Thursday, May 30, 2013

Culture news: Powerful speech delivered at French protest of homosexual marriage

First Things Daily Square has posted the speech delivered by Ludovine de la Rochère, the president of La Manif Pour Tous, the movement opposed to France’s recently passed homosexual marriage law. This speech was delivered at a mass rally on May 26, 2013—France’s Mother’s Day—before hundreds of thousands of supporters.  It is fascinating to read because the movement in opposition to homosexual marriage includes homosexual leaders. The whole speech is worth reading, as indicated by this brief excerpt:

"We are neither a political movement, nor a faith-based movement, nor a coalition of hateful homophobes. Our adversaries have tried everything to paint us in such a way. But they have failed, because one cannot deny that our cause is open to all who worry about the rights and well-being of children. We are people who are but mindful of the interest, the balance, and the happiness of the family. 

We are here, all so numerous, because our fundamental and universal values unite us. 

The truth is that we do not have the same notion of equality as our opponents do. Our belief, held by most of the country, rests first on the equality of children, equality before the right to have a father and mother, that is to say, an origin and real heritage, rather than a false heritage. Based on that we have come together as atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, right, left, straight, gay. For all, the truth that we owe to the child is sacred. We do not want children’s lives to be woven around lies, nor do we want gender studies ideology to triumph."

Life news: Cultural attitudes don't change the facts about fertility

Our culture tells women that they should put off having children and "schedule" it for after other career and life goals have been achieved.  But these cultural attitudes don't change the biological factors which make it more difficult for women to have children as they get older.  There is also evidence that abortions increase the chance of miscarriages later in life.  These are inconvenient truths that our culture would prefer not to acknowledge.  

Mark's thoughts: Dismissing pastors, CRM and congregational polity

As the 2013 convention of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod approaches, there have been a number of posts on the internet regarding the problem of pastors who find themselves on CRM status.  Pastor Philip Hoppe has written an excellent piece about this entitled The Reality of Dismissed yet not Defrocked Pastors. He is honest in acknowledging that not every pastor on CRM should be in the parish as a pastor.  In other cases (more often the case in my own observations of events), the individual is a very good pastor who has been the victim of our synod's refusal to confront sin and practice what we claim to confess about the Office of the Holy Ministry.  

Pastor Hoppe succinctly and accurately summarizes the problem about CRM when he writes: 

 "We cannot dismiss a pastor 'lovingly' to seek another call when such a call will never come.  We must ask and determine the answer to this question, 'Is the man fit for the office or not?'  If so, he is not dismissed.  Issues are worked through.  Sin is confessed and absolved.  But the man called remains.  If not, he is removed from the clergy roster.  He is rendered aid in moving on to another suitable vocation.

 In this way we deal honestly and faithfully with the pastor.  He knows exactly where he stands and what the Church has deemed him fit to do in the Kingdom.  It deals with any sin he needs to confess.  It makes us able to help in his areas of weakness.

 Secondly, it is also the faithful way to deal with the congregation involved and its members.  We so often let congregations chew up pastor after pastor because sin and false understandings are never ultimately addressed.  We often never speak truth to them because we fear that they will react in a way that effects us, the district, or the synod in a negative way.  In this way, congregations spiritual dysfunction become habitual throughout the generations.  And this is not only bad for future pastors but it is also dangerous for the spiritual life of those persisting in unrepentant sin."

 As he suggests in his post, I pray that the convention can devise ways for men on CRM status to receive calls.  He is absolutely correct in his post about the way things should work.  Yet in the second paragraph of the quote above we see the reason why it is unlikely that it ever will.  The reason is that we have a congregational polity.  As I wrote in my post Brother Pastor, I've Got Your Back:

"Awhile back under the previous synodical administration there were a series of conferences about the ministry entitled 'Who’s in charge.'  You had already learned the answer to that question for the LCMS.  The congregation is in charge.  In a congregational polity, they write your pay check and therefore they are in charge.  They are in charge because you learn very quickly that from the district president’s perspective the pastor is expendable.  You can always get another one.  Congregations can’t be replaced.  Therefore the congregation can do almost anything because no one is going to remove it from synod.

And so here’s how it works.  Influential congregation members decide for any number of reasons that they don’t want you as pastor.  The reasons are not legitimate. But that doesn’t matter.  They begin to work in the congregation to stir up criticism and resentment.  They look for any opportunity to take offense at you.  They make life uncomfortable by refusing to give you a raise and by lowering your health care coverage.

If this doesn’t get rid of you fast enough, they start to contact your circuit counselor and district president.  They are still operating in the church and so they couch their accusations in the form of: 'He doesn’t have good people skills.'; “He’s lazy.”; 'He’s too rigid'  The circuit counselor and district president may share the same beliefs as the congregation.  They may not want to be biblical and Lutheran in practice, and so they are only too happy to take its side.  There is talk of 'synodical reconcilers' and the like, but the die has been cast.

Finally, the congregation just declares that after such and such a date, it will no longer pay you.  Perhaps the leaders have met with the district president and out of 'Christian love' they have agreed to give you a six month 'severance package.'  You learn that your divine call means nothing because the congregation writes the checks and the district doesn’t want to lose the congregation."

In our congregational polity, the only true tool that a district president has in dealing with a congregation who acts this way is the “nuclear option” of having the congregation removed from synod.  However, the reality is that this is not something district presidents will do for a number of reasons. Just as a parish pastor wants to gain members and not lose them, they want to gain congregations and not lose them – especially not as a result of their own action.  The very practice of requiring periodic re-election of district presidents provides a powerful disincentive.  Our congregational polity in synod provides only one blunt tool to the most faithful of district presidents as he deals with situations that can be extremely complex – sin has a way of twisting things up (I write this as someone who has such a district president). Faithful districts presidents bear the burden of having responsibility, but little real authority with which to act upon those responsibilities when dealing with congregations.

We need to raise these issues and talk about them, just as Pastor Hoppe has done in his outstanding post; just as I did in my earlier post. At the same time, we also need to understand that living in the land of American individualism, we are what we are as a synod - we are congregationalists at heart and this reality will always trump doctrine we claim to confess.  All too often, it is the idol we place before Christ and his Word. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Culture news: Report on anti-Christian discrimination in Europe

One does not have to imagine what the future in the United States for Christians may look like if current trends summarized under the heading "tolerance" continue.  Europe provides a very good case study of the impact this has on Christianity.   The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination based in Austria has issued a report describing this. An introduction is provided along with a link to the full text of the report which is also available here.  It is worthwhile reading since it uses real examples to illustrate what discrimination against Christianity in Europe looks like.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Culture news: Up to one million march in opposition to the recent legalization of homosexual marriage in France

Homosexual marriage has become legal in France after a hasty process that was meant to put it in place before opposition could grow stronger.  However public opposition has not ceased and continues to show strength - a fact evidenced by the nearly one million who marched recently in Paris.  Observers have noted that the dynamic of the discussion in France has been very different than what has occurred here in the United States, with prominent homosexuals speaking against homosexual marriage.  It will be interesting to see how the issue develops in France.

Mark's thoughts: Psalm 77 and dealing with difficult times

As we live in a fallen world, it is inevitable that we will encounter difficult times.  These challenges can take many different forms.  Many of these things are the results of circumstances and situations that are completely outside of our control.  No matter what shape they may take, the fact remains that we often find ourselves facing the challenge of living through difficult circumstances in life.

When we face these kinds of situations, how are we to handle them?  What model can we follow or where can we look for guidance?  For nearly three millennia God’s people have recognized the Psalms as a primary resource for this.  In the Psalms we encounter inspired prayers.  The Psalms are both prayers addressed to God and they are God’s word addressed to us.  When we use the Psalms, the Spirit is teaching us how to think and how to pray.

Even within the Psalms themselves we find different ways of dealing with difficult times.  One psalm that I have come to appreciate greatly is Psalm 77.  In the psalm, Asaph begins by saying:

             I cry aloud to God,
                        aloud to God, and he will hear me.
            In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
                        in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
                        my soul refuses to be comforted.
            When I remember God, I moan;
                        when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah (Psalm 77:1-3 ESV)

Asaph begins with the confident cry of faith.  In the day of his trouble he cries aloud to God.  He is confident that God will hear him.  Day and night he turns to God for help. However it begins to become clear that this does not bring immediate relief. On the contrary, his soul refuses to be comforted and in his prayer and meditation he moans and his spirit faints.

In the next section Asaph moves deeper into the description and contemplation of his plight.  He says:

            You hold my eyelids open;
                        I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
            I consider the days of old,
                        the years long ago.
            I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
                        let me meditate in my heart.”
                        Then my spirit made a diligent search:
            “Will the Lord spurn forever,
                        and never again be favorable?
            Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
                        Are his promises at an end for all time?
            Has God forgotten to be gracious?
                        Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah (Psalm 77:4-9 ESV)

Bereft of sleep, Asaph declares that he is so troubled by the situation that he cannot speak.  He turns to the past as he attempts to remember the song that used to accompany his life in better times.  Yet just as the psalm began with a cry of faith focused upon God, so also now in the midst of his troubles Asaph’s attention remains centered on what God has revealed about himself.  God is the One who is favorable towards his people.  He is characterized by steadfast love and faithful promises.  He is gracious and compassionate. These things do not seem to be in evidence right now for Asaph.  Yet in the words of the psalm this is considered atypical – it is completely uncharacteristic of God, and so surely it will not continue.  Asaph is in the midst of great troubles and is sorely distressed, but his basic outlook remains one that is grounded in faith toward what God has revealed about himself.

At the present, Asaph’s experience contradicts what God has revealed about himself. God does not seem to be acting in ways that are commensurate with his revealed character.  And so Asaph makes a key move.  He writes:

            Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
                        to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
            I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
                        yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
            I will ponder all your work,
                        and meditate on your mighty deeds.
            Your way, O God, is holy.
                        What god is great like our God?
            You are the God who works wonders;
                        you have made known your might among the peoples.
            You with your arm redeemed your people,
                        the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah (Psalm 77:10-15 ESV)

Asaph turns his attention to what God has done in the past – to the wonders and mighty deeds that he has worked.  God is the God who works wonders and in doing so he has made known his might among the peoples.  In one central event God has done this in a way that goes beyond all of the others – in a way that is foundational for all of the others.  He did this in the exodus as he redeemed his people from slavery in Egypt.  This action affirms all of the things that Asaph knows to be true about God.   If Asaph focuses on his own present situation he may wonder whether God is favorable towards his people; whether he is characterized by steadfast love and faithful promises; whether he is gracious and compassionate to the ones he has called. But by remembering and meditating on the mighty deeds of God in the exodus he finds assurance that this indeed is God’s character for him.

Finally, Asaph speaks about the most dramatic moment of this powerful event.  He writes:

            When the waters saw you, O God,
                        when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
                        indeed, the deep trembled.
            The clouds poured out water;
                        the skies gave forth thunder;
                        your arrows flashed on every side.
            The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
                        your lightnings lighted up the world;
                        the earth trembled and shook.
            Your way was through the sea,
                        your path through the great waters;
                        yet your footprints were unseen.
            You led your people like a flock
                        by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:16-20 ESV)

Asaph describes in a dramatic fashion how God brought Israel through the Red Sea.  God led his people like a flock.  He cared for them as he rescued them from slavery. The God who has done this can be counted upon to care for his flock in the present – no matter what things may look like right now.

Psalm 77 provides the pattern for us to follow when we are in the midst of difficult times.  Our first move is the cry of faith to God.  Like Asaph, we know that God has revealed himself to be the One who is favorable towards his people.  We know that he is characterized by steadfast love and faithful promises; that he is gracious and compassionate.  When we experience difficult times and this does not seem to be evident, in faith we are also to regard it as completely uncharacteristic of God,

And so in the face of contradictory evidence we remember the deeds of the Lord, the wonders that he has done. When Asaph did this, he turned to the great Gospel event of the Old Testament – the exodus.  Now in the era of the New Testament we turn to the Gospel event – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Through his action God has redeemed us.  He has purchased and won us from sin, death and the devil with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death.  By his resurrection he has guaranteed that his life will triumph over death for us. 

Through this action God has affirmed for all eternity that he is steadfast in his love and faithful to his promises.  He has demonstrated that he is gracious and compassionate towards us.  We return in faith to this and to the way we have received a share in it. Asaph returned to the mighty wonders that God had worked with water.  We do too, for in the water of Holy Baptism we have died with Christ and have been buried with him.  Because of this we know that we will also share in his resurrection on the Last Day (Romans 6:3-5). No matter what the circumstances of the moment seem to be saying, we are able to affirm, “I have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  In this fact we have the assurance of God’s love and care which the Spirit uses to carry us through the difficult times of life.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

                                                                                                            Rom 11:33-36
Every year I teach about the Holy Trinity in catechesis.  Every year I preach about the Holy Trinity on this Sunday – the Feast of the Holy Trinity. And every year I am struck by the irony of the fact that I am charged to preach and teach about something I don’t understand and can’t explain.
Now in one sense, you could make the case that this happens all of the time.  There are many examples in this world where people fix and install things, or teach about things that they really can’t explain.  Most likely when the satellite t.v. installer and repair man goes to a house, he can’t really explain how everything works.  Sure he has a general knowledge, but it’s unlikely that he is able to explain how things work at a deep technical level. He has a level of knowledge and understanding that is sufficient for what he needs to do – but that doesn’t mean that he really understands everything.  So for example, if you wanted to know how the navigation works so that the satellite was placed and stays in the correct position in orbit, he’s probably not going to be able to answer that question.
Yet while he might not be able, there is someone out there who can explain it.  It’s not that the matter can’t be explained.  It’s just that there may be a limited number of people who have sufficient knowledge and background in order to be able to explain it.  So, find the right person and you will be able to get someone who understands all of the details – someone who knows how it works.
That’s not the case when it comes to the Holy Trinity.  I can’t understand or explain how the Holy Trinity can be three and one at the same time. Yet the truth is that no one else can either.  You can go and find the most brilliant theologian with years of study, research and writing under his belt, and he won’t be able to understand and explain the Holy Trinity.
In our text for this morning, the apostle Paul exclaims wonder at how unfathomable God and his judgments are.  On this Feast of the Holy Trinity we recognize the fact that though we can’t explain God’s triune nature, we can describe it.  And more important for us is the fact that we only have the ability to describe it because of the way God has acted dramatically in the incarnation of the Son of God in order to save us.
In our text this morning the apostle Paul exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” In chapters nine to eleven, the apostle has been wrestling with the question of Israel and the fact that so many of her descendants, the Jews, have not believed in Christ.  Paul has talked about the mystery of God’s election and the manner in which Israel and the Gentiles fit into God’s plan.
Then, when he has strained human understanding as far as he can, he makes the statement in our text. He simply stops his discussion and acknowledges the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.  God’s wisdom and knowledge are simply too deep for human beings to plumb the depths of them.  It is not possible to understand what God chooses to do because his judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable.
If this is true of God’s judgments and the ways in which God does things, how much more it is true of God himself.  Our ability to understand or even describe God’s being – what God is like – faces the greatest of limitations.  We are talking about the One who is eternal, omnipresent and omniscient.  God is the One who is like no other and all that we have in order to think and talk about him are our experiences in this world.
Now, there can be something appealing about this state of affairs for sinful human beings.  It can be very convenient to leave God “out there.”  For if God is so far removed from us and so unknowable, then we are free to define God on our own terms.  And when this happens, you know what God ends us looking like?  He ends up being a projection of our own thoughts, desires and wishes.  Rather than humanity being created in the image of God, we create God in our own image.
Because really, we want to be in charge.  We don’t want God telling us that he is the Lord of our life.  We don’t want to hear that everything we have is because of him – that we are just stewards who manage his gifts for a time.  We don’t want to be told to love and care for other people because we’d much rather focus upon ourselves.  We don’t want God telling how to use our bodies – how to use sex – because we’d rather do what we want, with whom we want, when we want.
That was the decision that our first parents, Adam and Eve made.  They rejected their status as creatures in the desire to become more than they were; in the desire to be like God.  By that rejection they sinned and brought sin upon us all – sin that we have willingly embraced ever since.  Yet in spite of how appealing being in charge may seem, it is a violation of the basic ordering of creation.  When the creature starts acting like the Creator, everything gets messed up.  And human beings have borne the consequences of it ever since.  It has produced pain, and suffering and death. Created for fellowship with God we have found ourselves cut off from God and so unable to live in peace and wholeness.
But the good news of the Gospel is that God didn’t leave us there.  He didn’t leave us to ourselves.  Instead he came to us – he became one of us.  And when he did this something else happened. We learned more about who God is; about what God is like.
            In his letter to the Galatians Paul tells us, “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!’”  God sent forth his Son to redeem those who were under the curse of the Law.  Because we want to be in charge we violate the way God has ordered things – we violate what God’s eternal law commands and forbids.  And therefore we stood under the law’s curse – we were headed towards God’s eternal wrath.
Yet as Paul says, God sent forth his Son.  God was not content to allow us to receive the just judgment for our sin.  Instead God sent forth his Son as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  God sent his Son into the flesh as Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as he came up out of the water after being baptized by John, God the Father spoke saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” and the Holy Spirit descended upon him.  Jesus went to the cross and there he received the curse of the law in our place. He received the judgment against sin that we deserved.  He died in our place.
And then, on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He raised the One who is the second Adam.  He raised him as the first fruits of the resurrection that has already begun in Jesus.  Ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father.  And on the day of Pentecost that we celebrated last Sunday, he poured forth his Holy Spirit on the Church – an action that marked the arrival of the last days.
This is the Gospel – the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ in order to give us forgiveness and eternal life.  Yet stop for a moment and consider what we learn about God in the saving action I just described.  The Old Testament is absolutely clear that there is only one, true God.  In Deuteronomy we learn, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”  The Old Testament mocks every other so called god that the nations worship.
Yet in the Gospel we learn that God the Father sent forth God the Son to be incarnate by God the Holy Spirit.  We learn that God the Father spoke at God the Son’s baptism as he was anointed by God the Spirit.  We learn that God the Father sent God the Son to die on the cross and to be raised from the dead by God the Spirit.  We learn that God the Son has ascended to the right hand of God the Father and has poured forth God the Spirit.  And to top it all off, after his resurrection, Jesus Christ instituted Holy Baptism with the command that the Church is to baptize “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Because of God’s saving action in the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, we have learned more about who God is – about what God is like.  We now know that the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As we will confess after this sermon in the Athanasian Creed, we now know that the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God.  And yet there is only one God.  We now know that the One God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Because of what God has done in Christ we are now able to describe this reality about God.  We are able to say what God has revealed in his word about himself. Now this doesn’t mean that we can explain how God is three and one at the same time.  It doesn’t mean that we understand how this is possible; how it works.
When we ponder the mystery of the Holy Trinity, we are in fact dealing with what is for us a mystery.  In our text Paul reaches the limits of his ability to understand how God works and he exclaims, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” As we ponder the Holy Trinity, we are forced to arrive at a similar conclusion.  In faith we are forced to throw up our hands and confess that God is God and we are not.
But we do so, aware that we only know about the mystery of Holy Trinity because God has acted in Jesus Christ to save us.  Our knowledge of the Trinity bears witness to God’s love for us. And this love changes everything. John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”
God’s loving action in Christ has revealed God’s triune nature to us. And because we have received this love, we now share it with others in what we say and do.  As John went on to say, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Life news: Now pro-life doctor describes late term abortions before Congress

The tragic reality in the debate about abortion is that much of the public doesn't know what actually happens in abortions.  Dr. Anthony Levatino was a doctor who performed abortions, until he changed his mind and became pro-life.  He recently testified before Congress.  His description of what happens in a late term abortion is a good resource for sharing with others who may be inclined to support abortion.  And in case you are told that late term abortions are very rare, here are some statistics to put things into perspective.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Culture news: When women become the men they hated

Elizabeth Scalia has a very interesting piece in which she discusses recent opinions about the results of the sexual revolution. She writes:
"The sexual revolution promise that women could “have it all” has always been oddly paradoxical: It encouraged women to find their best selves by aping men and conforming to traditionally male valuations of worth and relevance. Mistaking the word “equal” for the word “same,” these “hookup feminists” have become precisely the shallow, insincere, career-fixated, people-users that early feminists decried. From spare button-down shirt in the office, to meaningless sex, Don Draper has not disappeared; he has just changed his name to Donna. Women replace men, but the story—contra Schakowsky—stays the same."

Mark's thoughts: Seeking God's Will? - A Lutheran Perspective

Recently a non-denominational church that I pass as I take my children to and from school had the following message on their sign: “Ask God your questions, and then listen for the answer.”  Christians often wonder about what God’s will is for their life.  As we consider decisions in life like our vocation and the person we marry, Christians are often told to “seek God’s will.” They are encouraged to look for ways in which God is directing them toward this will. Often this is something that becomes a burden for Christians, when in fact it never should be.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus Christ taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.”  As Christians, we certainly want God’s will to be done.  We are confident that God will carry out His will.  After all, He is God.   We trust that He controls the course of history, for as Paul told the crowd at Athens, “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).

The more difficult subject for many Christians arises when they begin to think about specific matters in their own lives.  Here again, Christians certainly believe that God has a will for them and they want His will to be done in their lives.  But in the Christianity that has been shaped by American evangelicalism, there is often a belief that God has a specific will for our lives and that it is our responsibility to seek it; to discover it.  Specific life decisions like, “Should I choose this career?; should I take this job?; should I marry this person?; should I move to this place?” become occasions when Christians think they must work to “discover God’s will” for them.   They must seek God’s will for their lives.  Christians turn to intense prayer and reflection as they look for something inside of themselves that tells them this is the “right” decision.  Or they look for external events and signs that God is using to help them find the “right” decision. They do this because there is the fear that somehow they may make the wrong decision and fail to do God’s will.

This is an activity that is based on what we do.  It is based on the notion that if we pray hard enough we will get a sense of direction or peace.  If we look hard enough at the signs around us, we will discover guidance or confirmation.  But since this is based on what we do, it is a matter of the Law.  And the Law doesn’t bring peace or certainty.  Instead, it brings the questions of whether we have prayed enough; of whether that feeling is strong enough; of whether that feeling is still there; of whether we read those signs correctly. The Law is about doing, and so it constantly sends us to do more.

As Lutherans, we realize that God only reveals His will in one place – in His Word.  If we want to know God’s will with absolute certainty, then we look to Scripture.  God’s will is that He “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  God’s will is that “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:40).  We can know God’s will for how He wants us to live life as we listen to our Lord Jesus and the apostles explain the Ten Commandments.  We can know God’s will for how His Means of Grace are to be administered in our midst.

Yet when it comes to the individual decisions of life like whether I should take this specific job or whether I should marry this specific person, Scripture does not provide any guidance. God’s will on these matters simply has not been revealed and we do not have His promise that we can know it.

Instead, we are free in the Gospel to make the best decision we can.  We are free to use the gifts God has given us in gathering information and making the best decision possible.  Naturally, God’s will revealed in Scripture will be an important part of this information.  So for example, we will not choose bank robber as our career!  But in most decisions we will end up using “sanctified common sense.” 

Certainly, our decision process will involve prayer.  We will ask for God’s guidance in deciding and pray that His will be done.  But this doesn’t mean we will expect some kind of feeling from God to tell us a decision is the “right one” or that we will expect to see some sign in the world guiding or confirming our decision.  Instead, our prayer is simply faith putting the First Commandment into practice as we acknowledge that we fear, love and trust in God above all things.  We will make our decisions in the confession and trust that God is God and we are not.  James put it this way, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).

We make the best decision we can, and then we go forward, walking by faith.  We can do this because God’s great “Yes!” to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20) gives us the assurance that God works for our good no matter how things may appear. God’s ability to weave together our contingent decisions into His divine purpose is wrapped up in the same mysterious working by which He was able to elect us in Christ from all eternity.  Paul tells us, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

God's great "Yes!" to us in Christ gives us the assurance that God works for our good and that our decisions can't get in the way of God carrying out his will. It is comforting to know that our bumbling can't prevent God from doing what He wants to get done.  We needlessly torment ourselves if we worry about figuring out what God’s will is on these kinds of specific life decisions.  We can’t know it.  What we do know is the love God has revealed in Christ, and this guarantees that God is working for our good.  So pray, “Thy will be done.”  So make the best decision you can.  And then walk in faith, knowing that God will work out His purpose.

Pentecost Tuesday

During the octave (the eight days) in which we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, today is Pentecost Tuesday.  We continue to rejoice in the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ poured out upon the Church on Pentecost.  The text for today tells of how the Spirit dramatically showed that the Gospel was to be preached to non-Jews in Palestine - the Samaritans.

 Scripture reading:
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).

Collect of the Day:
Almighty and ever-living God, You fulfilled Your promise by sending the gift of the Holy Spirit to unite the disciples of all nations in the cross and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ.  By the preaching of the Gospel spread this gift to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.