Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church - Marshfield, WI

July Newsletter

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Romans 3:23-25.

Human beings seek to be justified, which means to be made right.  Or perhaps to put it more simply, we seek to be enough.  Am I enough for someone or something?  That is one way of getting at what we mean when we use that theological term called justification.

We will go to many lengths to be enough for someone.  Children want to be enough for their parents and peers.  Workers want to be enough for their company, bosses, and coworkers.  A spouse seeks to be enough for their beloved.  We seek to be justified in a variety of ways and in every vocation.  All of us.  None is excluded in this desire to be enough.  Whenever we are called to account or even asked a question like “did you take out the trash?”, know that justification is happening.  A “no” answer to my wife when she asks about the trash means that I will not be justified in her sight!

In some ways this is good and right and needed.  A worker at his job must justify why a company should keep him around when cuts take place.  A worker must show why he is enough.  Likewise, students in school justify being passed on to the next grade by scoring high enough to show they are ready to move on.  We could list example after example, these being listed to try and make the point clear.

Why does justification happen everywhere and for all people?  Because our Triune God has built this into us, into His Creation.  Like the laws of thermodynamics, being justified is just how things are for us.  And the consequences play out for us all.  We either will be enough, or we will not be.  If I am not justified by taking out the trash as Rebecca asks, then I have merited a glare and a disappointed sigh and if I double down or make the situation worse than certainly a fight or much worse could happen.

We also want to be enough for our God. The same conditions, desires and consequences apply. Rather consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously we all strive to be made right before God.  This desire bends all our thoughts and actions, even those of atheists.  Those who reject Christ just replace him with something else, usually themselves.  This is idolatry.  The problem is that idols can never make you enough, they only demand more.  To be enough, after all, is just how things are.  The problem is this: most people do not know how they can be enough for God.
They think they know.  What people do know is the law of God. It is written onto every human heart.  The law of God is the will of God.  The law of God is how we will be enough to God, but also how we will have a blessed life on earth.
The standard for being enough to God is what we would call the 10 commandments.  Those who do the law will live by the law.  Don’t have any other gods, never take the Lord’s name in vain, honor God’s Word by hearing it and never grumbling, parents, murder, sex, theft, gossip, coveting, etc. And what is enough for the law?  Perfection, not good enough, but perfection. 
This is why Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19-20

The law of God is here to tell you that you are not enough.  The law reveals sin.  The word sin in the Bible means, “to miss.”  Like if you were shooting to hit a bullseye and missed the target. By missing the target you sinned.  So, when the law is proclaimed, it will tell you and me that we have missed.  Which means we did not score enough.  And there we come to being justified.

The law will not make you feel good about yourself, which is not the law’s problem (the law is holy and righteous), it is our problem.  We sin because we are sinners.  We have turned to our own way.  So instead, the law will cause us to sorrow over our sin.  The law is not meant to make you feel good or even good enough, God in fact gave it for this purpose: to reveal and condemn sin, to kill.  The law reveals God’s wrath and sin against rebels.  If you desire to be made right by God on the basis of your own works, you might always walk out of church guilty and sad.

But yet, we know that the law is the standard, it is the path to enough-ness with God.  But we have not attained it, we missed the target.  We must say no to God’s question if we have taken out the divine trash.

The law is not the answer, but it does point us to the answer.

“For now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…so that God would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Or to put it this way: “All have sinned and fall short of God’s desire for perfection, so they are made enough by God’s grace as God’s gift, by being bought by Christ Jesus, and in order to be bought, God put Jesus out as the cost for us to be made enough by his blood, and we become enough to God by trusting Jesus.”

Not your works, not even your best works are enough.  The only work that makes you enough for God is the work that his Son Jesus has done for you.  Jesus became the curse for you.  Jesus took on your sin, for God has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Just like how marriage illustrates it: Jesus gets what is yours: sin and death.  And you get what is Jesus’: righteousness, holiness, life, enoughness.  Jesus gives it freely.  He is our rest.  Jesus Christ has bought you with his blood.

And so that you would know this and have confidence in it, Jesus has instituted the Preaching of the Word (for faith comes by hearing) and has also instituted signs that you are indeed enough.  The Word proclaimed is what my goal is every Sunday.  My goal is not to give you tips to live a better life, that is your problem to begin with.  Your problem is your doing and your hope to live better, your doing.  There is no rest there.  My goal in the sermon is to give you peace and rest that God in Christ has done all that for you.  That is what we call the Gospel.  The scandal of the cross proclaims that we are now enough for God.  “My peace, I give to you, not as the world gives do I give” says our Lord Jesus.

But God has also given physical and tangible signs of this promise of Jesus crucified and risen for you.  We call those signs of God’s good will toward us the Sacraments.  The Gospel is not a nebulous idea or thought floating in thin air hoping you feel or think the right things.  Rather God concretely holds you down.  So, you are marked by God by Baptism.  Declared his child.  The work of Jesus Christ on the cross is now physically applied to it.  Romans 6, Colossians 2, Ephesians 5, etc.  People saw your baptism, witnesses were there who can tell you, paperwork was signed, we saw the physical water given the name of the Triune God supplied to you, even if you were too young to remember.  What is important is not your doing, but God’s doing to you.  And God’s doing and promises creates faith!  

And God continues to feed you and assure you that yes, you are enough because Jesus died for you.  Just like how friends and family must constantly affirm and comfort you that you are loved by them, so God does the same.  Week after week we quote 1 Corinthians 11, “As long as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  When you hear, “The body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” please hear that as God saying, “things between you and me are good, they are enough because here you are receiving what my Son has done for you.”  And Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden light.

There is much more to say on this subject, but the space is not here, so I will pick this line up again in next month’s newsletter and deal with some more practical matters on how this applies.  Since all people desire to be justified or as we have said here, enough, then all of life is learning how to apply the justification of the blood of Jesus Christ. So keep this newsletter theology point handy for next month’s edition.

July Voters Meeting
Coming up on Sunday, July 16th at 10:30am we will have our Voters meeting.  We actually have several things on the docket to discuss this time around, so please make space and time to attend and to go through all that is on the agenda.  We have to go through our bylaw changes ahead of voting on them at a follow meeting on July 30th, as well as discuss what to do with our property land along Schmidt Ave, Choir and Bells, and a couple other ventures and updates.

It is always a joy to see Tammy hard at work getting all the logistics and manpower assembled for what is required for VBS.  She always does such a wonderful job and puts so much heart into it and this year it is no different.

This year it takes place on August 7th-11th from 9:00am to 11:00am.  Please see the rest of the newsletter pages to see more information on what we need and volunteer help that we could use!

Financial Update
Following on the heels of the discussion above on justification, I remember my pastor at my home congregation leaning over to me once after Bible class as the congregation was getting ready to go from class into worship and he said to me, “Andrew the biggest challenge as a pastor is telling people that they are freely loved and forgiven by God in Christ and then mobilizing them to do something.”

I chuckled at the same time I saw the struggle playing out.  Paul has this to say about that idea that being freely justified and made enough by God in Christ means we throw out the law: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?  By no means!  On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
You are not made enough to God by the law.  But being made enough for God does free you up to actually do the law because the law is how you love your neighbor.  The Gospel is received passively by God and it changes hearts and minds to be generous and loving.  Not to get good with God, but because we actually love our neighbor without thought of reward.

One of the further discussions about justification is giving to the church.  I have been asked by leadership to address finances.  It is weird to say that we are rather behind this year in our giving and our projected budget of needs and yet we also have a lot in our checking and savings, in fact more than we have usually have.  Dana tells me that during her 7 years in keeping them, we were blessed to have anything over $30,000 in our checking account.  Right now we have over $60,000.  So it is not that we are desperate, but there is also a shortage coming in that should be addressed.

Now finances is an important topic, but one that annoys me ever slightly because people either make too much or too little out of money and I always feel like I have to tiptoe around the subject.  But you are my brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus whom I love and get to spend eternity with, so perhaps this is a specter in my mind more than anything else. But yet writing about it seems to always backfire or cause people to freak out.  Maybe because it is our god.   I remember a comment early in my ministry here that said that all we talked about was money. I looked back over sermons and Bible class material after that comment and noted that I had only brought up tithing or money on average once a year. (Maybe that person only came on the once a year I talked about it).  I honestly don’t think I talk about it enough, and maybe that is the problem.

But maybe it is because we do not talk about our finances in a healthy way.  Yes, there are many ways to give to the church concerning talents and time, but money is indeed important. When you give, you are staking a claim on the work of God done here.  When you give, you see it as valuable having Pastors, DCEs, staff, Building, and a visible Ministry.  When you give, you are saying, “hearing the Word of God and receiving the Sacraments are worth X-amount to me.”  That means that people will give based on what they have.  For the widow who gave two mites at the Temple, Jesus noted that the work of the Gospel meant everything to her. Even though it was two mites it was all she had, not just the leftover or excess of what she had.

Note here also that I am not talking about charitable giving to various organizations, which is good to do, too and which we also engage with in our monthly tithe to model for you how to base your budget as well.  I am talking about the specific giving to the Mission of Hearing the Word of Jesus Christ preached and the Sacraments distributed at the congregation that Christ has established here at Christ Lutheran Church, which is something only the Church can do.

As I heard the President of our Synod once preach years ago as I sat in the congregation that day, “If the Gospel is so great, why are you all so cheap?” I remember that line hitting me full force (it is law after all) back in college as I realized that while I did not make much money as a college student, I gave nothing at the time to the Church out of my pocket yet I still had plenty of money for outings and restaurants, movies and other recreations in college.  I remember being disgusted with myself over that, and proceeded to give whatever cash I had in my pockets when I went to church.  Better that than spending it on my vanities and my usual American consumer overindulgence.

Here is what I have correlated as I looked at our finances and our givers: It is true that our biggest givers are also more likely to also give their time and their energy to the Church as well.  It is rarely just one area; it is all three at the same time.  Correlation is not causation of course, but there is a relation here.  Perhaps it feeds into itself.  Giving increases the time people spend and energy they use here and time spent and energy used increases giving.

But we do know this: God does reward those who sacrifice their money to the Mission of God which I believe is what we are doing here. Plus, we have dreams that I would love to see accomplished and God has blessed us with more than enough people here to more than cover it.  Dreams of more workers, caring better for our workers, improved facilities, better outreach, and better internal care and resources to equip members.  We already do much of that, but there is much more that I see that we can and should do. I believe that we are responsible with what we do have and put it to use in the best way possible.

And indeed, I could count blessing after blessing already because we do have people who give and sacrifice much and God is faithful.  The ability for me to care for my family and give them what they need for life comes from your faith and generosity and that is no small thing in my eyes.

Besides all this, we have the promises in Jesus’ parables of the talents in the Gospel of Matthew that teaches us that God does not bless those who bury their money and do not give to the Mission of God through the Church.  Giving of money is a spiritual issue, believe it or not.  See Paul in 2 Corinthians 9 talk about it, which I will post some verses below.  Giving reflects spiritual maturity in the Lord Jesus Christ and also a trust in him.   I see giving as something that can be solved with preaching the Gospel and spiritual growth.

I will end with St. Paul on this topic from 2 Corinthians as he wrote about helping the saints in Jerusalem: “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.  As it is written, ‘He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgiving to God.  By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.  Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

So now, you who are my joy and my crown, whom I love very much as well, brothers and sisters who are called together to be saints with me, know that it is an honor to throw my hat in with you and to have this life together in which we live, may God grow that continually and always through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Andrew Belt