Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reformation 2009!

We sang DS setting 5 today! The entourage to the church we visited today was bubbly afterward because of this. Today's readings were Psalm 46, Revelation 14:6-7, Romans 3:19-28, and John 8:31-36 (sermon text, which included my confirmation verse).

The Reformation is about God's gracious forgiveness of our sins - not about anti-Catholicism. Before this Word is spoken, we are possessed and oppressed by our sin, which was brought to life by the Law (Romans 7). Looking into this perfect Law of God, we always see our inability to reach it. No matter how hard we work, how much good we do, we cannot obtain the righteousness of God. The Law's demands - even love of neighbor - we cannot keep.

In this light, look at the Gospel text. Jesus is speaking of slavery to sin, of the heart and conscience, that gives birth to death. From this we cannot free ourselves; it is indeed a body of death, a corpse affixed to us. Particularly: personal sins - unmet spousal demands, a rebellious child - that we bring to God, our shoulders slumped. That is our slavery.

Abide in My word, says Jesus, and we as disciples will know the Truth that frees the conscience. Once this happens, we see "the righteousness of God" not as Law but as a Gospel gift! We don't do it; it is given to us apart from the Law. Christ's atoning sacrifice effected it; we are now sons of God, inheritors of His infinite gift of salvation. Drink now the Blood, the vessel of His mercy.

Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pentecost 20: something different

Today's readings were Genesis 16:1-16, Romans 4:13-18, and Luke 24:36-49. However, in place of the sermon on this particular Sunday at the particular church we attended, a convert from Islam who is now preparing for the pastoral ministry spoke. During the service:
  • He was born in Kurdistan, part of Iraq (96% Muslim intersecting with 80% Arabic), beginning the Islamic equivalent of catechesis at age 7, as is typical. Interestingly, his first exposure to religion was hearing his friends, at age 5, talking about Easter. However, he soon learned plenty about Islam because there is no separation of religion from either state or schooling.
  • The more he learned, the more he became skeptical, eventually reading so much philosophy as to become an atheist. This lasted until Hussein invaded, forcing him to evacuate toward Iran along with his neighbors. A turning point occurred when God lowered storm clouds to protect him as he climbed out of reach of the guns of Hussein's army. Subsequently, he escaped to Iran (twice!), got some job experience with a cheese factory, and was granted political asylum in the US.
  • Once in the US, he ended up in Wisconsin, where he studied the Bible with a pastor, later comparing it in hindsight with the Quran. What stood out at him was the conditionality of Islam - Allah grants believers paradise only if they do good works and give all to him. Christianity is the exact opposite - God gives us all things and unconditionally has mercy. Christianity is also surety incarnate - since God did it all for you, your salvation is certain.
In the fellowship hall afterward:
  • The first step to evangelizing a Muslim friend is not evangelism. It's friendship. Make friends slowly and in-depth, avoiding religious conversation unless s/he brings it up.
  • Once you are good friends, ask about his/her religion.
  • After you listen, "Now let me tell you about what I believe." Start with the basics: Law (a pane of glass shattered by one pebble) and Gospel; knowing Christ from what is written about Him in the Bible; showing the depth/precision/long-range-ness of Old Testament prophecy; showing the utter reliability of New Testament eyewitnesses; knowing that Christ became man because man sinned, and He is the only perfect substitute.
  • Interestingly, one could use the Quranic statement that Jesus was the only prophet who never sinned (i.e. was perfect) as a logical step to show that He is divine (if someone does not sin, that someone is equivalent to God, whose distinguishing mark in this respect is holiness).
  • Some things must be taken on faith. If we could prove everything about Christianity, then it wouldn't be worth not believing in (not that it isn't!). Example: Trinity. Muslims generally think of it as 1 + 1 + 1, which logically does not equal 1. But, since the Trinity is in fact not three separate gods, it is rather 1 x 1 x 1, which equals 1.
  • Keep in mind that taqiyya is frequently used in Muslim evangelism. One can't necessarily trust that something your friend tells you is actually true. Hard words, yes.
  • Christianity is the only religion wherein man cannot save himself. God reaches down.
Soli Deo gloria.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pentecost 19

Today's readings: Amos 5:6-7, 10-15; Hebrews 3:12-19; and Mark 10:17-22 (sermon text).

Whatever happened to Jesus's evangelism program? Talking about His own death had already lost Him plenty of followers. But the rich young man in today's text seemed like a perfect candidate for membership in any church: plenty of fiscal resources, eager devotion to God's commands, and good societal standing. He sought the Law, something he could keep more than others could. He was completely sincere in this - on his own terms - but completely misguided.

Jesus needs nothing we can give. So He went straight to the man's god: his money. Each of us has gods, which He attacked: lust (6th Commandment), anger (5th), money (9th). Therefore, when approaching God, you must allow 100% of you to be saved, to be controlled by God. This God-planted faith will sprout into works to love God and our neighbor.

Exhort one another to prevent hardening of conscience. Jesus gave all for and to us. We come as beggars to receive His gifts. When we have nothing, He offers not Law but Gospel. He dies our death to make us alive in Him, needing to do nothing to inherit eternal life. God must do all. Give up your Law, receive absolution, and taste sweet Gospel.

Soli Deo gloria.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Broken promises? Or just unmade ones?

I know I haven't blogged about politics in a while, but this made me very angry. Not that I don't expect more taxes from the party in power, but seriously! Why don't politicians take the patience to do their research, come up with something that could possibly perform what they'd like it to perform, and maybe even apply a little bit of the scientific method to it? Our political history, it seems, is littered with transitional forms that either didn't make it or are corrupting the gene pool.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pentecost 18

We ventured this week to a congregation celebrating its 170th anniversary. Since it has many daughter churches around the globe, the pastor spent about 15 minutes at the beginning detailing some locations to which members had been sent in the past to proclaim the Gospel. The readings: Deuteronomy 10:12-22; 2 Corinthians 5:11-15; and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (sermon text).

This text is referred to as the gospel-within-the-Gospel. Here, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, who were mad at Him for eating with (i.e. accepting, noting unity with) sinners, tax collectors, the scum of society. One collector was Matthew; another, Zacchaeus. They worked on the Sabbath, extorting from their fellow men - yet Jesus ate with them. Today He eats with sinners too. He gives us His body and blood in the most unifying Supper of all.

In the parable-within-the-Gospel, the younger son said, in effect, "Father, I wish you were dead." But father says OK! Taking half of the inheritance, the son wastes it, then hires himself out to a citizen, literally "gluing" himself on. Since the gluee most likely doesn't want this elp, he gives a job geared to make the son quit. A Jew, feeding pigs? Strangely, the son accepts. Once starving, he decides to return to his father as a hired servant.

The village expects the father to beat his son. BUT Dad ran a long way to his son, having compassion, welcoming him back, and intervening. Thus, the father is the Christ figure - and we are both sons (prideful yet profligate). He welcomes us back, when we repent, with open arms. Therefore have mercy on your profligate siblings in Christ. For He welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Soli Deo gloria.