Words of Encouragement

Our District president, James Hagen included the quote from Bonhoeffer in his weekly emailing.

He also included James 5:16, Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.

It strikes me that in this day of horribly divided politics Christians would remember that they are Christians even when making political statements.

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Predestination – Doctrine of Comfort

 

In the closing minutes of the Bible Class at my home church last Sunday the group began discussing the doctrine of predestination.  My younger brother asked if I would send him something he could present to the class this coming Sunday.

First of all, I don’t know why people take a doctrine intended for our comfort in regard to our salvation and turn it into a discussion leading to confusion and uncertainty.  Perhaps it has something to do with the followers of the reformed theologian John Calvin who taught a double predestination.  If some were chosen for salvation, then it stands to reason that others were chosen for damnation.  The problem is that scripture does not teach double predestination.  The scripture only teaches that God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is to reveal his plan for the unification of heaven and earth through Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-10).

God’s will is that all come to the faith and the knowledge of God in Christ.  Therefore, if we trust in Christ we can be assured that we are chosen by God from before the foundation of the world for salvation.  It has nothing to do with God foreseeing that we will respond to the gospel.  It has nothing to with any merit or virtue in us. As Edward Kohler wrote in his Summary of Christian Doctrine, “If any person is turned to God in conversion, this is solely and exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit; but if any person remains unconverted, it is solely and exclusively his own fault.  Beyond this we must not try to reason.”

St. Paul writes, “if you believe in your heart and confess with your lips that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9).

Therefore, the doctrine of predestination is intended only to assure the believer that he/she is chosen by God through His grace in Christ for eternal life.  We cannot discuss predestination in regard to those who don’t believe, because we don’t know who truly trusts in Christ as Savior.

Searching for Gospel in the Prophet Amos

 

I said to vicar Chris on Sunday, “I love the Old Testament lesson (Amos 6:1-7), not a lot of gospel but fun to read.”  He preached on the text and afterward I commented, “You found some gospel.”

Where are we able to find good news in this text?  If we are to find some gospel grab on to “gospel handles” in the first verse.  “Gospel handle” is a term that Prof. Francis Rossow uses.  Let me try to demonstrate.

  1. 1, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria…” Take note of two phrases. “At ease,” and “feel secure.”

In Proverbs 1:33 “Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease without dread of disaster.”  The key to being at ease and secure is listening to the Lord. To that end Jesus invites us, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke…  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The author of Hebrews writes in 9:12, “By means of His (Jesus) own blood securing eternal redemption.”

Jesus yoked himself to the heavy burden of our sin.  He took upon himself the “woes” which we had earned.  He was tempted as we are yet without sin.  Therefore, the writer of Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Thus he put far away the day of disaster and the seat of violence. (Amos 6:3)

 

Happy the One who Trusts in God

 

My wife has a niece who for several years worked as one of the demonstrators at Williamsburg, Va.  She played the role of someone who lived in the 17th – 19th centuries.  She left that position this summer and suffered the uncertainty of being between jobs.   She applied at various places and was told she was over-qualified.

One day she posted a confession and a confession of faith on Facebook. “Glad my pal reminded me to leave it in God’s hands: worries and insecurities during this process.  I may stink at it sometimes, but that’s what faith is all about.”

After taking a couple of part time jobs, she landed a position at Jamestown, the early 17th century settlement on the James River.

In psalm 146 we read: “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh…”   As my wife’s niece wrote, “That’s what faith is all about.”  Leave it in God’s hands.  We may stink at it sometimes, but our God is the one who made heaven and earth and “raises up those who are bowed down.”

No one was more bowed down than Lazarus in the Gospel lesson, lying at the rich man’s gate covered with sores hoping for scraps from the rich man’s table.  His only attendants were the roaming dogs who licked his oozing sores.  But he was the one whom the angels carried to Abraham’s side.

Prayer: God of glory and power, happy indeed are those who have put their trust in you.  Shine the brightness of your light upon us, that we may love you always with a pure heart and praise you forever; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hallelu Jah!

Psalm 146

 Praise Yah!*
Praise Yahweh, my soul.
While I live, I will praise Yahweh.
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist.
Don’t put your trust in princes,
each a son of man in whom there is no help.
His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth.
In that very day, his thoughts perish.
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in Yahweh, his God:
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps truth forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
Yahweh frees the prisoners.
    Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind.
Yahweh raises up those who are bowed down.
Yahweh loves the righteous.
Yahweh preserves the foreigners.
He upholds the fatherless and widow,
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
10 Yahweh will reign forever;
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise Jah!*

In Hebrew, the psalm begins and ends with Hallel jah.  The World English Bible translates it literally as “Praise Jah.”

Prayer:

God of glory and power, happy indeed are those who have put their trust in you.  Shine the brightness of your light upon us, that we may love you always with a pure heart and praise you forever; through Your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Discussion: Compare verses 3-4 with 5-8.  What reasons does the psalmist give for trusting God rather than humans?

How does verse 10, seal the deal in comparison with humans and other gods?

 

 

 

The Quality of Mercy

 

Shakespeare wrote in the “The Merchant of Venice”

“The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

…Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.”

 

Martin Luther preached a sermon in 1522 on Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”   By his time, he had been excommunicated, declared an outlaw by Charles V, faced opposition from those who thought he wasn’t moving fast enough, and Suleiman’s troops threatened Europe from the East.

“Whatever good and honor God gives us, it is out of sheer mercy.  He sees we are stuck in death, and He has mercy upon us and gives us life.  He sees that we are children of hell, and He has mercy upon us and gives us heaven.  He sees that we are poor, naked, hungry, and thirsty, and He has mercy upon us and clothes, feeds, gives us drink.  Thus all that we have in body and spirit He gives us out of sheer mercy, and pours out all His goodness upon us.

The mercy of Christians must not seek its own, but must be complete and comprehensive, regarding friend and foe alike, as our Father in heaven does.

And where this mercy is absent, faith is also absent.”

 

Chaff for Sale

 

Amos 8:6, …and sell the chaff of the wheat.

God is about to unleash devastation on Israel.  Corpses will be lying everywhere.  There shall be silence in the land.  Why?  Because the merchants and businessmen, “grinding the needy and suppressing the poor in the land.”

They can’t wait for the Sabbath to end so they can open their stores.  But when the poor come to buy wheat for their daily bread, the sellers tilt the scales making the bushel smaller on one end of the sale and on the other end overweighing the change they give back. They also sweep up the chaff from the threshing floor (along with some dirt) and mix the chaff and dirt into wheat bulking up the already shortened bushel.

Finally, when the poor become indebted beyond any hope of getting out of the hole, they are sold into slavery, even over a pair of sandals.

God says, “I shall never forget their deeds.”  The punishment God is letting loose upon the land under the Assyrians will flood the land like the Nile floods and it will recede slowly like the Nile.  Left behind will be the destruction and debris such as a flood leaves behind.

In 8:11 God says he will send famine, hunger and thirst to the land, not for bread and water, “but for hearing the word of the Lord.”

And yet, God never is able to let judgment be his last words.  The last words in Amos promise that “I shall not totally destroy Jacob’s posterity.”  Through the remnant left He will restore the fallen house of David.  The crops will grow so that there is a continuous harvest of wheat and grapes.  “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel…It is the word of the Lord your God.”

Yesterday, in choir we sang “Amazing Grace.”  God’s grace is truly amazing.

Abby and Her Plants

 

I asked my granddaughter, Abby, about a plant on the stairway leading to their deck.  5th grader Abby is a gardener at heart, so she led me to some other potted plants on the steps.  She was dismayed because the marigolds and petunias weren’t looking too good.  I told her that they were annuals and summer is ending so they have run their course.  But come next spring they may reappear, especially the petunias.

On September 14, the church celebrates Holy Cross Day.  It commemorates the dedication of a church built by Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century at the site at which it was said, the  true cross of Christ was found.

Holy Cross Day reinvigorates our faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death.  The time until Advent looks forward to Christ’s victorious return and our resurrection.  From All Saints Day, the Sunday lessons lead us to look at the ends times, culminating with Christ the King Sunday.

Our gardens are coming to the end of their season.  One day frost will leave my tomato plants and elephant ears limp and lifeless.  Yet some tomato seeds sprout next spring.   I will dig my elephant ears roots and replant them when the sun is warm again.  Geese will soon be honking high in the sky winging their V shapes south.

In Christ we have our own V, victory over the grave.  One day we will sprout forth when the Son returns.  Fall is not only a time of dying, but a looking forward in faith to resurrection and new life.  Then Abby and I go will back to the garden and try to create a little of paradise in anticipation of the final Paradise.

The Psalmist, Amos and Mary

The following reading is largely drawn from Psalm 113, Amos 8:4-7 And Luke 1

Psalm 113, Amos 8:4-7 are two of the readings for this coming Sunday.

Psalm:

Praise the Lord!  Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord.

Mary:

My soul magnifies the Lord.

Amos:

Hear this, you who say, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?”

Psalm:

Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time and forevermore!  From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord be praised!

Amos:

Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end. “That we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat?”

Psalm:

Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.

Mary:

He has looked on the humble estate of his servant…for he who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is his name. He has filled the hungry with good things.

He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones…and the rich he has sent empty away.

Jesus:

For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Amos:

Hear this, you who…make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances.

The Lord has sworn…” Surely I will never forget their deeds.”

Psalm:

He raises the poor…to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

Mary:

He has exalted those of humble estate.

St. Paul:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Psalm:

He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.

Elizabeth:

After these days Elizabeth conceived, saying, “Thus The Lord has done for me in the days when it looked on me, to take away my reproach among people…  “When the sound of your greeting came to my ears (Mary), the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

St. Paul:

Yet she will be saved through childbearing…

Mary:

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior

Luke – Matthew:

And (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son, and (Joseph) called his name Jesus.

Psalm:

Praise the Lord! O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord!

Prayer:

Lord, Jesus, surrendering the brightness of your glory, you became mortal so that we might be raised from the dust to share your very being.  May the children of God always bless your name from the rising of the sun to its going down, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Praise the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once strangers, but now brought near

 

The other day I was at a nearby Walgreens.  In our area it’s difficult to not be near a Walgreens.  At the checkout counter an older woman was in front of me, though not as old as me, but who is?  The woman had two birthday cards.  She was asking the young checkout person which she would choose to send, I think, to a grandchild.  I wanted to be impatient, but the Lord interfered.  The young lady at the counter looked at both cards and then suggested one.  “Thank you,” said the grandmother, “I really didn’t want to buy both cards.”

When I moved up, I noticed that the young lady’s name was Je-Dan.  “Ah,” I thought, “a Bosnian immigrant or daughter of immigrants.”  I’ve noticed the women have interesting sounding names.  (Am I profiling?  Probably.  Live with it.)

As I left the store I thought, “An immigrant, probably a Muslim, who does not seem to be a threat to anyone, but a helpful young lady making her life in her country, just as I am.”  After all, I’m a grandson of immigrants.  In fact, our families were all once strangers in a strange land which we now call our own.  Even the Native Americans who live in the area where I grew up are descendants of immigrants.

We followers of Christ are also immigrants in another way.  We are immigrants into God’s kingdom.  As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ… and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you…have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

Jesus would have us also remember that we are in the world, but not of the world.  We are members of a kingdom not of this world.  We do well to remember that in the light of the disparaging rhetoric that bombards our ears and minds in this world.