Recently the news has been distressing. World events are shaping up to throw the world back into war and turmoil in the none-too-distant future. Islam is rising once again as a threat of a power and nature not seen in the western world since about the time of Luther. He called them "the Turk." Our nation is changing swiftly right before our eyes as the government ignores the constitution and establishes something very much like an oligarchy or a plutocracy, the rule of a few and by the rich. The president usurps congressional power by decreeing law, congress does not defend its constitutional authority, and the courts affirm the loss of the constitutional division of power and checks and balances by legislating from the bench, which has never been their proper role. The history unfolding before us is eerily similar to the collapse of the Roman republic in the days of Julius Caesar.
This nation and its liberties were wonderful gifts from God, and many of those who possessed them, and benefited greatly from them, have rejected the gifts, and figure that they can do better without those gifts than with them in place. Although I am addressing political realities, I am not being partisan, no political party is taking up our cause to preserve our nation and its liberties. Everyone, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and many radical fringe-groups, seems to be looking very shortsightedly at what is in it in the near future for them. As a political thinker I would be absolutely despairing, but my faith keeps me sane - well, as sane as I ever have been.
My faith tells me God is in charge, and that He loves me, and that thought the world may go to hell in a hand basket (literally), I and the people of God are safe and secure.
First, I do not anticipate that God is going to change the downward spiral I see in this country politically and economically. This country is formally at war with Him and His Church. It has been for some time. That is why you cannot mock Islam without public condemnation, but blasphemy is considered witty, artistic, forward-thinking and cool. Most so-called Christian church bodies have rejected Christ and the Word of God and are advancing the demonic agenda of the "left." Even those that appear to be politically and socially conservative often reject the Word of God and such marvelous gifts as Baptism and the Lord's Supper - at least as being anything like sacramental. When you firmly deny the Word of God in Scripture, you also deny the Word of God in the flesh. So my faith does not comfort me by saying God will step in and turn things around for the sake of His people, and we shall recover as a nation. It could happen, but as I read about ancient Israel, I find little reason to think God cannot do without America, or raise up a better place elsewhere, if He should desire to do so.
My faith does not tell me that I and the Church will stand at the side and watch misery and misfortune descend on the pagan hoards. I think about Jeremiah the Prophet and I understand that we could be spared, but we could also be in for the ride with everyone else, and perhaps - I should say very likely - we are in the front lines of the troubles to come because we are Christ's people, and we will be called on to bear our confession before the world in the most difficult of ways, as our middle-eastern brethren are doing and have been doing for some time now.
The time appears to be coming in America when "playing church" and "pretending to be Christian" is going to be far too costly in very human terms for many to bother or even want to. I do not look forward to such a time. I have no illusions about the heroic nature of my faith, or my strength of character. I am a sinner, and I am allergic to pain. I pray I do not see such days, regularly. I also pray that I will have the strength to endure in whatever circumstances the Lord shall see fit to put me in. Then I pray that His will be done.
My faith tells me that God is in charge, even when His enemies seem to be doing so very well. My faith tells me that He loves me and all those that are His with a perfect and undying love, even when my outward circumstances tempt me to wonder about that. My sinful flesh does not share my faith. It cowers in the corner, so to speak, whimpering.
In order to maintain an even-keel in life, I have to look at the world around me through the prism of the Word of God, and the promises of God, and the cross of Jesus Christ. Some days are better than others in that regard. God is constant and good, but I have to remind myself constantly through the Word of God and prayer about who I am and what reality is, not just respond to what it looks like to my intellect.
I know, brother pastors, prayer is not a means of grace. I find the grace of God in the Word of God, and by the blessing and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is just where I talk with God about what He has shown me in His Word, which reminds me to turn back to the fountain of grace in the Word. Plus, I believe God is actually listening to my prayers, and will answer every single one, without exception. He may not give me the answer I crave, but He will give me the answer that I need.
As good citizens of the world, which every Christian is called by God to be, we must look at the world around us and do what is possible for us to be a blessing to our neighbors. That is how we serve God. We must vote intelligently, no matter what your reason and conscience say is the right vote. It does not have to match my or any other person's idea of what is right. God gives you your insight and the world around you to educate yourself by watching and thinking and even pious contemplation. We cannot ignore the world because we plan to go to heaven, or because we have our own little piece of it securely tied down (or so some might think). We serve God also by serving our neighbor and we serve our neighbor by passing through this world circumspectly, doing what good we can while we are here.
But we don't want to lose the comfort of our faith as we consider the world. The world is a passing thing, but it is ours to work with and work in while God gives us life in this world. Our tasks may be religious, or may be secular, but God gives them to us and us to the world to make the difference by being His faithful people and living in this world as though all that we believe is true, because it is!
Our vocation in this world may be something that seems unimportant and inconsequential to the progress of the world or of the church in the world, but it is what the Lord has given us to do and to stand faithfully in, doing our level best for the blessing of our neighbor and the praise of God. Our estimate of the significance of our lives or deeds is not the one that matters. God is the Judge. This is why Paul talks about not even judging himself in 1 Corinthians 4: But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
Paul was writing about the stewards of the mysteries of God, pastors, needing to be found faithful, which isn't precisely what this newsletter article is about, but very nearly. We want to be found faithful by the Lord, and He would have us be faithful in more than just our doctrine. Doctrine is a good place to start, and essential, I believe, but what you do with doctrine is significant too. Practice, the things you do as a child of God, is really nothing other than doctrine in action. We not only want to know the truth, we want to believe the truth as well. If you believe it in any meaningful sense of "believe" it will shape your actions.
That is why how we do worship, for example, is so important. What we do in liturgy reflects what we believe, about God, about the nature of worship, about ourselves, about His Word, and so forth. Certain worship behaviors are incompatible with our theology. That is why we cannot, for example, worship in a manner that shows that our amusement during the worship service is ultimate, or we confess that worship is all about us, and we need to be entertained. On the other hand, we have to keep grace and forgiveness foremost and not communicate (which can also mean "confess") that the rules are of ultimate significance. The Law is good and true, but the Gospel has changed our relationship with the law by the forgiveness of sins.
One thing I believe, on the basis of Scripture, is that our true worship is how we live from the end of the Sunday morning service to the beginning of the next one. We worship by living as those who know that sin is sin and deadly and to be avoided when possible. We also live as those who understand that it is not possible. We sin.
Our lives also must reflect the confidence of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. That means that sinning is not okay, but it is going to happen, and that applies to others around us as well. We need the forgiveness of sins, and God has poured it out richly upon us through Jesus Christ for our welfare and benefit and not because He needed it somehow. So, when someone sins against us, living out a faith in the Gospel means that we forgive others because they need forgiveness, not because we feel in a forgiving mood or find some personal benefit in forgiving them.
Living out your faith, the true worship - Romans 12:1, would include living as though you trust God to take care of you, to provide for you, to answer your prayers, to keep you so that it is safe to confess Him openly even though it is not necessarily physically safe. Those things are reflected in how you handle sickness, adverse happenings, crushing disappointments, hostility of the world around you, and things like that. I am not going to prescribe precisely what you must do or how that will look in every circumstance because I can't. I am not that smart, and I cannot imagine all of the situations everyone who reads this will find themselves in. I just know that how we respond should be based on what we believe about God and life and death and such things.
We worship God by living out what we believe, or by living our lives in the light of it. Same thing. Because we are sinners by nature, we do not do it perfectly or consistently. Some people do a far better job of it than others. I think God gives those people to us so we can be inspired and see what is theoretically possible. But even sin in our lives calls on the child of God to confess the faith that the absolution is for them and is perfectly valid while they are not worthy. Either Jesus meant it when He said, "It is finished!" or He did not. What do you believe?
This is where that little rant at the beginning of this article comes in. I was not trying to be depressing or political, I was making the point that this world can get us all worked up. It will, if we forget to work everything out in our minds from the perspective of our faith in God. I try not to focus too much on the politics of the world because it is such a powerful temptation to fear and to forgetting that God's ways are not my ways and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts. I would have the world run differently than it is, and yet I know that if God is running it, it is going just as He would have it go. Which means it is good, and He will guard and keep me.
That faith does not absolve me of doing what I can to the benefit of my neighbors, however. I am here for a reason. He has placed me in this place in time and geography to be His servant and to be a blessing for the people around me by how I do church stuff, and by how I live the non-church part of my life. I am called to be His child in whatever circumstance I find myself.
You live in a world just like the one I live in - because there is really only one world. And everything I said about what God would expect or desire from me is true for you as well. Just don't let anything in your life turn you away from the hope and expectation of the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
Nothing in this world is really worth it - and God is really in control.
Yours in the Lord,
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