Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Be Patient"

Today's sermon text was James 5:7-11.

Patience means abiding, enduring, or bearing through suffering or trial. One who is patient is said to have a long fuse or, in Biblical terms, a long nose. See Romans 5:1-8 for the benefits of patience to a Christian. Other reasons to have patience in this life are:
  • God is first patient with us (by the whole span of events from the Fall to the coming of Christ) - see Galatians 4:4-5, Psalm 90:4, and 2 Peter 3:8.
  • We can't rush God - but should instead savor and maximize life
  • At Jesus' second coming (looking at the scope of eternity), we will no longer need patience
1 Thessalonians 5:14 urges us to keep busy doing God's work while waiting. Work hard and be patient. The opposite quality, impatience, destroys the promised harvest of righteousness. All will come clear in the end. His grace is sufficient - live like you believe it, and become an example to the world in the process.


Soli Deo gloria!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Give thanks and praise to God!"

The sermon text for this message was Luke 17:11-19, the story of the ten lepers cleansed by Jesus.

There are three things for a Christian to do this Thanksgiving: pause, take a moment, and give thanks . . . for everything. Why do we do this? We receive Christ's forgiveness, which engenders thanks, or an attitude of gratitude. If this thanks is specifically directed toward God, it's a deliberate act of faith. Where do we do this? We give thanks in church, that is, in the presence of Jesus. He asked the one who came back, "Where are the other nine?" This is a classic example of being "spiritual" (i.e. not in the church of God but keeping to oneself) versus "religious" (i.e. in the church, as God commands).

God's mercies are great! Especially in the USA, we have prosperity, good weather, and freedom of worship lacking in other countries, to name but a few blessings. Don't forget about God, nor be unthankful to Him. We deserve nothing. All things are a gift from Him - including the ability to earn money, lest we become mammon-worshipers. Recognize this fact by acknowledging, by His word, the greatest gift - eternal life with Jesus. In all circumstances, give thanks to Him . . . through Christ in your heart. Follow the leper's example of returning thanks after the fact.

Soli Deo gloria!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

"A Healthy Mind, Heart & Soul"

These are highlights of a presentation I attended today based on Matthew 22:37.

Part 1 - a healthy MIND

  • The first step is to assess and adjust your focus; pay attention to where you want to go!
  • Scriptures: 1 Peter 1:13; 2 Timothy 4:5; Matthew 6:33; and Philippians 4:8
  • Focus on what God is shaping you to be. He speaks through many ways, whether they be meditation on the Scriptures themselves, corporate worship, prayer, friends, or service.
  • Your brain has key needs:
    • Fuel - eat a rainbow; choose darker over lighter foods when given the chance; shoot for fish 5x a week; try to have 50% of your plate be produce (fruits and vegetables)
    • Exercise - increasing your heart rate increases blood flow to the brain, resulting in more fuel
    • Stimulation (based on neuroplasticity, or the "use it to not lose it" principle) - it can be as simple as reading aloud or using your non-dominant hand for certain (safe) tasks like tooth brushing
    • Sleep (results in pruning or "defragging" to organize what you've learned that day) - at least 6 hours; let stress go before going to bed, with whatever techniques work for you
Part 2 - a healthy HEART
  • In 2003, cardiovascular disease killed 1 in 2.7 American women; it is the leading cause of death.
  • In women, indicators of a heart attack are very often ignored. They include up to 4-6 months of or sudden onset of unusual fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and indigestion.
  • Risk factors:
    • Can't change: you were over 8 pounds as a newborn; you bore a child under 5 or over 9 pounds; you experienced preeclampsia; you developed gestational diabetes; you have a condition causing chronic inflammation (e.g. an autoimmune disease); you have a positive family history of cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attack in a male if under 55 years old or a female under 65); you are older than 50 (male) or 65 (female)
    • Able to change: smoking (don't quit cold turkey, but wean); poor diet; lack of mindful aerobic exercise; blood pressure persistently above 140/90; waist circumference over 35" (measured just above the hip bones); fasting blood glucose over 100
  • Know your blood lipids!
    • Total cholesterol should be under 200
    • LDL ("bad") cholesterol should be under 100
    • HDL ("good") cholesterol should be over 50 (female) or 40 (male). This can be raised only by exercise or by prescription vitamin B (doses can cause flushing, however).
    • Non-HDL cholesterol should be under 130
    • Triglycerides (sticky sugar-fat compounds) should be under 150
  • Nutrition facts:
    • Omega-3 fatty acids, great for the heart, are found in crushed flax seed, herring, sardines, salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, flounder, and anchovies. Don't get it from krill.
    • Women over 50 should not take iron supplements, as they can raise the risk of uterine cancer.
    • Most vitamin pills are not absorbed effectively. Gel capsules are all right for vitamin D (which many people are deficient in); for others, choose chewable vitamins or whole foods so your body can absorb the nutrients.
    • In general, we eat far too much salt. The speaker recommends going on a total salt hiatus - not adding it to anything you prepare. She said that it takes about 2 weeks for your mouth to get used to the changed flavors of foods, after which they will taste normal despite lack of salt.
Part 3 - a healthy SOUL
  • Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Genesis 2:7; Colossians 3:2; 1 Corinthians 13:12 / Matthew 14:28-31; Acts 2:1-4 / Genesis 1:2; Isaiah 64:8; and Romans 8:29
  • C. S. Lewis - we are essentially eternal souls. We know this because time flies! :-)
  • We are also divided beings.
    • Believers in Christ have a body + soul + spirit (i.e. faith, a gift from God)
    • People who do not believe have a body + soul (their faith is a product of the mind)
  • As a believer, ask yourself: (1) Do I love Jesus? (2) Do I let Jesus love me?
  • As a human, ask yourself: (1) What do I worship? (2) How is this reflected in my use of time?
  • Studies from UC-Berkley and other places show connections between forgiveness and health; worship habits and increased longevity.
  • Consider this analogy: fields must be prepared (tilled and planted) to benefit from the rain. Assess your spiritual health, as well as the indicators you use to measure this health.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Staying Close to Jesus"

Today's sermon was based on Luke 8:28-36, the account of Jesus' Transfiguration.
How do I know what God wants me to do? Must I have a "mountaintop experience" for every instance where I need the leading of God's specific will?
The point of mountaintop epiphanies - the Transfiguration itself as well as the experiences we as Christians occasionally have with the palpable nearness of God's presence - is not to stay always in their blazing glory. Instead, as the text shows, the point is Jesus' death and resurrection (a greater glory) that assures of freedom in God's personal presence always. This freedom is found in the Lamb of God, Who takes away the world's sin.
We are God's baptized children by faith. As children, our duty is to "listen to Him!" How do we do that? Meditate on the Bible - and live it out. It is both the story of God's love for us and instructions on how to live. The Spirit will give understanding as we read the whole Bible, time and again. 
The Holy Spirit always points us to Jesus, through the Word, relationships, and our hearts. Regarding relationships, we serve our neighbor in the unified Body of Christ, whatever his or her need. We serve our enemies, too, risking their rejection but not fearing it whatsoever. All things weigh against Jesus. Regarding our own hearts, consider Psalm 37:4. He gives us good desires to displace our evil ones. 
Lastly, consider your gifts. If they're God-pleasing desires, then pursue them and watch what God will do with them! "Without Me you can do nothing" (see also Psalm 127).
Soli Deo gloria.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Training in the "new normal"

Now is the opportune time for training as a man or woman of prayer. The combination of recent events - choosing of leaders, chipping away at legislative and societal promotion of Biblical morality, and the chasm of debt due to enthronement of money as a god - yields golden opportunities for God's people. Now is the time for us to keep our bodies as the Holy Spirit's temple, to praise God for the workings of His hand, and ask for mercy as time rolls on.

Regarding our bodies, Oswald Chambers writes in today's selection of My Utmost for His Highest, "He [the Spirit] will look after the unconscious part [of our lives] that we know nothing of; but we must see that we guard the conscious part for which we are responsible" (p. 313). For, using our bodies as His temple, He prays through us (Romans 8:26)! How do we then keep pure? We trust that Christ's forgiveness is complete, which it is; we love the LORD our God by setting Him above our pride and fear, which He is; and we love all men as Christ loved (agape) us and as our neighbors, which they are. Make God's reality yours.

Regarding praise, I have found that to choose to praise God for all things not only follows what countless saints have done, but also transforms and renews my mind. Yes, many transpirations make no sense from a human's perspective. Yet think of this: the eternal God will reign and guard His saints no matter what, and He both sees and is weaving the inestimably gorgeous tapestry of time, of which we see only the tangle of threads on the back side. That is walking by faith.

Regarding supplication, God hears and answers those who enthrone Him. Isaiah writes (64:6-9): "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. Do not be furious, O LORD, nor remember iniquity forever; indeed, please look - we are all Your people!" Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pondering the rift

God speaks in Isaiah 54:7, "For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you." Also, Paul speaks of God thus in 2 Timothy 2:13, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself." And again, James writes (4:11a), "Do not speak evil of one another, brethren." These texts set the eternal perspective of God's faithfulness against the conception today that is just the opposite. I don't know all the reasons that people claim as grounds for divorce, but Scripturally they boil down to pride on the part of one or both parties, and subsequent contempt for covenant.

"I was unhappy because my spouse doesn't appreciate me for who I am." -- Granted, there are many ungrateful living beings. They're called humans. All of us have an entitlement complex, but ours is sufficient for us to deal with. Trying to make the other one grateful is a task best left to a greater power; what I can change is my own gratefulness. Change, the wise have said, begins in the one who perceives, and thankfulness engenders kindness.

"I'm better off alone." -- Granted, no other person can share certain feelings and experiences. But finance, family stabilization, and psychology attest that it is far better to stick closer than brothers (Proverbs 18:24). As God would have each of His children with Him throughout eternity, so also let us look at marriage as a practice run for heaven.

Thank God that the covenant oath does supersede our feelings - let it be as unimaginable for our love (actions) to fail as it is impossible for God's love of us to fail!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gospel as Center: chapter 13

Since this chapter discusses what The Gospel Coalition considers to be the key elements of the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper), there are several key places where the material diverges from a Lutheran-Missouri Synod understanding. As such, I found reading it thought-provoking, so I went back to Luther's Large Catechism to examine more closely the Biblical rationale for why I believe what I believe.

Where TGC and the LC-MS agree:
  • Both Baptism and the Supper give grace to those who partake.
  • The Lord's Supper is only for believers, though most especially to strengthen weak faith.
  • Baptism is a seal that confirms God's ownership of us for our good.
  • The elements are "visible words" of God.
  • We should have a daily habit of "improving our Baptism" - that is, meditating on the gifts received and walking humbly that day and each day with our God.
  • The Lord's Supper attests to our unity as the body of Christ, so holding sin close to us as we come to eat and drink is not acceptable.
Where we digress:
  • TGC holds that there is no promise connected to the waters of Baptism, since water alone cannot convey spiritual life. This is qualified by the statement that "Baptism is God's means not to regenerate or justify us but to confirm his [sic] promise to us, put his [sic] mark on us, and assure us of his [sic] love, all of which serve to increase and strengthen the faith of the believer and thus promote our growth in grace" (p. 241).
  • TGC also holds that Christ is not bodily present in the Supper, since "not one of the . . .narratives focuses our attention" on this aspect (p. 250).
  • Lutherans hold that water baptism, because it is instituted by Christ (Matthew 28:19-20) and connected with God's efficacious name (Isaiah 55:10-11 and Psalm 54:1), does in fact give salvation.
  • Likewise, we also hold that Christ is truly ("real" i.e. bodily) present in the Lord's Supper, since He says, "This is My body. . .this is My blood" and, through Paul, that we participate in His body and blood as we eat and drink the elements.

Gospel as Center: chapter 12

This chapter describes the people of God, Christ's body, the Church.
  • God works through families - husband + wife + children. That is the way He ordained it, and nothing in Scripture espouses a different form. The Church is modeled after and built of copies of this unit, since it bears God's image (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • We as the Church manifest this image of God through unconditional love exhibited and shared, springing from and imitating how He has already loved the whole world unconditionally!
  • Why the family/body language? "To limit the fruit of Christ's work to the salvation of single hearts is to read the Bible through the individualistic lens of our day" (p. 217).
  • Another point for Lutherans especially to consider: "No [spiritual] gift should ever be played down; each represents a mammoth benefaction. . .[gifts] are given by the Holy Spirit in order to be given away, to be lavished on other members of the body for the growth of the body" (p. 219, note Ephesians 4:12).
  • What about outreach? We are to maintain the pure faith without compromise, deny ourselves, and give people not what they want but what they need - the law and the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. We ourselves must never take our eyes off of Christ and His cross.

Gospel as Center: chapter 11

On "The Kingdom of God."
  • What does "kingdom" mean here? It signifies God's authority over both sacred and secular (Luther's right- and left-hand kingdoms), a theme binding the Old and New Testaments together. It is manifested in creation, the Exodus, Israel's and Judah's kings, the prophets, and the person of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
  • How is our identity as Christians shaped by this concept? God's authority redeems us, makes us His own adopted children (with concomitant rights and responsibilities), and spurs us to praise Him through every aspect of our lives.
  • What about the right-left overlap? "The church does not have any juridical authority in the city/state public square, but that does not mean that the church ought to stay on the periphery. The church does have the responsibility to act in mercy and to engage our community with deeds of social justice (see James 1:27)" (pp. 204-5).
  • Loving our neighbor = noticeable in the world because it is the opposite of the natural man's tendency.

Gospel as Center: chapter 10

This chapter, I think, deals very well with its subject, the Holy Spirit. The emphasis is that the Spirit is "a gift of promise, of power, of presence" (p. 171).
  • The Spirit is a person, the parakletos (helper/counselor/advocate in Greek). Attributes may be found in Ephesians 4:30 and Romans 8:27, for starters. He is also God (Hebrews 9:14, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19), proceeding and distinct from the Father and the Son (e.g. 1 Peter 1:2).
  • His work (John 16:7-11) is to convict, convert, apply God's gifts to us, glorify Christ (Word <--> Spirit), sanctify us by the Word's light, equip us with all things needed for life and godliness (if the gift of prophecy is in a person, s/he must weigh each message against Scripture), and promise by sealing us for the resurrection.
  • An amazing thought: "Baptism in the Spirit is something every Christian has experienced because every Christian has been born again and joined to Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit" (pp. 179-80, emphasis mine).
  • Another: "We become what we behold" (p. 184).
  • One closing thought, especially for those with me in the LC-MS to consider: "But just because the work is objective doesn't mean we can't have a subjective experience of it. We ought to pray for an experience of God's love poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5)" (p. 187, emphasis in original).