United with Christ in our Baptism

In our most recent class on union with Christ, we discussed baptism. In the book of Galatians, we learn:

“for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3:27″

Union with Christ begins with our baptism. What does that mean to Lutherans? Well, for us baptism is a sacrament because:

  1. It was commanded by God
  2. It has a physical component (something we can see, touch, etc.) which is used in connection with God’s promise in His Word

We Lutherans baptize infants because we believe it is a work of God, not man. It is God reaching down to touch us, to claim us, and to change us. Although the rite of baptism is not what saves us, it is important. Martin Luther said we should remember our baptism every day.

“No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire” (Book of Concord, 462)

For more posts about baptism see:

Martin Luther on Baptism

Spiritually Reborn in Baptism

Baptism, A New Beginning

Producing Fruit

I recently heard a sermon based on the parable of the fig tree from the gospel of Luke. If you don’t remember the details, here it is:

“…A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'” Luke 13:6-9

It’s meant, of course, to show the patience God has with us. He is willing to wait, and to give us the benefit of time and careful cultivation — but the rest of the story is this — if we are not in union with Christ, we will be like that unfruitful fig, just taking up space.

In the gospel of John, we learn:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. “John 15:5

If we are in Christ, we will bear fruit. Once again, we see how this doctrine lays the foundation for everything is else in our faith life. The fruit that we can expect to see in a true believer is described in Galatians 5:

” … the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

We can’t produce this crop on our own. In baptism, we’ve been united to the One who can. The more we lean into that relationship, the more we learn to depend upon Him, the greater our harvest will be. The fields are ripe for harvest today — don’t be an unfruitful fig!

For more about the fruit of the Spirit see:

Fruitful Gifts

Mmm . . . Fruit.

How to Bear Fruit

Identity Crisis

These days it seems like many people are suffering from an identity crisis. We are told that we can be anything we want to be — we can even choose our own gender! This simply isn’t realistic. The Bible says:

“For you (God) formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalm 139: 13-16

God created each of us with talents and also with limitations. He also has a plan for us, a plan that involves others. We are not just individuals; we are an integral part of the whole of history. Our identity is wrapped up in our union with the One who created us, who saved us, and who sustains us.

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

As the adopted children of God we are:

“…heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Romans 8:17

Don’t try to make yourself up — that’s bound to end in disappointment. Instead, accept your God given role as His child. His plan for you is will never fail.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

For more about God’s plan see:

Your Dream. God’s Plan. by Tiffany Smiling — Book Review

Everything According To God’s Plan & Timing

When God Says go by Elizabeth Laing Thompson–Book Review

Did You Call Dad?

One of my daughters was in an accident recently.  The road was a little icy, and a truck in front skidded, causing others to hit their brakes and pretty soon … there were quite a number of cars running off the road and spinning in circles!  Luckily nobody was hurt, but standing on the side of the road, Beth texted her sister, who lives in another state.  The first response she got back was, “oh no, did you call dad?” And she had. They laughed about it later — here they are, adults, one 40 and the other in her 30’s,  yet when trouble strikes, the first impulse is:  Call Dad!  He will comfort, he will be there for you, he will know just what to do.

The nice thing is, we all have a dad to call on.  Even if your biological dad is gone, not in the picture, or completely irresponsible, there is someone who can fill those dad shoes.  Someone you can always count on — God.  In the book of Isaiah, He says:

“fear not, for I am with you;  be not dismayed, for I am your God;  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

Not only is God there for us, He cares for us with a fatherly compassion.  Thanks to the saving work of Jesus, we are His sons and daughters.  Listen to these verses from Galatians 4:4-7

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’  So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

So don’t stress.  Whatever the problem, whatever the emergency, call God.  Call out to Him in prayer, because He is always there and waiting to listen and to help you.Make that your first thought.  He is your Abba, your Daddy.

For related posts see:

The Potter, Abba

God Will Take Care of You

O God Our Help

 

Keep in Step with the Spirit

In our second church study of the Holy Spirit, we took up a new topic — the fruit of the Spirit.  Good fruit in our lives does not come through self development — it is a gift from God.  Our redemption has a purpose — to transform us into fruit-bearers. This is called sanctification — the process of becoming Christlike.

In Galatians we find a detailed description of what this means:

“So live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with one another, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;  idolatry and witchcraft;  hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy;  drunkenness, orgies and the like.  …..

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. ”  Galatians 16:5-22

You may take note that love is central to the fruit.  The sinful acts listed destroy love, while the fruit of the Spirit increases love.  Why would this be?  Because God is love, and His desire for us as His creation is that we love Him and love one another.  We were made to live, not for ourselves, but for the glory of God.  So,

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Galatians 5:24

In other words, LOVE.

For more on the Fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow

Martin Luther on the Fruit of the Spirit

Increasing the Fruit

 

 

 

How Do You Know You’re a Christian?

This idea came from part of a sermon my husband gave earlier this month.  I thought it was worth repeating since all of us want to have the assurance that our faith is genuine.

How do we know we’re real Christians?  Well, the Bible identifies a number of ways.

First, we can know we are Christians if we confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that He was raised from the dead.  The apostle, Paul tells us this quite plainly in the book of Romans:

“…. because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved”  Romans 8:9-10

We can also know we are Christians if we love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  John says:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

We know we are Christians if we trust solely in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our salvation, not imagining we can be saved by being “good people” or doing “good works.”  Again, we read in Romans:

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”  Romans 3:22-25

If we are truly Christian, our lives will be characterized by the fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Ad those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Galatians 6:22-24

Finally the book of Proverbs tells us this that if we are God’s children, He will discipline us for our benefit. Christians are not guaranteed a life of ease.

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”  Proverbs 3:11

These are some Biblical marks of a faith that is real.  Does yours measure up?

 

 

 

A Fruit We All Need — Self Control

We’ve been using a study in our Sunday School class on the fruit of the Spirit, which St. Paul lists in the book of Galatians. This has been a long study and we’re nearing the end — self-control.  At the beginning of this section, one of the questions was about anger — what circumstances tend to make you angry? Anger is an emotion that often causes us to lose our self-control.  We all have our hot buttons, and one of mine is customer service people, or even people in general, who don’t care about doing their jobs conscientiously.  Maybe it’s because before I retired, I was a buyer, and our supervisor always stressed the need to help our customers — and our customer was anyone who called with a question or needing help.  (Hmmm … sounds a bit like the who is my neighbor question, doesn’t it?)  It was simply not acceptable to say “I don’t know” or “That’s not my job” or just route the caller to some other department.  If we didn’t know the answer, we were to find the answer and call the customer back ourselves with the exact information or person needed.  (Oh my, I fear this is becoming a rant).

At any rate, my devotional reading today was speaking right to me and the way in which I sometimes lose control.  Here is the Bible verse:

Like a city whose walls are broken through
is a person who lacks self-control.”  Proverbs 25:28

 

In other words, when we lack self-control our emotions can easily overwhelm us.  We say things we regret, and act in ways that are unbecoming to any Christian.  We may think our anger is righteous, but if we look carefully, that’s rarely the case.  Anger is generally all about us and not getting what we want.

The quote from my devotion was written by H. L. Sydney Lear:

“One valuable way of practising self-control is in checking grumbling, and an unnecessary display of vexation at petty inconveniences.  A workman has fulfilled his task imperfectly, some order is wrongly executed, some one keeps you waiting unreasonably;  people are careless or forgetful, or do what they have in hand badly.  Try not to be disturbed;  be just, and show the persons to blame where they are wrong, even (if it be needful) make them do the thing over again properly;  but refrain from diffuse or vehement expressions of displeasure.  A naturally quick, impetuous person will find that to cultivate a calm external habit is a great help towards gaining the inward even spirit he needs.”

Point taken.  I’m going to try cultivating that habit of calm the next time my buttons are pushed.  What about you? Where do you need to exercise self-control?

For more on the fruit of the Spirit see these posts:

Mmm . . . Fruit.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Fruit of the Spirit

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow

 

 

When There is No Clarity Exercise Charity

Let’s face it friends, there are times when there is no clarity.  This pandemic is an example.  We just don’t have enough information to be confident that the right decisions are being made.  We know contagion is spread by close, personal contact … but how close?  It may live on surfaces for a time …. but how long?  Masks might protect us, or at least others… do we wear them all the time?…. only inside?…. only when social distancing isn’t possible?  Gloves are helpful … but only if you change them every time you touch something different.  Infections seem to be declining …. but will there be another wave?  A vaccine is in the offing …. but how long until it can be tested and produced safely?  Certain drugs could help …. or on the other hand, maybe they’re dangerous. We should probably stay home alone …. or only with our families …. or in groups of ten or less …. or gather only outside …  or who knows?

Understandably this is causing a lot of anxiety and disagreement, even in churches.  Can we resume services?  Can we sing?  How do we offer communion?  Do we have to wear masks?  Is it okay to touch doorknobs?  Should overhead fans be turned off?  How far do we sit from one another?  Well, you get the idea.  There are a million questions, and almost as many opinions.  Some want to keep things 100% safe (not possible);  others want to behave as if everything is the same as it was a few months ago (also not possible).

So what should we do? As always pray.  Be considerate of others, regardless of their viewpoint (this is charity, or love).  Be kind, gentle and respectful in expressing our feelings (this is self-control). Put others first — do what you can to allay fear (this is self-sacrifice). Wait before judging because things will become clearer in time (patience).  In other words, practice the fruit of the Spirit (described in Galatians).  This is our calling as followers of Christ.  The crisis can tear us apart, or set us apart.  Let the world see how we love one another.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:3

For more posts on the coronavirus see:

New Month – June 2020 Clearer Vision Because of the Coronavirus

Positive Thinking

The Snare is Broken part 1

For more on the fruit of the Spirit:

Let the Fruit of the Spirit Flow

The Story Isn’t Over ….

Take Up Your Cross #2

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”  Galatians 6:1-5

Maybe you read my last post, and it made you feel guilty.  Well, we should all feel guilty because we often are.  However, just as there is a place for denying ourselves to help another person, there are times we need to ask for help as well.

If we try to reach an impossible standard of self-sacrifice, we’re in danger of deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re the perfect martyr.  We may become prideful and secretly resentful. This is sin. We need to continually “test our action” to be sure that we have the best interests of the other at heart, and that we’re not burning out by trying to do it all.  We should not compare ourselves to others, but search our motives, time and abilities so that we become the best disciple that we can be.

Sometimes this requires compromise or thinking outside of the box.  Consider some of the examples I gave yesterday:

  • Can your committee consider everyone’s ideas, then make a decision as a team?  This allows other ideas to be considered but doesn’t require allowing one person to “rule the roost.”
  • If your spouse’s new job takes them away from weekday responsibilities, can they help you with chores that can be done on weekends, or that need to be done less frequently?
  • If you children move far away, you might consider moving yourself when you retire.
  • Can that church task be undertaken at a different time that allows you to continue your usual schedule? Is there someone else you can suggest who might be a better fit for the position?  Could you offer to help some of the time, but not every week?
  • Sorry, there’s no excuse for being courteous to those who serve you.  That just requires a bit of patience and self-control (fruit of the spirit we should all be developing)

Sometimes saying no or asking for help allows another Christian to say yes and grow in maturity and faith.  Sometimes saying no is just plain selfish.  You can’t do it all;  but you must do what you can.  Pray for discernment.  Take up your cross.  The one God has planned for you.

If you missed the first post, or want to read more on the topic, see these posts:

Take Up Your Cross

Serving God with Your Gifts

Martin Luther on Serving Others

Putting Others First

A Different View of Life’s End

“We who follow Jesus Christ face our suffering and dying differently than others do.  We look to the Cross of Jesus Christ for hope and guidance and ultimately to the Risen Christ (2 Corinthians 5:15).  We, who belong to Christ through Baptism, do not measure a person’s worth by the ‘quality’ of life as limited by illness, disability, or aging.  We were of worth when helpless infants as in our Baptism God made us His (Romans 6:4), and we are still of worth in God’s care when we are helpless as a patient at the end of life (Romans 14:7-8).  We care about the dying, disabled, or elderly and attempt to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).  We bear witness to a better way, the way of the Cross of Jesus Christ in which God comes to care for us first by His suffering and dying (Hebrews 2:10) and then in our suffering and dying (Romans 8:28).”

Confession of Faith written for Lutherans For Life by Dr. Richard Eyer of Concordia University, Mequon, Wisconsin.  Learn more about Lutherans for Life by following this link:

https://www.lutheransforlife.org/