Author

By In Family and Children, Theology

Burdened

Watching a loved one make foolish choices which you know will end in his pain or complete devastation is heart-wrenching. You watch as your loved one abuses drugs or alcohol, refuses to take care of his health by overeating, gives himself to sexual immorality, pays no attention to warnings about how he is treating his spouse, or a myriad of other things. He stubbornly refuses to hear good counsel. If there were something more you could do to turn him around, to shake him out of it, to change his heart, you would do it. The last thing you want to see is this destructive pattern to continue and end where you know it will end.

Love desires what is best for the beloved. Love causes great grief and unceasing sorrow when you see your beloved destroying himself.

Israel according to the flesh, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is on a destructive path. The majority are stubborn, refusing to hear the gospel; the gospel that proclaims that all of the hopes given to their patriarchs have been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. If they don’t turn to Christ, they will suffer an eternal hell as disinherited children to whom belonged sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, the promises, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh (Rom 9.4).

This is Paul’s family. He loves them. He loves them so much that he would pray that he himself be anathematized from Christ for their sake (Rom 9.3). That is, if Paul could suffer eternal punishment so that they would turn to Christ in faith, he would do it. That is a burden. That is love.

This love is not unprecedented. Paul is echoing what Moses did when YHWH threatened to destroy Israel at Mt. Sinai because of the worship of the golden calf. Moses interceded on behalf of Israel saying, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Exod 32.31-32). Paul is a new Moses who is recognizing the sins of his family in rejecting their God. YHWH has revealed himself in the man Christ Jesus, who is God blessed forever (Rom 9.5). Israel is doing now what they did at Mt. Sinai, and destruction is imminent. Paul, like Moses, is standing between God and Israel praying that he himself be cursed for the sake of his family. (more…)

Read more

By In Theology

Salvation Through Sin

Romans 9–11 is challenging on so many levels. Predestination and apostasy walk side-by-side in this part of the letter without even a line of explanation of how the two work together. This is the way things are. No explanation is needed.

As much as these realities are focused upon by exegetes and theologians, these doctrines are not the focus of this somewhat climatic part of the letter. They (and other Scriptural presuppositions with them) provide the foundation for Paul’s main subject: how God maintains his righteousness by keeping his promises to the fleshly children of Abraham when he has ordained their rebellion in order to accomplish salvation in Christ. (Got all that?) Earlier in the letter (2.17–3.8) it was established that it was through Israel’s sinful rebellion that salvation–God’s saving righteousness–was revealed in Jesus Christ. That is, Israel’s sin in rejecting her Messiah and crucifying him brought salvation to the world. God used Israel’s rebellion to display his righteousness.

That provoked some questions with which Paul had to deal immediately: “If our unrighteousness brings about the righteousness of God, should we continue to sin so that the whole world will be saved?!” Those questions were dealt with, but some other questions were left dangling; namely, “What about God’s promises to the physical descendants of Abraham?” Paul is answering that question throughout Romans 9–11. This goes to the greater concern, “Has the word of God failed?” (cf. Rom 9.6)

Though much of the way God worked can now be understood as we look back through what he has done in Christ Jesus, the wisdom of God’s plan remains inscrutable. He chooses to harden some in rebellion so that he might show mercy to others. He hardens Pharaoh to show mercy to Israel. He hardens Israel to show mercy to the Gentiles. But then he will use the mercy shown to the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous so that they will come join in on the promises that were given to them in the first place.

This is God’s plan. It is the way things are. Though we are called to connect as many dots as we can in studying the works of God, there are some things we will never figure out. If we are following Paul, our inability to comprehend everything doesn’t lead to frustration but rather doxology. “ Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11.33-36)

There are graces given to you by God that you will never figure out. How is it that someone with your family history can experience the salvation that you have experienced? How is it that with all the bad things that people have done to you, you have a healthy relationship with God? How is it that a sinner like you can know God like you do? There is no other explanation but the grace of God. He chose to harden some so that he could show mercy to you. In the story of redemption he did this with Israel. In our personal stories within this story, it is possible that he has hardened others in order to show mercy to you.

Why? I don’t know. That’s just his plan. He hasn’t called you to figure out why. Ours is to respond in grateful allegiance and praise, enjoying the mercy we’ve been shown.

Read more

By In Worship

God For Us: A Baptismal Exhortation

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31)

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, who of your great mercy saved Noah and his family in the ark from perishing by water; and also safely led the children of Israel, your people, through the Red Sea, which was a type of holy Baptism; and by the Baptism of your well-beloved Son Jesus Christ, in the river Jordan, sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin: We beseech you, for your infinite mercies, that you would mercifully look upon this Child; wash her and sanctify her with the Holy Spirit; that she, being delivered from your wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ’s Church; and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally she may come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with you age after age, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

“God for us” is the promise and comfort of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all those who love God.

“God for us” is the assurance that we have that no matter what happens in this life all of it must be working together for our good.

“God for us” means that God has fully invested himself in those who are in Christ Jesus to see the work started in us completed.

“God for us” is the assurance that before the foundations of the world, God set his love upon us, determining that we would be his.

“God for us” means that even with the entrance of sin into the world, with all of the pain, heartache, and trouble that it brings, God is still at work on our behalf.

“God for us” is his giving himself to us fully in love, demonstrated preeminently at the cross, where he definitively suffered the penalty for our sins in Christ Jesus.

“God for us” is his victory over the grave, declaring that in Christ Jesus we are fully forgiven and stand righteous before him.

“God for us” is his giving us the gift of the Spirit so that we would be joined to him in the Son, bound in love to the eternal Trinity.

“God for us” means that he makes promises to us in the waters of baptism, and he will not fail to keep those promises.

“God for us” means that, empowered by his Spirit, he has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness; there is nothing that we lack to live a faithful life.

This morning God declares to Elizabeth Archer that he is for her. He lives and does all that he does for her.

In the weakness of her infancy, he is for her, demonstrating that by joining her to himself through the waters of baptism.

Even when she is powerless, he is powerful for her; embracing her and protecting her. God is for her.

And if God is for her–if God is for us–then who can be against us? Who can withstand the power of his protection over us?

Who can come against us and penetrate that love so as to pry her loose from the love of God? There is nothing that can defeat the love of God that we enjoy in Christ Jesus.

This love that God is promising to Elizabeth this morning, this love that he has promised to all of us in baptism, is love that demands a response.

This love is only found in Christ Jesus. God is for us in Christ. He is only for us in Christ.

God is for those who love him, and those who love him are those who love his Son and have pledged their allegiance to him.

The promises of God should never be presumed upon. Never should we think that God is for us if we have set ourselves up as his enemies by living contrary to his will.

Elizabeth must lay hold of the promises of God for her by faith throughout the rest of her life.

Caleb and Rachel, by virtue of her birth in your family, God has given you the stewardship of his child.

As ministers of his church and for the sake of his church, you must be faithful in discipling her. She must grow up in her faith.

God has given you everything you need to do this. He has given you the church, and through the church, the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship to strengthen you in your duty.

Stay faithful. Demonstrate the beauty of love for God to Elizabeth so that she will desire it with all of her heart.

Teach her that God is for her, and that as she perseveres in the faith, there will be nothing that can come between her and the love of her God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Read more

By In Theology

Predestination

Predestination. The word itself provokes all sorts of images in people’s minds. Some will see this austere God who is sorting people out as impersonally as a CPA working with numbers on a page. These go over here in the “going to heaven” group. Those go over there in the “going to hell” group. Those groups are set from before the foundation of the world. Consequently, there is nothing you can do to get out of one group and into another. Your decisions mean nothing. Even if you were to love God with all of your heart, if you are in the “going to hell” group, your destiny is fixed by the big Bureaucrat in the sky.

The reaction to this image of God is, understandably, negative. Understanding God in this way is anything but comforting, and it certainly doesn’t take into account the personal relationship that involves love and choices revealed in Scripture. As a result, there are Christians who will throw the predestination baby out with the sovereign bath-water.

This is not the Scriptural picture of predestination. But we must be careful not to discard the whole idea of predestination. The Scriptures do teach that God predestines events, the course of the world, and the lives of people.

Predestination is just what the word denotes: it is determining destinies beforehand. The Scripture is quite clear that God is sovereign and does, indeed, set the destinies for all things, including people. Paul says clearly that God works all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph 1.11). It is quite clear in Romans 9 that God chooses people for his own purposes before they are born (Rom 9.10ff.). Predestination can’t be rejected without doing violence to an important Scriptural truth: God’s absolute sovereignty. Trying to protect man’s sovereignty at the expense of God’s sovereignty leaves us with a God who is subject to the whims of man. Nothing is certain.

However, the Scriptures don’t present predestination in impersonal terms. We serve a personal God who, in his mysterious sovereignty, deals with us personally. Predestination is (primarily) presented in Scripture as the expression of God’s love for his people. His absolute sovereignty over all men and our destinies is a comfort for those of us who love God.

This is how Paul presents predestination in Romans 8.29-30. In a world that looks like it is coming apart at the seams, a world in which the creation and we in it are groaning because of the effects of sin, God’s predetermined purposes to bring everything and everyone to a certain end means that all of this makes sense in the plan of God … even when it all looks completely random to us. As we suffer with Christ, we need certainty that it is not all in vain. We have that certainty. God set his love upon us before the foundation of the world, establishing a relationship with us. He foreknew us; he foreloved us.

Foreknowing us he predestined us that we should be conformed to the image of his Son. For those of us who love God, he has determined that we will be conformed to the image of his Son. This means that we will share his character. We will be holy as he is holy. We will love what he loves.

This also means that we will share his vocation. The Son is God’s appointed ruler of the world. We as sons of God in the Son of God are predestined to rule with Jesus. We will inherit glory with Christ Jesus.

While we cannot pry into the secret counsels of God concerning every aspect of predestination, we can be sure of our predestination unto glory by how we relate to Jesus now. Do you live in allegiance to Jesus as your Lord? Do you love what he loves? Do you fight sin and cultivate righteousness in your life? These are evidences of the Spirit’s working in your life.

As you are fighting the good fight, the Scriptural teaching of God’s predestination undergirds your faith, helping you not to lose hope. God will not fail you in keeping his promises. All of those who are loyal to Christ will certainly inherit the promised glory. It has already been determined.

 

Read more

By In Theology

The Good From The Bad And The Ugly

Sometimes it seems that the more we pray the worse things become. Even if they’re not becoming worse, they don’t seem to be improving. Sickness and death still plague us. Our Western civilization is losing its collective mind. Hurricanes still strike our coasts and bring unbelievable destruction to property and life. Now with the availability of information 24/7/365 we are notified about every bad situation from our own neighborhoods to Timbuktu. We are constantly bombarded with everything that is going wrong in the world. Our minds are overwhelmed with this information noise that can be discouraging and disorienting.

If we are praying and nothing is perceptibly changing, why do we keep doing it? If we are weak and don’t know what to pray for as we ought, why do we keep praying with wordless groanings, not knowing just how our prayers are being answered (Rom 8.26)?

We persevere in prayer and through all of the suffering and groaning because “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28). This is our assurance in prayer. This is our assurance in every situation in life; the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is our foundation for sanity in an insane world.

Our God has a plan. That plan will not be thwarted by the sin of man. Indeed, God, in his wisdom, is using even the sin of man to work for the good of his people and, through them, the entirety of the cosmos. One need only look at the cross to see this truth. While sin is not good in itself and will be punished, God is working through sin to accomplish his purpose. All of the insanity that is going on all around us right now in Western civilization is all a part of the plan.

Lest we begin to believe that God’s plan is dependent upon our strength as the church, we need to remember that we are weak and don’t know what to pray for as we ought. God’s purpose will not be accomplished because we are mighty prayer warriors who know just what to pray. We are assured that the Spirit is working with us in prayer and that our weakness will in no way hinder what God will do for us. God works through our weakness in prayer to accomplish his purpose.

Our encouragement in prayer is not that we come to the place that we have figured everything out and that we know how to fix it. Our encouragement is not even seeing God do what we want him to do for us and those around is in the short term. Our encouragement is that we love, serve, and pray to a sovereign heavenly Father who loves us, is sovereign for us, and promises that he is working all things together for good whether we see it or not.

Yes, we come groaning in prayer with the weight of the effects of sin being felt. But we come groaning to a heavenly Father who loves us and enters into that pain with us in Christ and by the Spirit. He is not a God who is far off but a God who is near. And this God who loves us and is near to us is the one who declares the end from the beginning; he works all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph 1.11).

On this side of our resurrection there will always be reason to groan in suffering prayer. But as we pray, we can pray with the rock-solid faith that our heavenly Father loves us more than we can imagine and has a good purpose for us. We can trust him that the suffering we endure, no matter what form it takes, is under his control and is working for our good.

Read more

By In Worship

Prayer: Our Words In The Word

In the beginning the Speaker spoke the Word. The Word went out from the Speaker, carried along by the Breath, and the world was created, formed, and filled. Speaker, Word, and Breath working in loving, powerful union with one another to create from nothing everything that is.

The height of this creative activity was the creation of man himself, the image of God. He is a creaturely word; a revelation of God within the creation. This form fashioned from the dust of the ground was himself filled with the Spirit-Breath of God. This Spirit empowered him to take the creation given to him and, by word and deed, follow in the image of God to create, arrange, form, and fill this creation so that it will one day reflect God’s own heavenly throne room. This is his dominion task.

The dominion man is to take over the world is not some impersonal job handed down to him from a distant God. The man is a part of the divine family. God has called him into the family business of creating. He can’t do this apart from the rest of the family. He is not God himself after all. He, like the Triune God, must work in concert with the family. Man is dependent upon Father, Son, and Spirit–Speaker, Word, and Breath–to take the dominion over the creation.

Central to this mission, therefore, is to be in prayerful communion with the Triune God. Man is a co-laborer with God. God doesn’t do the work apart from man, and man doesn’t do the work apart from God. God has sovereignly chosen to act in this way.

The Divine Family is still working as they did in the original creation, and we who belong to the family now participate in this creation project. We have been united to God the Father–the Speaker–in the Son–the Word–by the Spirit–the Breath. Now being “in the Word” we are “words of God.” Being given the Spirit at Pentecost, we are words of the Speaker being carried along by the Breath of God to create, arrange, form, and fill the world so that it comes to look like the kingdom of God. Our words do this, not because they are mechanical, not because they are always theologically precise, but because we share the life of God himself, the Creator of all. The Spirit helps our weaknesses; when we don’t have just the right words or we haven’t done things just right. Because we share life with him, he is more than making up for our weaknesses.

Within this creation project we share with God, prayer is indispensable. In prayer we are caught up in the Trinity to participate in this power that God himself exercises over and in the world. There are other activities that are necessary to our taking of dominion, but nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than prayer. Nothing can replace it. While we all have different gifts of the Spirit to accomplish the mission of the church, we all share the ability and responsibility to pray.

If the church is to accomplish her mission, then prayer will need to be central to her life together. Prayer cannot be subordinate to all of the other activities that go on in the church. We are not a “house of social gatherings,” or a “house of support groups.” We are first and foremost a house of prayer (Isa 56.7). If the church forgets this most fundamental activity in her life together, we have become only another civic organization. Yes, we may grow great crowds because people “feel connected” or there is so much for them to do. But if prayer is not central to the life of that group of people, the church is not being what she was called to be and her mission cannot be accomplished.

In love our God bids us to join him in his creative work through prayer. He desires that we share the fullness of his life. What could be a higher and more beautiful privilege? Why would we let ourselves be distracted from the disciplines of prayer by lesser things?

You, dear Christian, are imbued with power because of your membership in the divine family. Though many times imperceptible to you, when you pray, the world is changing. Give yourself to prayer. Pray individually. Pray with your family. Pray with the church. Pray.

Read more

By In Worship

What To Pray?

What the world needs now is a crazed Muslim leader in the Middle East who has nuclear capabilities to launch a nuclear weapon at the USA. The world needs Christians to suffer and die at the hands of atheistic Communists and rabid Muslims. America needs abortion to continue to be legal for decades to come. Aunt Lucy needs to be diagnosed with stage four cancer. Uncle Joe needs to be in an accident so that he loses a leg. Henrietta needs to lose her child to leukemia. We and the rest of creation need these horrible things.

Who would ever think such things? Who would ever pray for such things? No one that I know.

However, in the infinite wisdom of God, situations like these may indeed be necessities. I know it is repulsive to you. It churns my stomach as well. But so does the cross, yet it was a necessity. Jesus told his disciples on a number of occasions that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s leaders (cf. e.g., Matthew 16.21). They couldn’t grasp it at the time because it was a category mistake. Messiah doesn’t suffer defeat. He wins. How could this be necessary? To kill the Messiah would be sin. How is sin necessary?

I’m not telling you that I understand why these are necessities. I’m only telling you that they are. God raises up Pharaohs, Assyrians, and Babylonians to oppress his people, and prophets such as Habbakuk have problems with it too. He turns the devil loose on his faithful servant Job to bring him to the point of death. He raises up scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Roman governors to kill his Son. These are all necessities.

But would you pray for such things? No. But then again, you don’t know what to pray for as you ought; you don’t know what the world needs. So says Paul in Romans 8.26. We see the creation groaning. We groan when we participate in the suffering and see others suffering. We pray for deliverance. And we should. We know that this is not the way things ultimately ought to be. The created order is in disarray, and we want it set right. That’s proper. Praying toward that end is the right thing to do. Jesus taught us to pray that way.

But how God is getting us there is just as mysterious to us as it was for the disciples when Jesus told them that it was necessary for him to suffer and die. We don’t know what the world needs exactly in this or that situation. We don’t know what we need. Our perspective is limited, not only because we’re sinners, but because we’re creatures. God has not afforded us the perspective that he has on the world. He is the wise one who knows how everything–even sin–fits together and is working toward the good of his people and the rest of creation. No matter how much wisdom we mature into in our lifetimes, our wisdom will never be God’s wisdom. There will never be a time when we know exactly what to pray; when we know precisely what is needed in every situation.

The Spirit helps us in this weakness (Rom 8.26). However, he doesn’t help us by giving us the exact words to pray so that we can get a grasp on the situation and fix it. The Spirit groans with us, never giving us the relief of putting it into words. He never gives us that leverage over the world. We are called to suffer in prayer with the world, and the Spirit comes and suffers with us, interceding for us.

And the Father understands the Spirit’s groanings. He knows the mind of the Spirit, and he will give us and the creation what we need. We can be assured of that.

In light of this, praying in faith is not claiming this healing or really believing that God will remove this oppressor if you pray long enough. Praying in faith is following the prayer life of our Lord himself who prays, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Praying in faith is submitting all those things we think are necessities to the wisdom of the Father. Yes, we ask him for the things we think we need. But we trust the will of our loving heavenly Father to do what is best for us and the creation. We know that our Father will not give us a serpent when we ask for a fish. He will not give us a scorpion when we ask for an egg (Luke 11.11-12). He will give us good gifts, even when they come in packages of suffering.

Read more