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Human Traditions

open book
 
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”  Matthew 15:1-2

This wasn’t a concern over hygiene.   This was a concern over religious rules. The Pharisees and scribes were upset that Jesus’ disciples didn’t pay homage to their human traditions. 

In the verses following, Jesus not only didn’t pay homage to their human traditions, he attacked them. 

We all have our opinions about the way things should be in the church.  Maybe we prefer the way things “used to be.”  Maybe we prefer things change to accommodate our culture’s tastes and preferences.  In either case, we must be careful that God’s Word take priority over everything.  A desire for the modern and the new can be as dangerous as hanging on to the old if our motivation isn’t to proclaim the true Word of God, with Jesus Christ at the center.

Our vicarage in Ghana rid me of a slavish view of churchly traditions.  Worshipping under a tree will do that:  no pipe organ, no kneelers at the simple wooden altar, no stained-glass windows.  In fact, no windows at all (or even a roof!).

But the Word of God was there.  Jesus was proclaimed.  His body and blood were received with thanksgiving.  And the faithful praised him in songs that still reverberate in my mind, more beautiful than any church choir I’ve heard since.

Traditions aren’t bad.  They often tie us to the past in wonderful and meaningful ways.  But our calling in the church is to connect people to the unchanging Word of God with the unchanging Savior at the center.  If our traditions are hindrances, distractions, or obstacles, then it’s time to move on.

You don’t have to wash your hands before dinner.  Jesus says so.

Gracious Father, in our sinfulness we often care more about human traditions, rules and ideas than we do about Your Word.  Forgive us.  Give us passion, by Your Spirit, to connect people to the live-giving Word that proclaims our Savior from sin.  When we are distracted by human traditions, bring us back to Your Word.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Silas

silhouette of kneeling man
 
“And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”   Acts 15:39-41
 
The Church Year calendar marks today, February 10th, as the commemoration of Silas, also known as Silvanus. A leader in the early Christian church in Jerusalem, Silas joined Paul on his second missionary journey following the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Little did Silas know what he was in for.
 
The second missionary journey of Paul was a struggle in many ways. While Paul and Silas were able to bring encouragement to new believers, the threat that this “new religion” brought to established Judaism led to persecution and imprisonment. Holding true to the testimony of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, meant that they were not simply unwelcome, but that they were putting their lives at risk.
 
But even in prison, God worked through these men. Their hymns of praise to God touched the hearts of others, including the jailer. Even in the darkest of circumstances, giving thanks to God and the goodness of Jesus, lives are changed.
 
Thankfully, most of us will never find ourselves in prison because of our faith. While Christians may not find themselves behind bars of steel, how many create prisons of their own where they lock themselves away from others, fearful to even talk about their faith lest someone might be offended? It is time that we pray for a boldness of the Spirit who can help us break free from any prison that we might create and share Jesus with others even as Paul and Silas did in prison.
 
The prison account of Paul and Silas in Acts 16 was not the end of the road for them. Their mission work continued for years and though they faced additional persecution, their message and ministry never ceased. May God grant us such boldness in our families, our communities, and nation.
 
Prayer: Lord Jesus, your suffering and death for my sins has given me freedom from the guilt and punishment that should have been mine. As your beloved child, help me to use this freedom to tell others about you that they too may receive what is only available from you. Grant me a loving and gracious tongue to speak your praises now and forever. Amen.

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Rest for Our Souls

book on top of table and body of water
 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Rest seems to be in short supply for a lot of us.  Our schedules are too full.  Stress comes from every direction.  Worry and anxiety are constant companions.  And good, solid, sleep is hard to find.

 
We need rest.

But Jesus isn’t talking about physical rest here.  He’s talking about rest for our souls.  And though it’s certainly related to physical rest, it’s not the same thing.

Rest for our souls comes with the assurance that Jesus has taken the heavy burden of sin, death and hell for us.  Rest for our souls comes with the reminder that no matter what suffering, temptation or trial we’re enduring – it all ends well through faith in Christ.  Rest for our souls comes with the promise that Jesus teaches us and leads us in the midst of whatever is harassing us.

We still need physical rest.  Our minds and bodies have limitations, and when we attempt to exceed those, we pay for it.

But more important even than physical rest is rest for our souls.  And it’s found only in Jesus.   He’s the One who paid for our rest!

I’ve always loved the lyrics from this classic hymn:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well (it is well)
With my soul (with my soul)
It is well, it is well with my soul!

Gracious Father in Heaven, You sent Jesus to bear our burdens for us, so that we might have rest for our souls in the midst of whatever challenges we face.  Remind us of His love, and continue to give us rest through faith in Him.  In His name, Amen.  
 


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Great Cloud of Witnesses

landscape shot of white cross during daytime
 
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
 
“Our churches teach that the remembrance of the saints is to be commended in order that we may imitate their faith and good works according to our calling.”   Augsburg Confession Art. 21
 
While many Christian churches, including Lutheran churches, have such names as St. John, St. Luke, St. Paul, etc., it is not especially common for Lutherans to talk much about or consider the lives of the saints. Yet as the reformers of Luther’s day recognized, there is much we can learn from the saints in how they lived their lives. Many of them lived in cultures that were very hostile to the Christian message, not unlike our own.
 
In the opening pages of the Lutheran Service Book (the new hymnal) you can find a list of commemorations that include many saints. These men and women often gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel and now are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” described by the writer to the Hebrews.
 
Later this week is the commemoration of Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos. If you’ve read the book of Acts, the names are probably familiar to you. Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, worked with the apostle Paul in Corinth after fleeing persecution in Rome. Like Paul, they worked as tentmakers in the city. They became so committed to the faith that their lives were changed and they joined Paul on his missionary journey to Ephesus where they established a home that was welcoming to new Christians in the area and travelers through the region.
 
Apollos was also a student of the faith who served with Paul. He traveled to Corinth bearing witness to Christ. An eloquent man, filled with the Spirit, some have even speculated that perhaps Apollos might be the unnamed writer of the book of Hebrews. Whether he is or is not, his love for the Lord remains a shining example for us today.
 
Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, as well as the apostle Paul, were all sinners in need of a Savior, just like us. By God’s grace, they were called out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Gospel, just like us. May God grant us the boldness to share our faith with others, just like them.
 
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the men and women who have gone before us in faith and have shown us what it is to fully dedicate our lives to you. Deepen our faith, increase our trust, and embolden us to give witness to your saving grace for the sake of Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.

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Lessons I’m Learning From Job (Part 3)

cross stand under purple and blue sky
 
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, 27 whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another (Job 19:25-27).
 
Lesson number three:  Victory is assured!

Everybody, including Job, could agree on one thing—he was in a bad place in life.  He lost his fortune, his land, his animals, his servants and his children.  Then he lost his health in a most painful manner.  They disagreed on why Job was in such a terrible condition.  Those who came to comfort him actually caused him more pain as they accused him of some great wrong for which he was being punished.  They also disagreed as to the manner in which Job’s peril could be rectified.  Job’s friends told him to finally confess the sin that he must be keeping secret from the world, but is known to the Lord.  Job’s wife provides a more terminal answer to Job’s problems:  curse god and die!

In chapter 19, right in the middle of the Book of Job, the man who suffers physically, emotionally and spiritually proclaims the truth that will give him the ability to withstand the pains and the problems of this world.  “I know that my Redeemer lives,” says Job, “and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26). 

Paul Harvey was a popular radio personality who, each day, provided news and commentary.  Often he would have a segment, which he called, “The Rest of the Story.”  He would speak about forgotten facts about historical events and personalities.  Then he would end with a surprise twist and concluded by saying, “And now you know . . . the rest of the story.”

Job knew the rest of the story.  In the midst of his suffering Job knew the rest of the story.  He knew that there was more to this life that our mortal existence.  Job knew that the perfect life we seek is coming.  Job knew the Lord would return to take His faithful followers to heaven where there will be no suffering or sorrow.

This knowledge—this faith—wasn’t a magic wand to make Job’s present problems disappear.  It was the Lord’s promise of life eternal that gave Job the patience to preserver.

This is the same promise given to you by the Lord who created you, who saved you through the cross, who rose from the grave to prepare a place for you in His eternal glory and who will come again to take you to heaven.  This is the peace that passes understanding in the midst of our earthly trials and troubles.  This is the comfort we have when life doesn’t seem fair.  This is the promise that raises us above the challenges of life and keeps our eyes fixed on Jesus, looking forward to His return and an eternal perfect life.  You know the rest of the story!
 
Prayer: O, Holy Spirit, so often the problems I encounter cause me to take my eyes off Jesus.  I can get discouraged, disappointed and dejected.  Keep me strong in faith.  I know the rest of the story and I look forward to Jesus’ return and an eternity spent with You, my God.  I pray in the name of Jesus’, my Savior.  Amen.

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