Monthly Archives: November 2011

What is Faith?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

I ran across this gem in Sunday’s readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer from Concordia Publishing House.  It is a quote from Martin Luther’s Introduction to the Book of Romans.  Here Luther describes in as beautiful and as straightforward a manner what FAITH is.  We tend to think of faith simply as belief or intellectual assent to divine truth.  It is often described as something within us that is part of our nature, something we inherently possess.  And yet that could not be farther from the truth of the matter.

Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow—although they can hear and say much about faith—they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, “I believe”; they take this then to be a true faith. But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. Read the rest of this entry

Anticipation: the Season of Advent

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new church year.  Advent, the season is named.  Advent means “coming,” and points toward the Second Coming of our Lord Christ.  Ironically, in the northern hemisphere, the season begins as death moves over the land.  Leaves fall from the trees;  the winds blow;  the temperature drops.  Animals retreat into warrens, burrows and dens to sleep for the winter.  Crops are harvested and stored for future use.  The land is barren, desolate.  Nothing grows.  Yet in this physical space and time, we are called to remembrance.  The season begins with a warning from our Lord to watch, wait and pray.  The times will be desperate, there will be trials and tribulations.  Wars and rumors of wars.  These are but the beginning of the signs of the end, culminating in that great and terrible day of the Lord.

Immediately following this warning, we are met with the last prophet of the Old Covenant, John, Jesus’ cousin.  He calls us to repentance and faith.  He prepares the way for Jesus preaching a baptism of repentance to receive the forgiveness of sins.  In much the same way the law prepares our hearts for grace and the gift of faith which we receive from the incarnate Word.  From there, it moves to the divine announcement of the coming of our Savior in the flesh.  Gabriel visits the young maiden, Mary, betrothed to Joseph to proclaim the Good News of God’s gracious plan for salvation of the world.  Mary, a woman, would be God’s chosen instrument to bring that Life into the world.  All of this leads to the Feast of Christmas, the second highest and feast day in the church year.

Happy Advent!

Prayer for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day Prayer

Heavenly Father, Giver of all things, we give You thanks on this day for the countless blessings You have so freely bestowed on us and all people. Blessed are You for this wondrous world, for its beauty and bounty. Blessed are You for the good gifts of harvest. Blessed are You for food and drink, for clothing and shoes, for warmth and shelter, for house and home, for family and friends. Blessed are You for every smile of a child and every kindness that is shown. Blessed are You.

But of all the gifts You have given us, none can begin to compare with that boundless love You showed when we were in so bad a state that nothing but death and eternal damnation awaited us and no creature in heaven or on earth could help us. Then You sent forth Your Only begotten Son, who is of the same divine nature as Yourself, caused Him to be born for us of the Blessed Virgin Mary, laid on Him all our sin, giving Him into death that we might not die eternally. You raised Him from the dead and seated Him, our brother, at Your Right hand, where He never ceases to plead on our behalf, and from whence He will come again in glory. Blessed are You for the gift of forgiveness, life and salvation in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Blessed are You!

And that we might never forget this boundless love of Yours, You give us even more. You have sent us Your Spirit that we may know You, trust in You, and rejoice in our Savior. You have poured into us Your Spirit as the pledge and down payment of the redemption that will be ours on the day of our Lord’s return. You offer us a share in Your Spirit’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control; and He never ceases to pray within us and to ask for us all good things from You.

Nor do Your good gifts stop there, for You have brought us into the fellowship of Your Church. You have surrounded us with sisters and brothers in Christ to help bear our burdens and be our joyful companions as we journey to Your eternal home. You give us new birth in Baptism. You restore us from our sin in Holy Absolution. You set a table before us in the Holy Eucharist that we might triumph over our foes through Your saving gifts.

O merciful Master, You made us from nothing and when we had fallen You did not cease to do all things until You had raised us up again and bestowed upon us the Kingdom which is to come.

Blessed are You, King of all goodness! Blessed are You for such unimaginable love and pity! Blessed are You, Lover of Mankind! Receive today our thanks and praise for all Your goodness; pardon us for the times we have been blind to Your gifts; remember all who cry to You in this hour for Your mercy, and bring us all to share in the Feast that has no end. We offer to You these prayers and praises in the name of Your beloved Son and in the communion of Your life-giving Spirit, to whom be all glory, now and to the ages of ages.

Amen.

http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1526

What does it Mean to be a Lutheran? It is written: I believed; therefore I have spoken

Do you know what it means to be a Lutheran Christian?  Does being Lutheran matter?  Or should we all just be Christ followers?  Or has Christ actually called us into a particular fellowship of believers?  Before you respond, take a look at the answer provided in the “What About” series.  This one was written by the late Dr. AL Barry, former President of the Missouri Synod:

Being a Lutheran is being a person who believes the truths of God’s Word, the Holy Bible, as they are correctly explained and taught in the Book of Concord. To do so is to confess the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Genuine Lutherans, confessional Lutherans, dare to insist that “All doctrines should conform to the standards [the Lutheran Confessions] set forth above. Whatever is contrary to them should be rejected and condemned as opposed to the unanimous declaration of our faith” (FC Ep. RN, 6).

Such a statement may strike some as boastful. But it is not; rather, it is an expression of the Spirit-led confidence that moves us to speak of our faith before the world.

To be a confessional Lutheran is to be one who honors the Word of God. That word makes it clear that it is God’s desire for His church to be in agreement about doctrine, and to be of one mind, living at peace with one another (1 Cor. 1:102 Cor. 13:11). It is for that reason that we so treasure the precious confession of Christian truth that we have in the Book of Concord. For Confessional Lutherans, there is no other collection of documents, or statements or books that so clearly, accurately and comfortingly presents the teachings of God’s Word and reveals the Biblical Gospel as does our Book of Concord.

Hand-in-hand with our commitment to pure teaching and confession of the faith, is, and always must be, our equally strong commitment to reaching out boldly with the Gospel and speaking God’s truth to the world. That is what “confession” of the faith is all about, in the final analysis. Indeed, “It is written: I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Cor. 4:13). This is what it means to be a Lutheran.

Dr. A. L. Barry
Former President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod

From “What about….   Being Lutheran.”  at bookofconcord.org

Jesus Said It, and I Believe It

As a member of a traditional LCMS church — traditional as in having been around for a while and not a new plant — I believe that Christ’s Word is true.  Period.  When He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes unto the Father unless He comes through me,” He means what He says — He is the way to eternal life, He is the truth of God made flesh for us, and He is eternal life.  Apart from Him, we cannot know God or be restored to a right relationship with Him.  The implication of Jesus’ statement is that there is no other way by which a man may be saved.  If the Son sets you free, you are free.  To receive salvation, you must receive Christ Himself.  If you abide in my Word you are truly my disciples.  Christ’s way is the way of the Cross.  You want salvation on your own?  Keep all of the commandments.  Perfectly.  Impossible?  Sin gets worse when you try?  Then you must die.  To sin, self, the world.  To be a disciple of Christ, one must deny himself, take up His Cross, and follow Christ.  To death.  The death of this flesh, the death of this life.

When our Lord interacts with sinners, the unclean, the lame, the mute, the deaf, He deals with the problem of sin, whether directly or indirectly.  He never leaves the sinner to wallow in his or her sin.  He confronts them.  Teaches them about their sin and the One who stands before them with the power to forgive.   Christ confronts us with His Cross at the very beginning of our Christian walk.  He does not wait to make sure that we feel comfortable, connected, or as if we belong.  When the Lion of Judah stands before us, we cannot stand.  We are driven to the ground and unable to move until He raises us.  Christ is Holy.  We are unholy.  He is clean.  We are unclean.  Only when Christ raises us up, when He creates new life in us by His Word, only when He makes us Holy can we stand in His presence.  It is true that God loves us no matter who we are and he desires that all should be saved.  Indeed Jesus comes only for sinners like you and like me.

In the “new” church of today, the most important thing is to make outsiders feel as if they belong, make them feel welcome, and connected, as if they have a home.  Whether they believe, whether they are living a life of sin, they need to know that God loves them as they are and they have a place in our church.  All we have is yours.  God loves you just as you are.  To say that it is more important to feel comfortable or connected to a local congregation, to feel welcome and able to participate fully in the life of the congregation, to say that it does not matter whether one is an unrepentant sinner or not to belong to a local congregation is to deny the atoning, salvific work of Christ on the Cross.  It is as if to say that Jesus died for me, I am forgiven, it matters not what I do.  Worse yet, an unrepentant sinner or an unbeliever sitting in the way of the saints mocks the atoning work of Christ by participating fully in the life of the church.  Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that if a Christian has sexual relations with a prostitute the two become one flesh.  What was clean is made unclean.  Because of the unity of the Body of Christ, this union is made part of that Body.  For Christ is one, and we who are many, make up that one body of Christ.  It is not as if we can wait around until we are fully comfortable, checking this Christianity thing out to see if we like it, waiting until we are ready to be introduced to Christ.  No.  He claims us, washes us, and makes us clean.  Your sins are forgiven, says He.  Go, and sin no more.

Jesus said it.  I believe it.  Now, go and read it for yourself.  If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples.