Gift Giving

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Wages and gifts are two different things.

I realize that statement sounds like it comes from the file of “it goes without saying.”

However, there are some different ideas about gift-giving, so much so that I think it is a good idea to say something!

The different idea of gift giving that I’m talking about is that of reciprocity. That giving a gift to someone obligates the receiver to purchase a gift of commensurate value to reciprocate the gift.

But that isn’t what gift-giving was ever meant to be!

Giving a gift was originally meant to be motivated by the love the giver has for the receiver of the gift!

The greatest gift ever given was that of the forgiveness of sins – and the resultant eternal life – from God to us.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has forgiven our sins and given us eternal life in heaven. And this is a gift.

Not a reward. Not a payment for services rendered. And never meant to be reciprocal.

God did not save us in response to us either being good enough or getting close enough to him first.

It is a gift – indeed, it has to be a gift – because “people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works” (The Augsburg Confession, Article IV Justification, quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, p 33).

That is why I believe, teach/preach and confess that “people are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake” (ibid).

In other words, we are saved by grace through faith alone as a completely free gift – to us – from God.

We cannot do anything to earn the gift. Of course, then it wouldn’t be a gift at all, even if we could earn it.

God gives us this gift because he loves us. He forgives that which we did actually earn.

As St. Paul says in Romans 6, “the wages of sin death.”

We earn death and everlasting condemnation because of our sins. Another way of saying this is that a person cannot “do something good and helpful in divine things before his conversion. Because a person is ‘dead in [his] trespasses’ (Ephesians 2:5) before his conversion, there can be no power to work anything good and helpful in divine things” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article II Free Will quoted from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005, 2006 by Concordia Publishing House, p 531).

Our sins earn us hell. But thanks be to God that he gives us the free gift of the forgiveness of our sins!

But let us not overlook the truth that while salvation is a free gift, it still has a cost.

It is a free gift to us.

But it cost Jesus everything! He paid the wages of our sins with his sacrificial death on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the dead on the third day!

So, in our own gift giving we can glorify God and proclaim the Gospel by giving gifts freely and without expectation of reciprocity – just as God gave us the gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Heavenly Father, God of all grace, govern our hearts that we may never forget your blessings and always thank and praise you for all your goodness in this life until, with all your saints, we praise you eternally in your heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Take Up Your Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24

The Gospel, as the Scriptures reveal, is that we are saved by grace through faith alone, because Jesus …

…was born to be our substitute under God’s Law;

…lived perfectly to be our righteousness by faith;

…died on the CROSS to forgive all the sins of all people of all time;

…rose from the dead after three days in order that we, too, might rise from the grave one day;

…and ascended into heaven with the promise that he would come back to take all believers in him to live in paradise.

You should notice that the cross is in the middle of the Gospel!

And Jesus would tell us that if we are to “come after” him (that is, follow him and do what he tells us to do) we need to deny ourselves and take up our own cross.

Certainly, Jesus is not telling us that in taking up our own cross we are to die for our own – or anyone else’s – sins.

Only Jesus could win the forgiveness of sins through his cross.

Still, a cross is part of our discipleship. And here is what I think Jesus means:

Jesus’ act was a sacrifice of himself for the lives of all others. In following him, we also need to sacrifice ourselves for others.

Not to save them. Only Jesus can do that. But to serve them.

The Gospel gives us the power to love God and love our neighbor. We love God by responding to his love for us and serve our neighbor.

When you see someone who needs help, help them.

Help someone carry their groceries out to their car.

Help someone cross the street or go up or down stairs.

Help a mom who is dealing with three impatient toddlers in the store.

Help a dad who is struggling with toddlers in the pew behind you.

Do all this without looking for reward or recognition. You are sacrificing your time, effort, and maybe money, in order to help them.

And you are doing this because God loves you and Jesus died to save you from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

This is what it means – at least in part – to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Hold Fast

May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
2 Thessalonians 3:5

In the Church – especially in worship – we use a language and words that are somewhat unique.

Words like “sanctification,” “justification,” “canticle,” and “sanctus.” They are words that have specific meanings and, while they can be used in everyday conversation, are usually reserved for use in the Church alone.

The Church uses unique language because we have a unique message and a unique mission!

Another one of those uniquely used words is “steadfastness.”

It is a rather older English word that came from “standing fast” and a related phrase “hold fast.”

In “hold fast” we can get to the heart of this word’s meaning.

In one of my favorite movies, “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” one of the crewmen of the HMS Surprise has tattooed on his fingers the letters “h o l d f a s t.”

This is to remind himself, and anyone else near him, to hang on tightly in perilous situations.

Hang on to what, specifically?

In a storm at sea, it means to hang on to the ship – literally, parts of the ship – in order to be safe and not swept overboard.

But it can also refer to hanging on to traditions, training, and each other as comrades in any situation that you find yourself in.

This is the spirit of what St. Paul writes about in 2 Thessalonians 2 & 3.

Paul encourages the Christians at Thessalonica to “stand firm” (“hold fast”) in (to) the traditions that they were taught by him, Timothy and Silas.

These traditions are the Old Testament teachings and practices that would specifically point to the Savior, Jesus Christ.

When Jesus Christ came into this world about 50 years before Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he didn’t create a whole new religion and faith.

Rather, Jesus fulfilled the ancient religion and faith of the Old Testament – going back in time through the prophets, King David, the judges, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Noah, all the way to Adam and Eve.

This is the “tradition” that Paul encourages all of us to hold fast to. There is great comfort and strength to be found in our Christian faith as we become more fully aware that it is a religion and faith that goes all the way back to the very beginning of this universe!

As we hold fast to this faith and tradition, we are further encouraged that our faith isn’t actually in these traditions but rather in the steadfastness of Christ himself and the love of God.

A love of God that is unimaginable in that it is unconditional and not based one bit on anything that we do or don’t do.

And since Christ overcome death and the grave in order to save us from our sins, death, and the power of the devil, we have a sure rock to which we can hold fast.

We will become immovable and nothing can harm us or defeat us!

Hold fast!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Live At Peace

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:11

“I read the news today, oh boy!”

So begins the song “A Day in the Life” by Lennon & McCartney (The Beatles).

And the news that is read every day is mostly bad. Horrific. Despairing and depressing.

Yet another shooting, this time at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

No one was killed (as of this writing) but several were wounded, at least one critically.

Where I live (Chicago) the news media keeps a running tab on how many are killed by gunfire in the city each evening.

This is so very, very sad. And then, in order to heap anger on top of madness, some use these tragedies for political gain.

Can we all just get along? – Rodney King.

Apparently not.

We all have opinions about things.

One person believes this about climate change. Another person believes that.

One person believes this about gun control. Another person believes that.

One person believes this about a baby in the womb. Another person believes that.

And if I believe one thing and you believe another, does that make us mortal enemies?

Can we get along? Can we live at peace with each other even if we disagree about certain things?

If you watch the news I wouldn’t blame you if you think that it is impossible to live at peace with each other.

But I don’t believe that.

I believe that it is possible to live at peace with each other.

How is it possible?

One word: Jesus.

St. Paul admonishes us to “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace”.

How? By the power that comes from the truth, the fact, that “the God of love and peace will be with you.

Because of our original sin and actual sin, we are mortal enemies of God. But God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten Son to reconcile us to himself.

Jesus the perfect God-man took all our sins and paid the full penalty for them on the cross.

He buried our sins in the tomb but left them there when he rose from the dead.

We now have true and lasting peace with God. Through the power of the Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament) we have the love and peace of God always with us.

And that love and peace overflows in our lives so that we can actually be at peace with others as well.

We have to use this power of love and peace.

I pray that we all can live at peace with one another, love each other, even if we disagree.

But it will only happen because of the love of God in and through Jesus Christ.

It starts with God and flows to his people through the Means of Grace.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Stand Up and Bless the Lord

Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting.
Nehemiah 9:5

I’ve called it “Lutheran Calisthenics.”

“Stand up, sit down, repeat” throughout a worship service.

It is more than just trying to get people to get a little exercise while they worship, however.

If you are of a certain age, you were taught that it is the polite thing to do to stand when a lady enters a room.

Hardly anyone does that anymore. And when someone does do it they shock people! But when they are asked why they are standing when a lady enters a room they couldn’t tell you, other than “It’s the polite thing to do.” (Which is probably why most younger people are not taught to do it anymore – because those who teach don’t know why it should be done).

Standing is a sign of respect. It also is a public confession that you are welcoming the person for whom you are standing. When you stand you are signaling to all who witness it – and to the person themselves – that you are pleased to see them and are inviting them into your personal space.

I’m a big proponent for knowing – and explaining – why we do the things we do in liturgical worship. Nearly everything we do from the Invocation to the Benediction (beginning to end) has a purpose and sends a message.

Standing is one of those things. We tend to stand when we confess our sins because we are addressing the Almighty God and confessing to him that we are sinners and repentant.

We tend to stand when we sing a hymn stanza that gives glory to the Holy Trinity. If we are already standing, bowing will convey the same message – that we are addressing God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and acknowledging God as our God.

In certain liturgical settings we stand for the formal reading of the Gospel because it is usually the very words of Jesus Christ (or at the very least, specifically about Jesus Christ).

In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, a group of Levitical Priests are leading the people of Israel in a worship service of formal confession of sins. At one point they say, “Stand up and bless the LORD!

When we stand to bless (worship) the LORD (Yahweh), we are making a public confession that he is God (and we are not) and that we are welcoming God into our lives to forgive us and heal us.

We are also telling ourselves the same thing. We are reminding ourselves of our standing before God by standing before God!

This isn’t to say that not standing is improper and a sin. Some people are physically incapable of standing. And we are not bound by some law to stand or sit or kneel when we worship.

Standing is just one way of showing respect and reminding us of who we are, who God is, and our relationship with him.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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In the Meantime

“Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
Acts 1:11

Easter is a 50 Day season. On the 40th Day of Easter the Church celebrates the Ascension of Jesus Christ.

It seems a bit odd to celebrate someone’s leaving.

But we’re not really celebrating the absence of Christ, rather we are remembering that we have something to do “in the meantime.”

Jesus spent three Passovers with his disciples. During that time – about three years – he taught, prayed, healed, ate, slept, taught and prayed some more.

Then, at the third and last Passover, Jesus allowed himself to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. Enemies, by the way, that he never stopped loving and praying for!

He willingly bore all the sins of all people of all time. From the first sin of Adam and Eve to the last sin committed by the last person born (whoever and whenever that will be).

He was crucified on a Roman cross. Endured incredible, unfathomable physical pain.

But Jesus also endured something far worse. He was forsaken by God. He was damned by God on that cross. A damnation that you and I deserve because of our sin.

Jesus died on that cross. But that wasn’t the end. That was the beginning!

He descended into hell “and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water (1 Peter 3).

On the first day of the week, three days after his death, Jesus was raised from the dead for our justification!

He spent an additional 40 days with his disciples and then, on a Thursday, ascended to the right hand of the Father.

So, now what? That may have crossed the disciples’ minds as they stood there gaping into an empty sky.

Now what do we do?

Jesus is going to come back. That’s the last promise of God to be fulfilled. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.

In the meantime, we are to “get busy.”

Jesus said to his disciples – to his Church – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The word is “go.” Go live the life Jesus died to give us. Go live in the world. Don’t give in to the world, but go live in it and as you are going make disciples! You don’t get to pick and choose who you will baptize and teach – Jesus says go to “all nations.”

And go you will.

Jesus has ascended. Jesus is coming back.

In the meantime, you and I will go and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ by loving God and loving our neighbors.

In the meantime, go and love and share.

©2017 True Men Ministries

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Sharing the Love

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Luke 24:46-47

Today’s devotion contains some healthy quotes from Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions.

The reason for this is because the Ascension of Jesus happened a long, long time ago. What we know of the work of the Apostles comes to us from the Book of Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament.

There is also the evidence that the Christian Church has spread from its starting point in Jerusalem to the entire world.

By the time of the Lutheran Confessions in the 16th Century, much of the Church lost its focus and got off-track. Martin Luther wanted to bring the Church back to its roots and to its original mission: to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus.

That’s what we want to do as well. Learning from out the reformers in the 16th Century went about it will help us do the same five hundred years later.

In Luke 24, Jesus is calling the Church to proclaim Law and Gospel. This would be how the love of God would be shared in all the world.

The Church is to follow Jesus’ model of using the Scriptures to proclaim the message.

1500 years after Jesus, a group of faith Christians in Germany did just this!

Luther would write:

“All Scripture and the Word of God point to the suffering of Christ, as He Himself declares in the last chapter of Luke that Scripture contains nothing else than the promised grace and forgiveness of sin through the suffering of Christ, that whoever believes in Him, and none other, shall be saved” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works American Edition, Vol 14, p 168).

Luther has adamant that Christians know their Bibles in order to share the love of Christ with the world (and thus be fulfilling the Great Commission).

Christ himself opens the Scriptures to his disciples. If Christ does this, it must not only be important but absolutely vital to proclaiming the Law and Gospel!

And I don’t think anyone would argue that this world definitely needs to hear about the love of Jesus!

With multiple terrorist acts committed each week, with daily murder in our cities, with people all over the planet hurting, you and I have a message that can bring peace, comfort and hope to them!

We can tell them that God loves them and this is how we know:

“God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world. This is the particular office of the Gospel” (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article 4, The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, ©2005 CPH, p 278).

I suppose it has to start with us. Yes, Christ tells us to go out and make disciples. But we start in “Jerusalem.” One what to look at this is that we start with ourselves.

We have to understand who God is, who we are, and what God has done and wants to do with us.

It starts with repentance.

“… to repent means nothing other than to truly acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to stop doing them. This knowledge comes from the Law. It is not enough for saving conversion to God if faith in Christ is not added. The comforting preaching of the Holy Gospel offers His merits to all penitent sinners who are terrified by the preaching of the Law. The Gospel proclaims the forgiveness of sins, not to coarse and self-secure hearts, but to the bruised or penitent. The preaching of the Gospel must be added so that the repentance may lead to salvation and not to the Law’s contrition or terrors” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration Article V. The Law and Gospel, The Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, ©2005 CPH, p 554).

In a world literally dying to hear good news, you and I can share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Can, should, and will!

©2017 True Men Ministries

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