Monday, March 19, 2012

A conversation on Salvation

Is sanctification part of salvation?

Following the rabbit trail that began here.

From my viewpoint, as a Lutheran, salvation (rescue) and justification (pardon) are one-in-the-same. Whereas, sanctification is the prompting of God's grace as a result of justification (our salvation). As I understand it, sanctification is not salvific (saving) but it is a God-prompted response to salvation. Continuing the conversation started elsewhere, is sanctification part of salvation?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lenten Devotional 15: Exiles Restored; the Covenantal Promise

Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Scripture reading: Ezra 8:21-36

The people of Jerusalem have been freed from their Babylonian captivity and their exile has come to an end (ch. 1) in accordance with the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer. 30:3). Unlike the somewhat downtrodden conclusion to the books of the Kings, the book of Ezra brings us into the hope of the history of God’s people.

The Babylonians have fallen (6th cent. BCE/BC) and the Jews are given a second chance in Jerusalem. Over a number of years and obstacles the temple of the Lord is rebuilt (ch. 3-ff.). The priest Ezra is called to lead the people of God back to Jerusalem (ch. 7). This is a new season for the Jewish people. Exile is behind them and the promise of the Lord is before them.

Much like we are doing for Lent, the people fasted and prayed to the Lord (8:21:23). In this, the people of God remember their reverence for the Lord and forsake their idolatrous past. The people (even the king) give “freewill” offerings to the Lord (vv. 24-30). This is not free will (as in the doctrine that says we are able to choose salvation because that is impossible). This is a freewill giving, which occurs through the prompting of reconciliation. The Gospel calls this grace, but contextually, this may have been done out of fear or reverence of God.

According to God’s covenantal promise, the people of Jerusalem return to their land from their Babylonian exile (vv. 31-36). As usual, the people of God forget to do something right, afterwards (ch. 9-10). But, where the humans fail, God keeps the covenant, and grace is sufficient.

This is our story, too. Though we are sinners (with our will bound to the condition) the work of God alone, nullifies our sin nature and its predisposition. We are met with the covenant of God, known to Christians as the Gospel, and known to all as grace. The law has been fulfilled and the exiled are restored by God’s mercy and grace, according to the covenant of the Lord.

O Gracious God, how you deliver your people – whether Jew, Gentile, slave, free, Christian, or those who cannot see – by the universal grace you have given to all that will save as many as you please. Though it is a mystery how your grace justifies, you have given us the faith to believe that you are the one true God and that we receive your grace through the work of the cross of Christ (in death and resurrection). In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lenten Devotional 14: Waiting to Exile

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Scripture reading 2 Kings 24:8-25:30

The fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE/BC was the final season of the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua-Kings). One can only imagine the despair. Israel’s kings bowed to other gods and eventually fell into the hands of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Now, Judah (the southern kingdom) followed with the same fate. Unlike 2 Chronicles, 2 Kings does not conclude on a happy note. Here, evil gets the better of God’s people.

This installment of our series was not meant to contradict the talk of repentance and reconcile, in yesterday’s post. Rather, it is that exile is a season of life. The Jewish people were scattered into exile by the Babylonians. Two thousand five hundred ninety eight years later, the people of Israel continue to fight for land. The exile happened because God’s people continuously sinned against the Lord. The law did not save the people.

But, the Jewish people weren’t special sinners; they were fallen human beings. The Primary History (Genesis-Kings) illustrates the fallen nature of humanity, with the people of God at the forefront of this fallen story. Only, this isn’t a bedtime story, it’s the history of the people of God. Upon reading this passage, one might ask, did the people of God pay attention to history? We are the people of God and this is our history.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do. We are sinners; helpless to help ourselves. Have mercy on us O Lord. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lenten Devotional 13: God's Great Sinners; Human Nature and Grace

Monday, March 05, 2012
Scripture reading: 2 Samuel 11:1-27

Our story today, takes place during the Deuteronomistic History (DtH) that constructs the second half of the Primary History (Genesis-Kings). The books of Samuel are technically one book that was split into two over time. I’m not here to debate Martin Noth’s view of single authorship for the DtH (Joshua-Kings) but as with the JEDP theory for the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) the DtH has exilic implications.

King David (the second king of Israel) reigned for forty years (1 Chr. 29:27) 1010-970 BCE/BC. But the written account of his reign was composed in the 6th century (Noth). I tell you these technical details because David was a great king and a great sinner. Similarly, Ancient Israel was a great kingdom and a nation of sinners. Sure, it’d be easier to say human, but it’s important to know how the Lord uses sinners.

The chosen king sent his soldiers off to battle, but stayed home, which was not customary (v. 1). In his folly, David steals another man’s wife, and produces an ancient episode of Jerry Springer (vv. 2-5). Being the godly king he is, David attempts to conceal his deceptive affairs and let the woman’s husband deal with the aftermath (vv. 6-13). But, our biblical Springer show gets worse. When the first plan to deceive Uriah fails, all the king’s men set him up to die by order of the king (vv. 14-24). And everyone lived happily ever after… (vv. 25-27) or did they?

After our story, the child of David and Bathsheba’s affair dies, the Lord is not pleased with the sinful king, promising trouble for Israel, David realizes his sin against the Lord, and the Lord spares David and Israel (12:1-24). In juxtaposition, the people of Israel and Judah were sinful, they recognized their sin, and the Lord put an end to exile.

We are human and humans are sinners, but the Lord is gracious to sinners; whether we are kings, Israelites in exile, or the people of today who perpetually make mistakes. God chose humans to fulfill the covenant. Humans and sinners we may be, but God reconciles us in the work of grace. This is the Gospel of the Lord: redemption for sinners, those called human. I am a great sinner, we all are great sinners (it’s our nature) and Christ died for us all.

Lord, God, with David, you made a sinner the king of your people, and by your mercy the king and the people we reconciled. With Jesus, you became our king (the king of your people) and in your mercy you atoned for our sin, by taking it all upon your cross. On this day, we remember that we are humans and sinners, and that you were the one who died for us. Praise to you O Christ. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lenten Devotional 12: Spirit and Flesh; Fully God and Fully Human

Sunday, March 4, 2012
Scripture reading: Mark 14:32-42

As we have been in this time of Lent (a season of lament and repentance) the experience differs for us all. There may be moments of sorrow, joy, hunger, peace, unrest, reconcile, angst, comfort, loneliness, community, religious fervor, and/or divine turmoil. Lament and Repentance change our mindset (this may or may not be an uncomfortable experience).

For people, like me, faith is not grounded in experience, but it is an element of the journey. In our passage today, Jesus knows what is coming and, like many of us, the coming trial has him apprehensive (vv. 35-36). The humanity of Jesus is part of what brings our understanding of God into divine relationship. God isn’t this distant being that cannot relate to what it’s like to be human. Jesus, God incarnate, knows what it is to lament and experience great sorrow.

Jesus understood that, “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (v. 38b). This is what it meant to be God incarnate: of spirit (pneuma) and flesh (sarx); divine and human. I believe he said these words about himself (not about the godliness or sinfulness of human beings). After he says those words he prays again that the Father God “remove this cup from [him]...” (vv. 36, 39).

If our savior felt the human emotions of fear and trembling over his calling to die for us and only the Spirit of God could do the will of the Father through him; how are we surprised by our own human weakness? Jesus is Lord, fully God and fully man; yet, he knew the lamenting sorrow of human suffering. It is only by the work of God that the Holy Spirit graciously works in our lives. For, the Holy Spirit is willing to do what we cannot do for ourselves, but the flesh (substance of being human) is weak. This is the work of God alone.

Father God, many of us may ask you to remove the cup of plight from our lives because it is more than we are willing or able to bear. However, the work of your Holy Spirit does what our immutable will cannot do and carries us through times of trial. The fact that Christ understood our emotions is a gift to us. Thanks be to God for the work of grace and the cross. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Lenten Devotional 11: Church, Cross, and Culture

Saturday, March 3, 2012
Scripture reading: Acts 5:30-42

The Acts of the Apostles is traditionally considered Luke’s written record of what happened following the events of his Gospel account. It’s the work of the early Christian Jews and gentiles; the patriarchs of the Church, Práxeis tōn Apostólōn. Though date and authorship are debated, it’s not essential to our present purposes in this devotional.

Our pericope highlights what Christians do and why we do it. It is the praxis of the Church to proclaim the name and Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Messiah (vv. 30-32). The Pharisee, Gamaliel, interrupts the rage of the Sadducees with profound wisdom (vv. 33-35). He tells the angered Sadducees (conservative, wealthy, Jewish authorities) that if the Apostle’s proclamation of Christ is not the true work of God, they will despair, give up, and/or fail (vv. 36-39). The Apostle’s teaching did not cease and persecution was a worthy cause (vv. 40-42).

Two millenniums later, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is still the most important work of the Church (at least it should be) and it’s still making religious leaders mad. Is it better to be a modern day Pharisee or Sadducee? We still do this polarizing left-right thing, so perhaps there’s a better question. Is it better to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ or to rage against the changing culture?

The early Christian Jews and Gentiles were not the dominant voice in their culture. Present day Christians (specifically in the United States) are no longer a dominant voice in the surrounding culture. Men and women of the Lord, we must continue to preach the Gospel that is the work of the cross (death and resurrection) of Jesus Christ. We are not here to be the loudest voice in culture; we are here to proclaim the Gospel to it. If “the ways of the world” oppose the truth of God, they will fail. Transformation of culture is the work of God alone. Finally, may we look to the cross, where God is found, and how God gives grace and peace to the world.

Holy and Triune God, we look to the work of the cross and the promise you continue to keep with your people. Forgive us for fighting about our perceptions of corruption that distract us from proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. We are sinners and we forget that proclaiming the grace of the cross is radically different than our outrage toward the world around us. Fix our eyes on the cross, the way of truth that is neither left, nor right, nor Pharisee, nor Sadducee, nor rage, nor condemnation. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.  


Friday, March 2, 2012

Lenten Devotional 10: Getting Pastoral

Friday, March 02, 2012
Scripture reading: 1 Timothy 3:1-16

Personally (before we get started with the text) I find it ironic that my first and middle names come from pietistic epistles that are troublesome to me (Timothy and James). The author of the book of James seems like, a pompous sycophant and the author of the Pastoral Epistles (who I think was pseudonymously posing as Paul) is a product of his hierarchal-sexist times. But, I digress; for, God’s grace is sufficient.

The passage of “The Overseer” (v.1) has been one I’ve lived in tension with for years. Two words fascinate me, make me cringe, and cause controversy: “above reproach” (v. 2). What does this pastoral instruction even mean? Is it a call to perfection or something else? The English dictionary defines reproach as blame (among other things). However, the Greek word that we translate to reproach (anepilēmptos) appears to have a more specific meaning than blameapprehension.

Context is everything. When we interpret scripture without context we can seriously distort its contextual meaning. For one to be, “above reproach” (in the first century Church) this term had legal implications (vv. 3-5).

First, having one wife; not a harem. Second, temperate; not enraged. Third, sensible; not stupid. Fourth, respectable; not disgraceful. There’s more but, for the sake of time, what might the legal implications of reproach be? In the first century, it was not quite safe to be a follower of Jesus the Christ. If one had a harem of wives, it likely drew attention they didn’t need. Keeping one’s temper was and is a good way to avoid undue trouble. Sensibility might keep a person from losing his head (literally). If people respected Church leaders it might dissuade apprehension (vv. 3-7).

Bishops, Deacons, Overseers, Pastors, etc., had a different role in the Early Church – survival of believers and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. There was great concern over false-teaching and blaspheme (possibly Gnosticism, depending on the date of composition, ch. 1). The piety in 1 Timothy, like other scriptures, was meant to set God’s people apart from idolatry and/or heresy.

What does this all mean for us (and our Church leaders)? One who is “above reproach,” in the Church today is one who does not bring ill fate to God’s people or the Church. Instead, proclaim the truth of Christ, “He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory” (v. 16).

Lord, God, you are holy and your majesty is revealed in Christ. The grace of the cross, in death and resurrection, has justified us. Who you are and what you’ve done continues to be proclaimed and believed throughout the world. No human being is blameless in what we do, but may our blame be met with grace and not reprehension. May you free your captive servants around the world, who face death and persecution because of your name and may we – who freely express the work of your cross – pray for those who persecute our brothers and sisters. In your name O Lord: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Lenten Devotional 09: Eating Straw; Exegeting a Difficult Word

Thursday, March 1, 2012
Scripture reading: The Epistle of James 1:12-18

What is there to say about the Epistle of James? It’s canonized scripture written as New Testament Wisdom Literature and, like most Lutherans, I don’t care for it. Once upon a time ago, I considered it the magnum opus of the New Testament; so, why the change of mind? The Doctrine of Grace and Sola fide (by faith alone) challenge this text.

Arguably, there may be redeeming qualities in this work that Luther called, “an epistle of straw.” According to Luther, “St. James’ epistle is really an epistle of straw…for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.” The fact that the author of the book of James says we are not justified (Gk: dikaioō) by faith alone is disputable (the epistle is Antilegomena). Disputation aside, I read with you, and exegesis has pulled redemption from this text.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). The author’s attribution of God being the giver of all things is sound. Our pericope encourages perseverance amidst trials (1:12). It’s a proclamation of hope (albeit, a weird one, with that crown of life business). God is not tempting us that is the sinful nature, which has bonded the human will (vv. 13-16). Grace is the work of God (v. 17). Our justification was his purpose (v.18).

Unlike this epistle, the Gospel of Jesus Christ points to the work of God through the grace of the cross. In faith alone believe that we are justified (saved) by grace alone, through the work of Christ alone, and that glory is to God alone; according to scripture alone (adaptation of the Five Solas). James (whichever one he may be) composed a disputable epistle, but it’s not always easy to reconcile with the word of God (biblical text). May the Lord be gracious to us as we debate the difficult parts of the word.

Holy and Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for those who love the work of James, may you bless them through it and for others, like me, who refute the words of James, reveal their redemptive purpose, and be gracious to us. Sometimes, the words of your scriptures can be difficult, when that occurs, give us discernment, wisdom, and humility. May we reside in the grace of your cross and know that you are the Lord, our God. You are revealed in Christ and, yet, you are mysterious. We are humbled at the foot of your cross. Amen.