Derek Johnson Muses

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Category Archives: Devotional

Prayer Books Just Sitting There…

My Treasury of Daily Prayers stares at me from its post on the kitchen table. I try to read it over breakfast most days, and I hope I succeed more than I fail. I rotate other devotional books through-a daily Luther book, a daily Walther, both of whom are worth reading. The daily Luther blog was great too, when it was being update. (Whoever did that, please come back and continue it.) A word of advice to Christian youth: you never think that you’ll get caught up and need devotional time until you really do.

Devotions always feel sluggish to me, but that’s just how they are supposed to feel. That’s probably the devil too, telling me I already know what’s in the scriptures. It’s the same thing I hear in my ear when I go to listen to Issues, Etc., podcasts and choose the quick, 10 minute social issues-cast over the in-depth Bible study. Yes, it’s easier to get into that controversial, call-to-arms, but I still need to carve out time to listen to God’s word. I keep having to remind myself how low the standards of our culture are.

I keep theology books in my bag. I don’t read them that often; they serve more as a talisman than anything else. Sometimes, I peruse them at stops when my brain isn’t going too fast, or when I’m out in Lincoln and don’t want to go home yet. I remember hearing an antidote once that, just like you can’t remember every meal you’ve ever eaten, so you can’t remember every sermon you’ve ever heard, or every devotion you’ve ever read for that matter. I hope that is true, but what concerns me more is when I forget sermons hours after they’re preached or spend my free hours thinking about drivel rather than what Pastor Todd says on the radio.

This is what the hypocrite does: he carries around something just for others to see, or more importantly, for himself to believe that he is a good person. But I do have them with me. Perhaps I need to remember that my vocation isn’t to just read theology books or listen to podcasts; it’s too be a good worker, and a good writer. I listen to sacred music and read God’s word because Jesus died for me on the cross, and I need to be reminded of that over and over.

Right here for you...

Right here for you…

Study on John 16:12-22, The Trinity and the Holy Spirit’s Job

All Scriptures English Standard Version (ESV)

This morning, I had the privilege of leading a Bible study at St. John in Seward on John 16:12-22, the reading of the day for the fifth Sunday after Easter on the sending of the Holy Spirit and “a little while, and you will see me no longer.” (v.16). The Heritage Room study is a very talkative group, which allows for a very open discussion and easy day if you are the leader. Here’s some notes from that study and thanks to everyone who was there who contributed.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (v. 12) Jesus has told his disciples that one of them will betray him and now has lead them to the garden and has warned them that the world will hate them (15:18), all before his crucifixion. Jesus has laid on them many tough teachings on how the church will be after He is gone and their minds must have been swimming.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (v. 14-16) We see the interplay in between the members of the Trinity. In mysterious fashion, Jesus will have to leave His disciples after His great victory over death for the Spirit to come. But the Spirit will not lead people according to their whims or directives, but “will not speak on his own authority.”

Our God is modeling within himself what relationships are to be, as each person of the Godhead serves according to the will of all three. Jesus said in John 5:19  “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Proper relationships are all based upon service and how we serve our neighbor.

This is a mystery: how does an almighty God not only exist as three persons, but be one. If God would have wanted us to know how this could be, he would have told us, but, as Jesus said to His disciples, they already had enough to bear. This goes against the grain of American culture, where storing up things is encouraged and we can access a wealth of information on the internet. How can we not understand how the persons of the Trinity submit to each other? And yet, in this regard, it is a blessing not to know.

As the Lutheran Study Bible notes (literally), the Spirit is “guiding” the church “in truth”, that is the truth that is already revealed in the Scriptures and through the Apostles. This is not meant to be a directive to deduce new revelations from God, as some would assert. In a speech dissected on Issues, Etc. earlier this year, openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church in the USA used “the Spirit…will guide you into all the truth” as the reason believers should disregard all the passages against homosexuality. Basically, whatever anyone asserts comes from the Holy Spirit is valid truth, even when it’s contrary to other parts of Scripture. This is why clear passages interpret unclear passages.

‘…A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.’ So some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What is this that he says to us, “A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father”?’ (v. 16-17) In retrospect, we know that Jesus was talking about his death and reappearance after his Resurrection, but these words must have come to them as a play on words. (In verse 29, the disciples will thank Jesus for saying plainly that he is going to the Father.) If a husband telling his wife that he will take out the trash “in a little while”, the wife may wonder when a little while is. So the disciples wonder here.

Jesus and His Brothers

And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Mark 3:31-35 ESV)

This was the text for the Sunday morning Bible study I attend, and its one that cuts to me personally because of what it says about the family. In conservative, religious-based political circles, there is a lot of talk about fighting for the family, family first, etc. Given the track record of the lifestyle left, I’m actually surprised that they haven’t used this passage to say, “See, Jesus didn’t confine himself to the traditional definition of family.”

Jesus’ family must have been an interesting dynamic. Jesus is the talent sibling who goes out into the world to pursue his teaching and ministry, which leads to “Jesus mania”, aka Bieber fever without social media. Jesus is out teaching the people. Back home, Jesus’ brothers and sister are running the carpentry business, taking care of Mom, and feeling that Jesus is ignoring them.

Yes, Jesus does still care for His family. From the cross, he told John to look after his mother (John 19:26-27). But his vocation was/is God’s Son, Savior of the World. In short,  head of God’s family. What God gave, first to Adam and Eve (the first family), he fulfills in Christ, who unites us to him.

 

 

Some Holy Week Summations, and a Recommended Podcast

Last Sunday (Palm Sunday), I was asked by a friend how I would explain Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday to kids. Since I have neither skills nor experience with children, I tried to sum each down to a couple of concepts. Palm Sunday, Christ coming in humility on a donkey. (Thanks Issues, Etc.) Maundy Thursday, Christ institutes His Supper to leave a piece of himself with us, just like a parent or grandparent would leave a trinket with his or her grandchild when they went away on a journey (I know, a possibility for a mixed metaphor). And Good Friday, Christ receiving glory in suffering, being the seed that goes into the ground and dies to produce spiritual fruit. (John 12:23-24).

Horse vs. Donkeys-Christ's feet were dragging on the ground

Also, here’s a favorite Issues Etc. Podcast: Rev. Paul McCain on Luther on the Passion of the Christ: Link

A continued blessed Holy Week to you all.

Isaiah 5:8-30

Following his mourning of Israel as the unproductive vineyard, Isaiah takes his hearers through a series of woes on the wicked. The chapter ends with an army coming onto Jerusalem, akin to the judgment Isaiah proclaims verses 6-7 on the vineyard. Just as the land of that vineyard will be desolate, so will the land of Jerusalem be desolate. The message in the immediate context is the coming judgment from Assyrian army, but it was more than that. As Isaiah goes through the list of misdeeds, it is hard to see how it’s different from any of the previous things that the prophet condemns Israel for. But there are some important nuances to his delivery, and many things we can learn.

There is a unique characteristic Isaiah’s proclamation about “those who rise…that they may run after strong drink (v. 11)” (in essence, drunks). In verse 13, he says “my people go into exile for lack of knowledge.” In our modern day, Rick Warren tells us that church needs a reformation of “deeds not creeds”. But while there may be a lack of action in our churches, good Christian works cannot be sustained unless you’re reminded who you are doing them for: Your Lord and Savior, hung on a cross.

This to me is one of the trappings of the social church, and to a certain degree, modern evangelicalism. While it is a good thing that the church is involved in social programs, if the message isn’t preached constantly from the pulpit, then there is the danger the church will becoming the church of the social/political agenda, as is clearly seen with the ecumenical movement’s vigorous support of the HHS Mandate and all it entails (i.e., universal distribution of the morning after pill).

When Isaiah again condemns “those who are wise in their own eyes” in verses twenty one, I see the connection to the lack of knowledge. By not studying God’s law vigorously, the Israelites have invented their own knowledge to distract them from its truth (just as Jeroboam build high places in Israel after the split of the one kingdom, to distract the ten tribes from the temple in Jerusalem). This connection between lack of knowledge and disobedience convicts me in one way: I’m a football/ESPN fan. I don’t mean to condemn everyone who watches the network or who has a favorite team, but, like any other good thing, you can get too much of it. And with so much sports knowledge out there, it’s easy to eat their cotton candy and get puffed up.

That leads to the recurring them throughout this book: everyone who is doing evil, whether it is those who are compiling wealth (8-10), the corrupted judges (23), or the drunkards, they do it to the hilt and make it their livelihood to do wrong. (Think of our own noble rebel culture). This is why God sends an earthly army as His instrument of punishment.

Now, to the connection between 6-7 and 25-30. Again, the devastation is obvious, but the specific language brings up great points for us to follow. In verse 26, Isaiah says God will “whistle for them (the army) from the ends of the earth”, the same phrase that Jesus uses when He sends out the disciples in the great commission. Paul Kretzmann interprets this, not only as the judgment of the Assyrians, but in a secondary sense, the destruction of Jerusalem by the romans in AD 70. Once again, we see why it would have enraged the Jewish religious leaders when Jesus told the parable of the vineyard. While He was not their political Messiah, Jesus was proclaiming a civil judgment on them. Let us take head from these verses and know that God does stand to judge us if we put our confidence in our acts of service to Him. Save us, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Isaiah’s Vineyard Prepares the Way

Personally, I’m not enamored with sermon illustrations.  If they go on too long, my mind wander. To me, a good sermon analogy is short, to the point, and leaves you thinking about the significant point of the passage.

But Jesus used parables a lot, and so did the prophets. Isaiah 5:1-7 contains one such parable, that of a vineyard. It bears a stark resemblance to two of Jesus’ parables in the new Testament., and in it, we see how Jesus’ interpretation of the Law and the Prophets set him apart from the Sadduccees and their clinging to the Torah over the prophets.

First, Isaiah’s words. He set up the scene: Israel is God’s vineyard, and the vineyard has produced “wild grapes” (meaning sour). God planted and fertilized his vineyard (the book of the law and the prophets), and there is no excuse for Israel’s lack of production. Therefore, here is God’s judgment on the vineyard: “It shall be devoured.” (v. 5), and not just devoured, but driven off the map. “I will command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.” (v. 6) This language is mirrored in the end of the chapter, where Isaiah describes the coming

Compare this statement of judgment on the unfaithful to Luke 13:6-9, where Jesus tell the parable of the barren fig tree. The planter of a fig tree comes to the servant and tells him to cut down the unproductive vine, but the servant asks his master to wait another year. The difference from Isaiah is clear.: in Isaiah, God has had enough of Israel’s sin, and he is sending this generation to judgment. In Luke, the servant intercedes for the tree, and there is another chance, although judgment is not off the horizon. The servant represents Christ, who intercedes for us now,  and in some sense, our pastors and other leaders who intercede for Christians.

The other similar parable is the one of the wicked tenants in Luke 20:9-18. In this parable, Jesus uses the same set up, although the owner in His parable doesn’t get the return on his investment in the vineyard just because there wasn’t a crop. The owner of vineyard (God) doesn’t get a return on his investment because of wicked tenants (the Jewish religious leaders) beat every messenger (prophet) that the owner sends, and then they kill the son of the owner, Jesus. But both stories have the same ending: judgment on the vineyard. It is no wonder that the Jews wanted to seize Jesus after he told this parable; Jesus could not have made their unfaithfulness so clear, and unfortunately, they continued to seek refuge in their own works.

What does this show us about the importance of parables? It shows us that God does not exist only in the regulations of the law, although we would be foolish to deny that God speaks there. But God’s word speaks to us as we go about our lives every day,  in the field, in the office, or on the road, and we would be foolish to think our actions are without consequences.

So, here is the meaning of this passage: God’s word is to produce fruit in us, and just reading it isn’t enough. Even unbelievers who deny the truth read the Scriptures with vigor to disprove its truth. We must purge our hearts of our unclean thoughts and works, so that God’s word may take its free course in us, because ultimately, we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to our own salvation.

(All Scripture quote from ESV)

(More Isaiah studies)

Luther on Temptation-Whe Our Sufferings Rob us of our Sense

Last Saturday, I went down to the church library to read up on my Luther. I was hoping to find Table Talk on the shelf, but when I didn’t find it, I jut took a bunch of Luther’s other works, and started flipping through them. Most insightful was his book of devotional writings, and I wanted to share a selection of those writings with you.

“First, such a person must by no means rely on himself, nor must he be guided by his own feelings. Rather, he must lay hold of the words offered to him in God’s name…

“Second, he must not imagine that he is the only one assailed about his salvation, but…there are many more people in the world passing through the same trials…

“Third, he should by no means insist on deliverance from these trials without yielding to the divine will…

“Fourth, there is no stronger medicine for this than to begin with the words such as David used when said in Psalm 18 [:3] ‘I will call upon the Lord and praise him, so shall I be saved from all that assail me.’

“Fifth, he must thank God diligently for deeming him worthy of such a visitation, of which many thousands of people remain deprived.”

I really struggle with that last one. About a year and a half ago, I heard an exhortation that single people should give thanks for their celibacy, and I almost instantly thought the answer was no. Given the trials of my loneliness, my instant reaction was that there was no way I could give thanks for being single, and I still have a hard time thanking God for that. But it’s not something for me to question, and the opposite of seeing it as a blessing is seeing it as a curse.

And what about the Israelites after God turned them away from the promised land to wander in the wilderness for forty years, until all their fathers had died? During those forty years as they died, did they give thanks to God for that punishment? These are questions I really struggle with, but ultimately I must leave them in God’s hands.

“Therefore, we should willingly endure the hand of God in this and in all suffering. Do not be worried; indeed, such a trial is the very best sign of God’s grace and love for man.” (Luther’s Works, V. 42 Devotional Writings I. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 1969)

Luther then recommends a recitation of Psalm 142

With my voice I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
Attend to my cry,
for I am brought very low!
Deliver me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me!
Bring me out of prison,
that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me,
for you will deal bountifully with me.
(ESV)

Reopening Walther’s Law and Gospel: Being Mastered by the Scriptures

I first read C.F.W. Walther’s Law and Gospel the summer between junior and senior of college. The book was compilation of evening lectures that Walther gave to seminary student about good preaching: setting for the Law, God’s judgment on sin, and the Gospel, God’s grace for the repentant sinner. I was stuck by Walther’s precision as he went though his points and carefully set forth the truth of the gospel. It was a great time in my life to have such a reading, as I going to chapel every day, which allowed my to apply Walther’s guidelines to the sermon of the day. Not that I was trying to be negative; preaching should be scrutinized closely. Since then, Walther’s lectures always hang out in the back of my mind, and as I now have been preparing a Bible study on Isaiah, I decided to reopen the book.

Thumbing through it, the first thing that I noticed is that Walther devoted the most time to (six lectures) was the problem of repentant sinners being directed to their own piety for their salvation. It is no wonder that Walther would be so fixated on the issues of piety. While Islam and Deism presented not-so-subtle conflicts with Christianity, the Pietists sought to turn people to their own thoughts, prayers, and works. Granted, we may have a high points in our faith, but those high points should not define us. Christ crucified for sinners should defined us.

Walther’s first example in how to switch cleanly between Law and Gospel uses Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. When Peter drives his hearers to sorrow over their sins and “they were cut to the heart” (v. 37 ESV), he doesn’t give them anything to do. Peter tells them “Repent (to Walther, this means to have faith) and be baptized…in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (v. 38). Peter commends these sinners to Christ’s work on their behalf.

The part of Law and Gospel preaching I struggle with as I read this is the sudden change in voice in the text, or in a sermon. It’s like a movie with a huge twist ten minutes before the end: I’m being told that I’m terrible, and I can feel that guilt and conviction. But then all of sudden, God swoops in and says, “You’re forgiven.” This also happens when I’m reading the Bible, as I am doing right now for my Isaiah study. The prophet will shift gears so quickly-going from seven women claiming one man as their husband, then shifting to the grandeur of the coming kingdom of the Lord. (Is. 4:1-2). I find this confounding, and sometimes, I feel like I’m getting a mixed message.

But who am I to question how my Lord should come to me? He comes to us in the middle of a world that I broken and hurting and proclaims radical grace. The devil tempts us to sin and tells us, revel in the evil like the world does. It’s easy, all you have to do is feel sorry for yourself. But that is what makes the Gospel a stumbling block: it goes against what our nature wants. And what makes the Gospel so amazing is that it can surprise after we have found ourselves trapping in our sin and even mourning it, and from there, it lifts us up.

The main point about Law and Gospel that stuck with me was that God is always dealing with us, whether that is through correction or through encouragement. The key to understanding that, as Walther says in his first thesis, is experience, and that God works through every experience we have. That is the greatest comfort of this understanding of scripture.

Isaiah Study Part 2: Forgiveness for Man in a Broken World

The key point that I’ve learned about Isaiah was from Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller, who said in an Issues, Etc. interview on the book, where he said that the book was mostly just the preaching of law and gospel, which opened my eyes to a different view of the text. Before that, when I turned to the prophets, I always read their books like psalms, songs that happened to be about judgment. As I studied, I read the book as speeches declared from a pulpit, and it brought a different flavor to the writing. Too often, I would look at the psalms as five or six key verses that I’d carry around, a song of praise, and when I’d take that attitude to a prophet, I would end up only taking away “Though your sins are like scarlet…” or “Do justly, love mercy,…” and not that those aren’t important verse. But I was leaving on the table all that was in the book: condemnation of sin, and love of the savior.

To clean-up something from the previous post, let me also say that, the Saduccees and the Pharisees would not have been keen on passages that denounced the temple so stringently, as I noted in my previous post.

Isaiah moves his call to something a little more specific: what Israel needs to do. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”(Is. 1:16-17 ESV). This the final proof, the sign of Israel’s unbelief: how they are treating the poor in society is a sign of their lack of faith. But while Israel needs to take care of the widows and orphans, it is just as an important that they have right standing.

This is where the church needs to make a clear distinction: while we must take up the cause of the fatherless and the widow and the fatherless, our salvation does not lie in such things. In lies in our redemption that Christ has given us, which Isaiah is about to describe.

Isaiah 1:18 is one of the signature verses of the book, and unique in that does not explicitly mention Christ. But it does state what Christ does for us, and we should consider it closely, noting several things.

First, notice how the train of Isaiah’s sermon shifts. He spends the first sixteen verses giving commands and making declaration (“Give ear, O earth” [v. 2]; “Your country lies desolate” [v. 7]), but in verse 18, he know says, “Come, let us reason together”. This is not thinking together, as our language might indicate, but God coming to judge Israel, in its finality. As Paul E. Kretzman notes in his commentary, this sentence is passed without the consideration of how man feels about it. God has already made this decision, in the garden with Adam and Eve: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”. Man is forgive in his sight, in spite of his sin.

But the Isaiah goes on to remind Israel that just because God has forgiven them, they do not have a license to mess around. In verses 19-20, he uses the blessings and curses format that is common in Deuteronomy, when Moses makes his farewell sermons to Israel: “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword.” It is the same choice that has always been before Israel: accept God’s blessing and covenant, or be subject to his judgment. It is the same choice we face every day, and thanks be to God, we have an advocate that stood in our place, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah Study Part 1: God’s Prophet Gets to the Heart of the Matter

When I volunteered to take over the leadership of a proposed young adult Bible study at St. John, I got a little more than I asked for. I naturally thought of Isaiah because I hadn’t studied it in depth. When I took Old Testament in college, I was all wore out by the time we got to the prophets, and we didn’t spend much time on Isaiah. Isaiah is well known because of how often it is quoted in the New Testament, but as I have gotten into the text, I have found so much more there.

Isaiah comes to Israel at a time not unlike our own. Dr. Luther notes, that while Isaiah 1:1 puts the prophet himself It was 190 years since the split of the two kingdoms, even longer since the time of David. In the intervening years, most of the kings of Judah have been good, although there was still incense being offered in the high places. Judah probably puffed up its chest during these two hundred years. After all, they had the temple and a Davidic king, and their cousins to the north were involved in mass idolatry and constantly changing monarchs. It would have been easy for Judah to be lulled into a false sense of spiritual security.

But even still, they didn’t do all that God had commanded them. Dr. Stephen Stolhmann, my Old Testament professor, told our class that, given how exuberantly the Passover was celebrated in Hezekiah’ time, it likely wasn’t celebrated that often.

And this is how Isaiah come to Israel: in the first chapter, the prophet laments, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (Is. 1:3 ESV) The notes in the Lutheran study Bible make the interpretation clear: even animals have natural knowledge of who their masters are, in spite of their limited brains. Israel has a book of the law, the whole thing spelled out in front of them. They read it, and they have no clue what it means because their consciences have been harden.

And it is from this point that Isaiah moves on to Israel’s source of security: their temple worship. “Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.” (Is. 1:13 ESV) This to me is the real art of Isaiah 1:2-20, the prophet denouncing the people who are trusting the means over the messenger.

Here we must note an important distinction: while the means of grace God gives can save us, it is merely an unworthy mask to what is truly behind us. I remember an Issues Etc. interview (sadly, the name of the guest escapes me), where the pastor noted that Jesus, while critical of the Pharisees’ behavior, he does observe the temple rituals and festivals, because of its position. But while those means are good, they are just that: means. God’s grace and favor is something else.

This situation presents itself in many ways in our modern society. There are religious sects, such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim Christ, but add to the teachings of Scripture. These bodies have amassed quite the following and public fascination, and the secularist like to lump them in with the true church, but the scripture makes it clear what they are.

And even in our own church, there are those who go to church every Sunday, but who often go off and serve other gods. We must guard our hearts, so that we do not allow sin and such contempt to creep into them, and run constantly to our Lord and Savior for his forgiveness and mercy. Amen and Amen.

Isaiah and Jesus: where the Pharisees and Sadducees Missed the Boat

There are two points I’ve learned about how to read the New Testament that give me a greater understanding of the text. The first, I learned from Pastor Arnold Jurchen in Bible study at Holy Cross Lutheran church in Goehner, Nebraska. The second I recently read in the Lutheran Study Bible’s introduction to the prophets, and will be a key point in the upcoming study I’m preparing for the book of Isaiah.

In that Bible study, Pastor Jurchen addressed the issue of why the Jews in Jesus’ day didn’t believe that he was the Messiah. He said that Jews in the Old Testament laid out two Messiahs: one was the suffering servant, the other was the eternal heir of David. From that, it’s pretty easy to determine who the Jews wanted to believe in. The point from the Lutheran study Bible heightened that point: the Sadducees, Pharisees and other religious leader held the Books of Moses as authoritative over the prophets, or at least as more important than the prophets. That shocked me when I read it, but in a way that made sense.

At the time of Jesus, the Jews, after generations of struggle, had gotten a temple, and some measure of control in Jerusalem. With their nose up to the Romans, the teachers of the law said to themselves, “Listen, the previous generations really screwed up. We’d better observe the law of Moses to the hilt. Our fathers didn’t, and they themselves shipped hundreds of miles away from God’s promised land. If we return in repentance and keep the temple law, eventually, we’ll get the Rambo Messiah who’ll kick out the Romans.”

But they forgot a couple of things: one, God works in spite of our failings. In Isaiah 1:12-17, God bemoans the sacrifices that Israel was offering up, and tells them to concern themselves with social justice. Even though Isaiah and the other prophets proclaimed God’s judgment, they proclaimed his forgiveness for those who repent (even in exile). When you go to the New Testament, you see Jesus healing the widows’ son and feeding large crowds, caring for the needs of lesser people. When you read John 7-8 (Jesus at the Feast of Booths) and see the dialogue, it’s clear that the Jews want to use their allegiance to Moses (“we are Abraham’s children”), but if you read Isaiah, you see that claiming Abraham isn’t valid if you are persisting in sin. The answer wasn’t to reestablish the temple which could be destroyed again (and was); the answer was to look to the hope that, in repentance and faith, God would send His Messiah.

Luther on Preparing for Death: How Did You Use Your Life?

A few weeks ago, this following quote from Dr. Martin Luther served as the writing for my devotions in the Treasury of Daily Prayer (thanks, CPH). The words stuck in my mind as very harsh, and it made it a point to put them into this blog. (Of course, that was three weeks ago, but better late than never.

“First, one must admonish the people to attend church and listen to the sermon so that they learn through God’s word how to live and how to die. It must be noted that those who are so uncouth and wicked as to despise God’s word while they are in good health should be left unattended when they are sick unless they demonstrate their remorse and repentance with great earnestness, tears, and lamentations…”

Those words hit me like a load of brinks. Refuse spiritual care to the dying? Granted, that doesn’t that the pastor shouldn’t go in and proclaim God’s forgiveness to those who are willing to hear it. But walk out if they aren’t earnest enough?

I watch a lot of TV shows where death is a common theme-action shows like 24 and Prison Break, Lost when it was really good. But death on TV  is a plot contrivance, and the writers can indulge, even revel in it. When we watch death on TV and it looks easy, the temptation can be, “Listen, everyone dies. You will too. Get as much fun, however you can define it, out of this world. Then fall on your sword.” That was what Luther was talking about.

I am a twenty-eight year-old single guy, no girlfriend. There are a lot of things that vie for my attention-ESPN Radio, new books on the shelf at Barnes and Nobles, new TV on the networks every night, Netflix DVD’s in the mail. I could spend six hours in a row watching Damages episodes if I wanted to.

It is tempting to look out at the world and wonder, what am I going to do? Most people live until they are in their eighties, and I’m not even thirty. I know they say it goes fast, but who am I? I have only lived away from home during the three years of college. The only real work I have done has been in our family business. How do I fill the next forty to fifty years? It is this spirit that tells me that my time doesn’t matter.

I used to buy into it. I would lock myself in my home and play video games all day. I would tell myself I’d earned the break, given how well I had done in college. But after I ended up back at St. John, I was started to be confronted with what was going on in my life. I took on some volunteer projects to fill my time, in the process of which, I found out there were people who were off in worse straights than I was. I realized that God had given me some gifts, and I told myself that I had to use them to serve those around me.

This does sound eerily like works-righteous, or the evangelical mid-set “Once you are saved, jump in the volunteer program”. Anyone who wants to criticize me for that can have at; the relationship between faith and good works has always been an ambiguous one anyway. But God told Ezekiel to warn to the wicked, or else when God struck the wicked, the guilt would be on Ezekiel’s head (Ezekiel 3:18). Weren’t there times when Ezekiel preached primarily out of fear of what would happen to him? Of course, if Israel had fear what God was going to do them in the first place, they might not have gotten themselves into the whole exile-mess. But I diverge.

Back to my point: God calls us to use our gifts when we have the time. He gives them to us as we are, unworthy servants. We use them, because we know that we are saved, and that He will be there with us in the dying moments in this life. For us Christians, those moments don’t have to be the end. They are merely the leaving this time of grace, into His Kingdom of Glory. Amen, and Amen.

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