Archive for November, 2011

ABC Extra – “Rejoice…Always!”

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)!  This verse has always frustrated me.  Not because I think it is somehow incorrect.  Quite the contrary, I believe the command to rejoice is a divine and a good command.  No, this verse has always frustrated me because I’m no good at it.  The command is clear:  I am to rejoice in the Lord always.  I, however, seem to manage to rejoice in the Lord only sometimes.  There are plenty of moments when I either find my joy in something other than the Lord or I lose my sense of joy altogether.  I fail miserably at following this command.

It’s far too easy, when reading a verse like this, to chalk up Paul’s language here to a bit of hyperbole – a bit of overstatement just to make his point.  “Surely Paul wasn’t being rigidly literal!” we might whisper to ourselves.  “As long as I rejoice in the Lord sometimes, or even most of the time, I’m sure the Lord will be content with my best efforts.”  But when our God gives commands, He does not hand out “A’s” for effort.  He actually expects us to follow His mandates.  And this mandate is clear:  We are to rejoice in the Lord always.

But how can this happen?  On the one hand, we must confess that it doesn’t happen – at least on this side of heaven.  As I admitted above, I certainly fall short in the joy department.  But I can rejoice that God forgives me through Christ for my lack of rejoicing.  As with every other command of God, this is a command which we do not – and, because of our sinful natures, cannot – follow.  On the other hand, it is important to note that Paul does not give this command to rejoice without offering us a roadmap to joy when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  In verse 4, when Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord always, the Greek word for always is pas.  In verse 6, when Paul tells us address everything with prayer and petition, the Greek word for “everything” is pas.  Here, then, is how we are to rejoice in the Lord during everything – we are to encounter everything with Him through prayer and petition.  That trial that we face – we are to face it with the Lord.  That triumph that we enjoy – we are to enjoy it with the Lord.  That question that we have – we are to ask it to the Lord.  We are to live our lives with a keen awareness that we live with the Lord.  For as long as we are with the Lord, we always have reason to rejoice.  This is why Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

Rejoicing, then, begins not with an effort to conjure up joy, but with an awareness of God’s continual presence.  It begins with an awareness that, as Paul states, “The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).  He is near in time – for His second coming is imminent.  And He is near in space – for He promises to always be with us.  And when you are aware of God’s presence and closeness, which is an indication of His care, concern, and compassion for us, it’s hard to anything but rejoice…always. 

Want to learn more? Go to www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s message or Pastor Krueger’s ABC!

November 28, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Christ Alone

Human beings tend to be attracted to either legalism or antinomianism.   Legalism describes when a person adds to the Law of God, creating rules, regulations, and stipulations which God has neither commanded nor forbidden.  Antinomianism is when a person subtracts from the Law of God, claiming autonomy to do whatever he wants.  In the Bible, the Pharisees are legalists.  They continuously add their own laws to God’s law (e.g., Mark 7:3-4), creating “heavy loads and putting them on men’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4).  Satan, on the other hand, is an antinomian.  In the Garden of Eden, he calls into question the veracity and gravity of God’s law.  After God warns Adam not to eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil under penalty of death, Satan declares,  “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4)!  Satan seeks to subtract from what God has said.

Interestingly, legalism and antinomianism often go hand in hand.  The legalist Pharisees, at the same time they add to God’s law, also “let go of the commands of God and hold on to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8).  In other words, given the choice between holding to their own legalist traditions and letting go of the true law of God, they always choose their own legalist traditions.  They subtract from God’s law at the same time they add to it.  The antinomian devil, at the same time he rejects God’s law, also initially tempts Adam and Eve with a question:  “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’” (Genesis 3:1)?  God did not say this.  He only forbid eating from one tree in the garden, not every tree.  Satan adds to God’s law at the same time he subtracts from it.

Ultimately, legalism and antinomianism make the same mistake – they trade the law of God for the will of men.  And this is the problem in Philippians 3, our text from past weekend in worship and ABC.  In this chapter, Paul addresses a group known as the Judaizers, who, while being believers in Christ, nevertheless insist that a person must be circumcised according to Jewish tradition in order to be saved.  They fall into the error of legalism.  And Paul has a harsh word of warning to the Philippians and against the Judaizers:  “Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh” (Philippians 3:2).  Paul describes legalism as “dogged” and “evil.”  And he says that an insistence on circumcision for salvation is nothing less than a mutualizing of the flesh and of no value to the soul.  Legalistically insisting on regulations and stipulations, no matter how pious or holy they may sound or seem, is wicked and heinous.  It harms faith rather than helping it, for it seeks to add the work of men to Christ’s work on the cross.

Tullian Tchividjian, the senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, preached a sermon series a couple of years back with a title that succinctly explains the glory of the gospel while countering every specter of legalism.  It was titled, “Jesus plus nothing equals everything.”  Legalism tries to add something to Jesus.  Antinomianism seeks to subtract something from Jesus.  But Jesus will not be added to or subtracted from.  He alone is sufficient.  Thus, we are to find our joy, our hope, our meaning, our purpose, and our salvation in Him alone.  He is to be our everything because He has given us all that we have and promises to provide all that we need – even our eternal lives.

Do you add to Jesus with your own pious rules and regulations?  Do you seek to subtract from Jesus with, engaging in what he forbids and chasing after the own sinful lusts of your heart?  If you answered “no” to either of these questions, you’re not being truthful with yourself.  We all do these things.  But by God’s grace, we are continually called back to Christ and Christ alone.  Today, thank God that you have everything in one thing – Jesus Christ.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

November 21, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Let Slavery Ring!

“Men desire above all things to be free and say that freedom is the greatest of blessings, while slavery is the most shameful and wretched of states.”[1]  So said the first century Roman philosopher, Dio Chrysostom.  Although philosophers are known for writing convoluted and delicate treatises, there is no convolution or delicacy here.  Freedom is great.  Slavery is wretched.  The end.  Dio could not be clearer.

The reason Dio does not need to speak of slavery delicately is because, in ancient Rome, slavery truly was a wretched state.  Consider this description of slaves from Apuleius, a Roman author from the second century:

What scrawny little slaves there were!  Their skin was everywhere embroidered with purple welts from their many beatings.  Their backs, scarred from floggings, were shaded, as it were, rather than actually covered by their torn patchwork garments.  Some wore only flimsy loincloths.  All of them, decked out in these rags, carried brands on their foreheads, had their heads half-shaved, and wore chains around their ankles.  Their complexions were an ugly yellow; their eyes were so inflamed by thick dark smoke and the steamy vapor they could barely see.[2]

According to Apuleius, slavery was so intolerable that he could not bear even to look at slaves without gasping.  Seutonius, in his history of the Roman emperors, describes Augustine’s policy of, with few exceptions, allowing only free men to serve in his army:

Except as a fire-brigade at Rome, and when there was fear of riots in times of scarcity, [Augustus] employed freedmen as soldiers only twice: once as a guard for the colonies in the vicinity of Illyricum, and again to the defend the bank of the river Rhine; even these he levied, when they were slaves, from men and women of means, and at once gave them freedom; and he kept them under their original standard, not mingling them with the soldiers of free birth or arming them in the same fashion.[3]

No one wanted to be a slave.  Everyone wanted to be free.  And this is what makes Paul’s words in Philippians 2 so striking.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-7).  The Greek word for “servant” here is doulos, meaning not only a servant, but a slave.  Jesus, being in very nature God, became a slave!  And He did so willingly.  No one coerced, cajoled, or compelled Jesus into slavery.

Jesus’ willingness to become a slave is especially gripping when one considers that Philippi was a town filled with veterans and soldiers.  Thus, those who lived there prided themselves on being free men, for, as Seutonius explains, only free men could serve in the Roman army.  So Paul writes to a town full of people who prided themselves on being free about a man who willingly let go of His freedom to become, of all things, a slave.

Jesus’ willingness to let go of His freedom for the state of slavery can serve us a model for us.  After all, Paul regularly identifies himself as a doulos of Christ (e.g., Romans 1:1, Philippians 1:1).  Like his Lord, Paul is happy to be a doulos to his Lord.

How about you?  Do you pride yourself so much in your freedom that you forget that you are called to be a slave to Christ?  Slavery, when it is to the things of this world, is indeed wretched.  But slavery to Christ is glorious.  For serving Christ is hopeful and heartening.  In a world that is obsessed with freedom, we rejoice that we are slaves to our Savior!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Dio Chrysostom, Orations 14.1.

[2] Apuleius, Metamorphoses 9.12.

[3] Seutonius, Augustus 25.

November 14, 2011 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC – Pain, Suffering, and the Gospel

"The Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of more than one person nearing the end of their life.  And it always breaks my heart to see how much pain they must often endure as their body slowly shuts down and the sickness they have been valiantly fighting slowly takes over.   This kind of suffering is truly sad.  But suffering is not only physical.  Just as heartbreaking for me to watch is the woman who is being emotionally abused by her spouse or the young boy who is made an outcast by his peers.  Emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering can leave very real scars on a human heart, soul, and life just as physical suffering can.

In our text from this past weekend, we read how the apostle Paul was a man who, like Jesus, was “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).   As he preached the gospel, he encountered persecution after persecution and pain after pain.  In Philippians 1, we learn that Paul is encountering physical suffering.  He is imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel, awaiting a hearing before the Roman emperor Nero, who is not exactly a friend and fan of Christians.  And yet, even in the midst of this suffering, and his impending martyrdom at the hands of a ruthless emperor, Paul has hope and joy.  He writes to the Philippians: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).  Paul says his suffering advances the gospel.  And it does!  He goes on, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13).  As I mentioned in ABC, the “whole palace guard” could have numbered between 13,000 and 14,000 men.  That’s a lot of men who have become aware of Paul’s suffering “in chains for Christ!”  Apparently, Paul is sharing the gospel with the very men who are presiding over his suffering in chains.  He is sharing the gospel with the guards.

Much like our suffering, Paul’s suffering is not merely physical.  Paul goes on to speak of those who add to his suffering: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry…supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15, 17).  Paul has such vehement detractors of his ministry that they want to kick him while he’s down – they want to cause him trouble while he is in prison, as if being in prison isn’t trouble enough.  Thus, through their envy and rivalry, they add to Paul’s physical suffering emotional suffering as well by preaching Christ for all the wrong, selfish reasons.  And yet, even as Paul suffers, the gospel continues to spread.

The gospel has a funny – and even miraculous – way of spreading in and in spite of adversity and suffering.  In Paul’s case, the gospel continued to spread thanks to his witness to the palace guard.  Even today, adversity often serves as an unwilling and unwitting catalyst for the truth of the gospel to reach ears it might not otherwise tickle.  I think of the Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was so popular and controversial when it first hit store shelves in 2003.  Rife with ecclesiastical conspiracy theories, it became a flashpoint around which detractors of the Church and her message could rally.  But its shoddy history, theology, and ecclesiology was made quick work of by the brightest and best Christian scholars who knew the theories put forth in this book were utterly unsubstantiated.  It was only titillating conspiracy coupled with fantasy.  However, because of the big questions this book raised, many people began to study Christianity – its history, theology, and ecclesiology – and found its teachings and truths to be on much more solid ground than they might have previously expected.  Thus, the faith of many in Christ was strengthened and bolstered – and all this through a book antagonistic to Christianity.

What trials are you currently encountering?  What suffering are you currently bearing?  Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological?  Whatever form your trials and suffering may take, pray to God – that He might give you strength to endure and that He might strengthen your faith in and through your suffering.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

November 7, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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