Christian Credentials.

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. . .” (Philippians 3:7-9)
Paul maintained that believers must be wary of all those who come in His name but are not servants, those out to make a name for themselves or amass money and prestige and who demand obedience because of their authority and credentials. Paul was not that way though he had earthly credentials and a fine Jewish heritage. He realized that salvation and righteousness do not come from our works or achievements but are the gift of God imparted to those He calls, to those He brings to repentance and faith.
Paul was not one to proclaim even his own righteousness because he knew that he was not perfect by any means. In fact as we see here he was painfully aware of his sins and shortcomings. Most leaders in the church would hesitate to admit such a thing. They want to be perceived as in control, having all the answers to all problems, with boundless energy, free from doubt as well as from the struggles of life and temptation that plague the rest of us. They want to be perceived as successful. And believers want the same thing as well. They want a dynamic preacher who has prestigious diplomas on his office wall. Many shudder at the thought of a pastor struggling with sin or doubt, or not having the solutions to their problems. Quite a contrast to Paul. He admitted he had not arrived yet at perfection. Yet he knew that his new life is assured in Christ and he wants to experience it in its fullness. That is why he pressed on in ministry, forgetting the sins of the past, knowing that he was forgiven in Christ, ignoring the deprivation and suffering of the present and working toward the glory of heaven. Such is a model for our own leaders, ones who share our doubts and struggles and can empathize with us.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

 

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Bad Fruit.

“For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:7)
The symbol of God’s people as a vineyard is quite common throughout the Bible. The fruit is symbolic of the works of godliness that the Lord expects from His vines, from His people. Unfortunately, Isaiah indicated that the grapes were bad. He then pronounced judgment with great passion for he felt the Lord’s sorrow and disappointment at the rebellion of those He loved. The bad fruit they produced was to be judged for the people of Judah had been involved in defrauding the poor and needy and their neighbors through greed and selfishness. They reveled in drunkenness and debauchery. They were arrogant toward and scornful of the Lord. They rejoiced in evil and pervert goodness. They exploited others through injustice. They were puffed up with pride.

I think in some ways, Isaiah’s indictment reflects modern day America. Many Americans are greedy and materialistic, not just the rich but the middle class and even the poor. Many are proud, self-reliant and self-centered. They have no need for a God who tells them what is right and wrong. Many do not care about the suffering of the poverty-stricken and politically oppressed peoples who inhabit third world nations. American businessmen consistently exploit the resources as well as the people of those same nations. Celebrities and politicians alike exploit use the public to maintain their wealth and prestige. American justice often favors the rich, the famous and the politically powerful who routinely evade the law with impunity. American culture has redefined what sin is so that what is evil is promoted as good and what is good is considered harmful and destructive to a free society. And in some ways many Christians have embraced this culture and become complicit in these sins. Time for repentance.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Jesus’ Authority

“And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:23-27)
In this chapter, Jesus confronted the Pharisees, the religious rulers of the Jews. They resented His popularity among the Jewish people. Their animosity increased enormously in a short space of time because they felt threatened by His challenges to their authority. Earlier He confronted them when He entered Jerusalem in triumph and the people hailed Him as King and Messiah. Jesus increased their outrage when He chased the moneychangers out of the temple area. He then refused to tell the Pharisees the basis for His authority for doing what He did because their request was insincere, designed only to trip Him up and gather information to use against Him.
When we speak to people in the world about Jesus, they often feel uncomfortable. They resent Him. They challenge His authority and His existence as well as the Scripture itself the avenue of God’s truth and wisdom because these threaten their self-centered worldview. They maintain that they alone, not God, not anyone, determine how they should live and what they should do with their lives. Such people may make us uncomfortable because we do not know how to answer them. Yet we should ask them on what authority do they base their beliefs? On what basis should they or anyone live a good life? On what basis should they do good to others rather than ill? What authority do they use to make any decisions about ethics or morality? We who have faith in Christ have Him as our authority. Over two millennia He has provided stability and peace to millions who trust in Him. Can the world make any such claim?
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Sour Grapes.

“What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezekiel 18:1-4)
The proverb to which the Lord refers is what the people of Judah in exile in Babylon felt: they were being punished for the sins of their fathers and ancestors not their own. The sins of Judah had reached their peak in Ezekiel’s generation. The punishment was well earned, for the sins of the fathers had repeated themselves in the children. They did not realize the extent of their own sin. They had no idea that they had done wrong, no clue that what they were still engaging in their detestable idolatry and immorality.

The underlying motivation for making such a statement was that the Lord was unfair and unjust. The same statement about God being unjust and unfair is often made today. Why should we suffer for sins committed by others? The Lord, however, is fair and just. He judges each one separately according to his own deeds and sins, not the sins of others, though we often suffer because of the sins of others. In addition, we all tend to repeat the sins of those we respect, fear or emulate such as parents, other family members, teachers, celebrities, and politicians. They are supposed to set a godly example for us but often lead us astray.
In the Kingdom of God, no one can blame someone else for their sinfulness nor for the punishment it brings. Faith with its accompanying repentance and righteousness will remove the ultimate penalty of eternal separation from God. Those who refuse to repent, who continue in wickedness and excuse their sins as “lifestyle choices” will find only condemnation for their sinful ways. It is up to the church to be prophetic and warn them of the danger before it is too late.

Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

Spreading the Gospel.

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

Philipppians is the most personal of Paul’s letters written to a church that was wholeheartedly in support of his authority and quite resistant to false teachers. Although he was writing from prison in Rome, he did not complain about it. Rather he thanked God for these faithful brethren and thanked them as well for their sincere partnership with him in the ministry of the gospel. This partnership was also with the Lord and with other believers. It was the driving force which empowered Paul’s work of preaching the gospel. The Philippian believers supported him with prayer and finances which endeared them to his heart. He, in turn, prayed that the Lord would continue to sanctify and strengthen them so they could share in his work and enable him to continue the ministry despite the obstacles he faced.

Perhaps Paul was concerned that the Philippians were becoming discouraged over his imprisonment and because of the prevalence of false teachers out seeking their own profit. He feared such things would hurt the cause of Christ. Naturally when we see false teachers personally benefitting from preaching a false view of Jesus we want to stop them. And when we face obstacles and problems that seem to hinder the work of the ministry we tend to get upset and aggravated. Yet Paul does not see these tribulations as a reason to shrink back from preaching or from living a life pleasing to God. Rather, such obstacles can be overcome and nullified if we see them as opportunities to spread the good news about Jesus.
http://www.trinityhicksville.org/spreading-the-gospel/

Spreading the Gospel

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)
Philipppians is the most personal of Paul’s letters written to a church that was wholeheartedly in support of his authority and quite resistant to false teachers. Although he was writing from prison in Rome, he did not complain about it. Rather he thanked God for these faithful brethren and thanked them as well for their sincere partnership with him in the ministry of the gospel. This partnership was also with the Lord and with other believers. It was the driving force which empowered Paul’s work of preaching the gospel. The Philippian believers supported him with prayer and finances which endeared them to his heart. He, in turn, prayed that the Lord would continue to sanctify and strengthen them so they could share in his work and enable him to continue the ministry despite the obstacles he faced.

Perhaps Paul was concerned that the Philippians were becoming discouraged over his imprisonment and because of the prevalence of false teachers out seeking their own profit. He feared such things would hurt the cause of Christ. Naturally when we see false teachers personally benefitting from preaching a false view of Jesus we want to stop them. And when we face obstacles and problems that seem to hinder the work of the ministry we tend to get upset and aggravated. Yet Paul does not see these tribulations as a reason to shrink back from preaching or from living a life pleasing to God. Rather, such obstacles can be overcome and nullified if we see them as opportunities to spread the good news about Jesus.
Trinity Lutheran Hicksville

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