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Devotion for Saturday, February 28, 2015

egypt

“Well then, where are your wise men?  Please let them tell you, and let them understand what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt.  The princes of Zoan have acted foolishly, the princes of Memphis are deluded; those who are the cornerstone of her tribes have led Egypt astray.”  (Isaiah 18:12, 13)

When calamity comes, mortals remember that they are not in control of the universe, and they try to flee and disappear.  Where are the wise men of this age?  As we hear in Job, who is it that is able to give counsel to the Lord?  Who is wise enough to instruct the Lord or to lead the people in holiness and righteousness?  No one, and only Christ can accomplish what needs to come about.

Gracious God, take me far away from the foolish prognostications of this age so that I would see clearly that You alone are Lord.  Help me grow in this faith You have given me, maturing and learning from You who knows all things.  May I grow in wisdom and stature as Jesus did, knowing that all things will be as You purpose them to be.

Thank You, Lord, for rescuing the downtrodden and weary.  Guide me deeper into the righteousness and help me to rest in You. Help me to hold fast to that which is eternal and true.  Keep me from foolishness and help me to speak Your Word of truth to all whom I meet.  May I be Your faithful servant this day, doing all You give me to do, and doing so with a cheerful and willing heart.  Amen.

Sin is such a judgmental word! Presenting Thesis 2: The Bondage of Humanity to Sin

  • February 27, 2015 - 9:41 am
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A group of ELCA pastors first published the 9.5 Theses 20 years ago as a call to Scriptural and confessional faithfulness.  Lutheran CORE re-presents their witness this Lent, thesis-by-thesis, with commentary by Lutheran CORE board member, the Rev. Cathy Ammlung.  

 

Thesis 2: The Bondage of Humanity to Sin

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned. (Romans 5:12)

The Church confesses “that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves” (Lutheran Book of Worship — Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness; Augsburg Confession — Articles II, XVIII, XIX).

We reject the false teaching that would place ultimate hope in human goodness and self-fulfillment, that would confuse sin with failure or lack of virtue, that would exchange confession of our sin before God for self-analyses of perceived human problems.

The Word of God is silenced among us and driven out of the Church whenever we sinners are not held accountable before the holy and righteous God.

 

Commentary: “Sin” is such a judgmental word! Psychologists rightly point to the load of paralyzing guilt many clients carry because people have used the word “sin” as a weapon against them.  Even when we churchgoers speak of sin, we sometimes find it easier to speak about “generic sins,” or even the specific sins of other people, than about our own highly personal wrongdoing. “Those people’s” sins should be exposed, condemned and expelled. When we get to our own sins, well, we often figure they are merely speed bumps on the highway to heaven.  After all, we’re only human!

How strange, therefore, this sounds:

“It is the basic denial of the bondage to sin that enables this very self-righteous claim of essential goodness to spring forth. We have a natural aversion towards admitting that we are by nature sinful and unclean…. Sin is not what we do. Sin is not our failures in life, big or small. Sin is not defined as powerlessness, as so many ‘confessions’ are wont to say. Sin is who we are as fallen children [of God]. Due to the nature of sin, we commit sins. Sin, therefore, is ‘that which binds the children either to vainly despise God or hate his judgment.’” [Apology to the Augsburg Confession, Article II.]

When we enter into the presence of the Lord, we believe and confess that we are in bondage to sin and death and cannot free ourselves.  But that is no easy thing to do. Talking about our sinfulness with one another is different from confessing it before God.  In a sense, when we’re “comparing owies” with one another, we might well have reason to judge that ours aren’t as bad as someone else’s. We can make use of psychological maxims and insights that can help build up a psyche battered by guilt.

But we can’t do that before God. All of us, from Mother Theresa to Saddam Hussein, stand on the same side of a chasm. In fact, all of creation, from the smallest virus to the greatest of the cherubim and seraphim, stand on the same side of that chasm. On the other side is the Holy and Blessed Trinity. And before that God, even the sinless seraphim hide their eyes in awe-struck humility. How can we do any less? Even the best of us are sinners.

Realize that what I’m about to say is only a metaphor.  But it may be helpful.  One of the most dangerous responses to the first diagnosis of cancer is, “Oh, it’s just a tiny lump. It’s not very serious. It’ll go away. I’ll just eat right, cut out smoking, and get more rest. One little lump like this isn’t going to kill me, is it?”  Similarly, the most dangerous response to sin is, “It’s just a white lie or minor infraction, nothing to get so excited about. I’ll try to do better, watch my tongue, maybe get to church more often. But God’s not going to zap me over this little thing, is he?”

However difficult, scary, dangerous and painful cancer treatment may be, most of us agree that it’s necessary to achieve a cure or remission.  So it is with sin. Confessing our sin is accepting our diagnosis and entrusting ourselves to the Divine Physician, whose own Body and Blood are the “chemotherapy” we receive in order to live. Confessing our bondage to sin is, by the unmerited goodness of God, not a dead end. It’s how we become oriented to the Source of forgiveness, hope, health, goodness, joy, love, and life.

Whenever the Church endorses “possibility thinking;” eliminates “downers” such as the Confession or the Kyrie from the liturgy; sidesteps Scripture readings that proclaim judgment and condemnation; and tolerates, affirms, or even blesses that which Scripture, the Creeds, the Confessions, and the witness of the whole Church proclaim is counter to God’s intentions, we are in serious danger. We are like a doctor who pats a cancer patient on the head and says, ‘There, there, it’s not so bad. This won’t keep a good person like you down for long at all. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

God grant that we do not turn down that road.

Devotion for Friday, February 27, 2015

BD_Hunefer_cropped_1

“The princes of Zoan are mere fools; the advice of Pharaoh’s wisest advisers has become stupid.  How can you men say to Pharaoh, ‘I am a son of the wise, a son of ancient kings’?  Well then, where are your wise men?  Please let them tell you, and let them understand what the Lord of hosts has purposed against Egypt. (Isaiah 18:11, 12)

The foolishness of men and their arrogance goes against the Lord, believing that the wise are able to overcome the truth of the Lord.  It has happened before, and it is happening again.  Men think they control the world, its environment and what will happen.  Only the Lord is God, and things will happen as He has purposed them.  Trust in the Sovereign Lord and know life.

Lord, I listen to the fools of this age as others have listened to the fools of the past.  Help me not look to those who oppose You and think them wise, but instead, turn me to Your Word and know that You alone know all things.  Guide me ever deeper into Your wisdom that I would not follow the foolishness of this world.  Help me discern the difference between foolish babbling and Your Word.

Thank You Lord for giving the words of eternal life to speak to all who will hear to take in and obey.  Guide me into and through Your Word that I would hold fast to what You have given me, knowing that only in You is there hope and a future.  Keep me close to You, knowing that You alone are able to lead me through all the foolishness of this age through Christ my Savior. Amen.

 

 

(image: BD Hunefor)

You have likely heard of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. How about the 9.5 Theses?

  • February 26, 2015 - 4:19 pm
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Introduction

You’ve likely heard of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses.  Have you heard of the 9.5 Theses?   Twenty years ago this March, a group of pastors in New Jersey authored nine-and-a-half theses for distribution in the ELCA, calling for renewed faithfulness to Scripture and the Lutheran confessions.  They speak to the ELCA’s cultural and doctrinal drift as much today as they did 20 years ago, if not more so!

In thanksgiving for their witness, Lutheran CORE presents them anew, this time with commentary from the Rev. Cathy Ammlung, a member of Lutheran CORE’s new board of directors.  Our hope remains the same as that of the theses’ original signers: “We hope the theses will help to place the confession of the Faith at the center of our common life once again.”

Pastor Ammlung’s first commentary derives from a more extended commentary on the theses by the original signers, published in Lutheran Forum, Advent 1995.  

 

Thesis 1: The Revelation and Name of the Holy Trinity

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. (John 15:26)

 

“Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims, praises, worships” no other God than the LORD God of Israel, revealed in and named by Jesus Christ as “the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Te Deum; Matthew 28:I9; Augsburg Confession–Article I).

We reject the false teaching that the naming of God as Father is a human construct to be understood on the analogy of human fatherhood; that it designates Israel’s God as male; that the Trinitarian Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is inherently oppressive to human beings in general or women in particular; or that substituting triadic terms is adequate.

The Word of God is silenced among us and driven out of the Church whenever the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is ignored, minimized, marginalized, suppressed or altered in the Church’s preaching and praying, baptizing and confessing.

 

Commentary: The problem with God is that he isn’t politically correct. There have been efforts (often by well-meaning Christians) to “smooth out God’s rough edges” and give God a less offensive name than “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” One of the more popular substitutes is “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier,” and variations thereon.  Some would claim that the revealed Name is too male-dominated, arising from a patriarchal culture, and that persons (especially women) who have suffered abuse or oppression from father figures are unable to love, trust, or worship a deity whose name seems so thoroughgoingly “male.”

Yet we do not derive our concept of God as Father from our own personal experience of fatherhood, but from Jesus’ own witness to the One he himself calls Father: We have no grounds upon which to address God as Father, except that Jesus himself has given that privilege to those who are baptized in the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who are thereby joined to Jesus’ own death and resurrection to the Father’s right hand. We do not begin with our own notions and experiences of fatherhood and then blow them up to God-sized proportions!

The Rev. Beth Schlagel put it well in the Advent 1995 issue of Lutheran Forum:

For human creatures to take the prerogative of the way in which we, as the Church, address God and confess God, is to act with great presumption and to risk making a god in our image. The Bible reveals to us the holy God, the Lord God of Israel, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The ancient creeds go to great lengths to uphold the dogma of the Trinity. The Augsburg Confession begins with it as the fundamental article of faith for all Christians. There is no doctrine of redemption in Jesus Christ apart from it. The crucifixion of Jesus, his burial and descent into hell, were an act of obedience to his Father…. The Father raised him from the dead. Were that not so, there would be no hope of salvation for us.

Sexism should be opposed because it diminishes the holy relationship between man and woman which God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit!) established in creation. However, the war should be fought where the conflict lies: not between God and humanity, but between and among human beings, in the language we use for and with one another.”

Another point needs to be made. When we replace “Father” with “Creator,” “Son” with “Redeemer,” and Spirit” with “Sanctifier,” we replace the doctrine of “one God in three Persons” with “one god with three hats.”

Yet while the Creeds highlight the role of God the Father in the work of creation, we are never allowed to forget that creation is the work of the Triune God. The Son is the One “through whom all things were made.” The Spirit is the “Giver of life.” Similarly, Jesus, the Son of God, while uniquely our Redeemer, didn’t act alone! His Father “so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” The Spirit is the One through whom we come to faith in Jesus and confess him as Savior and Lord.  And although we may clearly speak of the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier, the Spirit is sent from the Father through the Son, and reminds and teaches us only what has already been revealed by the Son.

In short, “job description” titles are just that: titles, not names. The Holy Trinity works “as one” to create, redeem, and sanctify, however much we may seem to encounter one Person more powerfully in each of those actions. The Name we are given to pray to, worship, proclaim, baptize in, and hang our hearts on, is the Name vouchsafed to us by the Lord Jesus himself. Accept no substitutes! And resist any attempts by well-meaning folks to “improve”  (but thereby diminish) God’s holy Name.

Devotion for Thursday, February 26, 2015

egypt

“Moreover, the manufacturers of linen made from combed flax and the weavers of white cloth will be utterly dejected.  And the pillars of Egypt will be crushed; all the hired laborers will be grieved in soul.”  (Isaiah 18:9, 10)

The Lord gives and the Lord takes.  Seasons come and seasons go, but the Lord remains the constant in all seasons.  We want to trust in what we have experienced, but we are called to trust in the One who created our ability to experience.  Lean not on your own understanding, but trust in the Lord who is the Creator of heaven and earth.  He will bring about all things according to His purpose.

Lord, over and over again, You call for us to simply trust You, that is, to live by faith.  Help our unbelief, that we would trust You, knowing that all things are now, as they always have been, in Your hands.  Guide me through Your Word that I would see how finely You have knit together Your story that all who are able, might trust and believe that You alone are the Sovereign Lord.

Sovereign Lord of all that is, guide me this day in the wisdom that You alone can give that I would trust You above all things.  Help me in my doubts to live by faith, knowing that the day will come when You will reveal all things.  Help me be a faithful witness of this faith You have given me, that I would not only hold fast to You, but also that I would be a witness of that trust in all I say and do.  Amen.

Devotion for Wednesday, February 25, 2015

dry river

“The bulrushes by the Nile, by the edge of the Nile and all the sown fields by the Nile will become dry, be driven away, and be no more.  And the fishermen will lament, and all those who cast a line into the Nile will mourn, and those who spread nets on the waters will pine away.”  (Isaiah 18:7, 8)

The day is coming when the Nile will dry up.  For thousands of years, the waters of the Nile have provided life along the river.  This prophecy is a sign for us to look for in those days which are shortly before the Lord’s return.  The Lord gives warning to those who hear His voice that in difficult times, they may know that the Word of the Lord is true.  Look and see as history unfolds to reveal the truth of the Lord’s Word.

Lord, there are so many skeptics all around me who do not believe.  They rail against Your Word and try to convince the faithful not to believe.  Help me to see all of the places where Your Word has come to pass, knowing that it is one hundred percent accurate, so that I may trust in all of the promises You have given.  Lead me in faith to belief and away from unbelief.

Lord, You have come in fulfillment of prophecy and there awaits prophecies as yet unfulfilled.  Help me see that You are the Master of history and that all will come to pass, just as You have declared.  Guide me ever deeper into the truth of Your Word that I would abide in You as You abide in me.  May I be a shining light of witness of Your presence everywhere I go this day.  Amen.

In all the debate over sexuality, where’s the concern for children?

  • February 24, 2015 - 2:49 pm
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“Lawmakers in the United States have always attached unique incentives and processes to the forming and dissolving of marriage, on the grounds that marriage is the only union promoting the birth and rearing of children within the stable care of their parents. The legal record is clear. This rationale may be supplanted by adults’ interests, however, should lawmakers reconceive marriage as a set of adult emotional and sexual attachments, and a remedy for past discrimination against L.G.B.T. persons.

If marriage is so redefined, it would be the last act in the ongoing story told by American family law: the state’s dwindling concern to link children stably with the adults who conceived them. This is not to suggest that the state’s earlier mechanisms were perfect. It was right to abolish the disadvantaging of “illegitimate” children, even though this was intended to persuade adults toward marital children. It was also true that fault divorce was easily gamed by couples colluding to manufacture a fault.”

Read the entire article “The Law and Children” by Helen M. Alvaré at America magazine.

“I had left behind the language of Jesus…”

  • February 24, 2015 - 10:21 am
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Jesus by Hoffman

“I had left behind the language of Jesus, the spirituality of Jesus, and I had certainly left behind the imitation of Jesus. That was the beginning of my long climb out of the pit.”

Go here to read an interesting post “Finding Jesus (Again) at Seminary” by Timothy Dalrymple. It addresses attitudes of students in seminaries like Princeton. However, the author is voicing something that has been a common reality for decades in mainline seminaries, too. Yes, including the ELCA.

Devotion for Tuesday, February 24, 2015

desert-279862_1280

“The waters from the sea will dry up, and the river will be parched and dry.  The canals will emit a stench, the streams of Egypt will thin out and dry up; the reeds and rushes will rot away.”  (Isaiah 18:5, 6)

Water wars.  Without water, all the technology in the world will not help.  This prophecy speaks of a day when water will become a precious commodity.  We are not there . . . yet.  As you consider the signs, know that the Lord dealt with Egypt then but there are events that have not yet come to pass.

Lord, help me see that in Your Word, You speak not only of prophetic events that have come to pass, but also of things yet to be.  Help me always look to You and not what will come in this age.  Through all that happens, keep my eye on You that I may continue growing and maturing as Your disciple.  May I be encouraged as events unfold, knowing that Your Word is absolute and true.

Lord, You have spoken words of prophecy that I might believe.  Help my unbelief and guide me by Your grace deeper into the mystery of the faith.  Help me in every circumstance to look to You knowing that only in You is there hope.  Today and every day, may I be encouraged to be faithful in discipleship and grow in understanding the significance of all of Your prophecies.  Amen.

Devotion for Monday, February 23, 2015

isaiah

“Then the spirit of the Egyptians will be demoralized within them; and I will confound their strategy, so that they will resort to idols and ghosts of the dead and to mediums and spiritists.  Moreover, I will deliver the Egyptians into the hand of a cruel master, and a mighty king will rule over them,” declares the Lord God of hosts.”  (Isaiah 18:3, 4)

Those who will not turn to the Lord, turn to their imaginations to find answers for the present trouble.  Whether in the guise of modern thought or the idols of old, people continue their rebellion and seek answers that reject the Word of the Lord.  Do not lean on your own understanding, but turn to the Lord while He may be found.

Lord, the stories, whether modern, or old, entice and lead people astray from the simple truth that You alone are God.  Help me to live in the truth You have revealed, knowing that only in You is there hope and a true future.  Help me not to cower in a corner, or adopt fables to answer away the truth of Your world being violated by sin, but instead, to see the truth clearly and understand that You give a call to all to come to You.

Thank You, Lord, for the abundance of Your grace and mercy.  Help me this day to seek You first in all things and not to buy into the continuous cadence of those who are opposed to You.  Let me not fall into the trap of fables, but to hear Your Word clearly as it speaks eternal truth to my heart.  May I be found faithful this day in listening to You through Your Word.  Amen.