Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Time for a Check Up

Every year the doctor expects to see me.  For insurance purposes it is a year and a week after the last time he saw me.  It is time for my annual check-up.  What I expect him to tell me is that I am wonderfully fit and have the mind, body and reflexes of a man half my age. I expect him to tell me that I have no conditions that need watching and that I have no need of prescription medications.  That is what I expect, but it isn’t what I get.  He is the doctor and he sees me differently than I see myself.  Bummer!
This has a spiritual application in two ways.  First, Paul told the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they were in the faith.  That was a pretty clear call for a check-up.  They had problems that they consistently denied but that were readily apparent to others.  It is important to note that Paul always called them Christian brethren, but a check-up would help them treat the problem make them more evidently so.  Dr. Paul had spoken and given them multiple prescriptions for healing.
The second application is for the people in the church to examine those teaching in the church.  Paul used this in Titus chapter one where he spoke of the leaders of the Cretan church as being ones who professed to know God but by their works denied Him.  What sounds like truth from the pulpit should look like truth in the lives of those who preach it.  (However, before a charge is brought against an elder or pastor, the one who levels the charge must be free from the same sin or any other known or open sin.  They should especially be free from the sin of contentiousness which leads many to accuse others and fail to examine themselves.)  When a leader regularly practices open sin his preaching will begin to stray from the truth.  Soon whole congregations will be led astray from sound doctrine and fall into error. 
Thus we see the rise of many false cults from the Gnostics who opposed the Apostles to ones we see today. We also see the corruption of many denominations that have openly embraced sexual sin.  The Gnostic teaching was particularly debauched in the practice of open immorality by its leaders.  Jude used the phrase to define them, “Ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We need to heed God’s call for examination of both ourselves and our leaders to see if there is proper reflection of God’s truth. Edwin Orr wrote the words to a very special hymn that calls for examination. 
Search me, O God, and know my heart today. Try me my Savior, know my thoughts I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me; cleanse me from every sin and set me free.
O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee.  Send a revival, start the work in me.
Thy Word declares, Thou wilt supply our need; for blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.  

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

This week we are looking at the warnings that the Bible gives us concerning the dangers we face in our Christian walk.  Paul wrote to Timothy that there would be those who held to a form of godliness, but they did not believe the power of God.  From such, Paul warned Timothy, turn away. 
The problem in our human thinking is that’s since God’s name is glorious, when we hear it we attach the glory of His name to the one using it.  We assume that by the use of His name they are presenting a safe and glorious message.  But what should be true is not necessarily true.  Not all that glitters is gold.  God gave 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai.  One of them is “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s Name in vain.”  In other words, God is giving a warning that people will do just exactly that. 
We often assume that this commandment relates most to those who profane His name by using it as a swear word.  That would be an application, but only one, and such a simple one to identify that we overlook many other blasphemies.  God said that His word is true and righteous altogether.  There are many pulpits today that declare God’s word is subject to debate or not His word at all.  In my book Deceived I cover that topic in depth.   This is not just a problem in an isolated instance or two; it is a very real problem confronting the Church today.  Paul had warned the Ephesians that after his departure some from among that very strong church would turn away from truth and devour the true saints with their falsehood.  He called them wolves just as Jesus had done.
And so Paul cautioned the people to beware.  They will look like you, they will use the same book you use, they will use words you understand, but they will deny Christ’s authority by denying the very essence of the book they preach from.  That was his warning.  A messenger can use God’s name, but if they deny the power thereof, they are using it in vain and we need to stand apart from the certain judgment that God has for them.  This commandment of God came with a specific declaration of punishment: “For the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.” 
Let us make sure that we are standing on the sure foundation of God’s Word and not on the corrupted doctrines of men who use it vainly.  Let us trust the full integrity of God’s Word.  Here is a new song by Joshua Drake, “The Holy Word of God”.
The Holy Word of God: it is the Christian’s rule to teach, correct, rebuke and train— The Church’s priceless jewel.
Let others rule by whim their lives from day to day. God’s children have His Holy Word,
which gladly they obey.

God-breathed, yet penned by man, preserved by arms and art, the Church has born it in her breast— she dare not from it part!

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Monday, February 20, 2017

It’s Dangerous Out There

Children are a lot of fun to be around.  They are so eager to learn from those around them.  They want to soak up all that they can and are eager to believe what they are told.  From a purely cynical point of view they are gullible.  Lots of people prey on their gullibility.  Advertisers are quick to take note of their inherent belief in whatever they are told.  Predators are quick to take advantage of that fact as well.  Fantasy, fact and fiction all blend in their minds without critical distinction. 
Of the thirteen times the phrase “little children” is used in the New Testament, eight are found in I John where John uses the term to apply to the church.  Nine times in the New Testament believers are called “the children of God”.  This isn’t trivia.  This is important because it reflects two truths.  The first and most important is that God is the Father of all who believe in His Son.  He loves and cares for them, watches over and protects them, feeds and clothes them and picks them up and carries them as babes in His arms.  Secondly it gives us pause to consider the danger in which we often find children.  We are to be innocent children and wise Christians. 
Satan is worse than any child predator.  He is the author of all child predators.  They lie and deceive in order to get their sinful desires.  He is the father of lies.  They often kill their victims and he is a murderer from the beginning.  They destroy lives and he is the thief that comes to steal, to kill and to destroy.  We, the children of God, are his prey.  He stalks us and lays snares for us.  He offers us candy laced with cyanide and kittens that will claw out our eyes.  There is nothing good in him.  But he does not appear to be that way.  He comes as an angel of light professing all things noble.  He comes as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In light of this great enemy God wants His children to be protected.  He gives His Word as a protection.  He gives His true servants, ministers of the Gospel, to be a protection.  But how can we know if they are His true servants?  God gives us some litmus tests.  Do they declare the whole Word of God to be true?  Do they declare that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, very God of very God?  Do they declare that we are by nature lost sinners and can only be saved by faith in His Son through the grace of God?  If not, they are wolves.  Little children, beware of wolves.
Martin Luther in his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” calls us to know we have such a foe and to use the power of God’s word and faith in Christ against him.

And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed His truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for Lo! His doom is sure; God’s gracious word shall fell him.  

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Friday, February 17, 2017

A Beautiful Garden

We live in a crowded older neighborhood in a city.  Our total lot is only 60 feet by 80 feet.  On that lot we have a house, a two stall garage and a large driveway that can accommodate four cars.  That doesn’t leave a lot of yard space.  But in our yard I have planted hundreds of flowers.  I have also planted four trees, three large decorative shrubs, two strawberry patches, two raspberry patches, two grape vines and various other flowering items for beauty and food. 
There is an old saying in Iowa, “You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.”  I started working full time at age twelve managing my own truck farm. My love for digging in the dirt has never faded. 
Of all the things growing in my yard, I am fondest of the flowers.  They were planted to bring cheer from the first warm sun of spring to the last cold sun of fall.  The hyacinths, daffodils and tulips of early spring give way to iris, lilacs and peonies of late spring.  They are followed by a wide variety of lilies, roses and hostas in early summer, flox and late blooming hostas in late summer and asters and mums in the fall. Multiple other varieties of flowers are in bloom either all the time or in intervals between those mentioned.   From the time the snow is starting to separate itself from the edge of the house in the spring until the first snow lies on the ground in the fall, there is color in my yard and cut flowers for my beloved bride. 
My yard always makes me think of a hymn from the revivalist era. All week we have been considering the blessings that belong to the children of God and are found in and through His Word. Those blessings are as varied as the many thousands of different kinds of flowers and the many variations of each type of flower.  A flower catalog that listed each variety of each type of flower would be volumes in length.  That is the nature of the blessings of God to His children in and through His Word.  This hymn reflects the deep truth about the blessings that we find in our Bibles. They are as rich and rare as a beautiful garden and they exist in abundance.  “Thy Word is Like a Garden Lord” is the only recorded hymn by an Englishman named Edwin Hodder.  
Thy Word is like a garden, Lord, with flowers rich and fair;
And everyone who seeks may pluck a lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine and jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths for every searcher there.  

  The Friday Benediction
Until Monday, my friends, may the good God envelop you with His grace; may you prove the common confession of faith, “I believe in the holy Christian church and in the fellowship of the saints”, and may you be enriched with joy and hope as you exercise that confession this weekend.  Amen

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Secure Fortress

 Because we live on this earth we will find times and days and seasons when even the strongest hearted may tremble. Political leaders have learned to use the name of Christ to their advantage over the spiritually ignorant. Luther’s Large Catechism has much to say about the fate of those who thus profane the holy name of God.  He further declares that whole nations suffer disaster upon disaster while such blasphemy reigns in the land.  God said that He will not let go unpunished those who take His Name in vain.  That would apply to those who applaud its abuse as well. 
Such trying times are not new.  The Apostles experienced them in their day.  Luther and the Reformers experienced them in their day and until Jesus comes back mankind will continue to experience them again and again.  Satan has found an effective methodology to discourage mankind and bring vilification on those who speak the truth about the condition of the age. 
So what is the secure refuge?  It is Christ.  It is also His word.  His word conveys to us the greatness of His care and promises in troubling times.  It assures us that God has not forgotten His own.  It promises us eternal victory when temporal turmoil is rampant.  This is so sure that all the Scripture testifies to it.  In his great hymn, “A Might Fortress”, Martin Luther speaks of it in the final stanza.  (There are over 80 different translations of the original German for this hymn.  This is one of them.)  The Word is true, and it is our fortress. 
God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes who fear it.
For God Himself fights at our side, with weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our home, goods, honor, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away

They cannot win the day; the kingdom’s ours forever.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blessed by the Word

How many ways can we find blessings in the Word of God?  The psalmist said that the word was sweeter than honey and richer than silver or gold.  Was he just writing poetic thoughts or was he serious?  When he said that the word was a teacher, a guard, a guide and a light was he just filling up space, or is it true?  The answer to those questions will not depend on us, but on God.  What God said is not alterable by us or our opinions.  The psalmist said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”  Paul said that “All Scripture is given by inspiration from God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness.”  Paul also said that “God cannot lie.”  In other words, all the blessings of God are true and certain.  As Paul said, “All the promises of God in Him (Christ) are yea and amen.” 
So, where do you want to start picking flowers for your glorious holy bouquet?  There are some beautiful songs early in the story of Christ that may make a nice nosegay to carry around.  After meeting Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, Mary sang the Magnificat in Luke 1. She quoted many scriptural promises of God’s blessings.  It is a blessing that God pays attention to us (vs. 48).   It is a blessing that he has good plans for our future (vs. 48).  It is a blessing that He is in the business of doing great things for us (vs. 49).  It is a great blessing that He displays for us His mercy and strength (vs.50-51).  It is a great blessing that He fills us with good things, remembers us and keeps His promises (vs. 53-55)  Those are just the easy flowers to pick from this garden and we can carry them with us at all times.
Every day we depend on God’s gracious blessings to see us through the struggles of life. Sometimes we find ourselves looking at the cloudy sky instead of golden sun behind it.  We need to pick up His word and let it refresh us (a blessing) and encourage us (a blessing) and strengthen us (a blessing) so that we can live in the joy of His glory. 
Sarah Hale put the Lord’s Prayer into a simple song.  In this prayer we find the promises of blessings and hope for each day.  This prayer has been sung in various forms throughout the history of the church.  Remember, God is true and when we come to Him we can count on Him to fulfill His word.  The Lord’s Prayer is His own words.
Our Father in heaven we hallow Thy Name. May Thy kingdom holy on earth be the same.   O give to us daily our portion of bread; it is from Thy bounty that all must be fed.

 Forgive our transgressions and teach us to know that humble compassion which pardons each foe.  Keep us from temptation, from evil and sin, and Thine be the glory forever!  Amen.  

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

“Just an Old Fashioned Love Song” Abundant Grace Valentine

Don’t you just love love songs? How many of them can you sing, at least part of, right off the top of your head? Love has been a key theme of music for millennia. Everyone likes to be in love, to hear it, sing it, hold it in our arms. Love gives us a connection that enhances our life and takes us outside ourselves. After all, “All You Need is Love”. Right?
That is true. We all need love and the most significant love that we all need is the love of God. As the hymnist says, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell, it goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.” It is love that transcends time, space, circumstances, and all obstacles. It is the love that made God send His Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for all the sinners in the world so that all who believe in Him might have their sins forgiven and come into everlasting life.
The love of God, then, is far beyond the love of an old fashioned love song. Earthly love sometimes fades and sometimes fails. Earthly love can be corrupted by our own selfish desires and destroyed by our own sinful nature. But God’s love cannot be corrupted because it is pure and comes from the One who changes not and whose love is called “the everlasting love”.

As we enter the month of hearts, flowers, and expressions of earthly love, let us not forget the love that is far greater than this. In this love the expense is not ours. We need not, indeed cannot, buy anything or give anything that will gain God’s love. It has been freely given to all who will come to Christ as the Son of God, their Savior from Sin. As we expect the one who receives our Valentine tokens of love to swoon in our arms and respond with pledges of mutual love, let us take the same road with God. Let us fall into His arms of grace and both proclaim and live out our love for Him, not just for this month, but for always.  

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