Saturday, November 27, 2010

Advent Services

I've been in the habit of posting the text of my Sunday sermons so all two of my readers can look over them. During Advent I'm not going to write out my sermons as thoroughly, so I won't have a text to post. You'll just have to go to Maysville or Augusta Kentucky and hear them for real!

Tomorrow, as we begin Advent, we'll have morning services with a sermon centered around the first of the O Antiphons. We'll use Proverbs 8 as a text, observing that the Lord himself is "wisdom" as presented in that chapter.  In the evening we'll move on to the next, calling on the "mighty God" presented throughout the Scripture, but especially throughout Isaiah 2.

Sundays will be very long days until Christmas, as we will still be leaving the house a bit before 7 in the morning but won't head home until after an evening service that doesn't begin until 6:00. Hopefully we can get some quiet and rest during the day sometime.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Colossians 1.13-20 - Sermon for 11/21/10 - Special Delivery

I have an acquaintance who has a special relationship with a delivery man. She becomes very excited when she sees the UPS truck drive up. Maybe you do too. There's no telling what you might be receiving, especially if someone else sent something to you. And over a period of time, maybe fairly quickly if you receive a lot of packages like I do, the delivery person who brings things to your door meets you sometimes and sees that you receive a lot of books, or maybe a lot of glassware, or museum replica swords, or pieces of furniture.  This lady I know becomes very very excited when she sees the UPS truck pull up. In fact, she puts down whatever she is doing, meets the delivery man on the porch, gives him a hug and a kiss, and brings him into the house for a cookie or a piece of cake.  It's all right, he's her son. She's glad to see him because she has had a special relationship with him since before he knew it.

What do we read about our Savior in Colossians 1? We see that he is delivering us, moving us from one place to another. We are the delivery, he is the deliverer. We are being transferred from darkness, evil, sin and death. Our destination? It's into God's kingdom.  To do this our Lord packages us in redemption. He forgives our sins.

What kind of a Lord is able to do this? He is certainly some sort of a special delivery agent, right? This is not something the UPS driver can do.  Neither can FedEx.  The U.S. Postal Service can't either. Only God can do this. Only our Lord and Savior can deliver us from sins by giving us forgiveness. Only Jesus Christ can redeem us from sin. He's the only one who can rescue us from languishing in sin, sitting at our former address, boxed up, in the dark and left out to rot. It's only Jesus who is able to do this, because he is the one who created all things. He created us, our world, our sustenance, even the things that we use to separate ourselves from God. He is the one who created everything that we use to take God's place in our lives, whether it is food, drink, money, health, anything we set up as a god to worship and serve. Our Lord created all this, for his own use, not for our use, but for his own use. How does Jesus use the things of this world? He uses them for our good. He uses them to strengthen us. He uses them to deliver us safely into his kingdom.

This is a special delivery indeed. Yet the news of this passage in Colossians simply keeps getting better the farther we read.  What confidence can we have in Jesus' ability to deliver us from death to life? We can have 100% complete confidence, lacking nothing, that our Lord is able to accomplish his purpose.  In verse 17 we saw that "he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (ESV).  There is no stopping the Lord who is actually in charge of everything. There is no stopping our Lord's sovereignty.

Now I know this is a foreign concept to many in our culture. I've even had an interesting discussion with fellow Lutherans about this very thing. People will point out that Calvinists see the world through the lens of God's sovereignty and Lutherans view the world through the lens of God's incarnation in Jesus.  This is quite true. It is entirely right. I've been called a Calvinist by Calvinists who know what a Calvinist is. Of course I've quietly but steadfastly denied being a Calvinist as well. But I know this. Calvinists are quite right in some things. One of those things is that God is completely, utterly, sovereign. There is no stopping God's sovereign rule over his creation. They are right.  They are wrong in viewing this as the starting point of their theology, but they are quite right that a God who is not sovereign is no God at all. God is really in command of all creation. That includes you and me and everything around us.  God's sovereignty tells us without a shadow of a doubt that our Lord is able to care for us through every situation we find ourselves in. Our Lord is not challenged by anybody or anything. Our Lord does not hesitate, he does not wonder if he's powerful enough, he does not doubt in anything. He simply cares for all his creation. "He is before all things."

We could leave it there. It wouldn't be wasted time to spend the rest of the afternoon, the rest of the week, the rest of our lives meditating on how great and mighty our Lord is.  But I think we should look at one more idea that emerges in this passage.  I know some people in the congregation have heard enough and have checked out. They are going to think about how good the Lord is. And that's fine. But if you haven't checked out entirely yet, I want to point to just one more feature of our passage in Colossians today.

This is an important factor when we receive a delivery.  When I receive a package, what do I do with it? Do I add it to a stack of all the other packages I have ever received, which is gradually swelling to fill my entire house? I put it aside so when I become old and die my children can come and take the pile of unopened packages and add them to their own piles of packages?  Nonsense! What do we do with a package? We open it. We want to see what is in it. Or if we already know what is in it, it's probably something we were anticipating having and using. It's something we intended to receive. We open the box and see what's inside.

We have already seen that Jesus delivers us from death to life. Yet we continue to see Jesus delivering something to us.  What then does Jesus deliver to us? What's in the box? Look at verses 19-20. Jesus delivers himself to us.  Again, this is no idle promise. It is no little gift. It is no token. Not at all. Because "in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (v. 19, ESV).

When Jesus delivers himself to us in Word and Sacrament, he is delivering God almighty to his people.  When Jesus delivers himself to us in Word and Sacrament there is nothing else that we can need or want. When Jesus delivers himself to us in Word and Sacrament we become partakers of his divine nature. We are no longer our own, we are no longer the old man, all things have become new. The old has passed away. Our nature is changed to conform to his nature. Our sinfulness has become the righteousness of God in Christ. Jesus delivers himself. Jesus delivers the fullness of God.

I used to ask this to my fellow elders and other pastors in the broadly evangelical church body I was formerly involved in. Here's the question. "Why do we go to church?"  It's an interesting question, isn't it?  Uniformly those genuine, serious, devoted Christian leaders would affirm that we go to church to bring our service to God. We come to offer our worship to our Lord. Even the Calvinists affirmed that we were making an offering to the Lord, giving him our service.  I don't know, maybe some of you said that as well. And there is an element of that. We do bring thanksgiving and praise to our Lord. There's no doubt about it.  But did you ever wonder why we call this the "divine service"?  It is because in the "Gottesdienst" we recognize that we are receiving from the Lord. God is delivering himself to us throughout the divine service. It's about our Lord delivering life and salvation to us. It's all about God delivering God to his people. That's why we go to church. That's why we gather. We gather in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We receive from him during the service from beginning to end. At the end of the service I'll use the triune blessing to proclaim that our Lord's blessing is on you. Once I've done that, really, I've done all I can and said all that is useful. We receive from our Lord. There's nothing better I can bring to a meeting that an expectation that the Lord will deliver himself to us.

How does our Lord do this? In verse 20 we see that he reconciles all things to himself. We don't reconcile ourselves to him. We don't reconcile him to us. God doesn't reconcile himself to us. No, he changes us. He reconciles us to him. Again, we see God's mighty power at work. He is the actor. We are the ones acted upon. Our Lord is drawing us, and not only us, but "all things" to himself.  How does he do it? He gives himself. He makes "peace by the blood of his cross" (v. 20, ESV). There is no more any question about it. We did not bring our blood, our offerings, our sacrifices. We brought a little money, at least some of us did. But that's like the child who gives up a penny to make his parents rich. Where did the child get the penny in the first place? Our Lord is the one who brings something to our gatherings. He has brought the blood of his cross. He has made peace. And he has given that peace to you, to me, and to all who are far off, by belief in his name. So like my friend who is glad to see her son the delivery man bringing something, we can be glad to see that our Lord and Savior is bringing life and salvation to us, delivering us from death to life, delivering himself to and for us.

Maybe you struggle with this. Maybe you have been working, toiling, seeing little reward for your effort. Maybe you see the fruit of your labor and thank yourself for it. Maybe you are here today without a hunger and thirst for what our Lord has for you.  Jesus Christ is here for you, right here, right now. He has died for your sin. He has given himself to accomplish what all your labor could never do. He has brought you to a place of forgiveness, life, and hope. There is no stopping our Lord. He has brought the fullness of God to you, to dwell with you, to show you his mercy, to reconcile you to God. Do you know this is the kind of Lord we have? Do you know it is he who delivers himself to you? Can you, with generations of believers, confess who he is and what he has done as we recite the Nicene Creed? Are you ready to pronounce the peace of the Lord upon your brothers and sisters here in this room with you? Are you ready to receive the fullness of the Godhead in the body of our Lord broken for you and the blood of our Lord shed for the forgiveness of your sins? Then you are in the right place, at the right time. Our Lord has come to reconcile the world, including you and me, to himself.

Let us pray.
Our Lord, forgive us our sin and our doubt. Let us see how you have given yourself for us. Make us walk in this forgiveness, seeing that you have reconciled the world to you through your blood shed on our behalf. This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Malachi 4.1-6 - Sermon for 11/14/10 - Guess Who’s Coming?

Let us pray.
Lord, open our hearts and minds to hear from your word. Purify my thoughts. Use my words according to your great mercy and love. Shine through this proclamation of your word as you cleanse and illuminate our lives.  Amen.

When we expect someone to come over we usually make some preparations. Maybe we're having guests for dinner. Maybe we have some sort of a planned agenda. In our household we've had many times when a group of homeschoolers has come to study something, a group of church elders has come for a meeting, or a Bible study group has met in our living room. Sometimes we have friends who just drop by. While we can only prepare so much for unexpected visitors, we normally do rather a lot of preparation for other occasions. We'll make sure we have the right kind of foods and drinks, the right number of places at the table or chairs in the living room, we'll adjust the temperature in the house a little bit to suit our guests' preferences, and we will clear some other things off our schedule.

The Bible talks about a time when the Lord himself will be returning. He's not coming for dinner or for a meeting. He isn't coming to discuss ancient Greek drama in the living room. He isn't coming to hang out in the garage and see if we can resurrect an old pickup truck, either. He is coming to bring God's judgment on the sinful world and to rescue his people from their bondage. These are serious words. It is a serious situation. There will be no pleasantries. Jesus is not going to knock on the door and see if anyone answers. Not at all. He's going to bring swift and decisive judgment with him.

The prophet Malachi gets right to the point. See how verses 1 and 3 bring the message of judgment, while verses 2 and 4-6 bring God's hope? In our reading from Luke's Gospel we have a little more detail, provided by Jesus, the one who will come. In 2 Thessalonians we find what kind of life we should lead as we wait for the coming judgment. We look today at our passage from Malachi chapter 4.

What is God's attitude toward "the arrogant and all evildoers"? These are the people who are called "the wicked" in verse 3. Our society doesn't really like these words. Maybe because some Christians have bandied the idea of evil and sin around in an irresponsible way our secular society doesn't like to hear those words. Yet there are some people out there who call themselves Christians, maybe they are Christians, spending their time and effort making blanket condemnations of evil. These are the kind of people who go to military funerals and say the soldiers died because the United States approves of various types of sin. These are the kind of people who say it's wrong to kill so they blow up abortion clinics. These are the kind of people who call everyone who doesn't agree with them lockstep "wicked" and pronounce God's condemnation on them.

I'm afraid once we look into the Scripture we need to actually go a little farther than those people do, but we do it in a way that is decidedly different. I look at this passage and I see God's condemnation on arrogant people, evildoers, wicked people. I look at Romans chapter 3 and see that we are all sinners, we are all evildoers. I look at Romans chapter 8 and see our desire to think too highly of ourselves. I see the apostle Paul call himself the "chief of sinners" in 1 Timothy 1. You don't have to look at the Bible too closely to see that it calls you a sinner. You don't have to dig in too far to see that you are wicked. You don't have to know any Greek or Hebrew to understand that the Bible condemns you and me as wicked, evil, arrogant sinners. Maybe we need to be the people who go to military funerals and tell people that we are all people for whom Jesus died because we all needed his life. Maybe we need to be the people who go to abortion clinics and tell people that we are murderers in our hearts and that Jesus came to bring us forgiveness and life. Maybe we need to be the people who study all we can about the Bible and theology and confirm in our hearts and with our mouths that Jesus loves us, that we were once sinners, but that Jesus has proclaimed us righteous and holy through no merit of our own. I wonder what our society will do with us if we present ourselves and the concept of biblical grace that way?

Yes, we are the wicked evildoers our Lord is talking about in this passage. At least we are some of them. So let's look at our passage some more and see who is coming. God is coming in judgment. He is going to treat the wicked of this world like stubble, that which is not really good for anything except to plow under or burn off. It's dried up, dead plant matter. And God is coming with a blazing torch, ready to set it on fire. It will all be burned up, being reduced to ash, something with a few more redeeming qualities than stubble, but certainly not a cash crop or something you'd feed your livestock. God's judgment is against the arrogant evildoers. His judgment is against the wicked. Far from hating sin and loving the sinner, God is steadfastly opposed to the sinner along with his sin. It is the sinner and his sin alike who will spend eternity in terror and separation from God. Make no mistake of it. Our God hates sin. Our God pours out his wrath on sinners.

So what hope do we have? We have condemned ourselves as sinners. It sounds very much like we are doomed.  But there's a word in Scripture we have to love. It's the word "but."  Look at the start of verse 2.  That lovely word "but" changes our direction. It turns the entire picture on its head. Through none of our own labor, through no righteousness of our own, merely through fearing the name, the person, the righteous being of our God, "the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings."  This is no destructive blazing hot sun that parches and kills. This is the warm gentle sun of early Spring, this is the nourishing sun that brings to life. This is the sun that brings healing. The difference between destruction and life is belief on the name of the Lord.

What moves us to believe on the Lord? In verse 4 we read of God's word given through Moses. The Scripture proclaims the true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Scripture proclaims God's loving care for his people. The Scripture proclaims God's mercy despite his people's rejection of his word. The Scripture proclaims God's patience with his people.

What else moves us to believe on the Lord? In verse 5 we see that God is sending his messenger, Elijah, whom Jesus identified with John the Baptizer, to herald the coming of the Lord. God is drawing attention to sin and righteousness.  He is drawing attention to the regenerative nature of repentance and belief, the regeneration of the washing of water in baptism, the impartation of the Holy Spirit according to God's promise, and the sustaining work of the faithful proclamation of Scripture. It is all there. We can see it everywhere in the Gospels. God is working to restore man to a positive relationship with himself, by sending Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, who gives his life as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. He has a forerunner, who draws attention off our own obedience to the Law and focuses our attention on Jesus, the Lord who is our righteousness.

What else moves us to believe on the Lord? By the Holy Spirit, God promises in verse 6 that he will turn us to belief himself. This verse is one of the hallmark verses of the school where I teach. We see Christian schooling as one of the means God can use to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers." And all this happens in the context of the fathers whose hearts are turned to their Lord and Savior.

There's one other point that I want to make from this passage. Look at our Lord's concern. Does the Lord desire to destroy the wicked? Does the Lord desire to burn up the evildoers along with their sin? Not at all. Being the holy God he cannot allow evil to reign indefinitely. Yet his steadfast desire is to restore people to a loving and faithful relationship with him. He does not wish to strike the land. He does not wish to destroy anyone. Yet the soul who sins must die. And within God's mercy for his people, those who believe on his name, it is necessary that he separate his faithful from those who would hate, despise, and destroy them.

Our Lord does not have a private will. He has only his public will, which is that all should believe and turn to him in repentance and faith, realizing that he has himself paid the penalty for their sin. This is the will of God, your deliverance and my deliverance. His will is accomplished as the Sun of Righteousness rises and grants of forgiveness and healing. May the Sun shine on us.

Let us pray.
Our Lord, we confess our faithlessness. We confess that we are evildoers and that we deserve nothing but your eternal punishment. Thank you for reminding us that there is indeed a Gospel, that Jesus has come and that he takes our sin upon himself, replacing it with his righteousness which he places on us. May we rise, clothed with righteousness, to follow our Lord as he gathers his people to himself on that final day.  Amen.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Friday, November 12, 2010

Acts 16.30-34

Acts 16.30-34 is often cited as an example of a household baptism. However I've also heard it cited as a passage which would not lead toward baptism of those who have not confessed their belief as yet, primarily because of verse 34.  I was doing some reading related to another topic today and happened to look up the Greek text there again.

It struck me that the prevalent translation running along the lines of the NIV (The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.) is quite problematic. The participle indicating the belief is quite clearly masculine nominative singular. It's the jailer who believed. He rejoiced with the whole household, but it was because he believed. Yet who was baptized? The whole household.

Dave Spotts
blogging at

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Matthew 5.1-12 - Sermon for 11/7/10 - All Saints’ Day (Observed) “Blessed Are You . . . “

Let us pray.
Lord, purify our minds. Purify my lips that I may speak your truth clearly and lovingly. Conform us into your image as we receive your word. Amen.

We almost caused a traffic accident one Sunday a few years ago while driving to church. I usually try to read church signs and see what they say. Frankly, it's pretty rare to see something worth posting on a sign. But when I saw this one sign, I almost laid on the brakes in surprise.  "Feeling bad? Take two tablets, the Ten Commandments."  Did you ever take this view toward God's Commandments? Maybe so. Yet, when you study them you see ultimately you can't keep the commands of God, so you end up feeling worse. This is why Luther put the commandments at the beginning of his catechism. By the time we have worked through the commandments we are ready to see what a good God we have as we confess in the Apostles' Creed, how our Lord teaches us to pray, and how the Lord has provided forgiveness for us in baptism, communion, and confession and absolution. We hear how we are not doing too well, then we hear how our Lord has done what we need on our behalf.

Today's Gospel passage is one that we often think of as opposites of the Commandments. Yet when we look at these "beatitudes" we can confuse ourselves quite easily. Even looking at what people might tell us about that word, "beatitudes," can show our disorientation.  Really. Have you ever heard someone say that these are the "be attitudes" meaning that you need to work really hard to develop these character qualities so you will be blessed by God? This is a misunderstanding of the word used in Scripture. It is also a fundamental confusion of Law and Gospel, which attempts to tie our receiving blessing from God with the merit we earn through developing character qualities in our lives. Let's try to clear that up very briefly, then look very clearly at the blessed ones.

The term "beatitude" is applied to this passage of Scripture because of the Latin word, "beatus," meaning "blessed."  It simply observes that in this passage we have a repetitive use of that "blessed" word. Though some of the character qualities seem to be attitudinal, some are not purely so. Some of them, such as showing mercy, making peace, and receiving persecution don't have as much to do with our attitude as with our actions, especially receiving persecution. Jesus isn't talking about our attitudes here and he is not making any command. In fact, the first command that comes up in the passage is in verse 12, "Rejoice and be glad." Yes, there is our attitude which is commanded, and it is commanded when we are reviled and persecuted, when people bear false testimony about us for Jesus' sake.

Now, who is Jesus addressing in this passage? He's speaking to his disciples. As Matthew uses the word "disciples" this would be more than the twelve Jesus called apostles, but not just everyone. These are the people who are showing a pretty intense interest in Jesus and his teaching.

What of the language Jesus uses? I said a moment ago that the first command Jesus uses here shows up in verse 12. Did you notice the third person verbs? I expect you did, but like most people, I think you could probably use a little review of the grammar to be sure you know what's happening here. The first person is "I" or "we." The second person is "you." The third person is "he, she, it," or "they." This passage is all in the third person. It's talking about "them." Jesus looks at his disciples and talks about people in general. He doesn't talk specifically about the disciples. He talks about more people. Unfortunately, some modern Bible translations have watered this passage down by putting it into the second person. They suggest that Jesus is really only talking to his disciples, saying "You are blessed if . . . " This simply isn't what our Lord says. He's talking about people other than the disciples who were standing around him listening. He's talking in the third person. If the shoe fits, wear it.

Let's see if the shoe fits, then.  How about the poor in spirit? I know once I start thinking about my poverty of spirit I generally become proud of myself. Hmm, maybe some other people are truly poor in spirit. But I certainly have a lot of trouble embracing it in myself.  But do we know anyone who is truly poor in spirit? How about the one who in Philippians chapter 2 who didn't "count equality with God a thing to be grasped" (2.6, ESV)? What about Jesus, who took on the form of a servant and humbled himself even to death? Unlike all of us, Jesus doesn't think too highly of himself. He's the truly poor in spirit person.  

What about mourning? I think we all mourn at times. Do we mourn for the right things? Are we sorrowful that the world is rejecting God in Christ and that sinful man has been turned over to his own imaginations (Romans 1)? Do we weep over Jerusalem who has rejected the prophets and has crucified the true Son of God (Luke 13.34)? We don't, but Jesus does.

What about being meek? Again, we take pride in our meekness and humility. It certainly seems backwards. But that's what we do. There was a time in the early twentieth century when the pastors in the early neo-pentecostal movement made sure they didn't wear neckties. The neo-pentecostals sprang mostly from Methodists and Baptists. They tried to avoid the idea of "clerical" dress, preferring to look like everyday people. But neckties, they said, are proud and arrogant. The women also very self-consciously wore no makeup. They intended it to be a sign of humility, meekness. But what happens when we do that? It eventually becomes proud. No, we don't do meek very well. But Jesus does. We go back to Philippians 2 and see that Jesus, who could claim his heavenly right, became as nothing.

How about hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Really, what's our true hunger? Where are our true desires? Would many of us find meditating for a few hours on God's Word kind of like eating gravel? Would many of us find watching a sporting event, playing a game, or doing other primarily temporal activities the same way? I don't want to say anything negative about watching the football game or spending time putting up decorations for a Thanksgiving celebration. Those are perfectly good things. And there are ways of showing a hunger and thirst for righteousness through all of our daily affairs, including work and leisure. But what is our hunger? When it comes right down to it, we often hunger for our own desires, not for God's righteousness. Who hungers for righteousness? Jesus does, not only for righteousness evidenced in his life, but for righteousness in our lives. Why else would he come to suffer on our behalf? Why else would he provide means of grace by which he imparts his righteousness to us? That's hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

What of being merciful? Are we merciful? Do we truly want people to receive mercy from God? Do we really want to nurture people and care for them in every way? Or do we want to be just merciful enough that we won't get into trouble and that people will do what we want them to do? Aren't you glad when you see the stranded motorist talking cheerfully on a cell phone? Or when the homeless person goes to ask someone else for money? And we're not so much glad that the motorist has a cell phone or that the homeless person might get a dollar from someone. We're glad that we don't have to choose between inconveniencing ourselves and leaving another person without help. Who is the truly merciful one? That would be Jesus, who gave himself for our sin while we were yet sinners. That would be Jesus, who is shown to be the savior of the world, who has shown mercy on even those who despise and reject him.

What of the pure in heart? I'll just give you a challenge. Try it this afternoon or imagine it now. Take a clean piece of paper and a pencil. Then spend ten minutes writing all the things you have done from a pure, unmixed motive, in the last day, week, or month if you need to think back that far. Make sure you did it without mixed motives. No desire for revenge, no desire for self profit, no desire for self glory, no desire to be seen as friendly, Godly, faithful, nothing like that. These are good things you have done and that you would have done regardless of the consequences, regardless of what anyone would think of you, and regardless of what God would think of you. Find purely good things you have done out of purely good motives. There's a reason pencils have erasers. Once we figure out we have done something good we immediately start praising ourselves. Time to erase what we just wrote down. No, we are not pure in heart. Who is? Only the man who has no sin, Jesus. Jesus is the only one in the world who is pure in heart. He is the one who sees God.

How about being a peacemaker? Once in a while we get this one pretty well. But many times we end up being what one influential Christian conciliation specialist calls "peace fakers."  What's a peace faker? That's the person who says, "Oh, it's all right that you sinned against me and ruined my life. I've overlooked it, though I'll take every opportunity I have to get back at you." While we don't say it this way, this is all too often what we are thinking when we have had a conflict. We are afraid of those wonderful steps of conflict resolution we find in Matthew 18. We short-circuit the system and don't make peace. Once again, we look to Jesus, who has made peace with God for us through his life, death, and resurrection.

Finally we see the idea of being persecuted for righteousness. Yes, this happens. Yet very often when we hear of people in the Western world being persecuted these days, it is not because of righteousness. Rather, it's because of their own personal offenses, or maybe their associations with hateful teachings and practices. People are very rarely persecuted because they have been living a righteous life. People are very rarely persecuted because they have been honest and diligent. We can look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and we see that people showing those character qualities are accepted in pretty much every situation. Can you think of an employer who wouldn't want employees who are loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled? What if the whole society were that way? Well, toy and game manufacturers might have to change their marketing tactics, but we can't say it would be a bad thing. Who is persecuted for righteousnes? Jesus is persecuted for righteousness. He tells the truth and says he is true God. He tells the truth, that he is the only one who can forgive sins. He is persecuted on that account.

Now, finally, at verses eleven and twelve, Jesus starts talking directly to his disciples. He shifts from talking about "those people" to "you." And since we're now talking about grammar again, I want to point out something that I glossed over gently earlier. Notice that Jesus is talking about plural people earlier in the passage? He is not talking only about himself, though in our experience we see he is the only one who fits these descriptions. But he is, in fact, talking about a vast multitude of believers in every age. He is talking about those people who have believed on him. He is talking about those people to whom he has imparted righteousness, faith, and everlasting life. Jesus is talking about all Christians in all times. Yes, if you look in faith to Jesus, knowing that he has redeemed you and adopted you into his heavenly kingdom, he is talking about you. Maybe you don't feel poor in spirit. Maybe you aren't mourning aright. Maybe you are proud of yourself. Maybe you are more interested in lunch than in righteousness. Maybe you are not merciful. Maybe you see that your motives are not pure. Maybe you are a peacebreaker or a peacefaker. But in Jesus Christ you have received a new nature. You have become the righteousness of God in Christ. You are no longer the old creation. You are the new creation. And you are the new creation because our God has said you are a new creation and because you believe what he said, even despite all evidence to the contrary.

Are you in this great number of believers? Are you a partaker of that divine nature our Lord has placed upon his people? Then you are indeed blessed.

Let us rise and pray before we confess the Nicene Creed.

Our Father, you have granted these great means of grace - baptism and communion - to place upon your people the forgiveness and cleansing they need. You have given us of your Spirit. You wash and confirm us by Your Word, telling us what we are, even when with our eyes we see something quite different. Continue to confirm us in the faith, now and forever, that we may join that great band of heavenly saints, praising you and confessing your glory. We pray this by faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dave Spotts
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Christians and Suffering

One of the recurring themes in my life has been suffering. I suppose my suffering is not probably as serious as the suffering of a lot of people in this world. I have a twenty year history of migraine headaches. Sometimes they have been downright debilitating. But it's not a life-threatening condition. It is not something that brings lasting harm. It doesn't prevent me from maintaining employment, though there are some careers I couldn't carry on. But it's suffering. Don't try to tell me it isn't, especially when the room is spinning, my head is pounding, my brain is shut down, and I have no idea which way is up or if I will ever regain equilibrium.

I've been preparing for church services in Advent recently. Advent is, of course, a time of penitence. It is a time to remember our frailty and the fact that our sinful world is coming apart at the seams. It's a time to remember that our Lord has come in his mercy to deliver his people from sin and death. It is a time when we realize that all our suffering will come to an end.

It strikes me as I consider Jesus' words in Matthew 5.11-12 that God's blessing is upon his people when they endure hardship for his sake. We can know that we are in a long line of suffering people. We can know that we are by no means alone. We can know that our Lord will gather his people to himself at some time and will take care of all our pain and sorrow.

I've been thinking about that issue a lot this week, ever since hearing the latest news stories about attacks on Christians gathered for worship last Sunday. The gunmen may be able to take away those believers' mortal lives. But they are not able to rob them of life and immortality in Christ.  Are the survivors suffering? Absolutely. But they, along with the apostle Paul in Romans 8, can confess that there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

May the Lord give us relief from our suffering in this life. But whether he does or not, may he give us a living hope in eternity, where there will be no more suffering.

Dave Spotts
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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Time for a research paper! iterum redux

 Today I did a word search through Perseus' Westcott-Hort edition of the Greek New Testament. I gathered searches for all the types of gifts which I had identified, as well as for the words πρεσβύτερος and ἐπίσκοπος, which do not come up in the gift lists but which are clearly words of significance in speaking of work within the Church.

Perseus is a good tool, though it tends to hang up rather a lot. I think I have now gathered enough textual data that I'll have some place to go. So as to make it easier to sort and collate information, I'll probably print off the searches I saved from Perseus. I can then spread them out, make notes on the paper, possibly do some cutting and reorganizing with scissors and the like.

This paper looks like it's going to develop into a good old-fashioned exegesis paper. There's plenty to discuss within the topic.


Dave Spotts
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