Only One Way

Jesus said it, and he couldn’t have been clearer: I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me. (John 14:6) This is one of the most comforting passages in the Bible for me. But in our world today, I’d suspect it’s one of the most controversial.

The Way – Christianity itself was at first called “the Way,” and that name makes a lot of sense. Like the one-way sign pictured on this post, following Jesus is the only way. He’s the only way to eternal life and the only way to God the Father. Other religions can talk about God, but without Jesus they do not have the true God. All people and religions do not pray to the same God or have different ways to the same place. No, there is one way, and it is in Christ alone.

The Truth – Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus on Good Friday morning, “What is truth?” Our post-modernist society tends to side with Pilate. Truth is subjective to so many. In fact, even the existence of absolute truth that cannot be broken is denied. But in Jesus, we have the Truth. Not a truth that some believe and others discard. But the only truth. Everything that goes against him is a lie.

The Life – Of course it was just Easter, which many now equate with Spring and the “new life” on the earth. But Easter is about the Life – Jesus. Because he lives, we will live. Many strive for immortality. Many religions talk about eternal life. But true eternal life is only found in Jesus. He was perfect in our place. He paid for our sins in his suffering and death. And by his payment he showed that our debt has been paid in full. He gives us true life now and forever!

So, yes, no one can come to the Father except through Jesus. The world might not like to hear it. It might be considered close-minded or arrogant. But it is God’s Word, and it is the truth. Jesus is the only Way.

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Playing Catch-Up

So I’ve fallen a few days behind on my Bible reading schedule. Not behind on posting the readings, but on actually reading them.

This is something that I’m sure has happened to everyone who has tried to follow a reading schedule. It’s nothing to feel guilty about; nowhere has God commanded you to follow a strict reading schedule and follow it every single day. You haven’t sinned by falling behind. The question is, then, what should you do? Do you catch up on your old readings so you still get them all done, or do you just move to the current day and leave the ones you missed behind?

Here’s my recommendation. For most people, you should just start again with the current day. That way, you won’t get bogged down by seeing a huge backlog of readings to do. I think for most people, knowing you are behind and have to catch up will be just enough of a barrier to get you to not keep reading. And since you’ve found it important enough to choose to follow a reading plan, you already think that reading and studying the Bible is important. So, just pick it up at the day you’re on, and go from there.

There are some exceptions to this, though. You might be one of those perfectionist-types who will be endlessly bothered by the fact that you’ve just skipped a section in your reading. If that’s you, fine; go ahead and catch up. As long as you’re not too many days behind, catching up should be doable, and you will be able to rest easier. (And seriously, work on the perfectionistic tendencies! It’s not usually a good thing! I know of what I speak here.)

One other exception: pastors or anyone who is called to teach God’s Word. In my book, you need to know God’s Word backwards and forwards to better help the people you serve. This is why I always play catch-up for as long as it takes. I serve people who will expect (and rightly so) that I am the resident expert on the Bible. So besides studying whatever Bible class or sermon I’m working on, I want to be reading the Bible so I am always growing in every part of it. That way I can answer questions and have a deeper knowledge base to draw on for my answers, my sermons, etc. God keeps blessing this!

So remember: reading the Bible = good! But don’t get bogged down if you miss a day or two, unless it really bugs you. But if you’re a pastor, you’d better be continuing your readings! You owe your best to those you serve; and this discipline will also come with God’s blessings. So it’s win-win!

 

Plan of Attack

Most Christians — and I’d certainly hope most Lutherans — know that reading the Bible is important. After all, the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to create and strengthen saving faith: Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ. (Rom. 10:17) The Lutheran Confessions do not say that the Lutheran Confessions themselves are the main source of teaching we need to have, but rather,

1. We believe, teach, and confess that the only rule and norm according to which all teachings, together with ‹all› teachers, should be evaluated and judged [2 Timothy 3:15–17] are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone. For it is written in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” St. Paul has written, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
FC:Ep: Art. 0, par. 1 Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions. 2005 (473). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

So, yeah, the Bible is important. Reading it — regularly and even daily — is important. The problem is that our sinful, lazy selves have a hard time doing that. We find reasons not to read. We get bored quickly. We let the busy-ness of our everyday lives get in the way.

To help myself with these problems, I’ve found it’s important to come up with a plan of attack when it comes to reading the Bible. Right now, I’m using a Bible reading plan that’s pretty aggressive; it goes through the whole Bible in a year, and the most important books twice. (If you want to check out an older version of this plan, download it here. I think this plan originated with Prof. Brug at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.)

For those who might want shorter readings, there are other options. The WELS website has a nice plan set up to get through the entire Bible in 3 years. The site is http://www.wels.net/spiritual-help/through-my-bible . Every day the site is updated with the current reading to get through the Bible in 3 years. If you don’t get to it and want to see past readings, you can find them in the archive link on that same page. You can even download a file with the entire 3-year schedule of readings if you’d rather.

Another option for the internet-minded person is through a new blog I just found by WELS Pastor Ben Kratz. Check it out at http://lutherswhatdoesthismean.wordpress.com. Basically, he’s using a 2-year through-the-Bible reading schedule. He then puts up reading thoughts and devotions to go with each day. Some might find something like this helpful.

There are lots of other reading options out there, too, such as the Treasury of Daily Prayer, which I have also used at different times. Do you use a certain Bible reading plan or have one to recommend? Share it in the comments!

The Higher Judge

Christians may feel the accusation of their own heart, that is, their conscience, and when they try to calm their heart, they may hear a voice telling them that they are condemned, that they have no forgiveness of their sins and no grace, that they are not children of God and cannot hope for eternal life. To such people the beloved John says, “If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart.” That is to say, our heart is indeed a judge, yet only a local judge. There is a higher Judge, namely God, presiding above our heart. I can say to my troubled heart: “Be still, my heart! Be still, my conscience! I have appealed to another Judge to determine if I am free of my sins. That Judge is the great God, who is greater than you. That is a higher court.” A higher court can always reverse the verdict of a lower court. When we hold fast to the Word, then the higher Judge speaks to us: “Your sins are forgiven.”

~C.F.W. Walther, “Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible“, CPH, 2010, p. 219

 

God Rescues Us from Satan

Today’s devotion from Martin Luther was another excellent one. I’ve mentioned this daily devotional before, and I just want to say again what a value the book has been for me.

This particular entry has to do with the temptations and attacks of Satan that we feel every day. Some days, of course, we feel it more than others, and this devotion applies to this days especially.

The Messenger of the LORD camps around those who fear him, and he rescues them. ~Psalm 34:7

This is one of the most remarkable passages in the Psalms. We can claim it as our own. But you might say, “I don’t see or feel God’s angels around me. Actually, I feel like I am under the power of the devil and am being led to hell.” My answer would be, “Don’t let yourself think that way! If you had been handed over to the devil, he wouldn’t let you live one hour without plunging you into a life of crime. As a matter of fact, he probably wouldn’t even give you time to do anything wrong, but would kill you right away. You are still alive because of the protection of the holy angels. The time will come when you have to leave this earth and, with God’s permission, you may be subjected to Satan’s anger. But God, in his mercy and undeserved kindness, will strengthen you through his Word.”

When you are handed over to Satan, it will only be for a very short time. This isn’t to condemn you but to test you, to bring about salvation and endless blessings. Christ said, “A single grain of wheat doesn’t produce anything unless it is planted in the ground and dies. If it dies, it will produce a lot of grain” (John 12:24). In the same way, Christ was handed over to murderers, but only for a short time and to bring about salvation. So when you feel Satan bothering and tempting you, pray and thank God that you won’t fail but that you are only going through a trial in order to be purified. Jeremiah comforts us by saying, “I keep this one thing in mind: the LORD’s mercy. We were not completely wiped out. His compassion is never limited” (Lamentations 3:21-22).

Clip the Wings of Wisdom

By Faith AloneI use several different devotional books at different times (besides reading the actual Bible) for my daily devotion. One book that I keep coming back to is By Faith Alone, a daily devotional book taken from the writings of Martin Luther. Each reading is only one small page, but they’re packed with great stuff. Luther definitely knew how to make Scripture come alive and apply it to our lives of faith. I highly recommend the book.

Today’s reading was especially good. Enjoy!

Jesus responded, ‘Stop criticizing me! People cannot come to me unless the Father who sent me brings them to me. I will bring these people back to life on the last day.’  John 6:43-44

When Jesus said, “Stop criticizing me,” he wanted to curb human wisdom or reason. We should also clip the wings of human reason when it comes to Christian doctrine. God’s Word isn’t the kind of teaching you can grasp with reason. It doesn’t reach the human heart that way. The more educated and the more sharpened a person’s reasoning ability, the less he understands. Christian teaching doesn’t appeal to reason. That’s why our reason complains about it. I don’t want to take my salvation out of my own hands and throw away all my good works in order to achieve eternal life. I don’t want to place my hands and set my feet on someone outside of myself, someone who was so silly and foolish as to let himself be crucified. How am I supposed to believe that Jesus is my Savior? Reason cannot grasp this. We must take every thought captive so that it’s obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Jesus is saying, “Stop complaining that I claim to be the bread of heaven. You want to understand this on your own. You want to be smarter than I am when you ask, ‘Don’t we know his mother and father?’ But when I tell you how the Father has drawn you to me, it can’t be understood by your reason. When you hear about how the Father draws you, reason draws you in a different direction. Whoever wants to understand these words must close his eyes, shut the gates of reason, and let himself become like a blind person.” This is what God wants. Whoever refuses to be led by God, but wants instead to be lead by reason, will be irritated by the message of Jesus and will continually complain about it.

By Faith Alone, Martin Luther, reading for September 10th