A Slice of Heaven

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Hartman Creek near Waupaca, Wisconsin

There is something quite beautiful about the way the pine needles shimmer in the late afternoon summer sun (that I’ve never been able to capture with a camera).  This place seems to me like a slice of heaven.

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Mist from campfire smoke and water vapor.

Even tainted by sin, God’s creation remains wondrous.  But the greatest beauty of all is God’s mercy in Christ.  In him all things will be made new.

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Mist on the creek.

Christ is much more than just a slice of heaven.  He is life itself.  (John 14:6).

God’s blessings to you.

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Live forever.

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The life we live in this world is short.  Like the flowers of the grass, we are here today and gone tomorrow.  But the word of the Lord endures forever.  (1 Peter 1:24-25).  And we have His promise of forgiveness and life eternal.  Hold fast to His word of promise.  Live forever.  (John 11:25-26).

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Encouragement from John Chrysostom:

“Do not be downcast, or give up your zeal, or become sluggish.  Rather, press onward with more eagerness; even the apostles, when they preached, although they were scourged, stoned, and constant inmates of the prisons, not only after deliverance from dangers but also in those very dangers did they announce with greater courage the message of truth.  Paul is to be seen in prison, yes, even in chains, instructing and initiating (Acts 16:24-25) and moreover doing the very same in a court of justice (Acts 26), in shipwreck, in tempest, and in a thousand dangers (Acts 27).”

Do not be downcast … do not cease good works … never fall back!

“Imitate these saints, and do not cease good works, so long as you are able.  Although you see the devil thwarting you ten thousand times, never fall back!  You might be shipwrecked, perhaps even with your wealth.  But Paul, carrying the Word, which is far more precious than all wealth, was going to Rome and was shipwrecked.  He sustained innumerable hardships.  He indicated this when he said, ‘Because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us’ (1 Thessalonians 2:18).  God permitted it, thus revealing the more abundantly His power, and showing that the many things that the devil did, or prevented from being done, neither lessened nor interrupted the preaching of the Gospel”

— John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Statutes, 1.30
as quoted in A Year with the Church Fathers:
Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year,
2011 CPH, page 253.

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Grace is like a passing shower of rain.

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This is a passing rain storm as seen from the peak of Rib Mountain, Wisconsin.

When it rained, it rained hard.  But when the sun shined, it shone with warmth and brilliance.  Energized by yellow sunbeams, mist rose above the splashed ground.

The Lord sends blessing and adversity.  Sometimes he curses.  (Genesis 3:17-19).  But even his curses are good.  For “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28, ESV).

I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the clouds rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit;
let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the Lord have created it.

Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?

— Isaiah 45:7-9, ESV.

We are here because God gave us life.  Our very existence shows that we belong.  Do God’s clay pots have no handles?  Did he make us wrong?

Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.

— Exodus 4:11-12, ESV.

The Lord calls to us.  Jesus is our righteousness.  (Jeremiah 23:6).  No matter what our calamity or circumstance, he has a place for us.  Because of Jesus we belong.

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.

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.

Words of Truth

As Christians we must be careful how we use words.  Children of God must always testify truthfully, and in order to speak truthfully we must use words correctly.

We have been blessed by God because many English words were developed in the light of his Word.  We have words like sin, good, evil, and God; and most everyone still understands the meanings behind these words and the truth they represent.

However, imagine traveling to a land where they do not have a word for the idea of sin.  Or to them the word “sinful” is associated with ideas like delicious.  Then when someone like John the Baptist proclaims, “Repent of your sinfulness,” they hear but do not understand.

When Satan speaks, he lies because that is his native language.  And one of the first tactics of a liar is to use words incorrectly.  This causes confusion.

When we consistently misuse words we cause them to lose their incisive meaning in our lives. We lose the ability to cut through a fog of confusion.  For example, when we hear the phrase, “Buy one, get one free,” do we stop to think that “free” means we do not have to pay?  Are we able to get the “free” burger without paying?  No.  No matter what he says, the Burger King does not give out free burgers.  On the other hand, the King of the Universe has prepared an eternal banquet, and it is free.

However, some Christians still preach a message similar to “Buy one, get one free.”  They say, “Do good works, and then get salvation for ‘free.'”  But we are destitute.  We have nothing.  In fact, we have less than nothing:  We are sinners who owe an eternal debt that we can never repay.  Must we pay for what is “free”?  No!  Such a “gospel” is absurd.  We might as well tell penniless people to go to Burger King for “free” burgers.

If we must work for something, then “free” is no longer free.  If salvation is by “grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.”  (Romans 11:6).

True faith is not useless.

Only after God makes us realize through faith that salvation is free, do we then begin to do good works.  This is because we no longer work out of fear of punishment or greed for reward, but rather our works are motivated by His love.  True good works are done for their own sake, and therefore can only come from a heart that is already free in Christ.  Salvation is what sets us free.

God’s free promise creates faith, and this faith loves and will work because this faith wants to work.  True love is free, and true love loves willingly.  Only God can make our unwilling hearts willing.  Then without fear or greed or self-conscious thought, we do good works motivated by Him.  Having received freely, Christians give freely.  Having received what is free, we have been made free.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  [Galatians 5:1].

This true faith is living and active in our lives because Christ works in us to produce his fruits through our faith.

On the other hand, dead faith is mere historical knowledge that Jesus died and paid for the sins of the world.  Dead faith is not a relationship of trust in Jesus.  Dead faith is useless.  Dead faith knows that God exists, but does not actually trust God.  Dead faith believes about the promise of salvation, but does not actually trust the promise.  Dead faith knows of Jesus, but does not know Jesus.

Anyone who calls himself “Christian” but makes a practice of sinning and does not daily repent and struggle against sin, and does not strive to do what is right, is no Christian at all.  Anyone who calls himself “Christian” and says, “I have faith” should ask themselves what they mean by “faith” and, “Faith in what?”  Is our faith merely knowledge that Jesus is our savior?  Or is our faith actual trust in Jesus?  Do we trust our “faith in Jesus,” or do we trust Jesus?

The person who trusts Jesus, believes Jesus’ words, and Jesus says: “Repent.” (Matthew 4:17).  Do we know what it means to “repent”?  Do we really trust Christ?  Then we should care what he says, and we should believe what he says.

Correctly using words keeps our minds clear.

If we want to communicate Jesus’ message of the Law and the Gospel we must always use words truly and correctly.  Only then will people’s minds be clear so that they can hear and understand and believe.

We should never say “bad” when we mean good, or “free” when we mean not free.  Misusing words is similar to misusing God’s name, which is a violation of the Ten Commandments.  Just as misusing God’s name causes confusion about who God is, so also misusing words causes confusion about reality.

Another word that people abuse is “truth.”  Some gibber, “That’s your truth, not mine.”  They might as well say, “Lies are true” or “Everything is true.”   To them the idea of Truth does not exist and the word “truth” has no meaning.

God’s word is truth.  It is a like sword that flashes like lightning.  It is sharper than “any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12, Ezekiel 21:28, & Revelation 19:15).  However, when we misuse words, we dull the impact of that sword in the minds of the hearers.  When we misuse words we make ears that cannot hear and eyes that cannot see.  (Isaiah 42:20 & Jeremiah 6:10).

So we must be careful how we use the tools that God has given us for communicating his word of truth.  Through misuse they can become dull and lose their incisive power.

If a prophet says, “Repent of your sin!” and the people who hear him identify the word “sinful” with ideas like delicious, tasty, and indulgent, then they won’t understand what he is saying.  We should be grateful to God because our language was shaped in part by an understanding of his truth.  The English language contains words like God, sin, grace, justice, love, and truth.  But if we allow or participate with the world in changing the meaning of those words, then we will have lost some very powerful weapons for communicating the truth.

Satan is smarter than we.  He is a prowling lion seeking whom he may devour and he is on the attack on fronts we do not even imagine.  But God is all powerful.  We are his servants who are at war with the spiritual powers of this dark world, and we must keep our swords sharp.  (Ephesians 6:12-17).

Free.  Grace.  Faith.  Love.  Works.  Truth.  Prepare your words/swords for the battle!

copyright © 2008 Rick T. @ vdma.wordpress.com

Notes:  This article was first published in the St. Peter Church newsletter May 2008 A.D.