Agreeing to Disagree.

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Romans 14:1-4a)
How should we respond to Christians with different opinions on things? How much fellowship, if any, can we have with those believers who do or believe things that we do not approve of as Christians?

The problem Paul addresses concerns opinions on disputable matters, those taboos or prohibitions, those things we believe to be unacceptable Christian behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. His counsel is that we should remember the grace and mercy we have received and not judge our fellow believers in the area of disputable or non-essential matters, areas in which Christians can have different opinions, those gray areas that the Bible does not condemn and those things about which it is silent. We must love and respect our brethren in the Lord at all times, even when we disagree.

Paul labels the Christians with many scruples as those whose faith is weak. The weak do not grasp Christian freedom. They think that Christianity is a matter of following strict rules. Perhaps they also do not understand salvation by grace. Perhaps they still believe that works are efficacious for salvation. The weak have many scruples, many taboos, many things they feel are the ways of righteous Christian living.

The strong on the other hand, have few if any scruples about external behaviors. Paul is obviously with this camp. He shared the broader view of the Christian life. Strong Christians understand Christian liberty, the freedom which allows believers to become involved with many areas of life and culture without becoming contaminated or defiled or falling into sin. The strength of their faith protects them from error and sin. They are not licentious, but believe in honoring the Lord in all things.

The weak were more dependent on traditions and written laws to keep them from sin than on the Spirit of God. The strong can discern between what is sinful and what is neutral. The strong use the discernment given to them by the Holy Spirit. They believe that the Holy Spirit will guide them into all truth, that He will guide them and show them all the things necessary for Godly living.

We are all accountable to God for our actions. Yes, the church must discipline sinners, and the legal authorities must punish evil doers, but Christians ought not judge the veracity of the faith of another believer for whom Christ has died. We ought not reject or condemn someone as an unbeliever simply because we disagree with his actions and views on non-essentials.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

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In God’s Plan.

“But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21)As we recall, Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery many years before. After the death of Jacob, their father, the brothers feared that Joseph would now exact his revenge. They were wrong. Joseph comforted his brothers by reminding them that he had forgiven them long ago.

Joseph was a godly man who had grown in wisdom through the trials and joys of his life. He had experienced the grace of God and had not only been blessed but had been a blessing to others. He saw the big picture, that the sovereignty of God had worked all things out for His own glory as well as the salvation of His people.

As we see from this incident in the life of Joseph and his family, God is sovereign over everything that happens in the world including natural disasters, sickness and the free acts of mankind. Nothing ever takes Him by surprise. Everything that happens occurs in accordance with His plan even evil and sin. It is also within the Lord’s plan to discipline us which means we will have to endure painful and difficult circumstances in life. These work out His sovereign plan even as they help us grow. Though we may have to endure with difficulty, ultimately, at least for we who believe, we can endure with hope and faith. And as we endure we can reach out to others and comfort them with the same comfort we have received.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Forgive.

“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” (Matthew 18:21-22)
In this passage Jesus teaches a lesson on the necessity of forgiveness. Jesus tells His disciples, He tells us that we have a duty to forgive, an obligation, a responsibility to forgive those who have offended or sinned against us, primarily to those within the fellowship of the Kingdom of God.

Doesn’t this agitate you? If someone came and cursed you and belittled you seventy-seven times in one day, you would have to forgive him. Once you could do this, two or three times maybe, but by the fourth time most of us would be ready to smack that person around. Maybe you have felt that something someone did to you was unforgivable, or someone did something evil to one of your loved ones, your wife, your son or daughter, your parents, or perhaps a friend. How would you feel toward a person who abused your child? How would you feel about someone who has murdered or accidentally killed someone you love? Would you think to yourself “I can’t forgive that person? That person did something that was unforgivable?” Despite how we may feel about forgiveness, Jesus tells us that we have an obligation to forgive those who injure us.
What Jesus wants us to do is what he did for us. Didn’t He forgive us while we were still sinners? Didn’t He forgive those who crucified Him? He did not wait for our response before He took steps to forgive us. Since we are forgiven in this manner, we ought also to do the same.
Forgiveness is the choice of the injured party. In forgiveness, I no longer require or expect the offender to change. Reconciliation is dependent on both parties acknowledging the truth about the behavior. This is impossible if offenders continue in the offensive behavior, especially if they are emotionally abusive or hostile. I cannot be reconciled into a relationship that is harmful to me. Forgiveness does not mean that I cannot set boundaries on the relationship to avoid further injury.
Forgiving does not mean that I forget the injuries, deny or minimize them. Forgiveness does not ignore the pain, the emotional hurt or the seriousness of the offense. Forgiving means that I relinquish my desire to exact judgement. When we withhold forgiveness it is almost always because we want justice. But that justice has already been satisfied on the cross. I must let go of revenge: the debt owed me cannot be repaid. Which of the offending party’s sins were not forgiven at the cross? If we continued in unforgiveness any longer, we would be making a mockery of the cross.

Forgiveness is the duty of every Christian. God has canceled an enormous debt of sin for each of us. We have no right to withhold forgiveness of a debt which is minuscule in comparison.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Set a Godly Example.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:3-6)
In this passage Jesus addresses issues concerning living the Christian life and how what we do and say affects others. He addresses this by teaching about setting a good example for children. Young children are very trusting and impressionable. Their naïve trust leaves them open to the corrupting and evil influences of the media as well as mean-spirited and abusive people and well-intentioned but selfish or unthinking adults and parents. Children observe and imitate the speech and behavior of most adults for they trust them.

Jesus condemns those who lead the innocent astray in very forceful terms that ought to make us think carefully about our own behavior and speech in the presence of children. But His condemnation should also make us aware of how our speech and behavior as believers can affect both other believers and nonbelievers alike. Specifically, as believers we ought not to be so quick to condemn or curse those who sin against or offend us. We should never rush to judge or to expose the weaknesses, ignorance and sins of others. Such behavior may give the observer the idea that the Lord is merciless and cruel instead of loving and patient. We should seek to extend mercy and forgiveness at every opportunity so that the erring ones may come to repentance.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Respect the Government.

This post will be especially appropriate today because of the widespread disrespect for our government and our president. While our governing authorities are far from perfect and even corrupt, the Lord has placed them in authority over us. We must respect and obey just laws while disobeying those that are unjust. Though I do not engage in protests or demonstrations, and think believers should not be involved in such, those Christians who do so must always refrain from violence and breaking the just laws about such assemblies.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” (Romans 13:1-3a)

When we read the first verses of Romans 13, we see that what Paul says is fairly obvious and straightforward. There are no hidden meanings, no secret codes. Consequently these words rankle us in America, depending on who is in power. Paul tells us that we have an obligation to respect government and obey the law. Why?

First of all, governments are in power by the providence of God. They derive their authority from Him. Thus obedience to them is obedience to God. Failure to obey government shows disrespect for God’s authority.

In addition, governments are ministers of God to punish evil doers. As long as we are good, do not break the law, do not cheat on our taxes we have nothing to fear. The law holds no terror for those who do good. We must submit to governments and laws for they can exact just wrath and punishment on us as the sword of the Lord.

The final reason to do good and obey government is for the sake of our own conscience. Many of us like to disobey if we think we won’t get caught. Who’s going to know if we cheat on income tax, or steal something in a store or at work when no one is looking? And yet our conscience will condemn us in the sight of God Who sees all.

So we must subject ourselves to the law, deliberately surrender ourselves to its authority. This submission involves respecting those in authority, obeying the law and paying taxes. What Paul does not tell us here is what to do if the government sanctions things that are evil, or commands us to do things that are sinful. Many people use all sorts of excuses to avoid obeying. Some even claim that they do not want to pay taxes as a protest against the oppressive tyrannical policies of an evil Satanic government. Why support or even obey such a government?

But didn’t Jesus Himself command us to do so? Didn’t He say, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s? By saying this, He upheld the authority of the government of Rome, an ungodly, cruel and oppressive power. Jesus maintained that government, even an evil power such as Rome, is also a force for good. Governments protect the rights, property and lives of private citizens from anarchy, violence, robbery, assault and murder, not perfectly, but they do. We must obey laws that are just and fair, but are not obliged to obey those that are sinful or opposed to the Kingdom of God.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Nobody to Blame But Yourself.

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 33:7-9)The words the Lord speaks regarding the watchman indicate that He cannot be labeled as unjust or unfair for carrying out the judgment on Jerusalem or on anyone else for that matter. The Lord had extended mercy to the people of Jerusalem many times. He had sent several warnings to those living in Judah and in exile in Babylon. They had been warned repeatedly of the dire consequences of their sinfulness. They had been called to repentance. They ignored all these warnings and continued to live in idolatry and self-indulgence. As a result, they brought doom and destruction upon their own heads.
What we learn in this passage is that all people bear personal responsibility for all their actions, as much as they and we would like to forget that. Consequences in the form of material loss, broken families, injury, sickness and death often times are the result of personal sin. Sometimes people blame others as if they themselves had no culpability at all or they have decided that someone is to blame as is the popular mindset in the USA. Many times people blame God for the consequences of their sins as if it were undeserved. While it is true that suffering is not always the result of personal sin, all suffering is, ultimately, attributable to sin, the sin in the world as a result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Yet, by the mercy of God all suffering can lead any sinner to Him.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Responding to Evil.

“To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:20-21)
How should we Christians deal with racism? What should we do in response to the unrest that is sweeping our nation? The words of Saint Paul teach that it is not with demonstrations, violent or not, or angry and unkind words, or even the destruction of statues or statutes. Paul tells us that we should try to live in harmony with all men, as far as our actions and attitudes are concerned. We should never compromise with evil, or accept the false as true, but we should never respond to the sins and abuse of others in kind. It does not matter how others act, we believers have no excuse to do evil to anyone. There are means we can use to see that justice is done through the legal system. But we are not to sue for revenge, or exact recompense above what is fair.

We are instead to always be doing good for others, not merely refraining from evil, but actually doing good. By doing so, we heap burning coals on their heads, not to burn them with punishment but to burn them with shame so that they may see their sins and repent. When they see how good we are to them despite how they treat us, when we return good for evil, they will feel shame. Psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists and educators tell us that shame is for it destroys self esteem. But those who sin ought to feel shame: it will lead them to repent. But we ought to do good to people who do bad to us. They will feel shame and maybe they will repent and end their wicked behavior. Maybe they won’t. Then it is up to the Lord to exact His justice.
What Paul is commanding us to do is exactly what Christ did on the cross. Though Jesus was persecuted and despitefully used, beaten and crucified, he continued to trust God and to do good. He did not cry out “You miserable, ungrateful wretches, you stupid idiots, don’t you know I’m suffering and dying for you.” No, He cried out “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!” He didn’t come down from the cross and destroy his enemies. He did not return evil for evil. He Remained on that cross dying for the sins of the very people who were sinning against Him. He continued to seek their good unto death.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville