Thursday, December 27, 2018

Chapter 5: Reality Check -- Priest

To Those Seeking to Walk by Faith in the Culture,

Today December 27th is the third day of Christmas, and the Festival of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist. He was the LORD's great servant through whom the LORD gave to us, His Church, the Gospel of John, John's three epistles, and the book of Revelation. Here is the icon I have shared this day on media:

I purchased this icon in Patmos years ago and it depicts what is described in Revelation chapter 1. Saint John (below) received a heavenly vision. He sees Christ who identifies Himself as the first and the last, the One who died and is alive forevermore. He holds the seven stars in His right hand and the keys to Hell and Hades in His left hand. He stands in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. He sends His messengers/"angels" to His churches. The sharp double-edged sword is His life-giving Word; His Law and His Gospel.

I did not get into these facts in my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture, but they are pertinent to the subject-matter of the fifth chapter on being priests (Christians are identified this way in both 1st Peter 2:9 and in Revelation 1:6).

The average Christian is self-conscious and intimidated about witnessing and evangelizing. "Evangelism" is one of those words among God's people. In the face of invitations to support the evangelistic outreach of the church, one might hear, "let's sign-up for ushering or coffee set-up instead!" These too are valuable, but you get the picture. The real difference, though, is that being a priest isn't a Sunday "sign-up" thing at all. It is rather a 24/7 reality of who and what we are in Christ. The Christian is a disciple, and the Christian-disciple is a priest.

A priest is someone who stands between God and other people. The priest prays on behalf of others to God. The priest speaks on behalf of God to other people. Who is called to do this? Only pastors? No! All of God's people are called to do this. It is what we do!

Why was it discussed in my book addressing the Christian's life in the culture? It was discussed because God's plan is to inculcate the culture with His witness. Why? Because God loves the culture even as it is filled with so many vices. Why? Because God loves the people who live in it! For these Jesus also shed His blood to cover the sins of the world and conquered death so that those who come to trust in Him would have eternal life.

This is a pertinent paragraph from my book on page 81, the "new life" being the life of those in Christ who recognize they are also God's priests:

When this new life is in effect, it transcends a culture increasingly marked by self-centeredness, and yet it is a life that refuses to remove itself from the culture so that the love of God might be known within it. We live in a culture where "the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12), but the God of love leads His people to go the other way. To live in love is to live counter-culturally. This is a life that stands out. This life, however, cannot be forced. It is simply the life that results from faith. It is a life of love where faith is active in the good works that God has prepared in advance for Christians to do (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus said, "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). By being dedicated to serving others in their time of need, good works will shine and doors will open for speaking the Word of Christ.

Living in the culture is not something Christians try to avoid. It is rather something we relish, because with it, we have a clear mission from God: to share Jesus Christ. This becomes a priority for those in Christ. Additionally, to live in this great mission, we are protected from sin's influence upon us not to live for others, but to live for ourselves. That is, the Christian's identity as priest teaches the Christian about how to live in the world. We do not go out into the world to lust for the world, but we go out into the world to care for it and to give to it the good news of it's Redeemer!

We learn much about how to do this through St. Paul in Acts 17 where he is described as coming into the midst of the Athenians gathered at the Areopagus. He did not enter their company by telling them that they were wrong, but he entered into their hearing so that he could establish an audience. He looked for a way to have an "in" for his witness to find a hearing. He did so by stating truth and facts about them. He pointed out that they were very religious. This was true. Religion in the broard sense of the word is whatever defines a person's outlook and way of life; it describes what people live for and what they strive to serve. In saying this, St. Paul also made the most of their thoroughness to ensure all dieties were covered (as they were bonified polytheists) and saw his opening in the form of their altar "to the unknown god." As St. Paul began to offer identity for what was unknown (bearing witness to the true God), he quoted some of their poets who offered words complementary to the Christian doctrine of creation and with this, St. Paul was off and running. He had found some common ground, and with all gentleness and respect (1st Peter 3:15), he began to proclaim the Creator of heaven and earth who appointed "a man" to judge, the same man He raised from the dead. So, St. Paul finally got to the Gospel, and three reactions ensued: 1) some mocked him; 2) others were interested to hear more; and 3) some began to follow Christ.

We too are ready for all these possible responses, but we launch by seeking common ground, by striving to know where people are coming from (getting into their shoes so to speak, see 1st Corinthians 9:22), and then looking for any "in" that presents itself. And with the establishment of a real (and willing) hearing: we begin to share in a way that addresses the person in their unique circumstance.

In this fifth chapter I share insights gathered from a good friend of mine, Rev. Mark Jasa. He and I agree that evangelization and witnessing doesn't have to be based on long, intimidating programs that require massive amounts of memorization; it doesn't mean we have to go out soliciting door-to-door; nor does it mean we become obnoxious by blaring blow horns (or megaphones) and bearing big signs. No, instead, we remind ourselves that everyone is facing common concerns: guilt, shame, fear, and death; and that most people (at least) see value in compassion, in mercy, and in love. We simply come to people with real needs who just might be open to the LORD of life who meets those needs with no strings attached. And by the way, if they are open, it is because the LORD has made them to be. He does it all the time, but will we be God's willing priests?

We ought to be, because it is good to be a priest.

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Dr. Espinosa

Friday, December 21, 2018

Wittenberg Trail: Led to Christ

Dear Friends,

In the latest Issue, Etc. Journal, I wrote the article entitled, "Led to Christ." It is in the digital Issues, Etc. Journal, Fall, 2018 that just came out.

The account is about my road to the Lutheran Confession and practice. I was a nominal Roman Catholic, and started attending a congregation of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod as a teenager in order to see a girl! God used these circumstances, however, to introduce me to the Law and Gospel clearly proclaimed and the rest is history.

Why the Lutheran Confession? It all begins with sola scriptura. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit works to bring us to Christ! It is the Word of Christ that creates faith in Christ, which connects us to God's grace to us in and through Christ. It is the Word which unites us to Jesus; the Word alone. And the Word of the LORD endures forever! (1st Peter 1:25)

The Word leads us to know and confess the biblical teaching of sola gratia: we are saved by grace alone! Some express concern towards this. "Are you saying that good works are not necessary?" No, sola gratia does not say this. It says actually that while good works are not necessary for salvation, that they are -- nevertheless -- necessarily evident in the one who has been saved by the grace of God. This leads us also to the necessity of faith.

Indeed, we are saved through faith alone (sola fide). And while we are saved through saving faith in Christ alone, this faith is never alone. Consider Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Don't forget, however, what follows is verse 10: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Being saved by grace through faith alone, we are led by God to do the good works that He has prepared for us before the foundation of the world!

This grace alone through faith alone is in Christ alone. Sola Christus is our one foundation. Consider the great hymn:

The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord;
She is His new creation by water and the Word.
From heav'n He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.
-- Lutheran Service Book #644

By grace alone through faith alone in the saving person of Christ alone -- true God and man -- and His saving work: His life, His death, and His resurrection for us, Christ won for us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation!

All this leads us to confess Soli Deo Gloria! To God Alone be all the Glory!

This faith I was led to; this is the faith and practice of the Lutheran Confession. This is why I am a Christian who confesses the Scriptural faith in accord with the Lutheran Confessions.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Dr. Espinosa

Confession and Absolution: A Report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, The Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, April, 2018

Dear Friends,

One of my latest works was serving as drafter for this important project on Confession and Absolution. The writing and research was conducted in response to a national (synodical) resolution to encourage our pastors to employ this invaluable resource which Christ has granted His Holy Church. When the pastor makes use of this gift, then he can also be effective in offering the rite to his flock. Indeed, the gift is for all the people of God! The work came out this past Spring and is available in digital form via:

When you get to this site, see the very top. You can type in a search.

Type in Confession and Absolution

You will be taken to the document and you will be able to download the document! You will have the e-book for free!

"Confession" in God's Word takes on different forms: there is confession of faith, confession of praise, and confession of sin.

The document focuses on the latter, but in doing so, emphasizes how the Church -- through the office of Jesus in the Church -- responds to confession of sin. The response is called "Absolution." Thus, the entire consideration is Confession and Absolution. Absolution is the pronouncement, declaring, and imputation of God's forgiveness through God's Word and Office! It is a very great gift indeed!

At this juncture, of course, the Church of the ancient teaching runs into contemporary complaints: "Hold on! Wait just a minute! It is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus alone that we are saved and have forgiveness! So, why do you claim that forgiveness comes through this rite?"

And the contemporary objection is readily answered. Our salvation and forgiveness was indeed won on the cross by our LORD Jesus Christ and our justification absolutely established by His resurrection! However, we must ALSO receive this salvation and forgiveness 2000 years later in time. Christ's victory must be DELIVERED and given to us personally!

That is, our salvation is both won and distributed. The one without the other will not suffice. Luther perhaps put it best:

"Christ on the cross and all his suffering and his death do not avail, even if, as you teach, they are 'acknowledged and meditated upon' with the utmost 'passion, ardor, heartfeltness.' Something else must always be there. What is it? The Word, the Word, the Word. Listen, lying spirit, the Word avails. Even if Christ were given for us and crucified a thousand times, it would all be in vain if the Word of God were absent and were not distributed and given to me with the bidding, this is for you, take what is yours." ("Against the Heavenly Prophets," LW 40, 212-213)

In this document we explore the Scriptural Witness, the Confessional Witness, History, and Challenges. We continue by considering how this gift helps the pastor as a child of God, for addressing the needs of his unique calling, and then we provide guidance for the pastor on how to get started. Finally, we present how this gift may then be extended to the entire congregation. We discuss the general need, the great benefit for pastor and people, and how this resource may be restored and practiced.

I pray that this work might be of personal benefit for you. In Lutheran Biblical Christianity the gift -- in its individual and private form -- is not mandated, but is free. When it is used, however, it provides a great benefit indeed for troubled consciences. It is a true balm for the soul, and salve for the spirit.

To the glory of Christ, our Savior!

Dr. Espinosa

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Chapter 4: Reality Check -- Disciple

It can be argued pretty convincingly that the terms "Christian" and "disciple" are synonymous. This is almost true. While it is accurate to say that "every Christian is a disciple" and "every disciple is a Christian," the words themselves like facets of a diamond are different angles to our radiant position of being in Christ. The Christian belongs to Christ and when we do (belong to Christ), the LORD leads His Christians to become hearers of His Word (disciples). In fact, the only way a Christian becomes a Christian is through the Word of Christ ("faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ," Ro 10:17), and to remain a Christian, one must constantly be in the Word of Christ.

Abiding in the Word (constantly learning it, praying it, and living it out) is not religion for the sake of religion, but lively interaction with the LORD of the Church who guides and directs His people through His Word that serves as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

We hear of the best of the best in various fields, and they will testify one after another that they must be about staying in the fundamentals, the basic principles of what makes them successful. Great athletes for example must also practice their foundational routines. Christians who are serious about their faith do the same thing: they are constantly in the Word of Christ. This is not merely intellectual review, memory stimulation, etc., but it is engagement with the Word of God which is living and active to create, preserve, and nurture faith in Christ. It is not magic, but it is a Word that is God's and when God speaks to us, He creates the faith spoken.

The Word of Christ (and Sacraments) are to the spirit, what water and food are to the body.

Disciples understand this and therefore are constantly hearing the Word and inwardly taking it in. The spirit of the Christian is kept strong and healthy through the Word of Christ.

It might, therefore, be clearer as to why a chapter on being a disciple might contribute to knowing essential foundations in a book about living in the culture. In my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture, I view chapter 4 as integral for the ability to successfully live as a Christian in the culture.

Too many people go out into the culture and essentially permit the culture itself to form their identities. We start to behave as if the goal in life is cultural acceptance to the extent that cultural accomodation is the end-game in order to thrive in the culture. In this thought-line, then we live to please the culture. We want to match the popular trends, but these are often vacuous and merely sensual. They are certainly not lasting nor are they eternally helpful.

Rather, we should be formed first and then go into the culture so as to make a positive impact for God and other people that they too might know the God of grace incarnate in Jesus. So, we must be disciples if we are to be Christians who are salt and light for the world.

From page 69 of the book:

This doesn't mean that the disciple lives a carefree life, nor does it mean that the disciple does not battle sin or live in the spiritual battle between the sinful nature and the born-again spirit. This doesn't mean that the disciple does not bear a cross or suffer. It does mean, however, that there is one identifiable steady experience, as long as saving faith in Christ remains: the Word of Christ is always a part of the disciple's life, the Law of God is always leading to the confession of sins, and the Gospel of God is constantly leading to the forgiveness of sins in Christ. Such forgiveness gives another life, countering the old -- a life that produces the virtues supplied by the Holy Spirit, like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These flow from the faith produced by God's Word.

And now I ask: How important are these virtues to our culture struggling in hatred, strife, and division; how much does our culture -- drowning in self-centeredness and hostility -- need these virtues of Christ? How much does a culture of death need life? How much does a culture steeped in darkness need light? 

Yes, it matters Christian, that you be a disciple. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn 8:31-32)

Blessed Advent as you prepare for Christ's coming while abiding in Christ's Word,

Dr. Espinosa

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Chapter 3: Reality Check -- Christian

Dear Faith and Culture Readers,

There is an energy and force that accompanies anyone with purpose and clear identity, especially when their presence brings good and light into darkness. With a sense of mission, we move beyond mere existence. We live with a telos in view, but not merely an "end," but a goal; a purposeful end (and in Christ, one which follows us into eternity, Rev 13:14: "...their deeds follow them!"). Thus, when we speak of the teleological argument for the existence of God -- for example -- it is the argument for God from design. Dawkins sought to discredit the argument through his atheistic book Climbing Mount Improbable. Dawkins then put forth his more familiar work The God Delusion rendered delusional by the apologetic response of Allister McGrath in his book The Dawkins Delusion. 

You, Christian are designed. You have purpose; you have meaning; and with this comes a unique identity and status. By knowing your status, you are in a position to launch for impacting the world with the light of Christ. 

The first two chapters of my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture outlines three forces against the Christian: the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh. These are -- so to speak -- an unholy "trinity" against us. But the LORD does not leave us to face these alone. Chapters 3, 4 & 5 present the counter-measure. Our identity and status is put before us. As one who confesses Jesus Christ, you are Christian (chapter 3), Disciple (chapter 4), and Priest (chapter 5).

Know your true status and launch into a great purpose for living!

From Faith that Sees Through the Culture page 48: 

People with a living faith in Jesus Christ were first called "Christians" in Antioch (see Acts 11:26). This is an exciting identification. It is powerful and profound. It means that we are Christ's. A Christian is someone who belongs to Jesus Christ.

If you know this and you hold to this reality, then everything in life changes. 

Page 48-49:

When faith in Christ is known, this belonging to Jesus isn't in any way a violation of freedom. Much to the contrary, it represents the greatest freedom. To belong to Jesus Christ means that one is set free from the terrible burdens of the world, the devil, and sin. To be a Christian is to be enabled to truly live, to know a proper relationship with God and with other people. Such a life is a great reversal of the calamity described in Genesis 3: shame is replaced by forgiveness; running from God is replaced by seeking Him out; and hostility toward others is replaced by love for others.

Rejoice Christian. You are a Christian!

In Your Service and To Christ's Glory,

Dr. Espinosa

Friday, December 7, 2018

Chapter 2: Struggling on the Inside ("Put To Death So That We Can Live")

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Chapter two of my book Faith that Sees Through the Culture is the rest of my attempt to connect with anyone confessing Christ, and yet discovers -- in those self-disclosed moments of honest reflection -- that their lives are nevertheless fraught with undulation and sometimes, even despair. How can this be? Scripture proclaims with a clarion ring: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2nd Co 5:17a), so how can we experience so much that does not feel like a new creation?

Many are misled by enthusiasts who present Christian conversion as a cancellation of all insecurity; an expiation of all doubt. After all, doesn't St. James teach that we should not doubt when we pray? Of course he does (Jas 1:6). So, what do we make of this? Maybe we are defective Christians. Maybe we are not Christians at all as the devil would have us think.

He is a liar.

In accord with the new creation, the new man who walks by faith, then it is true: this one confesses and prays and praises with all confidence. The new creation knows no doubt. This one prays with assurance because their prayers do not depend on personal sincerity, but upon the promises of God; and HE is completely reliable and trustworthy. This is why the new man has certainty, because God in His grace in Christ can be counted on to cover our doubt, so that the only thing reaching the ears of our Heavenly Father are prayers -- holy and pure -- without doubt. Christ has made them so.

When the Christian prays, therefore, this is faith expressing itself. At the same time, there is the old man, the doubting man, the skeptical Adam, the sinful flesh, the carnal nature...not only does this aspect doubt, but it resists God and fights against God. This is how I discuss it in the book:

The world and the devil bombard us and fight against our faith in Christ. And then the Lord comes to our aid, and we make it worse: we fight Him; we resist Him. The Lord then does something we might not expect. He takes this one making it worse and slays him. And in this case, He lets us drown. Then, with His almighty power and in the most tender mercy and love, He takes the one who is drowned and brings him back to life; He raises us from death; He gives us a new life. We are "born again," "born of the Spirit" (John 3:3-7). We cross over from death to life (John 5:24). The water containing the Word in Holy Baptism drowns the old rebellious life, it saves (1 Peter 3:21), and it raises a new person at the same time. We die and rise all in the same event (p. 39).

When we come before God, in Christ the old doubting one is covered by Christ; and the new believing one comes forth to pray with an open lane to God with all doubts removed.

This, however, is easily forgotten, so that sometimes even before we step foot into the culture to live as God's children and witnesses to Christ, we become paralyzed by our doubts, and our self-condemnation. If you have ever felt this way Christian, you are not alone. But know this: your doubt and all other sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb, and now you are clean before the Living God. Go forth with faith that confesses Jesus. He is your confidence. He is your new life. He lives in and through you and all His people.

Let us go into the culture as God's new people, as His Christians, His disciples, and as His priests. Indeed, these last three points -- Christians, disciples, and priests -- are the basis for chapters 3, 4, and 5. Knowing who we are in Christ; thoroughly understanding our new status and identity is key to living effectively in the culture. This invigorating reorientation is how we proceed to live in faith that sees through the culture.

In Christ's Service,

Dr. Espinosa

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Chapter 1: Struggling with the Outside

The first chapter in Faith that Sees Through the Culture was/is intended -- along with chapter 2 -- to empathize with every serious Christian. Those who confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world, are immediately confronted by forces against them. These forces can easily discourage the Christian. Is it because the culture in the world is atheistic? No, atheism -- relatively -- is not a pervasive worldview. For the most part, people in the United States are pretty spiritual. We should recognize this as we strive to successfully navigate the culture we live in. From pg. 29 of the book:

It would be a mistake, however, to reduce the corrosion of a nation to a lack of morality. There is always a spiritual condition -- and practice -- in the backdrop. Indeed, the United States of America, though being "secular," is not a nation without spirituality. Secularism is not synonymous with atheism. Most citizens claim some sort of belief system. Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, "You can easily see and sense how the world practices only false worship and idolatry. For no people have ever been so corrupt that they did not begin and continue some divine worship. Everyone has set up as his special god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort" [LC I 17]. This is still happening. And where the world does its best to deny the one true God, the evil one is also there, keeping us religious, but in the wrong ways.

We should understand that as we live in the culture, we do not face an anti-religious vacuum. Much to the contrary, religion abounds (whether or not it is called "religion"). People innately believe in more than molecules and atoms. Any belief system seeping into the soul, however, replacing the revelation of Jesus Christ (understanding the significance of incarnation) comes at a price. Eternal life is lost apart from the author of life and the One who is life: Christ. This ought to alarm every Christian who claims to care about another person who does not know the liberation from religion that shackles dying people with what they must do for their own enlightenment.

The evil one is not irreligious. He carries on as an angel of light (2 Co 10:14). Christians therefore must be wise to this. We do not seek to share Christ with irreligious or unspiritual people, and this fact in itself is set to discourage the Christian from ever opening their mouth for the gospel. Instead, let us not be surprised by what can feel like a suppresive encounter, but let us rather capitalize in a secularized milieu that encourages the exchange of ideas. It is easy to say that no one wants to hear the gospel. St. Paul could have said that to himself at the Areopagus, but he didn't. He opened his mouth for Christ to a bunch of very religious athenians (Acts 17).

In Jesus' Name,

Dr. Espinosa

Monday, December 3, 2018

Faith Is A Gift!

So a fundamental concern I carried with me as I wrote the book Faith That Sees Through The Culture (CPH, 2018) was how easy it is for Christians to become discouraged in the face of the culture. When this happens, we have a tendency to forget to return to our source of faith. It is like the person who is stressing and feeling anxiety, who forgets to breath deeply. It is ironic that just when we need more oxygen, that our habit is to breathe less as we tighten up. We cut ourselves off from the very thing that is helpful. I did not use this analogy in the book, but it is akin to the point I made in the book. We need faith's source each and every day, and not just every once in a while.

From page 16 of Faith That Sees Through The Culture: "Faith, while it eventually impacts every faculty of a person -- including the will (so that faith is experienced also in the will) -- is not reduced to an action of the will. It is a gift from God that God must bring into existence....Through the Word of Christ, God creates and preserves. If this faith is to survive and grow, therefore, it must receive the Word of Christ over and over again."

Sometimes we hear that the Word of God is our "instruction manual," but such a description is reductionistic. It is far more than a book of instruction (though holy Torah is indeed both the holy instruction of law and grace), but it is in itself what the Holy Spirit works through to create, preserve, and nurture faith. The Word of God does more than teach, it feeds and empowers. As we live and interact within the cutlure, let us not forget our life-line. Let us abide in the Word, not every once in a while, but every, single day.

Will you breathe oxygen today? Will you eat food? Will you drink drink? Then Christian, receive the Word as it is even more important than oxygen, food, and drink! It is your food for eternal life and yes, for life here and now!

In the Name of the LORD,

Dr. Espinosa

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Last Day of the Church Year and First Advent Eve Tonight, December 1st, 2018

Faith that Sees Through the Culture has been out for 5 months now and I rejoice to see how it has been received. Please keep me in prayer as I begin my proposal for an exciting sequel. For now, I would like to offer highlights of the first book. We will begin at the very beginning of the book from the Preface, pg. 14:

"There are so many 'two sides of the same coin' in the Word of truth. For example, we correctly confess that God works upon us so that (1) God kills us, and (2) God makes us alive. He uses His Word [to do both]....He reveals that the Word itself is a "both-and" Word, a two-sided Word, a two-themed Word. It is duality."

By seeing this in the Word of God, the Christian is better-able to navigate living in the culture. Such awareness also elliminates the popular contention that Scripture contradicts itself. When people say this, they are often unaware of the dualities. They do not consider the reality and significance of paradoxes. To know these, however, the reader-hearer of the Word is put into a better position to grasp the life-giving Word of Christ!

In Jesus' Name,

Dr. Espinosa