For Others

“Christ first takes possession of the conscience, and when it is right in faith toward God, then he also directs us to do work toward our neighbor…   God does not desire the Christian to live for himself.  Yea, cursed is the life that lives for self.  For all that one lives after he is a Christian, he lives for others.”

—Martin Luther,
Homily for Trinity 19, Church Postils.
Emphasis added.

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A Calm Place in the Wind

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Early on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, tornadoes and strong winds blew through Wisconsin’s Fox Valley.  The pictures in this post show damage from the tornado that destroyed buildings and trees in Freedom, WI.  No lives were lost directly from the storm itself.

Whenever disaster strikes, it is a call to repentance and faith.  God will protect His faithful in Christ, if not in this life, then in the next.  On the cross and through the tomb Christ weathered the worst storm of all: death itself.  Of all men, He alone came through, and is now our calm place in the wind.  “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!”  (Matthew 8:27, KJV).  No matter how weak and small we are God can and will protect us.

The pictures in this post are from the same area where about 110 trees were snapped, splintered, and ripped out by the roots.  In the picture below there are two plants: one sturdy old evergreen that had weathered many a storm, and a potted plant.

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One tipped over, the other didn’t.

“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32, KJV).

The Beautiful Road

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Sometimes life is a beautiful one lane road through quaking aspen on a gorgeous autumn day.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9 NIV1984).  When we begin traveling down a road, we don’t really know where it will lead or what will happen.  In a sinful world this causes doubt and worry, but in a perfect world our lack of knowledge and curiosity would fill us with purpose and wonder alone.  Discovery is part of the enjoyment of life.

For the Christian, heaven will be a land of discovery, and every new revelation will fill us with additional wonder and awe at the greatness of God.  The best discoveries will not be about the place of God, but rather the persons of God as our relationship with Christ, the Son, introduces us to the greatness of His Father and Spirit: the Trinity.

Like the picture, there are bends in the road of life around which we cannot see.  One of the bends in the road is death.  Through Christ alone can we explore beyond that bend into eternal life.  Jesus is the beautiful road.  He is the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Him.  (John 14:6).  He is the path to endless discovery.  Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  (John 6:37 ESV2011).

This particular earthly road led to the Fern Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.  There were a few rain drops, but it was a beautiful hike.  To see pictures from the Fern Lake Trail, please see the previous post: “We Should Enjoy God’s Creation Today.”

Dark Clouds

Maybe these clouds are too dark.  Sometimes life seems like it will be darker than we will be able to handle.

This storm of whirling air blew in on Thursday.  At some point, all human life and human organizations experience severe turbulence.  These storms and sufferings in life are caused by sin.

Pride goes before a great fall because pride is unaware of the relentless corruption of sin.  (Proverbs 16:18-20).  We live in a world of make-believe where we often delude ourselves into thinking everything, even that which is evil, is good.  However, it is better to know and repent of sin, than through pride to be deceived and think that all is well, when all is far from well.  When a delusional blind man falls, he falls hard.

Jesus says, build on the rock so that when the storms of life come, we will stand the test.  (Matthew 7:24-27).  By building on the rock, he means that we should meditate on his word and receive his sacraments, so that they go down deep within us.  (Psalm 1:2-3).  The Lord’s word enlightens and enlivens, it changes who we are; and when we are changed, how we live is also changed.

The enemy is like a stealthy and anxious tiger.  His keen eyes burn with fear and hate, and he seeks to devour us.  (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan has asked to have us so that he might sift us all like wheat, but the Lord Jesus prays for us so that our faith will not fail.  (Luke 22:31-32).  The Good Shepherd reaches out his hand, and we are saved.  (Matthew 14:30-31).

The tiger is one of the few animals that will attack when it is afraid.  In part, this is what makes tigers so dangerous.  But even the tiger runs from the Good Shepherd.

Luther Quotations on Faith

The following are five quotations from Martin Luther on the subject of faith.  They are taken from What Luther Says, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, Volume I, pages 477-479, paragraphs 1412-1415, and 1420.

Luther contended that salvation is the free gift of God, and therefore could be received only though faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God.  Says Plass regarding paragraph 1412: Faith is “a work performed in us rather than by us.”  Faith is a divine work that produces all the other works below it.

Paragraph 1412:

Faith is full of life and power.  It is not an idle thought.  It does not float on the surface of the heart, as a goose does on water; but it is as water that has been warmed by fire.  Although such water remains water, it is no longer cold but warm and, therefore, an entirely different sort of water.  So faith, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, makes the mind and the thinking of a person different and thereby makes an entirely new man of him.  Faith, then, is an active, independent (difficilis), and powerful thing; and if we want truly to evaluate it, we should call it an influence (passio) on us rather than an act (actio) performed by us.  For it changes our souls and our views.

Paragraph 1413:

Do not think lightly of faith.  It is a work that is of all works the most excellent and the most difficult.  Through it alone you will be saved, even though you were obliged to do without all other works.  For it is the work of God, not of man, as Paul teaches (Ephesians 1:19).  The other works He performs with our co-operation and through us; this alone He works within us and without our co-operation (sine nobis).

Paragraph 1414:

Faith is a divine work which God requires of us; but He Himself must give us the strength to do it.

Paragraph 1415:

It is a mistake to place faith and its work alongside other virtues and works.  Faith should be elevated above all and regarded, as it were, as a sort of constant and general influence above all works, through the movement and activity of which everything that is in man is sent into motion, works, is vigorous and pleasing.

Paragraph 1420:

A Christian modestly says to God: Dear Lord, although I am sure of my position, I am unable to sustain it without Thee.  Help Thou me, or I am lost. — He is indeed certain of his position, as Peter was on the water (Matthew 14:29).  Peter could not be more certain than he was.  The water was supporting him.  He saw no obstacle in his way.  But when the wind came rushing on, he saw what was lacking in him.  This must be taken well to heart.  For although we are sure of our position, have Scripture, and are covered and armed with clear passages in the very best way, yet our security depends on the power, the will, and the might of God, who protects us and defends us against the devil, our adversary and greatest enemy.

But this happens that God may make us determined and yet keep us fearful, so that we are always filled with concern and cry to Him: O Lord, help us, and increase our faith (Luke 17:5); for without Thee we are undone.  At heart we should always feel as if we were just beginning to believe today, and every day we should feel as if we had never heard the Gospel before.  We must believe anew every day.

Excerpt from “Through the Looking-Glass”

The following is an excerpt from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.  It is a conversation between Alice and the White Queen:

“I’m seven and a half exactly.”

“You needn’t say ‘exactually,'” the Queen remarked: “I can believe it without that.  Now I’ll give you something to believe.  I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”

“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.

“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone.  “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”

Alice laughed.  “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

The White Queen is of course mad.  She can believe anything because she chooses her beliefs.

Sin is a sort of dark madness through which we often delude ourselves.  Contrariwise, the truth is a rock.  We receive truth as a gift, not a choice.  (James 1:17-18).

“The Bondage of the Will” Quotation

We are free in matters that are below us.  For example, we can choose the color of our socks or to help our neighbor.  However, we are not free in matters that are above us because they are beyond our abilities.  For example, life and faith are above us, and can only be gifts from God.

Martin Luther considered his work “The Bondage of the Will” to be one of his best.  It was written in response to Erasmus who asserted the freedom of man’s will in spiritual matters.  Said Luther:

Before man is created and is a man, he neither does nor attempts to do anything toward becoming a creature, and after he is created he neither does nor attempts to do anything toward remaining a creature, but both of these things are done by the sole will of the omnipotent power and goodness of God, who creates and preserves us without our help; but he does not work in us without us, because it is for this he has created and preserved us, that he might work in us and we might cooperate with him, whether outside his Kingdom through his general omnipotence, or inside his Kingdom by the special virtue of his Spirit.

In just the same way … before man is changed into a new creature of the Kingdom of the Spirit, he does nothing and attempts nothing to prepare himself for this renewal and this Kingdom, and when he has been recreated he does nothing and attempts nothing toward remaining in this Kingdom, but the Spirit alone does both of these things in us, recreating us without us and preserving us without our help in our recreated state, as also James says:  “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of his power, that we might be a beginning of his creature” [James 1:18]—speaking of the renewed creature.

But he does not work without us, because it is for this very thing he has recreated and preserves us, that he might work in us and we might cooperate with him.  Thus it is through us he preaches, shows mercy to the poor, comforts the afflicted.  But what is attributed to free choice in all this?  Or rather, what is there left for it but nothing?  And really nothing!

— Luther’s Works, Vol. 33, page 243.
(Emphasis added).

Faith is above us, therefore, faith “is the gift of God.”  No one can boast because faith is not by works, choices, or cooperation.  We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and this (faith & grace) is the gift of God.  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Through His Word of promise, God alone gives faith and God alone preserves faith.

On the other hand, the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do are below us.  (Ephesians 2:10).  That is where we cooperate with God.  As Luther says, God “preaches, shows mercy to the poor,” and “comforts the afflicted” through us.  Because of God we do these works willingly.  (Philippians 2:13).

God works through us to do His work here in this world.  His Word from above creates in us new life and new impulses so that we willingly do His good will.  It is God alone who gives us life and faith and makes us clean and holy so that according to his will we willingly do the good works that are below us.  (Philippians 2:13).  And in heaven we will be rewarded for those good works.  (Ephesians 6:8).

But the good that comes from above is a pure gift.  (James 1:17-18).  Faith, from beginning to end, is a miracle from God: a working of His divine power to raise the dead to spiritual life.  Faith is not partly God’s work and then partly our work any more than life itself is partly God’s work and partly our work.  Yes, we live, but the life we live is the life God gives.

Likewise, we believe, but faith is God’s gift of trust and spiritual life.  The Word of promise creates faith.  “When we believe, our hearts are brought to life by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s Word.”  (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIIA (V). Repentance, 44-46).

A living tree produces fruit.  Life comes from God, and the life in the tree gives life to the fruit.  The fruit does not give life to the tree.  Those who resist the Holy Spirit and refuse to produce fruit, may lose life.  (Luke 13:7).  But God alone makes alive and preserves life, and it is because of His life in us (faith) that we produce the fruit of life (good works and choices).  Even though we can willingly do the good works below us that God has prepared for us to do, the life and faith that comes from above is God’s work alone.  (John 6:29, 15:16).

After conversion, can a Christian perfect faith by choosing to believe?  No.  True faith by definition is founded on only Christ, and not at all on our will, choices, or decisions.  (Matthew 16:17 and 1 Corinthians 3:11).  Christ alone is “the author and perfecter of our faith,” therefore, we must “fix our eyes on Jesus” and not on our choices.  (Hebrews 2:12).  Christ makes faith secure.  “On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”  (CW, 382).  Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  (John 14:6).  Like life itself, faith, from beginning to end, is a gift that comes from above.  (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Therefore, we should diligently pray, “Increase our faith!”  (Luke 17:5).

Give Thanks for Thanksgiving

In a good sense, Thanksgiving is about what we do: we give thanks.  In a better sense, it is about what we have to be thankful for.  All the living have something for which to be thankful.  In the best sense, Thanksgiving is about the God who has given us every good thing.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”  (James 1:17).  So let us give thanks in everything and at all times.  God gave us these gifts, and continues to give, not just so that we have, but so that we would be thankful.  One of the best gifts God gives is a heart full of thanksgiving: a heart that recognizes its need and is grateful for every thing.  And that is his goal: not just to give us good things, but to make us good things.

That is the Law & Gospel: that we so profoundly do not deserve what in Christ we so abundantly have.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16).

Give thanks for true thanksgiving, forever.

Abortion is an Issue of Religious Faith

The following article and photograph were first published in The Forum, the student newspaper of Valparaiso University School of Law, as part of a regular column entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  The purpose of the article was to assert that the pro-choice position is based on blind-faith.  The two dogmas of this blind-faith are: first, some living human bodies are not people; or second, it is morally acceptable to kill unwanted human beings.

Edict:  “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins,” but if life begins at conception, we have decided that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.”

— Harry Blackmun, Roe v Wade.  410 U.S. 158, 159.

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The pro-choice movement says that women should be allowed to destroy their fetuses.  This means that mothers may either kill their children, or that fetuses are not persons.

An assertion that fetuses are not people is made by faith, however, because it is a physical fact that fetuses are individual-living-human-bodies.  Modern technology makes their human characteristics plainly visible.

No one can prove that she is a person beyond the fact that she has a body.  This is because there is nothing beyond the body that can be measured.  A credo that denies the person-hood of any living body must define person by the presence of a spirit or some other invisible quality.  The reason that this philosophy must base the definition of person-hood on an invisible quality is because it has chosen to deny its benefits arbitrarily.  There is just no scientific reason to say that only some animated bodies have a spirit while others do not.  It is simply a matter of blind faith.

Some religions imagine, through blind faith, that women are sub-human and not real persons…  So also, the Feminist religion says, only by blind faith, that the human within is not a person.

Another “feminist” philosophy may recognize the person-hood of fetuses, but still maintain that they should be killed if they are not wanted.  This is also pure dogma, however, because there is no evidence that the world is a better place, either physically, morally, or spiritually, by any attempt to kill “unwanted” people.  It has never worked in the past, it isn’t working now, and it will never work.

The personal hubris of such a faith is incredible.  For anyone to think that they are morally qualified to intentionally kill another innocent human being is the ultimate in self-worshiping idolatry.

This killing is based on the presumption that individual people can act competently in the place of God, making decisions of life or death based on their own intelligence and experience.  It is a faith in man and his limited ability to morally decide which innocent people should live and which innocent people should die.  It is an evil concept; and it is murder.

Judge for yourself:  Did God grant an irrevocable right of life to all people?  Or is life just a privilege of the strong?

“You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates.  They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”

Deuteronomy 12:31.

Writing of the Historic Church

Someone will perhaps ask, “Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation?”  For this reason: because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another, so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters…

Moreover, in the catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.  For that is truly and in the strictest sense “catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.  This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.  We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

What, then, will a catholic Christian do if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith?  What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member?  What, if some novel contagion seek to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole?  Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty.

—Vincent of Lérins

Treasury of Daily Prayer, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 2008 A.D. pages 1160-1161.

Jesus promised that he would be with his Church “always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 27:20).  This means that the Scriptures are able to be rightly understood by all generations.  However, the “Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.”  (1 Timothy 4:1).  The delusions of these deceiving spirits are so powerful, that if it were possible, they would “deceive even the elect.”  (Matthew 24:24).  Therefore, as we look to the Scriptures, we must trust Christ’s promise that he would always be with his Church, that the faith would never change, and that this unchanging continuity from the early Church can provide us with guidance and protection against the powerful delusions and false spirits of our present day.