Planted by God for God’s Glory

Planted by GodGod is the planter of all things, it is through him that all things grow and we are cared for. We cannot make one thing grow by our own will or strength including our faith. In Ezekiel 17:22-24, we find the prophet conveying a word from God to his people using the imagery of a twig and cedar. Often we can become too confident in our own abilities that we forget all that God is doing our lives. Paul also reminds us of this in the reading for this past Sunday from 2 Corinthians 5:1-17 that all things of this world are temporary. When we place our hope in the things of this world we can forget the blessings that God has in store for us. We, also, are not able to create faith within ourselves or others, but we can be used as tools by our Lord to shine his light into lives that are caught up in darkness. God chooses us and often the Holy Spirit’s working within us is not comfortable, yet we should not be hardening our hearts. In the Gospel reading for Sunday St. Mark (4:26-34) about the parable of the mustard seed, in this imagery we find what God can do with the little that we may have to offer. You see, we don’t have to be giants in faith with everything together for God to use us. It is in the little things that we do that God can do great things. Sometimes we ignore the urgings of the Holy Spirit because we don’t realize what it is that God can do through us in the little we all truly have to offer. God uses broken people. The giants of faith weren’t giants because they had everything together, but because they laid their faith in God’s ability to use them and trusted in Him above all else. That is the power of our God. The image of Him taking a twig and placing it in a high place causing it to grow and be a place for the birds to nest above the other formerly high trees is a sign of His majesty, not ours. The tree placed high was done by God for His purposes not ours. The same is true with each and everyone of us. He has placed us where we are because of His purposes. Just because a church is trendy and large does not mean that they are doing the work of God, it just means that the church is trendy and large. The same is true when a church is smaller that they are not being faithful, it is just smaller. God can use both and, most importantly, lives can be transformed. A small church may never grow large and a large church may not change a lot of lives. You see, it is not about our work, but God’s working through us. In our Lutheran Confessions, particularly the Augsburg Confession of 1530 it states within Article IV that our salvation is not based upon our works which is regularly found within the writings of Paul throughout the New Testament. We can not save ourselves, but Christ has done that work for us and completes that work within us. That is the truth of our salvation. In that, we are free to proclaim his love in spite of our own shortcomings and see what great and glorious work that he can do within us in transforming lives around us. May his peace fill your heart and mind and know that in Christ we are firmly planted for His purposes not our own.

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Into His Everlasting Arms

Into His Everlasting Arms BlogGenesis 3:1-15 was a poignant reading for me this past Sunday and as I was preparing for the sermon last week I was flooded with a lot of thoughts and emotion. I am a runner. Now, this is not in the literal sense of running for sport (personally, never have been a big fan of that), but what I am talking about is that I don’t like to face issues. Who does? As I reflected a story of my youth came to mind. When I was about 10 or so, and my paternal grandmother was watching my cousin and me, being two years apart in age, we were playing. Now my grandmother had this room full of porcelain dolls she collected and loved. Well, I accidentally broke one of them. Now instead of facing my grandma, I decided I was going run, so I walked out the door and left. I don’t know where I was planning on going since we were out of town and it was a long walk to anywhere. All I knew is that I didn’t want to face punishment for the doll.

I remember walking across the road and behind the houses on the other side where there were some trees. It was hot, and I was some distance away from my paternal grandparents home, and the highway and I saw my grandma’s vehicle coming down the road, so I hid. I knew my cousin had told on me and I didn’t want to get caught. As I watched her pass and then go back to the house, I began to think about the situation. Where was I going to run? Wherever I went, I knew I would still be in trouble and would face some punishment. It, also, was hot and I was thirsty. So, I decided to turn back and went back to my grandparents and found my grandma on the phone with my dad. I heard the concern on her voice and then the relief when I came back in. Expecting punishment I apologized and instead of punishment I received a hug and an “I love you.” You see, my greater concern was my grandmother’s love for her dolls over and above her love for me.

This is the issue that many of us face when it comes to God. After eating of the forbidden fruit, the relationship between Adam and Eve and God was changed. Not by anything God had done, but because they were more afraid of God, then they were of Satan. We are the same. We become angry at God when we feel the conviction of our shortcomings, our sin. The words of Satan resonate in our ears, and we believe them over and above God. We are made to feel shame. Adam and Eve, before eating the fruit, would stand in God’s presence without fear or shame. It was unknown to them. They found to be in God’s presence to joyful. After at the sound of a rustling leaf they become afraid and realize they are exposed desiring to cover up and hide from God. That is a difficult reality. Then when confronted by God’s searching words and voice we find that Adam and Eve try to cover and excuse their sin, ultimately pinning the blame on God.

Just like that little boy that I was with my grandma, uncertain and ashamed about what I had done, I didn’t realize that the love my grandma had for me was greater than the love that she had for the doll, God’s love for us is greater than any sin that we may commit. God isn’t looking to bring punishment, but forgiveness. He wants us to not run, but to admit to our sin, our failings, and realize the forgiveness that he has for us. If we are caught up in a relationship that is outside of the bonds of biblical marriage, we are caught up in fornication which is a sin. Divorce is a sin. Gossip is a sin. Holding a grudge is a sin. Being angry is a sin. Hating another is a sin. Feeling you are better then another is a sin. None of us can walk away unscathed if we are truly confronted with sin and if I were to say that it’s OK, Jesus loves you without giving the Gospel, I am not giving you the truth. God forgives you and will take away all sin because he loves you. We aren’t doing this on our own, and there is no justification for our sin, just forgiveness of our sins through Christ and Christ alone. We come to that cross, and we die to be resurrected just as Jesus died and was resurrected. Our sin dies with Christ. If we justify our sin, we are just running from God. God desires for us to run into his full embrace realizing we have nothing to offer, but a broken and contrite heart. He loves us so much that he will not turn us away in our brokenness. If we try to hold back and act as though we are justified because we say, “Well God, that was how you made me!” We are missing the fullness of what God offers us and are like Adam and Eve in the garden, placing the blame on our Creator instead of the deceiver who brought the temptation that led to the Fall. God did not make us sinful only with the ability to choose sin and run from him. Our free will is not free because the only “free” choice we have is sin. When we turn to him and seek his embrace, we find that he chose us long ago and desires for our restoration. A restoration that only he can bring. As I reflect on this, I see how often I have run, but I am thankful that I turned and ran into his warm embrace and am comforted in his everlasting arms. That is the only hope that I have and the only hope that remains for all of creation. May you know the love of being held in those everlasting arms, may the thirst for something more drive you to him, and may you be refreshed in his eternal waters. Peace to you this day.

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Kindle in Me the Fire of Your Love

PentecostBefore deciding to enter into seminary, my wife and I were afforded the opportunity to experience a Via De Cristo Weekend which is a part of the Cursillo movement. The movement was begun by Roman Catholic priests in Spain and has expanded across the globe in various movements by different names, but the same experience. Via De Cristo is the Lutheran branch of the movement, and another is the Emmaus Walk which has its roots in the Methodist Church. However, both are ecumenical in practice and who can attend. Cursillo is Spanish for “short course.” The point is to be confronted by the purity of Christian love. It is a three day weekend, and it is quite powerful for those that are open to the experience. As we enter to end the third day and go out, we live in the fourth day in which we are called to live out the promise given us in our faith. Each time we pray we say as we gather is, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the heart of the faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.” This prayer has returned to me often in my faith journey since this time. Unfortunately, being human, my life does not always live into this, and I need to go through a period of renewal. That is the pattern of life, I believe for most.

Personally, I continue to find this renewal the more that I journey through the liturgy and the liturgical seasons. Pentecost is significant in some ways because of a painful period of ministry in which God renewed and restored me. The calling that God has placed on my life is no more significant than others, but it is one that I have been reminded of as I have strayed from the core to other areas which I have sought meaning. I love the liturgy, though I would not call myself one who is into “high liturgy,” but I like the order and form. Yet, in it is not the centrality of faith. Prayer and the Word strengthen me, yet I never can pray enough. It is a continued leaning upon Christ. The great tragedy caused me to turn into Christ. That is what we are all called to in Christ. As we walk on our journey there will be seasons of preparation, seasons of challenge, and seasons of growth. In each of these, we are called to turn into Christ for strength. Our success in faith will only happen with Christ. Now, this success is not like worldly success, but it is a sense of contentment that only Christ can bring. It is about being satisfied in the Gospel and what God is doing. It is seeking to be a light to those that need to know the faith that Jesus Christ. It is a turning into Scripture as the sole norm of faith and life.

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Seeking to be a Light in the Darkness

Every day it seems what Paul wrote so many years ago is still so true, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Romans 1:32, ESV) It is amazing to me some of the things I read and see that just catch me off guard as I seem more out of touch with many views that I see from those who, how can I best say this, believe differently. Never before had I felt this in my life. I have tried to understand views with which I don’t agree, but with it seems that many changes are coming more quickly than I can keep up. Now many of the changing views that I see are not as prevalent where I live and serve, but it highlights the depth of the divide that seems to be only growing deeper within our world. The thing about much of this, however, is that it reminds me of a greater need to pray.

As Christians, we are called to be unified in Christ first and foremost. How that looks is often difficult. One of the things that I have been most convicted of in this exploration is coming to terms with areas in which my witness has been less than desirable. I know that I am a person that carries strong views and have never been afraid to share them. Honestly, I love discussing things with people that hold different views than I hold. That has continually become more difficult, which saddens me. I, also, have been more open to sharing my views in posts on Social Media in the past. Not that I haven’t engaged recently, but my engagement has become less and less as I just don’t desire to have it devolve into something less of engagement and more of a fight. The chasm is deepening not only between Christian and non-Christian but even among the various Christian groups, it is becoming deeper.

There are a great many terms that are out there to describe each group, but the terms I feel may be helpful are traditional versus progressive. Now, this is an oversimplification because even within each of these groups there are differing views. Ultimately, for Christians, it begins with what level of authority one gives Scripture and that authority centers mostly on how one read the Word of God. Again, this is an oversimplification. Why do I say that? Because of a varying view of how one defines “authority.” As I unravel this thread, I find that I am made all the more keenly aware of the complicated nature of how to discuss this. If I say that we are to read the Word of God, plainly, many will interpret that as meaning “literally.” This is not the same thing. Traditionally, a plain reading of Scripture would “as it is written.” This does not make it any easier as there are those that will parse it further in order to make a case in which one could say that each view holds the authority of Scripture equally though different.

So, here it becomes difficult.

How does one minister in these new waters?

How can we find reconciliation?

As I write this my heart is aching because I can’t give any definitive answers, but prayer. In prayer, I seek to find answers that will drive action. But like the apostles were told by Jesus, I wait. I am sure that the disciples, right after the resurrection, were itching to get out and do something. That is why Jesus said, “Wait.” Waiting is not necessarily inaction, but a time to see it all laid out and giving time for a full revelation. This is my journey now, as I wait. I do believe that God is at work and there is a reason for this heaviness on my heart.  So, for those of you that read this, I have one request. Before you respond, pray. Pray with me, pray for me, and wait.

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Myths of Man

Little girl reading a bookOne of my favorite genres of reading is SciFi/Fantasy. Being transported to a mythical world where everything is possible. My imagination gets racing, and I used to idealize these when I was a teen and young adult. Now, I find it hard to believe personally, but I have entered that point that is often called “middle-aged.”  Even so, my love of SciFi/Fantasy has not gone away. Stories are great for teaching lessons and making a point more subtly.

Early in my faith journey, this love of stories really made the sharing of the faith easier. It is nice to be able to look at the Word and find connections to life. Sometimes, it does hit a little closer to home for some because with any good story it will be relatable to most people. This may cause a little poke to someone that is not ready to admit the issues that they are struggling with, people like to wear masks, and until they are ready to take them off, it can be dangerous to remove them. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, when exposed they most probably will bite.

Unfortunately, the risk of storytelling in our post-modern age is even it what is being told is true and historical it may not be believed as anything more than a story. That is what has happened to many when it comes to the Holy Scriptures. The history of the Bible has been, for many, reduced to an ancient myth like the Epic tales of other ancient cultures. We find warnings of this throughout Scripture.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

(2 Timothy 4:1–4, ESV)

As I have shared previously about my journey from Evolutionism to Creationism, this journey has been a process. Now, I didn’t buy the whole idea that we evolved from ape-like creatures or that all life evolved from a single-celled organism. The millions of years was not an issue and the idea that the biblical account of Creation was just one myth about creation was what I had believed. It was what I was told. Even in Seminary, I was taught that it was just one of the many Creation Myths that can be found in ancient writings. At the time it made sense, and that is what the professors taught so it must be true. However, it didn’t sit right. One pivotal moment in Seminary was when the professor began a class by stating that, as he believed, all the Gospels were not historical accounts of the life of Jesus but political documents written for the early Christian followers.

How does one who is educated and is entrusted to teach to faith come to such a point? It begins in whose authority you trust. If the Bible is just a book of spiritual stories that are a way to being a better person in touch with the creative being that brought all things into life, it can become easier to move away and explain away much of the Bible as a book of myths. In High School, I was introduced to Joseph Campbell and one of his most influential writings, The Power of Myth. This was probably one of the best and worst influences in my spiritual life. I say that because in what he wrote I was given insight into the mind of many academics that confront the faith today. Worst because it enticed me to not follow Christ early in my life and helped to lead me into a different path for a time in my life. That is the danger of the type of thinking that we have today that causes us to not necessarily trust in Scripture. With groups like the Jesus Seminar and the like that only spiritualizes the Bible and does not see it as historical in any sense we see beginning with Creation to the Flood to Abraham to the Exodus and all the events that occur between as being nothing more than mythic tales it is easy to begin to look at the New Testament in the same light. Each portion written not as it was written but as one great Epic to help teach us how to understand ourselves and God, which may go by other names to other cultures and is within their stories also. Some may find this to be a jump in logic, but it does not take long to find where this is occurring.

It is the common words we hear in Genesis 3, “Did God really say…?” When the seed of doubt is planted and the validity of the Bible account is questioned, where does our faith begin to lie? In the ideas of men? Or in God? So, it begins. Now I know the arguments of the scientific method, is it is testable, repeatable and observable. With that in mind, it is true that the account of the Bible does not meet that standard established in the 17th Century. The other reality is that neither does the Big Bang Theory or Evolution. The idea of Evolution has never been observed, is not testable, and is not repeatable. The same is true with the Big Bang. So, it seems to be a matter of faith, at least from my perspective.

So, here my journey leads. As a follower in Jesus Christ, I have chosen to stand on the Word of God as opposed to the ideas of man. As I stand on that Word, I find confidence. I trust in what was inspired by God for man to write down. I choose to trust in the historical narrative recorded in Genesis. It’s not a setting aside of rational thought or a lack of trust in science. I love to learn about science and how things are created. I love technology. The last I looked none of the the things of science have come from nothing, I have not had my laptop evolve into a faster better computer, nor have I seen an explosion generate something other than rubble. This view is one that places my faith not in ideas that try to explain away God, but in the wondrous gift that God has given us in His Creation. God has given us brilliant minds that have been gifted for the benefit of all creation. That has never changed. Some of the greatest minds were faithful believers and trusted in the Word of God. Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t those in history that haven’t misused ideas drawn from biblical understanding not unlike the rise of eugenics that came from the ideas presented by Charles Darwin. Truth be told, we are sinful. That does not mean the Word of God is wrong. No matter which way we look we will have to submit to a set of assumptions. One could assume that the Bible is the true, inspired Word of God and that the historic narrative of Genesis is as it presents itself, the account of Creation and God’s work within His creation or one could base his/her understanding of Creation based upon the ideas of human beings.

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Why Creationism? Part 2

Tamara Bauer - Little Girl Reading

© Tamara Bauer | Dreamstime.com – Little girl reading

Now there is some great pleasure that is derived from reading Scripture as it is written and how it comes to life. Some would argue that to believe Creationism, however, is contrary to science and to believe it means that one must set aside any logical thinking. This I disagree with in many ways, particularly when the “great” Evolutionary Science minds like Hawkins, Degrassi, Nye, and the like will criticize those who believe in God but then teach and talk about us coming from stardust or being seed planted by an advanced alien culture. The reality is that when it comes to origins, we can either believe in God and trust in the Bible or in the thinking of man. The Bible warns us of this often. In fact, this began in Genesis. We read in Genesis 4 with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, then we hear about Cain’s descendant Lamech (the first bigamist and the second murderer), and as we read in the 6th chapter that tells us how the thoughts of man were evil all the time. Evil is anything that is contrary to God. I know that that is hard for many of us to hear since even the best of us do things contrary to God’s will. This was the reason that God entered Creation as the Son, Jesus Christ.

Now we can look at the way that Genesis 1 is written, and the majority of Hebraists will state that the word for day in Hebrew, yom, when written ordinentially, with a number, it is speaking of what we understand as a literal day which it also states, “evening and morning, the  X day.” It’s true that light was created on day 1 and the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets in the Heavens were not created until day 4.  Some struggle with this reality, but let’s look at Genesis 1:14-15, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so.” God created lights in the heavens in preparation for us. Plants and animals don’t keep track of time, we do. Personally, I found it to be a greater struggle to reconcile the old earth mindset, particularly the whole idea that we evolved from ape-like creatures.  The question to ask for those of us who believe in God, is it out of possibility that God created light without a Sun? Being omnipotent, all-powerful, I believe that this is a simple act for God. Thinking of the preparation and order, in reading Genesis 1, I find that God had us in mind from Day 1 and all was done in preparation for His creation of us, the only beings created in His image.

Now the second issue that was raised in comments with friends on Facebook is one that I would like to spend a little more time on. That is the idea that there is a contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2, that they are two different Creation accounts. The problem that was brought up in the discussion was how in Genesis 1:27 it reads that man and woman were created at the same moment. Genesis 2, however, first creates man, and then creates woman. Oddly enough this is not the normal argument that is used for the contradiction argument. In a plain reading, this is easy to understand because Genesis 2 is a fuller explanation of Day 6, particularly on the creation of man. Now, more commonly this argument looks at the statements in verses 5-7 and the plants.

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:5–7, ESV)

So, here is the supposed contradiction, but let’s also look at the verses just preceding this.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1–3, ESV)

Reading this as a historical narrative, a.k.a. plainly, meaning as it is written. We can look at Chapter 1 as the telling of how God created and then as we move into the close of this in Chapter 2 in which we see how God rested, not out of necessity, but example. The seventh day of rest was not for God’s benefit, but to set aside a day in which we should rest, like God. In this, we also find how God created seven days, for our benefit. Then we move into the next verses, and a transition is clear within the narrative. However, there are those that will argue as we read about the plants in verses 5 it speaks of the “bushes of the field” (siah hassadeh)  and “plants of the field” (eseb hessadeh). The key term is “of the field (hassadeh). These would be the plants that would be cultivated and harvested. The Hebrew was written in this way and in a plain reading this can be clear. If one desires to read this as myth for the purpose of justifying the millions of years, it will definitely be an area of justification. The garden is a specific place set apart by God for man and woman.  It makes sense since we are God’s special creation as we, as man and woman, are created in the image of God.

Personally, I love this part because we find how God had planned for us and the special gift of man and woman for one another. The original plan of marriage was laid out for us in this area also. A perfect partnership and God’s use of the rib to create the woman out of the man shows the uniqueness of the complementary relationship between man and woman. Originally, it was meant as a partnership, but because of sin, it has been less then what God desired. There is so much more that I could speak to in this, but at this time I will leave some for another posting.

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Why Creationism?

As I have grown in faith, I have been on a journey. Growing up in a family that one may deem semi-religious with a father that was not a church person and a mother that was somewhat I did not have what one would call a strong biblical upbringing, though, I did have some great influences in my life in and out of my family. There have been a great many ways that God has prepared me in the faith which has led me to where I am today.

One of the greatest changes that God has brought in my life that has transformed and continues to transform me is the centrality of the Bible into my life. This process is ongoing and continues to work within me chipping away layers that I am often not aware of in my own living. I am not a legalist being one who believes that I must live according to Levitical law or feel bound by the legalism that many can be caught up within any religious movement. In my study and growth in faith, I have been convicted as Martin Luther urged Christians at the time of the Reformation in which he called us to read the Scriptures, the Word of God, plainly, meaning as it is written. At the time of Luther and the Reformation, there was great difficulty for him and for Christianity. The academics of the time which were also leaders within the Church were enamored with ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Plato and liked to allegorize much of the Word of God. Now allegory can be useful in application and understanding. However, allegory can be dangerous because it may cause one to see the whole of Scripture as being meant to be read as allegory, a story meant to point to something greater.

Most often this begins with Genesis 1. Growing up, I was taught Evolution in school. This wasn’t problematic overall, though, I never bought into the evolving from ape-like creatures bit but the Big Bang, Billions of years, and the evolution of animals all seemed to make sense since that was what the scientists said. As God worked upon my spirit, this changed from evolution to Intelligent Design, and now I am a Creationist. My desire is not to tell people to set aside rational thinking but to realize that the starting point of Origins is based upon belief. This belief is in Scripture as the Word of God or a belief in Naturalism which tries to define Creation as a natural event. Ultimately, it is a question of where one’s faith truly lies. The question isn’t a question of salvation for those who trust in Jesus Christ, but it makes it easier to develop a faith that may not necessarily be trusted in the biblical Jesus or may make everything into myth. The foundations of our faith are based on our trust in the Word of God. If we begin to tear that foundation down beginning with Creation as written in Genesis beginning with chapter 1 verse 1, it becomes easier to discredit and discount other aspects of Scripture as being myth and/or untrustworthy. First, the Genesis account of Creation is a story, the next to often fall is the Flood account and so on until we question the Virgin birth of Jesus, to the miracles of Jesus, to the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, so the whole of Scripture becomes a spiritualized book of stories to help us in living and it loses power over our understanding of life and how we should live our lives.

 

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