Archive for December, 2009

“Word for Today” – Colossians 4 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

Today, we come to the end of Concordia’s “Word for Today” readings for 2009.  Over the past twelve months, we have read together through the New Testament, one chapter a day.  For me, this program has been a tremendous blessing as I have been able not only to read these chapters, but also to write on them.  As 2010 begins, we will once again be reading through the New Testament in a year.  You can pick up a copy of the “Word for Today” reading schedule at Grand Central in the narthex, or you can download it as a pdf at ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com.  We will also be re-posting the pastor’s daily blogs there as well as adding some fresh comments on particularly difficult or confusing sections of Scripture.

As for this blog, you will see some new features for 2010!  As we seek to be a church that faithfully teaches God’s Word, I will be beginning a series of “ABC extras” on Mondays.  These will feature thoughts and comments from my weekend Adult Bible Class, as well as some extra material that I didn’t have time to cover over the weekend.  Yes, it’s true!  Even after I talk for an hour, there are still things I don’t get to on any given text.  This blog will provide a forum for me to cover this additional material.  It is my prayer that this will be another tool to help us dig deeper into God’s Word.

I also regularly receive theological questions, my answers to which I plan to post on this blog over the coming year.  If you have a theological question that you would like to see answered on this blog, email me at zachm@concordia-satx.com and type “Question for Blog” in the subject line.

To follow updates to my blog, you can friend request me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.  I’ll be posting notices on any updates I make to my blog on these social networking sites.  Just click on the links to the right side of my blog.  You can subscribe to my blog as well and receive notices of updates via your email.

Now, as we wrap up our “Word for Today” readings, we finish with Colossians 4.  Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae was probably written some time around AD 60 while the apostle was languishing in prison in Rome awaiting a hearing before Caesar, after being accused by his fellow countrymen of “teaching all men everywhere against [the Jewish] people and their law” (Acts 21:28).  Aware that his death is likely imminent, Paul appeals to the Colossians:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (verses 2-4)

Paul, while he is unjustly incarcerated, asks the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer and, specifically, to prayer for him.  He asks that they would pray that “God may open a door” (verse 3).  But fascinatingly, he doesn’t ask them to pray that “God may open a door” in prison so that he may gain his freedom; rather, he asks that they pray that “God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.”  In other words, Paul, even while he is in prison, does not ask for prayers for his own wellbeing, but for the wellbeing of the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ!  For Paul, proclaiming the Scriptures is more important than his personal safety, comfort, or even life!  For Paul, it’s all about proclaiming God’s Word clearly!

What is the center of your life?  Is it the God’s Word?  Or, do other personal preferences, concerns, and comforts get in the way?  As we enter 2010, before any other prayer, may Paul’s prayer be your first:  That God would open a door for you to proclaim the mystery of Christ clearly, as you should.  For there is no greater treasure on earth than God’s Word and Gospel.

“Whoever believes and holds to Christ’s Word, heaven stands open to him, hell is shut, the devil is imprisoned, sins are forgiven, and he is a child of eternal life.  That is what this book teaches you – the Holy Scripture –
and no other book on earth.”

(Martin Luther)

December 31, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

“Word for Today” – Colossians 3 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

I’ve heard the snide comment more than once, usually coming from an engaged guy’s single buddies.  Inevitably, shortly before his wedding day, at least one of his buddies will pipe up and say something like, “So, I guess you’re ready to give away your freedom!  You’re signing up for the old ball and chain!”  A statement like this, of course, is meant to evoke a visceral, almost reflexive, reaction from the betrothed as he defends his masculine autonomy:  “No!  She’s not going to tie me down!  I’ll be the same guy I’ve always been!”  The irony of his defense is that if he actually lives up to that statement, he will be a lousy husband.  For at the very heart and soul of marriage is a promise to forfeit any selfish autonomy as “two become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31).  In marriage, then, two people, gladly, willingly, and under the blessing of God, give up their lives alone so that they may live life together.

The picture of marriage is an apt metaphor, and one that is employed by the Scriptures themselves, for a person’s life in Christ.  For when a person becomes a Christian, he is called to forfeit his autonomous life for one with Christ.  As Jesus himself says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it” (Mark 8:35).  This is the background behind Paul’s words in Colossians 3.  He writes in verse 3:  “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

Notice that Paul says that a Christian has a life, but to the outside world, it is not readily apparent.  Rather, to the outside world, it often appears as if a Christian has signed up for a “ball and chain” of divine administrations, regulations, and stipulations.  To the outside world, it appears as if a Christian has forfeited his autonomous and vibrant life of fun, frivolity, and freedom for a more somber and serious spirituality.

And yet, appearances can be deceiving.  There is terrific and vibrant life in following Christ, even if that life is currently “hidden” from many.  Paul says that one day, all will see the full vibrancy of a Christian’s life: When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (verse 4).  One day, on the Last Day, all who once thought that those who followed Christ had signed themselves up for a “ball and chain” of deathly dictums from Christ will see an eternal and glorious life emerge.

One of the most popular shows of the 1980’s was Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”  Long before reality television and MTV’s “Cribs” or VH1’s “The Fabulous Life Of,” Robin Leach was whisking us around the world for an inside peak at some of the world’s most famous millionaires and bidding us “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”  And the lifestyles of these millionaires were indeed breathtaking and alluring.  After all, who wouldn’t want a mammoth mansion with every conceivable amenity?

As tempting as some of Robin Leach’s featured lifestyles might have been, the truth is, they cannot even begin to compare to a life in Christ.  For long after mansions crumble and what were once cutting edge amenities find themselves relegated to obscurity, life in Christ remains.  For life in Christ is eternal.  Rejoice in that life today.

December 30, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

“Word for Today” – Colossians 2 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

To date, it has sold 80 million copies, been translated into 44 languages, and been made into a major motion picture.  It has also raised the ire of many.  Whatever else may be said for or against Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, this much is certain:  a lot of people paid attention to it.

I’ll never forget watching readers react to Dan Brown’s book on cable news shows, as his novel shot to blockbuster status.  One reviewer’s comments especially struck, as well as disturbed, me:  “I always knew there was something wrong with Christianity,” this young man said.  “Now I know that the Christian faith is nothing more than an ancient ploy for power.  It all makes sense now!”  And even though countless rebuttals to Dan Brown’s portrayal of Christianity have been published by both Christians and non-Christians alike, I can’t help but wonder if that young man still believes that Dan Brown’s novel actually makes honest intellectual sense of Christian history.

Such attacks on Christianity, of course, are nothing new.  Christianity has sustained countless affronts from its countless enemies over what has been a nearly countless number of years.  Even when Christianity was in its nascent stages in the first century, it was attacked.  Indeed, the apostle Paul confronts one such attack in our reading for today from Colossians 2.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the Christian church at Colossae had been infiltrated a proto-Gnostic heresy which taught that the incorporeal was inherently good while the physical was inherently evil.   The goal of this proto-Gnosticism, then, became to escape the physical and rise to the spiritual.  But Paul is not impressed or persuaded by this faith system, and he warns that the Colossian Christians should not be either:

My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. (verses 2-4,8)

Two words in these verses are especially notable.  In verse 4, Paul warns his readers not to be persuaded by “fine-sounding arguments.”  The Greek word behind this phrase is pithanlogia, pithan meaning “persuasive” and logia meaning “speaking.”  Paul’s admonishes the Colossian Christians not to be persuaded by false doctrine, no matter how pithy it might sound.  The second word of note comes in verse 8 when Paul exhorts his readers:  “See to it that no one takes you captive.”  The phrase “takes you captive” is regularly used to describe the taking of spoils in battle.  Thus, those who are seeking to persuade the Colossians with their pithy arguments are really treating the Colossians as nothing more than spoils of war.  They do not truly care about the Colossians.  They merely want to conquer them and carry them into their heretical theological camp as prisoners of war, bound for hell.

Today, as in Paul’s day, there are many “fine sounding arguments” which seek to persuade us away from true faith in Christ and into a false set of beliefs, like those presented in the Da Vinci Code.  But remember that these false beliefs are nothing more than satanic tricks, meant to take you captive as a prisoner of hell’s war against truth.  Don’t fall for it.  Rather, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

December 29, 2009 at 4:45 am 1 comment

“Word for Today” – Colossians 1 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

I’ve heard the adage, “Now you see it, now you don’t,” but I never knew it worked the other way around.  Usually, this saw is quoted by magicians who are using some sleight of hand, making some relatively insignificant object “disappear.”  But while these illusionists are making things disappear, our text for today from Colossians 1 is all about something that has appeared.  It is a case of, “Now you don’t see it, now you do!”  And the thing that has appeared is not insignificant.  No, it is infinitely valuable.

“Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (verse 15).  Many biblical scholars believe that these words constitute an ancient Christian hymn, here quoted by Paul, written to confute a proto-Gnostic heresy which claimed that the spiritual and invisible was inherently good while the material and visible was inherently evil.  To such a claim, this hymn declares that the God of the universe, though once spiritual and invisible, became visible and physical in Christ.  And the visible Christ is certainly not evil.  He is perfect!  “Now you don’t see it, now you do!”

The Greek word for “image” in verse 15 is eikon, from which we get our English word “icon.”  Christ makes the God “no one has ever seen” (John 1:18), visible, corporal, and knowable.  Indeed, this is precisely what we celebrate this time of year:  That the invisible God became visible as a baby in a manger on his way to being a Savior on a cross, as Paul later says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (verses 21-22).  Notice that Christ’s seeable, knowable, physical body is that which saves us.  What we once did not see, we now see.

People all too often make a sharp distinction between their normal lives and their spiritual lives.  Your normal life is what you do Monday through Saturday, at work and at home, with family and friends.  Consequently, your spiritual life gets relegated to an hour on Sunday, when you worship an invisible Deity who remains relatively detached and aloof from your everyday life.  But this was never God’s intention.  God never meant for us to have a “normal life” and a “spiritual life.”  Instead, God, who is spiritual, descended into our normal, physical lives in Christ so that everything we do in our normal, physical lives could be done with God.  In other words, everything we do is spiritual!

Today, as you go about your “normal” business, do you do so with an awareness that everything you do is done in God’s presence?  Do you do so with an awareness that everything you do has profound spiritual significance?  Everything you do – from the way you love your spouse to the way you raise your children to the integrity that you maintain at work – is spiritual.  Your “spiritual life” is not just found in Bible readings, prayers, and worship services, it is found in everything.  Your spiritual life is your normal, everyday life, for God is in your normal, everyday life.  God is not invisible anymore.  He has come in Jesus.

December 28, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

“Word for Today” – Christmas Day – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1).  And so begins one of Christianity’s most beloved stories.  In fact, this story is so beloved and widely known, you could probably tell me the rest of Luke’s story without me quoting another verse.  The journey to Bethlehem by Mary and Joseph.  The lack of room in the inn.  The manger and swaddling clothes.  The nearby shepherds and the glorious angels.  It all seems so quaint – so heartwarming.  But for Mary and Joseph, this first Christmas was anything but the sort.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.”  The Greek word for “decree” is dogma.  Just the mention of that word is enough to make many recoil in disdain.  After all, dogma is bad, right?  It’s restrictive, legalistic, and emotionless.  If we’re talking about Caesar’s dogma, the answer is, “Yes.”  After all, it was Caesar’s dogma that sent the whole world scrambling to return to their birth towns to participate in a census, including Mary, who was pregnant at this time:

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. (Luke 2:3-5)

Such a journey in Mary’s delicate state would have been anything but pleasant or desirable.  But Mary and Joseph had to make it.  After all, Caesar had laid down his dogma.

But the story of Christmas is the story of two dogmas.  There is the dogma of Caesar, which is heavy handed and harrying.  But then there is another dogma, announced by an angel to some nearby shepherds:  “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).  Caesar issues a dogma concerning a census.  An angel announces a dogma concerning a Savior.  And this dogma is not restrictive, legalistic, or emotionless.  Instead, it is a good dogma.  It is the dogma that we can be saved from our sin by our Savior.

Eventually and inevitably, the dogma of Caesar collides with the dogma of Jesus.  And the true sinister nature of Caesar’s dogma is revealed as a campaign of persecution is launched against the Christians, who are accused of “defying Caesar’s dogmas, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).  Apparently, Jesus’ dogma of salvation threatened Caesar’s dogma of obedience to the emperor.  And a clash of dogmas ensues.

But on this first Christmas in Luke 2, we learn that a new dogma giver has come to town.  And his name is not Caesar.  His name is Jesus.  And Jesus’ dogma is better than Caesar’s could ever hope to be.  For Jesus’ dogma is one of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And the best part is, while Caesar’s dogma has long since vanished, Jesus’ dogma remains.  He is still our Savior.  Praise be to God!

December 25, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

“Word for Today” – Titus 3 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

The following is from Reuters, reporting on holiday retail sales over Black Friday weekend:

Cash was king for consumers who shopped over the Thanksgiving weekend…and that factor could have cost retailers additional sales.  Only 26 percent of people who shopped over the weekend said they used credit cards for their purchases…A total of 39 percent said they used cash, while the remaining shoppers used debit cards, the survey showed.  Consumers shunning credit cards is a bad sign for retailers, since people who buy gifts with a credit card tend to spend anywhere from 20 to 40 percent more on the gift.

What is bad news for retailers according to Reuters– consumers buying more with cash and less on credit – is good news, I would say, for consumers.  After all, by spending only the money they actually have in the bank, consumers save themselves monstrous interest charges and mountains of debt which can land some in the poor house.

Although I am quite happy to see more consumers spending responsibly, I am also thankful that the message of Christmas is about a man who gladly and knowingly spent everything he had with reckless abandon and landed himself in the poor house for our sakes.  Our reading for Christmas Eve from Titus 3 explains thusly:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior. (verses 4-6)

When Jesus appeared in history as a baby in a manger, he poured out his Spirit through Christ not minimally, but generously.  The Greek word for “generously” is plousios, meaning “richly.”  In other words, God “broke the bank,” as it were, when he gave us Jesus.

And indeed he did.  God have everything he had – even the life of his one and only Son – so that our salvation could be purchased and secured.  God sent Jesus to the poor house so that we could be rich in eternal treasures.  As the apostle Paul elsewhere says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “What Child Is This?”  I especially appreciate the second verse:

Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.
Nail, spear shall pierce him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!

These lyrics capture well the poor house, or “mean estate,” in which Jesus lie.  And the “ox and ass” were only the beginning of Jesus’ poverty.  As the carol so appropriately reminds us, Jesus would lose everything, even his life, when nails and a spear pierced him through.

This Christmas Eve, I hope that you are financially stable.  If you are not, I pray God’s guidance and help for you, that you would enter into a better fiscal season.  But whether you are financially secure or shaky, tonight, give thanks for the One who spent everything he had for our salvation.  He came to the poor house so that we, whether we are rich or poor in money, would always be rich in salvation.  Praise be to God.

December 24, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

“Word for Today” – Titus 2 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

“I, Zach McIntosh, a resident of San Antonio, Texas, being of sound mind and body and over the age of eighteen years, and not being actuated by any duress, menace, fraud, mistake, or undue influence, do hereby make, publish and declare the following to be my Last Will and Testament, revoking all previous will and codicils made by me.”

Such begins a standard Last Will and Testament.  Perhaps the most famous line in the above paragraph is, “being of sound mind and body.”  This phrase is foundational and fundamental to any Will, because it indicates that person signing it is familiar with their property and family and that they are physically well enough to sign a Will and are not doing so under any sort of coercion or duress.  In order to sign a will, a person must be sound – both mentally and physically.

In our reading for today from Titus 2, we find that the same thing needed for a will – soundness – is also needed in a Christian’s life:  “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance” (verses 1-2).  The Greek word for “sound” in these verses is hugiano, meaning “healthy.”  Thus, a Christian is called to healthy doctrine and healthy living in faith, love, and endurance.  This is a high calling.

Far too often, Christians sacrifice so-called healthy living for so-called healthy doctrine and so-called healthy doctrine for so-called healthy living.  I have seen many who have prided themselves on living well while simultaneously refusing to take principled stands on important doctrinal issues.  Conversely, I have also met many who, while priding themselves in their doctrinal purity, do so arrogantly, without the humble spirit that should mark a follower of Christ.

Trying to have sound doctrine without sound living and trying to have sound living without sound doctrine is impossible.  Both sound doctrine and sound living are needed.  Indeed, this is precisely what Paul says later this same chapter:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (verses 11-14)

Here we find both sound doctrine and sound living.  The gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ – the very crux of Christian doctrine – is taught clearly and unequivocally while a call to righteous living is upheld.

Do you hail sound doctrine over sound living or sound living over sound doctrine?  Today, take an inventory of your beliefs and your life.  Is there any area in your doctrinal beliefs that you need to clarify or on which you need to take a solid stance that you have not heretofore?  Is there any area of your life where you are not soundly living within God’s commands?  God calls us all to a sound mind, believing sound doctrine, and a sound body, practicing sound living.  May you live and believe soundly.  For this is living and believing soundly in Christ.

December 23, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

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