Joined to His Promises

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The ninth footprint of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts has to do with the Holy Spirit’s action in the waters of Baptism. But before I continue, let us briefly review the former footprints.

The first footprint is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer for) the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. The fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness. The sixth is clarity in pointing to Christ’s crucifixion. The seventh is the constant and repeated witness to the Cross. And the eighth is in working the message deep into the hearts of sinners.

When a person becomes convicted of his sin and is ready to call out for help, the Holy Spirit directs him to call out to our Lord Jesus and to put his trust in him. At the same time there is a shape to the way a person comes to Christ and becomes joined to him and his promises. In a word, that shape is Baptism.

When on the Day of Pentecost the people cried out in response to Peter’s preaching, “What must we do?” Peter’s response is “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is, according to Romans 6, the way we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection along with their benefits.

Paul makes clear the connection of the Holy Spirit’s work in the rite of Baptism. In Titus 3, verses 5 and 6, he puts it this way: “He saved us … according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

Since You Asked…

Why do we celebrate Holy Communion nearly every Sunday?

The celebration of the meal we call Holy Communion has consistently been the chief act of Christian worship since the age of the Apostles. The Lutheran Reformation did not break with this tradition of 1,500 years. In fact the Augsburg Confession (our principal statement of faith) declares Holy Communion to be the chief act of worship for Lutherans on Sundays and festivals (Art. 26). (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

You might think of Holy Communion as spiritual bread and drink for our journey (pilgrimage), for our Lord’s Body and Blood is true nutrition indeed!


Being Faithful in Bearing Witness

The eighth footprint of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts has to do with how the Holy Spirit can work the message of the Gospel deep into the hearts of sinners.

In response to the Apostle Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2, we read in verse 37 “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart.” And because of the Holy Spirit’s work to bring conviction those who were cut to the heart then asked, “What shall we do?”

And Peter’s response was, “Repent and be baptized … for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” It is certainly not a comfortable thing to come under conviction and have a troubled heart. But as we discussed with the sixth footprint, being cut to the heart has a salutary effect. It predisposes us to seek relief. And the only true relief available is that of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Before I say more, it will be well to review the prior footprints. The first is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer for) the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. The fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness. The sixth is clarity in pointing to Christ’s crucifixion. And the seventh is the constant and repeated witness to the Cross.

Truly much patience and trust are needed as we bear witness to the Gospel. We will certainly try to be as persuasive and winsome as possible, but the work of conversion is dependent on God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a mystery on when and how the Holy Spirit works in the hearer’s heart. Our concentration must be in being faithful in bearing witness.

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of All Saints’ Day?

The significance is expressed in the hymn The Church’s One Foundation, the fifth stanza: “And mystic sweet communion / With those whose rest is won.” We certainly mourn in death the physical separation with our loved ones, but the Church affirms that the dead in Christ are very much alive and are present with our Lord. We further believe in the Resurrection of the dead on the last day, and our joyful reunion with the saints of all the ages in the eternal kingdom of our Lord. Therefore we can speak of our dearly departed as being a part of the Church Triumphant while we remain the Church Militant. On the festival of All Saints we direct our attention to the richness of Christian history, and the manifold workings of God’s grace through the lives of believers who have gone before us. It is also an appropriate time to honor the memory of those members of our congregation who have died.

Focus on the Cross

The seventh of ten footprints of the Holy Spirit is our topic of discussion this week. But first it will be worthwhile to review the first six.

The first is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer for) the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. The fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness. And the sixth is clarity in pointing to Christ’s crucifixion.

The seventh footprint of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Book of Acts has to do with the way the Holy Spirit brings the central message home. That is, he repeatedly returns to a focus on what Christ has accomplished on our behalf through his death on the Cross. For instance, when people were amazed at the healing of a lame beggar effected through Peter and John, the Apostles immediately drew people’s attention to Jesus as the reason for the miracle. And they identified Jesus as the one that the people had delivered over to the Roman Governor, Pilate, to be crucified!

Although their message could be harsh and direct, for instance when they accused the people of killing the Author of life, they also immediately declare that it was ordained that Jesus should suffer in this manner, and that by his suffering and death Jesus is able to give forgiveness and life! Day in and day out the Holy Spirit brings home the message of the Cross and impresses it upon the ears and hearts of the people.

The Holy Spirit continues to do his work in our midst today. As we gather for the Divine Service there are at least 52 times a year the Gospel is shared - in the liturgy, in the hymns, in the sermons, and in the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is at work to bring the message home!

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “catholic” as when we confess, “I believe in the holy catholic Church?”

The term “catholic” means whole and refers to a church which receives the Christian faith intact without alteration or selection of matters of the faith. The opposite of catholic is heretic, one who picks and chooses which parts of the faith to accept. Thus “catholic” is more specific than “Christian” and is not a synonym for “ecumenical” or “worldwide”. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

- often when the “C” is capitalized “Catholic” is referring to the Roman Catholic Church, and when the “c” is lower case “catholic” is referring to the Church receiving the whole of the faith.


Clear as a Bell

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This week we have arrived at the sixth footprint of the Holy Spirit. It is worth recounting the features of the first five. The first is about God’s promise to send the Spirit. The second is waiting upon (asking in prayer) for the gift. The third is recognizing that the gift is poured out on the community before filling each individual. The fourth is the aid of the Spirit in overcoming communication barriers. And the fifth is the boldness the Holy Spirit enables in our witness.

The sixth footprint is on how the Holy Spirit helps us to hone in on Christ’s crucifixion and our complicity in this innocent death. On the day of Pentecost Peter boldly proclaimed to the men of Israel that the man they had crucified, God had raised him up from the dead.

Peter’s proclamation was a clear as a bell. In simple statements he punctuates the salient factors. Jesus was attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders. This Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. It is this one you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. This very one God raised up from the dead.

An interesting reversal takes place on this day. Peter becomes fearless. And the hearers become fearful. We shall see with the upcoming eighth footprint how those who are full of fear will be “cut to the heart” and how this will have a salutary effect in Christ’s mission to redeem sinners.

But suffice it to say that the Holy Spirit brings clarity to our witness. He helps us to hone in on Jesus. And whether our message is lengthy or brief, and whether we share much or little of Jesus’ itinerary while walking on earth, the focal point of the witness is his innocent death at the hands of sinners, and his third day resurrection. This is the crux of how our Lord has won our salvation.

Since You Asked…

What is an Alb? And why does our Pastor wear one?

Alb (from the Latin “white”): a white ankle-length vestment with sleeves, often gathered at the waist with a cincture, worn by all ranks of ministers, ordained and unordained. The classical tunic became a specific church vestment about the fifth century. One of the functions of an ordained minister in our tradition is for that person to represent Christ to the people. Christ is pictured in the Book of Revelation with a white robe. The white robe is also a symbol of his righteousness. For this reason, the alb is a proper covering for the presiding minister with the function of representing Christ to the people. (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)


Making Christ Visible

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In our ongoing series, this week we consider the fourth footprint of the Holy Spirit. This is the fourth of ten. And the discovery of these footprints is happening as we consider the Book of Acts, especially as the Book punctuates the indispensable importance of the Third Person of the Trinity to Christ’s mission in the world.

By way of quick reminder, the third footprint had to do with how the Holy Spirit first comes upon the gathering of believers collectively before he begins to also fill each believer individually. This speaks volumes as to the importance of the Church.

This week we pay attention to one of the miracles effected by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. As people gathered around the house (was it the Temple?) where the disciples had gathered, and where all the commotion was taking place, they heard the disciples publicly declaring the mighty works of God. Perhaps that would be miraculous enough. But the people gathered from throughout the Mediterranean basin to be in Jerusalem for the festival heard the disciples’ testimony in as many as fifteen different languages! The Holy Spirit miraculously gave the handful of disciples the ability to speak in different foreign languages!

Dr. Buba, one of the Assistants to the Bishop in the NALC, stated it this way: “There were fifteen different languages, but there was one message of what God has done.” Another memorable phrase of Dr. Buba was this. “The Holy Spirit who is 100% invisible, helps to make Christ 100% visible to us.” And he helps accomplish this by overcoming the divide of language, which represents different races, cultures, and nations.

Now as we wait upon the Lord in prayer and are filled with the Holy Spirit, our speaking of what God has done in Christ will be empowered. It will be empowered so that the Christian message is essentially one, and so that the barriers to communication can be overcome.

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the Incarnation?

The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.

The Workshop of the Holy Spirit

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In considering the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba’s 10 Footprints of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, we have already discussed the first two. First, we talked about the importance of our Lord Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to his disciples. And second, we spoke of the importance of waiting on the Lord in prayer so that we might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Footprint number three has to do with how God goes about fulfilling his promise. The first pouring out of the Spirit is instructive. We read about it in Acts 2:1-4: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

Notice that the Holy Spirit first fills the entire house where the disciples were gathered. And then he filled each individual believer. That is to say, the Holy Spirit comes upon the gathering of believers and then goes to work in individual lives!

Someone has called the church the workshop of the Holy Spirit. And here we need to think of the church, not primarily as a building, but rather as the gathering of believers. We like to say in our Lutheran tradition that it is the assembly of believers gathered around Word and Sacrament.

The Lutheran Confessions teach that the gifting of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life is in Holy Baptism. And we do not baptize ourselves! We receive baptism in the context of the church. And after this, with the nurture of the church we learn to rely on, and not to shut out, the gift of the Holy Spirit, thereby being constantly filled with the Holy Spirit.

Since You Asked…

What is the Christian’s Hope?

In a word, it is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting in the world to come. This is more accurate and complete than just saying “life after death.” It is also more helpful than saying “going to heaven.” When Jesus returns at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead, baptized believers will be raised bodily! They will share in a resurrection similar to Jesus’ resurrection. And being in his presence on that day and for all eternity is not just a matter of escaping to heaven, but living in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The Lord intends to renew and restore his creation. So our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, with believers inheriting the Kingdom.


Waiting on the Lord

 Photo by  Samuel Martins  on  Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

Last week I began a series of reflections on the ongoing mission of our Lord. The reflections are drawn from an address I heard from the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba at the NALC Convocation last August. He talked about “The Footprints of the Holy Spirit”, and he shared ten such footprints as found in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts.

The first footprint we identified last week is the promise of the Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to accompany believers as they give witness to the Gospel. It is important that we repeatedly speak this promise to each other, thereby reminding ourselves that we are not sent into the mission field alone!

The second footprint has to do with the Holy Spirit coming to those who wait upon the Lord. Jesus instructed his first disciples to “wait for the promise of the Father”. The disciples were not to leave Jerusalem until the sending and imparting of the Holy Spirit. Soon enough they would be told to leave Jerusalem, and to be his witnesses to the end of the earth (vs. 8). But they are not to go forth until they are equipped and accompanied by the Holy Spirit.

In this instance there is a literal waiting, ten days, from the time of Jesus’ Ascension until the Jewish Festival of Pentecost. It was at this Festival that the promise came to fruition and the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples in a rather dramatic way. You can read about it in Acts 2:1-13.

Significantly, it important to know what the disciples were doing as they were waiting in Jerusalem. As we learn in 1:14 they were with one accord devoting themselves to prayer. From this we understand that prayer is the way we wait upon the Lord! When we rush into things without prayer, we fail to wait upon the Lord. Instead, we attempt to make a go of it in our own wisdom and strength. Little wonder we don’t get far!

Since You Asked…

Are announcements necessary? And should they be included as a part of the liturgy?

Not all announcements are necessary! Nor should they be allowed to disrupt the rhythmic flow of the service. It is likewise important that announcements be kept to a minimum. But certain announcements are important. Information that will enhance participation in the worship, information pertaining to further Christian service, and information for regarding further opportunities for spiritual edification are such announcements of importance, and they are worthwhile to promote publicly to the assembly. We have chosen the beginning of the worship service as the most helpful and least disruptive placement for announcements.


Footprints of the Holy Spirit

I heard an excellent Keynote Address at the Mission Festival which started the Annual NALC Convocation last month in Denver, Colorado. The speaker was the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba, the Assistant to the Bishop for Missions for the North American Lutheran Church. Dr. Buba is originally from Ethiopia and he now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and three children.

The theme of the week was “The Holy Spirit: Calling | Gathering | Enlightening | Sanctifying”. Some of you may recognize the four attributes as coming from Luther’s explanation to the Third Article of the Creed.

What impressed me about Dr. Buba’s address at the Mission Festival was the way he emphasized the all-important work of the Holy Spirit in Christ’s ongoing mission to make disciples of all nations (cf. Mt. 28:19-20). And he did so by sharing what he identified as the ten “Footprints of the Holy Spirit” in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts. I would like to share with you these footprints in the upcoming weeks. They will be immensely helpful to us in our outreach at Gift of Grace.

In the opening five verses of Acts, Luke recalls the summation of his first Book, that being the Gospel of Luke. He writes of Jesus’ resurrection and his repeated resurrected appearances to his disciples over 40 days. And then prior to Jesus’ ascension Luke wrote this, “while staying with them [Jesus] ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The first footprint of the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s promise to send the Holy Spirit. Dr. Buba insists that it is important for us to continually speak the promise, for we need to be reminded that we are not sent into the Lord’s mission alone! We are accompanied by God the Holy Spirit!

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Learning the Ten Commandments

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According to Martin Luther anyone considering himself to be a Christian should at bare minimum know the Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Luther made this remark in his preface to the Small Catechism.

What prompted Luther’s comment was a visit he paid to parishes that had come under sway of the Reformation. He found the condition in those parishes to be miserable. He found that both the common man, and in many instances, even among the clergy, they did not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments!

It was for this reason that Luther penned the Small Catechism. He intended it to be a useful tool, both in the home and in the church, for providing a basic foundation for understanding the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ as reflected in the Old and New Testaments.

For those of us adhering to the Lutheran liturgical tradition and involving ourselves regularly in the weekly Divine Service, we easily know the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed by heart. But our weekly gatherings do not afford us a regular reciting of the Ten Commandments. Many of us would be challenged to name all ten of the Commandments. And yet this listing is important as well. It is an excellent inventory to help us prepare for making a confession of sins.

I have a simple remedy for our lack of familiarity with the Ten Commandments, and that is Luther’s Small Catechism. And I can suggest a tool to which all of you with smart phones can avail. It is the free app from Concordia Press that is available from both the App Store, and from the Play Store (iPhone & Android). Look for “Luther’s Small Catechism Concordia Publishing House”.

With this app you and your family have an effective tool for learning the principal parts of the catechism, namely the Ten Commandments, The Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. You also will have prayers and devotional material to use in the home. Check it out.

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose and meaning of our Votive Prayer Candles?

To “light a candle for someone” means that you will say a prayer for them. The candle symbolizes your prayers. When we light a candle it is a sign of attentiveness and that we are being purposeful in offering intercessory prayer. It is an important act in which we are involved! To be in prayer is to be spiritually awake and vigilant. And as the candle continues to burn it symbolizes our ongoing prayers. It is a sign to others that prayers are being offered. In such an atmosphere, indeed the darkness gives way to light.

 

Keeping God's Commandments

 Photo by  Patrick Fore  on  Unsplash

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

As Christians we should strive to keep God’s commandments. Obedience to the Law is necessary and expected.

Wait a minute! You might be thinking to yourself. Aren’t we taught in Scripture that our salvation is not by works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 2:16)? Indeed we are! But that does not mean we can simply dismiss the Law.

When I write of the necessity of striving to keep the commandments, it is not so that we can win God’s approval and earn our salvation. Collectively and individually we have dug ourselves into a hole that we cannot climb out of. All our efforts to extricate ourselves only digs us in deeper. The ability to trust God and to delight in his commands and promises was lost in the Garden of Eden.

God’s Word is clear. Our rescue from sin and its resulting consequences of death is by faith, and not by our efforts! Even that exercise of faith is something we are not naturally interested in or capable of. That interest and capacity comes about by the new birth, which is a spiritual birth from above (cf. John 3:3-8). It comes as a gift of grace (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).

With the new birth, which is given us in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, a new nature arises in us which believes and delights in God’s commands and in his promises (cf. Rom 6:4). But as any Christian knows, the old sinful nature sticks around and tries to maintain control over our lives. And so a battle begins!

We are saved and find favor with God in Christ’s righteousness alone. We add nothing to his merit. But the process of our restoration is necessarily that we might live out the vocation God intended for us in the beginning, that we might represent him to the rest of creation and to love our neighbor. The new nature can begin to live in this way! Yet, it will be a struggle. Without the struggle there is always the danger of sliding back into a hardened, debased condition.

Since You Asked…

Why is incense used in some churches?

The use of incense is not unique to Christianity or Judaism and is used in many of the world’s religions to enhance special times and places by sight and smell. In Christian worship incense is effectively used at the beginning of the Service of the Word and in preparing for receiving Holy Communion. The burning of incense is associated with the prayers of worship rising before God (cf. Psa 141:2; Rev 8:4). Good worship should engage all the human senses. In this connection it should be pointed out that the olfactory sense is perhaps the most sensitive of the five senses; it continues to function even during sleep. (Indebted to Aidan Kavanah in his “Elements of Rite”.)