Lent is a Season of the Church year in which we prayerfully prepare to observe the crucifixion of Christ. Typically Lent is marked by a focused preaching of our need for a Savior from outside ourselves. Often to reflect on this need, Christians have engaged in the practice of fasting and giving. Both a means of focusing on Jesus not on ourselves.
Personally I don't always "give something up for Lent". More often than not I start something new. The attempt is to start something new that will keep me focused on my need for Jesus, and not become complacent in sin. This year I am going to spend Lent reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and I invite you to join me. There are only 31 installments which means you can read one letter a day, while leaving Saturday and Sunday for filling you mind with Scripture, which I highly recommend!
This work is a rather haunting but helpful look into the crafty and cunning ways that the accuser of men uses to draw us away from Christ. Lewis says in the preface to the book; "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them." I agree with this sentiment. I have long said that one of the tricks the father of lies employs is to convince you he does not exist. That way you have no need for Jesus to rescue you. Lewis also advises us "to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle." We actually have Jesus word to back this one up. See John 8:44.
That said, I do not believe - nor can I with any Biblical support - say that talking about the work of the "prince of the power of the air" (that means he actually controls nothing) opens the door for his attack, that is unless it is our intention. Scripture has much to say about wanting to practice such things, and none of it is good. The ancient evil foe cannot create, he can only twist that which God has given to us for our good. This is the very scheme in the question we know too well..."did God really say?" Remember 1 John 4:4 says "...He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world". So "have no fear little flock, for the Father has promised to give you the kingdom", in that great promise we have Life Together, fulfilled in Christ.
To that end, during our Sunday Sermon Services this Lenten Season I will be shedding light from God's Word on the dark devices that we see the diluter of faith dispatching, that in the face of his distraction we might be driven to the Gospel. In this way we bear witness to Christ our Light and our Life.
In response to a question that came up in Bible study this morning, I wanted to share this with you. The question was "How would you respond to the Westboro Baptist thing in Newtown?" I gave a brief answer but mentioned that I would share what a colleague of mine penned because I thought is was just that good. Here it is. The Author is Pastor Dominic Rivkin (That's his face on the left)
I just don't get this Westboro Baptist Church thing, yet here I am writing about them...again. How a small group of people can grab hold of one issue and allow hatred and anger to define their life is beyond my understanding. The Topeka Kansas based group has been around for quite awhile, believing it's their unique mission to attribute every incident in our country to immediate punishment from God for our "acceptance" of homosexuality. Picketing occassions of grief with their hateful signs, these false prophets of doom have completely missed the point. Most offensive to me is that Westboro gloats in their self-reported statistics, indicating they spend upwards of $250,000 per year to...and I sadly quote..."spread God's hate."
To my non-Chrisitan friends...please see these people for what they are, troubled souls who are misguided and misled not by faith but by their own sin. In fact, they're not unlike a deluded young man who takes out his own internal angst on innocent childern and teachers in a school. Sin has so taken hold of their hearts that they feel justified in their angry actions and use them as cover for their own brokenness. Sad thing is, we're all guilty of this same sin...whether we believe or not...when we choose to take out our aggression in shameful, angry ways on those with whom we disagree.
I am certain of this, faith cannot truly exist in a heart that hates. It is a heart that doesn't really know forgiveness and therefore cannot forgive. It is a heart that doesn't really know love, and therefore is incapable of love. The power of true Christianity is to give honest voice to our own brokenness first, finding that the generous love of Jesus frees us from being owned by our deepest, darkest, and most selfish secrets. To proclaim faith in Jesus while spewing hatred for those He sacrificed Himself to save is not Christian. Rather, to live generously as one who has received such powerful love changes our lives, our families, our communities and has the power to change our world!
"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:5-8
I pray today for the members of Westboro Baptist. I pray for all who harbor such hatred and anger in their hearts that they might receive the true Word of God, forgiveness and love in Jesus once and for all sacrifice. I pray for the hurting families in Newtown and our desperately hurting country, that we may see our need for living in the love beyond all measure and the peace that passes all understanding. I pray for a revival of the true Spirit of Christmas, the love of God in Jesus Christ, His promise to be with us always. It's in Jesus' precious name I pray. Amen!
Read Psalm 93, Isaiah 9:2-7, 2 Peter 1:12-21, Luke 22:54-69. Peace!
As we stand at the last day before an election I have to say, I'm tired. Tired of all the ads and mailers, "surveys" and pre-recorded pleas attempting to sway the practice of my civic duty. Some even going so far as to suggest that one or the other choice would be less "American" than the other. We are not two nations. We are one nation. There can be a legitimate disagreement among us about what political path is best for us. I will vote according to my conscience as God's Word guides and renews it, and I pray you do the same. Whoever wins, it will be our task to present a clear confession of the source of the president-elect's authority. It is established by God.
As Christians we do confess that this world is God's creation. We, the pinnacle of HIS creation have been given responsibilities in this world to care for it and each other. Part of the Government's role is exactly that...provide justice, punish law-breakers, yes, even legislate morality. There is no authority held by any branch of government that is not a reflection of God's authority, established by Him, in order to be His servant for your good. (If you struggle with that, check out Romans 13 and remember Paul is writing to Christians living in Rome under Nero...not exactly a friendly landscape).
So Wednesday morning I will rejoice. On one hand because the political machine will slow down in it's domination of media, and on the other hand because I will still be part of an eternal nation of the ELECTED! That's as God's chosen people, His royal priesthood, His holy NATION, we are the ones who have been elected to the office of an eternal nature. Created by the Father, Redeemed by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus, and made alive by His Spirit in Baptism, I all the more rejoice that I am a resident of a heavenly kingdom.
If this guy looks familiar to you, then you watch some of the same TV channels that I do. The Chef pictured here is not just a big man; he is tenacious in telling it like it is. He goes into failing restaurants and within about three days sets the owners up for success with a glorious unveiling to boot. It’s the same thing every week. A restaurant is given a face lift, an owner set straight; employees are refreshed and excited to be a part of the establishment as it begins anew. It may be the same thing every week but it is quite gripping as it all comes together. Only one problem. I have yet to see this show actually say "this is impossible" and walk away from a restaurant restoration mid stream.
So perhaps the name of the program is a bit misleading. The fact is that with a team of builders and designers, knowledge of the restaurant industry and fine cuisine, and the drive that this Chef brings; restoring and restarting a restaurant is very possible, even probable.
We have become accustom to seeing the impossible happen. Be it in a Tom Cruise movie series or a Food Network TV show, we have come to believe that the impossible actually isn’t.
Only one problem. Jesus makes a pretty clean cut statement, something is impossible. When asked “who then can be saved” he says “With man it is impossible” and he means it. Saving mankind, let alone one man, wouldn’t be like this TV program recording three days worth work. We need much more than a face lift. There is no way that we could ever straighten out the curved in on self nature we carry. The problem that we have is our own rebellious, unbending, “I know what’s best for me and mine”, “I like it just this way so take a hike God” heart. Replacing you own heart, impossible.
But Jesus didn’t stop talking after he uttered that word which does not mean what we think it means, “…but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Jesus comes into our failing life, takes our place in His death and three day rest in the tomb and tops it off with a glorious resurrection to boot. Suddenly, the impossible would be done for you. Possible for Him, and Him alone. Sets us straight with His Father, restored and restarted what was crumbling around us. He sends His Spirit to refresh us as life begins anew. He was the only one who could do it, for He is God in flesh. The best part is, He does it every week in about an hour. Called by the Gospel, He gathers us around Word and Sacrament. He is giving us life, forgiveness and salvation each week. “Yes, this is impossible for you” He says, “but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
Thanks to Rev. Philip Hoppe, for this one. I ran across this as I was going over Sunday's sermon thinking about how through Word and Sacrament Jesus is making His bride ready. The message and metaphor of this one was worth sharing.
It is sadly common behavior in our day: hooking up. For those who do not know (blessed are you), the term refers to a casual sexual encounter without any strings attached. On college campuses, it has become the norm rather than the exception for many students. That is sad enough.
But it has occurred to me recently that many people are approaching their relationship with Jesus in the same way. Who? Well those who want the sacraments (as well as things like marriages and funerals) of the church without remaining as part of the life of the church. Have no doubt, to participate in the sacraments is intimacy with Jesus in the most real way possible. And to ask for those things with no intention of a life with Christ in his Church is to ask Jesus to hook up, to have sacraments without strings attached if you will.
This is despising the Word of God. This is failing to hold these things sacred. This is disrespecting Jesus himself. It is unquestionably a sin against the Third Commandment.
We must not enable people to simply continue unaware of their sin in treating Jesus this way. We cannot simply say, “Well, at least they want to be baptized or come to the table.” While it is easy to suggest that is always righteous to seek the sacraments in any way, it is not. We must call things what they are. And to ask for the sacraments apart from a life with the Church is a gross misunderstanding of life with Christ in his Church. We must expose this truth in order that this sin can be repented of and forgiven as the person is drawn back into the life given by Christ in his Church. Jesus wants more than anything to be in intimate relationship with each member of humanity, but he does not hook up.
Jesus relationship to his people is that of sustained intimacy. It is not a single act of intimacy but a life of intimacy. This is why the scriptures always speak of the relationship as a marriage of Christ and his Church. It is a relationship in which the Church called by the Spirit’s gifts leaves all other relationships and cleaves to Christ her husband. They live together as one. What God has brought together, let not man seek to separate.
To read more from Pastor Hoppe you can visit his blog at http://ihoppe.com/blog
This was penned by TULLIAN TCHIVIDJIAN a Presbyterian minister who I have come to believe actually articulates Lutheran theology better than some Lutherans I know. Enjoy this solid post from His blog.
A Barrier to Honesty
One of the chief vehicles for dishonesty in my own life has been my involvement in “accountability groups.”
For those who have been spared them, an “accountability group” is a single-sex small-group Bible study on steroids. A group of friends arrange for a time each week to get together, ostensibly to encourage one another by upholding standards of personal righteousness in a confidential context. Instead, the members spend most of the time picking each other apart, uncovering layer after layer after layer of sin in a coercive and sometimes even competitive fashion. You confess your sin to your friends and they to you, and at first it’s a relief. Light shines into dark corners, and you pray honestly for the first time in ages. You may even find yourself a bit less drawn to whatever behavior brought you to the group in the
As the weeks wear on and you find that your victory was more short lived than you had initially hoped, perhaps you start to embellish or hold back in order to concoct some narrative of improvement. Or perhaps you remain entirely truthful, but your friends begin to doubt your sincerity. Soon nothing is enough; no matter what you unveil, they look for you to uncover something deeper, darker, and more embarrassing than what you’ve already shared. You start to embellish in the other direction–making things seem worse than they are to satisfy the probing inquisitiveness of your friends. Eventually everyone is investigating one another, and no one is telling the truth.
Well, I can’t stand those groups!
Setting aside the obvious objection that Christ settled all our accounts, once for all, such groups inevitably start with the narcissistic presupposition that Christianity is all about cleaning up and doing your part. These groups focus primarily (in my experience, almost exclusively) on our sin, and not on our Savior. Because of this, they breed self-righteousness, guilt, and the almost irresistible temptation to pretend, or to be less than honest. Little or no attention is given to the gospel. There’s no reminder of what Christ has done for our sin—cleansing us from its guilt and power—and of the resources that are already ours by virtue of our union with Him. These groups thrive, either intentionally or not, on a “do more, try harder” moralism that robs us of the joy and freedom Jesus paid dearly to secure for us. When the goal becomes conquering our sin instead of soaking in the conquest of our Savior, we actually begin to shrink spiritually. Sinclair Ferguson rightly pointed this out:
Those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about itself and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety [be] nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The tragic irony in all of this is that when we focus so strongly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become even more neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our guilt (instead of God’s grace) makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. And what is Original Sin if not a preoccupation with ourselves?
Make no mistake, we need loving friends to point out ways in which we’re settling for less–we need the help of our community to help us see our idols and the various ways that we are trusting in something or someone smaller than Jesus to satisfy our deepest longings and needs. But what needs to be ultimately rooted out and attacked is the sin underneath my sins which is not immoral behavior but immoral belief—faith in my own moral and spiritual “progress,” rather than in the One who died to atone for my lack of progress.
Listen carefully: Christianity is not first and foremost about our behavior, our obedience, our response, and our daily victory over sin—as important as all these are. It is not first and foremost about us at all–it is first and foremost about Jesus! It is about His person; His substitutionary work; His incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return. We are justified—and sanctified—by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. Even now, the banner under which Christians live reads, “It is finished.” Everything we need, and everything we look for in things smaller than Jesus, is already ours in Christ.
So I’m all for accountability–but a certain kind. The accountability we really need is the kind that corrects our natural tendency to dwell on me—my obedience (or lack thereof ), my performance (good or bad), my holiness— instead of on Christ and His obedience, His performance, and His holiness for me. It sometimes seems that we can’t help ourselves from turning the good news of God’s grace into a narcissistic program of self-improvement. We try to turn grace into law, in other words. We need to be held accountable for that!
The gravitational pull of conditionality is so strong, our hard-wiring for law so ingrained, that we need real friends to remind us of the good news every day. In fact, our lives depend on it! So instead of trying to fix one another, perhaps we might try “stirring one another up to love and good deeds” by daily reminding one another, in humble love, of the riches we already possess in Christ.
(Excerpted from Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free pg. 80-83)
NOTE: This book has not yet been released but you can bet that I'll be reading when it does come out!
Sunday July 15th, I am starting a new habit for the Summer Season. Until our Kingdom Quest adventure begins in the fall, I will have a 19 MINUTE Bible Study! that's right starting at 10:40 and ending at 10:59. We will be looking at the sermon text and I"ll answer your questions about it. To those who think it's impossible for ME of all people to pull this off, come find out for yourselves. The challenge for me is to actually be done in 19 MINUTES. The challenge for you is to show up and see what you can learn in a little more than a quarter of an hour. Hope to see you there.
. Until then God bless you richly in Christ through His Word.
I have been engaged in several conversations lately with members of several churches as well as other pastors about confirmation. In our church body, confirmation is the rite that celebrates a person publicly proclaiming the faith that God has been working in them through His Word by the power of His Spirit. This work we believe He will continue to do until Christ's return.
The rite called confirmation is not really about a student reaching a certain age or completing a checklist of to-dos. It is not about graduating to "full membership" in the church, nor is it really about an individual's first celebration of the Lord's Supper. Depending on the practice at each parish these may coincide with the rite of confirmation, but none of these things are what is at the center of the rite of confirmation.
The core of confirmation is the affirmation of the gifts God bestows in Holy Baptism. It's all about celebrating the call of the Gospel, at work by the power of the Holy Spirit. To be clear, the rite of confirmation is not a means of grace, it does not work the forgiveness of sins, nor did Christ command it. Rather it is a celebration that His means of delivering and strengthening faith (Baptism and the Word) have been at work, and the response is acknowledging Christ before men (Matthew 10:32-33).
Because participating in the rite of confirmation is a response to the work of the Gospel, we cannot turn it into a mandatory requirement and make it a law. Yet we talk about "getting confirmed" and too often equate that with some type of graduation, applying to it yet another checklist of things to accomplish before a student is "ready". Perhaps it is time that we intentionally began to change the way we talk about the joyous rite of confirmation. The goal would also be to reshape our thinking about this voluntary response to the call of the Gospel.
I realize that by saying that I just gave a few of my Lutheran brothers a bit of a heart attack. After all the explaination of the third article of the Apostle's Creed is pretty clear, "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him..." Absolutely, but remember we are not talking about confirmation as a means of grace. It is not a conversion of one who is dead in sin and transgression. The rite of confirmation is as I said before a public proclamation of the faith that God has been working as the "...Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel and enlightened me with His gifts..."
What about it? Is it possible for us to get out from under the law we have piled onto confirmation with decades of tradition? What would it look like if the rite of confirmation flowed from the work of God in our baptism, and not from the traditions that we hold so dear? Would there be only one "Confirmation Sunday" or would individuals (adults or children or both) at many times throughout the year make that public proclamation? I find this discussion to be one that will take a long time to come to the end of, but one that is much needed in the life of the church.