Sunday, October 16, 2011

Not By Might

1 Chronicles 16:11 

Look to the LORD and his strength;
   seek his face always. 

Isaiah 40: 28- 31  

Do you not know?
   Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
   and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint. 

Psalm 18: 28-29
You, LORD, keep my lamp burning;
   my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
   with my God I can scale a wall. 

Human nature proves that our strength is limited and finite.  We need food and drink, sleep and periods of rest, to sustain us.  These laws of nature that govern our bodies reminds us there is One higher than nature upon whose gifts we are ultimately dependent.  CS Lewis writes "God is the God of Nature, her glad creator.  It is He who sends rain into the furrows till the valleys stand so thick with corn that they laugh and sing.  He is the God of wheat and wine and oil" (Miracles, 184).  All the good gifts of nature, which remind us of our mortality and dependence, point us to the Giver who breathes life into us at the point of conception, and renews us each day of our lives with daily bread.  Martin Luther writes on the fourth petition in the Lord's Prayer:

God wishes to show us how He cares for us in all our need and faithfully provides also for our earthly support.  He abundantly grants and preserves these things, even for the wicked and rogues.  Yet, He wishes that we pray for these goods in order that we may recognise that we receive them from His hand and may feel His fatherly goodness towards us in them. 

Therefore it is not by our might that we stand.  God's Word speaks of our finiteness:  "as for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more" (Psalm 103: 15-16). However, with these sombre reminders comes a sure promise that God knows our tender frame, that he remembers that we are dust. And that in his steadfast love he calls on us to seek him so that we may receive daily refreshment when we grow weary from our faltering strength and the burden of sin that clings so closely.

Psalm 68: 9-10

You gave abundant showers, O God;
   you refreshed your weary inheritance.
Your people settled in it,
   and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor. 

Jeremiah 31: 25

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Church Authority

Galatians 2: 1-10:

Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.

2 Timothy 1: 13-14

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Titus 1: 9-11

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

Christ taught us to "watch out for false prophets" and to outwardly recognise them by their bad fruits (Matthew 7: 15-16). One way of ascertaining the false shepherds among the sheep is by testing and discerning their faithfulness to the orthodox teachings of the church. Those handed down to us by the foundation of the prophets and apostles. Those who call themselves the Lord's anointed and walk contrary to sound doctrine, refusing to submit to the apostolic authority of the church, are to be resisted, rebuked and if push comes to shove, excluded from the Christian community (2 Timothy 4:2, Titus 3:9-10).

Outside of the church community, there are no pastors, elders, deacons or bishops. False teachers may call themselves that, and wear these titles before their name, but by their lack of submission to God's Word they show themselves to be apostles of Satan. Unlike Paul, who for fear of running his race in vain, privately submitted to the apostles in Jerusalem. Recognising the authority given to James, Peter and John, Paul set before them the gospel that he preached to confirm that his ministry was ordained by Christ, so that they might extend to him the right hand of fellowship.

Apostleship comes by the Word, is built on the Word, and is to be forever tested and trained by the Word. That Word is Christ who calls people to the true ministry of his word, and sustains them in their priestly office in spite of hardships, persecution, beatings, imprisonment, etc. Those teachers who despise the way of the cross, and hold onto worldly authority for unjust gain and personal power, show themselves to be false shepherds, lifting up their own boasts and strange ideas. Letting the testimony about Christ decrease, while their greatness and cultish influence increases among the strays who follow them.

We walk among Satan's snares, and one person with mad ideas may destroy in a short time all that has been built up over many years by many true ministers laboring night and day. We learn this from experience, with great grief; yet we cannot do anything about it.

Since the church is such a soft and tender thing, and so soon overthrown, we must be quick to watch against these people with their mad ideas. When they have given two sermons or have read a few pages of the Holy Scriptures, they reckon they are in control of all learners and teachers and are answerable to no human authority. You can find many such people today, bold and impudent persons who because they have not been tried by temptations have never learned to fear God, nor had any taste of feeling of grace. Because they are empty of the Holy Spirit, they teach what they like best and such things as are plausible and pleasant to the common people. Then the uneducated multitude, longing to hear news, soon joins them. And many others who think themselves well versed in the doctrine of the faith and have been tempted to some extent are seduced by them.

Paul teaches us from his own experience that congregations that are won by great labour are easily and soon upset. We should watch very carefully against the devil's rangings everywhere, lest he come while we are asleep and sow weeds among the wheat. However watchful and diligent the shepherds may be, the Christian flock is in danger from Satan. Let us therefore watch carefully - first, every one for himself, and second, all teachers, not only for themselves, but also for the whole church, so that we do not enter into temptation.

Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians.