little while, but for the long haul. Not just a surface relationship, but a deep one. He wants to share exhilarating joys and deep sorrows with you. When we look back upon our mistakes and low points in life, we might think, “Why would God want me in his family?” We wouldn’t think that he would…but he does. No matter who you are, and no matter what you have done – Jesus wants you to be very close to him. One day he looked at a group seated around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

All Jesus wants is for you to be baptized into his family. He wants to make you his own and give you life with God forever. And every day, as you struggle with your sinful failures, he wants you to be comforted with the peace of his forgiveness. He wants you to have the joy and confidence that he is always with you to bless you.

Membership in God’s family is even more important than membership in our human families. And Jesus alone has made that possible.

Prayer: Dear Savior, lift up my spirit as I ponder that you have made me a part of your eternal family. Amen.


The Holy Trinity

June 19, 2011

First Sunday after Pentecost

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Don’t Cry

June 13, 2011

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” – Luke 7:11-17

It is hard to find the right words to speak at a funeral. What can be said to express true sympathy? What can be said to offer real comfort and hope? What can be said that will last until the time of sorrow fades?

In my search for the right words, I might quickly rule out, “Don’t cry.” The words seem to convey a certain insensitivity and lack of understanding. So it is odd that Jesus would choose them. Didn’t he understand that the woman suffered a terrible loss? Not only did she lose her husband, now she lost her only son. She was alone. How could Jesus say, “Don’t cry?”

Jesus could never be accused of being insensitive. Nor could he ever be accused of being unaware of the loss this woman suffered. His heart went out to her. He understood her loss. Yet, he did not join her in her grief. Instead, he offered her real hope. When Jesus said, “Don’t cry,” he already knew what he was going to do, and how he was going to end her grief.

Often the challenges of life will bring me to tears. Certainly death will affect me in this way. There are other losses that will have an equally significant effect. The loss of a job, the loss of a home, the loss of stability, the loss of security, the loss of health – all have the ability to bring me to tears.

During this time of loss Jesus says, “Don’t cry.” He also tells me why I can move beyond my grief. Not only does he tell me everything will work out for my good (Romans 8:28), he also assures me he will give me the strength to endure everything I have to face (I Corinthians 10:13).  Jesus makes it possible for me to go through this life with peace and joy, and it starts when he wraps his loving arms around me.

This peace and joy come as a result of his precious work. His perfect life removes the gloom of guilt and failure. His innocent crucifixion overcomes the sorrow of death and the grave. His victorious resurrection proclaims an unmistakable and lasting joy. His work as my Substitute and my Savior tells me, “I don’t have to cry.”

Through the psalmist, the Lord said to his people: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). I need to listen to these words and put my trust in him. Jesus is the only one who can calm my troubled heart. Jesus is the only one who can cause my fears to vanish. Jesus is the only one who can say, “Don’t cry.”

Prayer: Oh precious Savior, I need you to wipe away my tears and bring me lasting joy. Because of your victory over all my enemies, and even death itself, I know I can live free from tears and filled with an inexpressible joy. Amen.

Pentecost

June 12, 2011

Divine Service II, Page 158, Lutheran Worship

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The Perplexing Work of the Holy Spirit

June 6, 2011

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” – Acts 2:12 

The crowd didn’t know what to think.

Picture it this way: You are in this crowd. You are a member of the Jewish faith. You have traveled a great distance to reach Jerusalem, a place where the language is different from your own. You are there to celebrate the annual Jewish festival of Pentecost. Suddenly, in this happy crowd of people you hear something that grabs your attention. You hear the voice of a man speaking to you in your own language. What’s really confusing is that all the people around you – no matter what nation or language they’ve come from – everyone is experiencing the same thing. In that moment, in that slice of time, you really don’t know what to think.

On that day of Pentecost, that was the perplexing work of the Holy Spirit. On that day, the Holy Spirit enabled the disciples of Jesus to speak in languages they had never studied. He did this to proclaim a message that everyone there needed to understand. He did this to proclaim Jesus Christ.

The work of the Holy Spirit is still perplexing.

Go to any place where the good news of Jesus is clearly present. Why do people take the time to come? Why do people go to the trouble? Why do people often plan their calendars around the opportunity to soak up the message of Jesus Christ with others?

It’s all because of the perplexing work of the Spirit.

In the eyes of the world, nothing so plain as the gospel should be so powerful. Nothing so plain as the gospel should be so life-changing. Nothing so plain as the gospel should have such an impact on so many souls.

But that’s the thing about the message of full forgiveness through faith in Christ. It’s the very tool the Holy Spirit uses to change hearts forever.

However, don’t be perplexed by the perplexing work of the Spirit. Instead, rejoice in it.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, you are a worker of miracles. You use the message of the gospel to bring us to Christ and keep us in Christ. Empower us to marvel in thankfulness for what you do. Amen.