Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Most Wonderful [Anti-Enthusiast] Time of the Year, Part 2

As a follow up to my previous post:

...are those "wise men" who travelled to a specific location in Bethlehem worshiping the King of Kings by presenting tangible gifts contained in actual BOXES!?!? "God in a box" jokes aside for a moment, when do we get to the relativistically gnostic spiritualism part of this story?

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.'

"Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when they shall no longer say, 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As the LORD lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.' Then they shall dwell in their own land."

Jeremiah 23:5-7

The Most Wonderful [Anti-Enthusiast] Time of the Year

I have to say that this time of year warms the cockles of my objectively-minded, confesionally Lutheran heart. It is this time of of year when we hear the story of how The Son, the second person of the triune godhead, came down from heaven and took on human flesh only to be laid in a man-made feeding trough for livestock so that shepherds and and magi could come and worship.

...or as I sum it up for my charismatic Christian friends:

"Look! There's God putting Himself in a box just as He had promised us all the way back the Garden of Eden! And look there! There's Mary placing that incarnate box in yet another box filled with hay as they all rest from the elements inside a large box designed to house livestock. So... "God in a box" has been placed in a box which is inside another box ...sure does make you wonder, huh?"

Have a blessed Christmas filled with joy as we celebrate the tangible, objective truth from a God who has promised to reveal Himself to man through Word and Sacrament.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - Examples of Faith

Yesterday was the commemoration of Daniel and the three young men (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). You can read about it here.

Some thoughts about this story. First, lets not forget that if they had just done the simple act of kneeling before the idol of their captors, the fiery furnace would have never happened. Let us not forget that persecution is a response to a stand that a believer takes... a stand that--if not taken--assures you a life free of persecution for your faith. I would submit that part of the reason why the American church is not persecuted today is because she has done everything that the pagan culture has asked of her.

Second, let's look at this picture of what real faith looks like. In the face of future uncertainty, they cling to God's merciful provision and remain adamant to live the life to which they have been called... the essence of "Thy Will Be Done."

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." [Daniel 3:16-18]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thankfully, God Hates Divorce!

Rev Eric Brown was talking about the Christian view of divorce a few days ago. You can find that conversation here. Someone named "Jace" left the following comment on the thread:



divorce is necessary for many who are trapped in an unhealthy relationship, i do not believe God would allow man to live his life unhappy just to prove he is faithful


As is my custom, I blew him off with a derisive laugh and a sharp comment, but I've been thinking alot about what Jace said. It takes at least 24 hours for my maturity to kick in. All too often we look at divorce from a man-centered point of view... as if what the Scriptures have to say about divorce only applies to our various situations. But there is incredible gospel here if one takes the time to look!

How blessed we are that God does not think the way that Jace thinks He does about marriage and divorce! ...for God Himself is deeply grieved by the sins of man and yet remains faithful to His marriage covenant to Israel through Christ Jesus our Lord. He proves His faithfulness to us in spite of our dreadful adultery and whoring as we greive Him with our idolatry and wickedness. He has borne our griefs and endured our blasphemies and yet does not cut us off from His love and covenant.

For God has rescued Jerusalem from the bonds of slavery and called her to Himself as His bride and has adorned her with blessings and riches beyond compare:

"When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD." [Ezekiel 16:8-14]

And this chosen bride took those gifts and turned to whoring after other gods and presented these lavish gifts that God had given to her various other lovers:

"But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be.You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord GOD. And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood." [Ezekiel 16:15-22]

...and yet, God did not cast Jerusalem aside and divorce her from His sight in spite of her filth and treachery, but he seeks her out and draws her to Himself and promises forgiveness, hope, reconciliation, and points to His steadfast keeping of His covenant to her through grace:

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, declares the LORD, you will call me 'My Husband,' and no longer will you call me 'My Baal.' For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD." [Hosea 2:14-20]

So God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, born of a virgin. This savior, fully God and fully man, lived the perfect life that we could not and died on the cross to bear our guilt and shame so that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." [Ephesians 5:25-32]

Jesus Christ, the Lamb, sanctifies and cleanses His church (Israel) "by the washing of water with the word" so that He might present the church to Himself without spot or blemish. And so, in spite of her wickedness and adultery, God does not cast His chosen people aside, but renews and purifies them on account of Christ by the power of the Gospel through the Means of Grace: Word and Sacrament which are the marks of the church and the essence of the apostolic Christian faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." [Revelation 21:9-14]

Rejoice Jerusalem! Praise be to God for His steadfast love, faithfulness, and grace!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Word of the Day

Conversate (kon-VER-sate)..... as in:

"That person is difficult to conversate with."

Please... please... please... this monsterous perversion of the English language is not a word. Maybe you are having trouble "conversate-ing" because that person speaks English and you do not. Trust me, the word that you are looking for is: "converse". Let's fix that sentence.

"That person is difficult to converse with."

Much better.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An Ethical Position Stands on Something

An ethical system is a wall made of many interlocking stones. They all effect each other and the higher ones rest on what exists beneath it. You do not build a wall from the top down, but from the bottom up. You lay foundation stones and then stack other stones upon the ones laid before in a systematic and thoughtful way. The base stones carry the most weight. In this analogy, they are the basic principles of any ethical system. From this foundation, more advanced concepts are developed, derive their context, and are provided their significance.

But no stone in a wall floats freely at its appropriate height, but must first be placed and rest on the lower stones. A stone by itself, devoid of support and context, will not keep out evil. Building up ethics is as time consuming and tedious as building a wall. You must lay stone upon stone and build up the structure piece by piece.

In the ancient ways of warfare, a popular way of taking down a defensive wall was to undermine it. Tunnels would be dug beneath the wall to deprive the foundation stones of their stability. Once the security on which the wall was built was compromised, the entire wall collapsed under its own weight. Defending the top of the wall was not enough in this case. The bottom of the wall was also in great danger.

Today, the carefully built wall of the Judeo-Christian ethical system is being undermined--not from above, but from below. It is the foundation that needs to be defended and secured, but the majority of the defenders remain on the ramparts worried about their pet piece of the rampart. It is no wonder that these defenders (like the "Moral Majority" and the "Religious Right" as examples) find themselves tumbling to the ground as their footing gives way. They had no idea where the attacks were actually directed.

Lets be honest: topics like gay marriage, contraception, and divorce are pretty high up on the wall. They rest on the stones of selflessness, duty, love, compassion, patience, dedication, integrity, sacrifice, gender roles and differences, and even vocation. Topics like evolution, higher criticism, and narcissistic theological interpretations rest on the stones of scriptural authority. Those lower stones are the ones that are really under attack and those are the ones that must be reinforced, secured, and replaced... first! The failure at the higher levels is just a symptom of the foundation problem. Trying to dress the cracks in the mortar at the top is not going to address the fundamental threat.

Yes... the entire wall is important. The entire wall must be defended, but do not think that the top of the wall--or even the middle of the wall--can stand on its own if the bottom falls out from underneath it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Everything in Love (Even a Rebuke!)

Christians do good works to help and serve their neighbor. Everything is out of love and concern... EVERYTHING.

Even a rebuke must come out of concern for the spiritual health and safety of our neighbor. We do not rebuke because we know that we are right and they are wrong (as the Pharisees did). We rebuke out of the same concern that a parent has when they try to stop a child from touching a hot stove.

So even when the law is applied to secure sinners, it is not done out of wrath, pride, or vengeance... but from the selfless love that flows from the Holy Spirit who does not desire the death of the sinner, but that the wicked would repent and live! [Ezekiel 18:32]. If we are to emulate Christ, we must learn to come from this same place of selflessness and compassion.

This should be a constant petition in our prayers, because none of us do this as we should. We do not love our neighbors as we ought. We want to defeat them and be better than them. We want to stand in the high places, be respected, and have the authority to correct their errors and stand in judgment of their life choices. We want to be the gurus that are respected for our sage advice. But who among us can boast? Who is so free of sin that they can feel confident to cast the first stone of condemnation in any situation?

We are not called to be the greatest. We are called to be the least. We share in the cross and in Christ's humility. By the power of the gift of a living faith, the Holy Spirit that dwells in us creates new passions and naturally produces fruit such as love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the great gifts of God that we must share with our neighbor. How will anyone know God's love and mercy through you if they are shown nothing but hardness of heart, enmity, anger, and pride?

Entering the Mission Field

I have seen signs at the exits of churches or as you leave their parking lots that say:

"You are now entering the mission field."

I understand this sentiment. I get it. But... does that mean that the church is not a mission field?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Judging Others... in the Positive Sense?

When we think about "judging others" we almost always approach the topic from the same direction. We talk about being overly critical of others from a sense of superiority. We talk about dealing with people in the negative direction. I wonder, "Is that all that's to this?"

I've been thinking that this way of judging is not the only way that Christians judge their neighbors... and in my estimation it is probably not even the most harmful way that we judge. Nobody likes a self-righteous critic, but--thinking out of the box for a second--what happens when we judge the heart of another in the opposite direction... not negatively, but positively?

In dealing with other Christians especially, what happens when we judge others in the positive direction by assuming that this person is spiritually equipped enough to the point that we don't need to teach doctrine... or remind them the gospel that saves and redeems sinners? What happens when we look at a "leader" in the church like a pastor, elder, "strong Christian" in the congregation, or even a spiritual mentor, and wrongly just assume that they have it all figured out because of their outward appearances? What happens when we judge them to have the gospel locked down at all times? What happens when we assume that they don't need to hear the Word of God for themselves?

We know the analogies of the wheat and the chaff or the sheep and the goats. When the topic of judging others comes up with these analogies, we naturally assume that we shouldn't treat wheat like chaff or assume that a sheep is a goat... but can't the mistake can go the other way too?

No sinner is "too good" for the Gospel. No person is "so spiritual" that they have no use for the Gospel. No one has "plenty of time" to grow in Christ at some later date. No neighbor is so mature as a Christian that they have no use for your evangelism. No one is strong enough that they are beyond the need for encouragement from you. There is no situation where the Gospel "goes without saying" or where there is a particular truth "that does not need to be verbalized".

The church is full of people that have been written off as being beyond all hardship or struggle. In my experience, these are the ones who languish in a place of greatest need.

Friday, December 3, 2010

God's Law: The Universal Context in All Human Cultures

There is alot of talk about "contextualization" these days. The idea is that, since cultures are all different, you have to place your mission approach into that culture's (or subculture's) context. While this is true about basic apologetic approaches, it is a false argument to assert that the church's mission can only be successful if it adopts contextual approaches unique to each culture.


Because it overlooks the fact that there is one universal context that all human cultures have in common... by virtue of the fact that they are human.

God's Law and original sin. There is no culture that can avoid this context. They may ignore it or describe it differently, but this crucible sits at the core of every human experience. There is no culture, group, sect, or individual who does not understand this fundamental struggle because it is a part of everyone's nature since the fall.

To frame missional approaches by any other context is to dance around the central theme that binds all human cultures together and cuts to the center of the human problem: sin. Do you want to be contextual and relevant? Rightly divide Law and Gospel.