2011 Thanksgiving sermon

October 11, 2011

Text: Luke 5:17-26

Theme: Give thanks for our compassionate Lord!

Week 3 of three-week series “In View of God’s Mercy”

(1 – Use God’s Gifts; 2 – Fulfill your calling; 3 – Give Thanks to God)

 

What was life like for that man?  I don’t know how long he was paralyzed, or even how he came to be paralyzed.  Luke was a doctor, and Luke’s word choice points us toward some sort of accident that robbed this poor man of his ability to walk.  What was life like for him?

Maybe he remembered back to his younger years, when he could run and jump and play tag at school.  Maybe he thought back to walking to work every day, and how he just took that commute for granted.  Maybe he felt guilty because now his wife and children had to take care of him – the opposite of the way things used to be.  In fact, everything was the opposite of how things used to be.

Now, he spent his days on a mat.  He lay inside his house in Capernaum, looking out the window and unable to move himself.  Some friends might come and bring him outside, so that he could enjoy the sun and the birds and the feel of a breeze through his hair.  Pretty regularly, those friends might grab the handholds at the corners of the mat and bring him places – up into the foothills, or down by the Sea of Galilee.

But it was still embarrassing.  Some days were better than others; on the good days, he could enjoy the fact that he was still alive.  On the bad days, his mind just kept cycling through a list of the things he couldn’t do, all the things that everyone else had to do for him now.  And all too often, his dreams were haunted by the memories of that fateful day.  He could remember the accident in slow-motion, 1080p high definition.  Even in his sleep he couldn’t run away from this frustrating prison cell that his body had become.

What have I done to deserve this?  Is God punishing me for something I’ve done?  Why did this happen?

And every year when Thanksgiving rolled around, as someone fed him his slices of turkey and scoops of stuffing, this man wondered to himself: What do I have to be thankful for?

Every now and then, news reached his ears – news of some miraculous cure, or of some new treatment.  But he kept hearing one name over and over: Jesus!  Jesus!  Even in this same town, Jesus of Nazareth had driven out an evil spirit.  Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law.  Jesus simply touched people who had all sorts of diseases and sicknesses, and just like that they were healed.  Demons came out of people, shouting “You are the Son of God!”

But then Jesus left the area.  That faint glimmer of hope was gone.  Back to the daily grind of this mat.  Back to another day of watching other people walk, run, even complain about their sore feet after a long day’s work.  Those people who could still walk, and run, and jump, and skip probably didn’t even realize how much of a blessing it was, just to be able to walk!  And rather than being thankful for a complete and functioning body, how easy is it to complain about sore feet after a long day?

Isn’t that how thankfulness works – that we aren’t thankful for a blessing until we see life without that blessing?  We are surrounded by God’s blessings every day.  Just take this morning, for instance.  You woke up, probably in a warm bed, and opened your eyes to see a ceiling above your head.  You got cleaned up and drove here, and you didn’t have to face any jeering peers.  We are free to worship God here, without fear.  You can take a deep breath and fill your lungs with oxygen.  Up in the sky, the sun continues to warm the earth and give plants the energy to make food.

And yet, we don’t take the time to thank God for his blessings until that blessing is taken from us.  A good night’s sleep in a warm bed isn’t as common as you might think it is.  How many people in Ottawa wake up on a park bench or in a shelter, rather than in their own home with their own family?  How many countries in the world have been blessed as abundantly as Canada?  How many countries have the freedoms that Canada has?

Do we always thank God for our blessings – or do we grumble that a blessing isn’t enough?  Do I thank God for a job, a house, a paycheque, a family, another day of grace – or do I complain about the hours, the leaky faucet, the bills, the irritating kids, and the weather?

God has given us all sorts of blessings – and he wants us to receive them thankfully!  Yes, the earth is the LORD’s and everything in it – and God has given each of us a generous slice of his EVERYTHING!  Do we realize it and receive these blessings with thanksgiving – or do we take them for granted?

“But Pastor – what’s so special about the sun, or the furnace, or the pantry?  The sun shines every day!  My furnace kicks in, every morning!  The ocean gives fish, the fields give grain, every day!  Hospitals still deliver babies, every day!  These things always happen!”

Is something insignificant just because it happens every day?  Is something less of a miracle just because it happens every day?  If the sun stopped shining for ten days, suddenly it would be a great thing to wake up to a beautiful pink sunrise!  If your furnace or car suddenly didn’t work for a week – it sure would make you be thankful for the times it did run!

If your legs didn’t work, you certainly would be grateful for the beautiful throbbing of your feet after a long day’s walk.  If you spent your life lying on a mat, you’d be grateful for your friends who came and carried you around from place to place.

That paralyzed man had some caring friends.  You could imagine the conversation: “Hey, I hear Jesus is gonna be back in town tomorrow!  We’ll come pick you up around 10 – okay?  He can help.”

Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  They get to the house – and the house is packed.  Maybe they stand on their toes, trying to see over peoples’ heads.  Jesus is all the way in the back of the house!  Sure, the little kids can run in between everyone’s feet – but we’ve got a guy on a mat!  What can we do?

When they couldn’t bring the man into the house because of the crowd, they went up on the roof.  Mark tells us that these guys dug through the roof!  It wasn’t just a thatched roof – they were tearing off shingles, digging through the dirt that served as insulation, ripping out joists and beams.  The people below probably noticed dirt & dust drifting down – what’s going on here?

And then the ceiling tiles were lifted out.  The man’s friends lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  Everyone down below stares up in amazement – what’s this?  A skylight?  The mat is lowered down by ropes, and the crowd finds a little bit of space.  You could imagine the man’s thoughts: Here I am!  I’m right in front of Jesus!  This is exciting – he can help, I’m sure of it!  What’s the first thing I’ll do when I can walk?

When Jesus saw their faith – that is, when Jesus saw that the man’s friends trusted Jesus enough to remodel a house and lower their friend on ropes – when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man: “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

And that one sentence from Jesus set the whole world straight for that man.  My sins are forgiven!  Forgiven!  Jesus looked at this man and knew how long this man had been lying on a mat.  Jesus knew about bed sores and the man’s desire to walk again.  Jesus knew the bitterness and frustration this man must have felt at being confined to a six-foot by three-foot piece of canvas…and Jesus gave this man what he most needed: forgiveness.

Of course, the scribes & the Pharisees know their Old Testaments.  They know that only God can forgive sins – and so they begin thinking to themselves: Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy?  Who can forgive sins but God alone?  Good question!  Who CAN forgive sins but God alone?

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”  He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 

Well, if that didn’t set them straight!  Jesus knows what they’re thinking!  And so Jesus challenges them: “What, do you want me to make him walk, too?  Do you want proof that I can forgive sins?  Here, I’ll make him walk.”

What point was Jesus making?  The man on the mat got it loud and clear.  That man had been wondering, thinking, pondering, wishing he could walk.  That man spent days, weeks, months, even years – lying on a mat and watching children run by, watching the elderly walk by.  Maybe he felt he was missing out on life.  But there, after being lowered down through a roof into the middle of a crowd, God’s priorities were made clear.  As great as any earthly blessing is, forgiveness of sins is greater.

As great as functioning legs, indoor plumbing, entertainment, good jobs, sunshine, sports, and food are – these things are temporary blessings.  God’s greatest and best blessing is his Son.  As great as any earthly blessing is, forgiveness of sins is greater.

Jesus even said: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…”  Did you catch it?  Son of MAN.  Jesus points to himself and says: Yeah, I’m human!  I’m a human being!  And as a human being, who looks and talks and has emotions like any other human being, I FORGIVE YOU.  Jesus was standing right there in front of the paralytic – and Jesus was both the forgiver and the forgiveness.

No mere creature is able to cleanse hearts and consciences from sin – because this power and responsibility and right belongs to God alone.  But, right here Scripture tells us that Christ does not cleanse consciences from sin simply by snapping his divine fingers – Jesus brings his human nature into this cleansing, this forgiveness.  Jesus did so, first, by shedding his blood for the forgiveness of sins.  Second, Jesus applies this to each of us when a pastor or a fellow Christian says to you: I forgive you in the name of Jesus Christ.  The blood of Christ, shed once for all, cleanses our consciences from sin – and this is something which the hollow and deceptive philosophies of this world cannot do.  This forgiveness, carried out by God and announced by Christians to fellow Christians, is something to be truly thankful for, because God has forgiven you. 

Our second reading, from Colossians, also stands as a witness to this fact: by his death on the cross, Christ has blotted out God’s divine regulations which stood opposed to us.  God’s law, with all its demands and threats and punishments, were nailed to the cross when Christ’s body was nailed to the cross.  It is there, at that place, that God has forgiven our sins and freed us from punishment.  Christ took on human flesh in order to rescue humans from sin and death – in order to free people from the demands of God’s law and the punishment that was hanging over our heads.  In a very real and physical way, Jesus has offered his entire body and blood on your behalf and as your substitute.

God has forgiven you for shallow, now & then thankfulness.  God has forgiven you for taking his blessings for granted.  God’s blessings can only be truly appreciated by believers – because only believers can welcome and receive these blessings as opportunities to glorify God.

Imagine yourself, once more, back into the middle of that crowded room.  Up above, a skylight with a few faces peering down.  Around your feet, pieces of dirt and dust.  In front of you, a man on a mat – smiling, because he has been forgiven.  Jesus looking at him the way God looks at his beloved and forgiven children.  In the background, religious leaders scoffing and thinking to themselves: Yeah, but this Jesus isn’t ALLOWED to forgive sins!

And then Jesus speaks, once more: Get up.  Take your mat.  Go home. 

Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 

You want proof of your forgiveness?  Look at these two men standing right before your eyes; one, the Forgiver; one, the forgiven.  The forgiven, a man who hadn’t walked since the Trudeau government; the Forgiver, God himself who had no beginning and yet was a 30-something year old man.  Your jaw just drops to the ground, you can do nothing but fall face down in awe and praise and thanksgiving.

Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God.  They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” 

Remarkable things.  A group of friends – 5, 10, 15, we don’t know how many – who brought their friend to Jesus.  Friends who dug through a roof to get this man to Jesus.  A man lowered on ropes.  Jesus, true man, forgiving sins – because Jesus is also true God.  A paralytic on a mat, getting up and walking home.

If you’re wondering what to thank God for today, or if you’re concerned because you have taken God’s countless gifts for granted: God has forgiven you.

And today, if you’re looking for things to thank God for – just consider the opposite of a blessing.  This man thanked God for forgiveness – because he had not known the peace of forgiveness.  This man ran and jumped and walked joyfully – because he knew what life on a mat was like.

Do you take your brothers and sisters for granted?  Imagine life without them – life with no encouragement in the faith, no announcement or reminder of God’s forgiveness, no sense of a family who truly understands.

Do you take your indoor plumbing for granted?  Ask the 2.6 billion people who don’t have it.

Do you take your religious freedom for granted, as though Jesus is as optional as croutons on a salad?  Ask Yosef Nadarkhani about religious freedom.  Yosef is the pastor for several small Christian churches in Iran, and Yosef has been told to either renounce his faith or be hanged for the crime of converting to Christianity.  Yosef has given the Iranian equivalent of “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

Friends: God has blessed us very, very, very, very, very much.  Christians have always celebrated Thanksgiving – because God has always abundantly blessed his children in every way.  First and foremost among those blessings is forgiveness through Jesus.  Celebrate Thanksgiving today, tomorrow, and every day – because every day is a new day lived IN VIEW OF GOD’S MERCY.  Give thanks for our compassionate Lord!  Amen.

 

 

Haven’t posted a sermon in a while (again)

September 29, 2011

Today we consider our stewardship of time and talents.  And normally, when we talk about stewardship, we begin by taking a step back and looking at what God has entrusted to us.  Then we look at how we can use our time and resources for God’s glory – because, as you well know, the earth is the LORD’s – and everything in it. 

There’s nothing wrong with that approach – because the Bible talks that way ALL THE TIME.  Just page through your Bible – whether the Psalms, the Gospels, or any other part – and you’ll see how God continually directs the eyes of his children toward all that God has given to them and done for them.

But I’ve got one concern about that approach.  If that’s the approach we take every time stewardship comes up, we risk divorcing this doctrine from the rest of our Christian lives – as though we become spiritual biology students, dissecting the Christian life on a cold biology table and looking at each particular organ, each particular doctrine in turn…all the while, forgetting that the Christian life is a living, breathing, faith-filled LIFE!  The Christian life is more than mere doctrine – because God has truly made us new people!  God has brought us out from death to life!

And so, with your permission, this morning rather than approaching the concept of “stewardship” from this direction – looking at all that we have been given, and seeing how we can and rightfully should use our blessings in service to God – we’re going to approach stewardship from this direction.  Instead of looking at stewardship on the basis of our blessings, we’re going to look at stewardship from the viewpoint of VOCATION – where you are and what roles you have in life.

Because, after all – stewardship isn’t primarily about the different blessings or talents you have – stewardship is primarily about using these blessings to God’s glory.

By approaching the concept of stewardship from this direction, my hope is that we don’t leave any part of our Christian life sitting on the spiritual dissection table, as though one doctrine is just another element of the Christian life to take apart and dissect and admire – but as something that doesn’t really APPLY to my life, TODAY.

First, I should define that word, VOCATION.  The term “vocation” refers to the particular station in life which God has assigned to each of us individual Christians.  We’re accustomed to talking about the “divine call” of those who serve in the church’s public ministry, and rightly so – but much of what’s true about your pastor is also true, in a somewhat different sense, of each of you.  A Christian husband, wife, father, mother, doctor, farmer, councilman, nurse, truck driver has been called by God to his or her station in life no less than a pastor or teacher at a Lutheran school – even though the manner in which laypeople are “called” may be entirely different.  A pastor is externally called by a group of believers to be a shepherd of God’s people; a layperson is called through God’s providence and God’s Word to fulfill a vocation.

Even from these examples, it’s apparent that every Christian will hold several different vocations at the same time – a person might be a wife, mother, employee, citizen, and Sunday School teacher all at once.[1]

Now, first & foremost, it is important to know that it is God who assigns you your vocation; you do not choose it for yourself.  Yes, you may have decided upon and prepared yourself for a particular career; you may have chosen where to live, and then moved there; you may have selected your marriage partner, dated, gotten engaged and married.  But God was at work behind the scenes in every life decision you’ve ever made.  The result is that you woke up this morning in a certain time and place, cleaned up and walked out the door into a world uniquely your own – and that was God’s doing, not yours.  You are where you are today because God has put you here – and ultimately, for no other reason.

Yes, God does give us free will in these matters – but the topic of vocation is bigger than that.  A thousand opportunities confront the believer, all of which conform to God’s law.  Because of God’s mercy, there need not be wringing of hands when making choices in life – because, in God’s eyes, the choice is between “good” and “good.”  You can choose one option knowing it would not have been a sin to choose another.  It’s like going to a department store, ambling up to a certain shelf in a particular department, until you find that one item which seizes your attention – the one you select just for your Father.  You’ll crawl up into his lap; he’ll peel off the wrapping and exclaim, “Oh, how beautiful!”  This is grace, the mysterious grace of God: that what you chose for him is what he chose for you.

There are a few caveats – namely, that God does not tempt to sin nor cause people to sin.  God is not responsible for the evil in this world.  Additionally, in the doctrine of vocation, we are speaking only of occupations that are not inherently sinful – for example, a murderer cannot say that God placed him in that vocation.  God does not cause sin.

Do you see how approaching the Christian life from the viewpoint of VOCATION makes for a totally different understanding of Christian stewardship?  For instance, let’s look at today’s text: Romans chapter 12, verse 1.  Feel free to follow along in your pew Bibles, page 1763.  It’s a short verse, but there’s a lot packed into it.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.  That’s an oxymoron.  The term “living sacrifice” falls in the same category as “jumbo shrimp” and “deafening silence.”  Back in the book of Leviticus, God gave instructions about the sacrifices: Pick out a year-old sheep.  Take it to the Temple, put your hand on its head, drain all the blood from this animal – then cut the animal into pieces and burn it up completely.  Nothing “living” about this sacrifice.

But God says that we are to offer our bodies – ourselves – as LIVING SACRIFICES.  That begs the obvious question, then: have you?  Do you?  As you go about your daily Monday-Saturday schedule, do you consciously offer your life as a living sacrifice?  I mean, it’s a nice idea and may be true in theory – but what about in practice?

In Old Testament times, if you wanted to offer a sacrifice, you’d take your sheep and burn it up on God’s altar.  In New Testament times – things are different.  God doesn’t just demand a sheep or a goat – God wants your whole life.  Do we offer our lives to God?

Or, in practice, do we assume a me-first attitude that puts my wants, my desires, my hopes and dreams, my agenda, my schedule above and before anything that God would have me do.  Do I look at my career, my awards, my house, my car, my hat-trick-scoring child and think: my hands have done this!  My hard work has accomplished this!  My early-mornings and late nights have finally paid off – because here I have earned what’s coming to me!

All too quickly, that mindset divides our Christian lives into categories – here’s my worker category, here’s my parent category, here’s my student category, my child category, my spousal category, my athlete category, my weekly schedule category.  Consciously or not, we begin to make distinctions about what belongs to God and what belongs to me – and these distinctions blur over time.  “I’ll take the credit for this talent and skill when I’m at work, but when I’m talking with another Christian I’ll be sure to tag on that little line about God giving me that same talent.”  “I’ll give God a few hours here, and then my conscience will be clear to use the remaining hours however I want” – as though the reason I do anything is to dodge the poking of my conscience or evade the hammer of God’s law.

At heart, each of us is still a legalist.  Because of our sinful flesh, we all love to arrange our lives according to the law: If I offer my tithe of time or my ounce of talent, then God will see that and pay me back…as though God were some divine bubble-gum machine, where we offer God a nickel of our lives and then sit back to see what God is gonna do for me.

At heart, each of us must daily struggle against the mindset that the reason I give God any glory, any time, anything at all is because then God becomes indebted to me, or owes me something, or will arrange events in my life in order to balance the books.  In other words – I give to God so that he gives back to me.

But: is that GOD’S mindset?  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. 

No!  God’s mindset is just the opposite!  When God looks at you, he sees you through his Son!  God looks at you with love because he is a merciful God!  God’s mindset is that you don’t have to give him anything – because he’s already given you EVERYTHING!

When I say EVERYTHING, I don’t mean your spouse, children, land, cattle and all you own.  That certainly is true.  But God gave you more than that!  When God gave you everything, he gave you his most treasured possession – his Son.  When God gave you everything, he wrote your name in the book of life – purely out of his mercy and grace.  When God gave you everything, he engraved your name on a heavenly mansion.  When God gave you everything, he saw our legalistic, pay-and-be-paid-back, bubble-gum machine mindset…and he gave you immeasurably more than you could even ask or imagine.  God gave his Son to suffer and die in your place, so that you now stand as a forgiven child of God.

God has given you everything!  God has forgiven your sins!  God has given you a heart that loves him!  God has sacrificed himself in order to save you from sin and make you his!  FOREVER!  God has even given you all sorts of blessings on this earth – the earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, and the LORD of all creation has entrusted YOU with a slice of his everything!  God has given us brothers and sisters who care for each other, love each other, admonish each other, and refocus our eyes on what God has done for us!

Who you are in God’s eyes stands solid and immovable and engraved on God’s heart.  Jesus Christ, God’s own sacrificial Lamb, has marked you with his blood, has redeemed you to be his own.  The Holy Spirit has called you by the gospel, sanctified, and kept you in the true faith!  Even today, God still richly and daily provides clothing and shoes, food and drink, land, cattle, and all I own, and all that I need to keep my body and life!

THAT is God’s mindset!  THEREFORE, for this reason: I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. 

God tells us that he wants us to offer OURSELVES to him as “living” sacrifices – our heart, soul, and mind.  All that we are.  God’s got a very good reason for doing this – and it’s not because God needs our praise, or our sacrifice.  God tells us this BECAUSE he knows the power of our sinful flesh!  God knows the constant tug and pull of our sinful hearts, as we wage war within ourselves – the good I want to do, I don’t do, that which I don’t want to do I keep on doing!  God knows that the devil is scheming to distract us from God’s mercy and love for us, so that we become focused on the blessings, rather than the Blesser and the gifts, rather than the Giver.

Additionally, God knows that offering our bodies and lives as living sacrifices will be painful.  Suffering under temptation and daily resisting temptation is not easy!  Being a LIVING sacrifice is even more difficult, more painful than simply offering a lamb as a burnt offering!  But such pain is part of God’s will for you.  By this continual encouragement to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, God helps you discipline your flesh and beat your sinful nature into submission.  And it’s here, even in these few words: in view of God’s mercy – that we are driven again and again to the source of God’s grace.

God hasn’t left us to fend for ourselves!  God isn’t holding up some impossible bar when he says Offer your bodies as living sacrifices!  God is encouraging you to do something that he has created you to love to do!  In other words – when God says offer your bodies as living sacrifices, he’s telling you this because he wants your life to be conformed to the life of his Son – who gave himself up for us all, so that God would have mercy on us and make us his children.

Our whole lives are lived in view of God’s mercy!  Everything that we do, that we see, that we think, is lived in view of God’s mercy!  Out of his mercy, God has placed you in this place so that you would come to faith and come to know our merciful God!  Look at the richness of God’s love FOR YOU! 

I guess there’s only one question left.  How do we go about “offering our lives as living sacrifices”?  In other words – how do I live my whole life to God’s glory?

Simple.  What is the greatest commandment?  Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  And the second is like it: love your neighbour as yourself. 

As you go about your day and your week, living your life in view of God’s mercy – ask yourself: How can I glorify God here & now?  How can I love my neighbour, here and now?  As a mother, how can I glorify God?  As an employer or employee, how can I love my neighbour?  As a student, how can I glorify God?  As a grandmother, how can I love my neighbour?

When you think of it that way, the answer you’ll inevitably get is just to be the best mother, father, student, teacher, employer, employee, grandparent, aunt, uncle, garbage collector, ditch digger, accountant, truck driver, or engineer that you can.  As you fulfill your individual role, the role and place and position that God has designed for you and placed you in, with these particular neighbours, in this relationship, with these resources, gifts, and abilities, responding to these needs, at this place and time – as you fulfill your vocation to the best of your ability, you glorify God.  You love your neighbour.  You offer your life as a living sacrifice.  As you do these things because of and in view of God’s mercy, God reminds you that he has prepared these works in advance for you to do.  You remember that your status with God is a sure and certain fact, made certain through the death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.

Through constant and daily fulfilling your vocation, God is working in your life to conform you to the likeness of his Son.  The works we do merit nothing of our salvation – we can’t do anything to earn God’s favour or mercy or love.  But by glorifying God and loving our neighbour, we give praise to God every day – we daily become those living sacrifices that God desires.

And yes, it will be painful.  Fulfilling our vocations is not always easy.  Just ask the wife whose husband is an unloving, inconsiderate man.  Ask the child who only hears the hammer of God’s law without the hug of God’s forgiveness.  Even then, God’s purpose in your life is accomplished.  Even then, you live in view of God’s mercy – you live in the sure knowledge that every sadness and difficulty in this life is a good and perfect gift when it comes from our loving Father.

No, our lives and vocations can’t be separated into neat, little compartments that fit into their specified spaces in Microsoft Outlook or our iPhones.  Sure, we might plop our Christian lives down on the dissection table in order to see the various organs and doctrines – but God is glorified when those doctrines are put into practice.  God is glorified when those doctrines are re-assembled and Christians goes hopping back to their places and occupations in God’s world – because living our lives as living sacrifices in view of God’s mercy means constantly elevating our eyes to what God has done for us.

Being a living sacrifice means constantly asking how I can glorify God, how I can love my neighbour – not to earn something from God, as though my vocation or stewardship could wrestle blessings from God’s hand; rather, being a living sacrifice means that we constantly live life in view of God’s mercy and constantly set our hearts at rest in the forgiveness that God has given us.  Friends: in view of God’s mercy, offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. 

 


[1] I am indebted to Prof. Cherney and Prof. Paustian for their essays on this topic.

Interesting – “Brave New World” vs. “1984”.

September 7, 2011

I had written an essay for the Dr. Ott scholarship comparing these two books with the book We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin.  For what it’s worth.

This book sounds interesting.

In today’s excerpt – two competing visions of the future from British authors George Orwell (1903-1950) and Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). Though it came 17 years later, Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 is better known; however, Huxley’s Brave New World has proven more relevant. Written in the shadow of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, 1984 shows a world ruled by an oligarchical dictatorship with perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. Set in 2540 AD, Brave New World was published in 1932 and began as a parody of H. G. Wells’ optimistic and utopian novel Men Like Gods. Neil Postman contrasted the two visions in the foreword to his 1985 classic Amusing Ourselves to Death:

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and [Orwell’s] prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

“Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

“Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

“This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

Author: Neil Postman
Title: Amusing Ourselves to Death
Publisher: Penguin
Date: Copyright 1985 by Neil Postman
Pages: xix-xx

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

by Neil Postman by Penguin (Non-Classics)

Paperback

If you wish to read further: Buy Now

 

 

 

Should you use the above link to purchase a book, delanceyplace proceeds from your purchase will benefit a children’s literacy project. Delanceyplace is a not-for-profit organization.

Haven’t posted a sermon in a while. Here’s one.

July 21, 2011

Romans 5:12-15

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

 15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

This morning, I would like you to imagine that you were born in the far-off country of North Korea.  As you probably know, North Korea is ruled by Kim Jong-Il.  His regime rules the country with an iron fist.  The people of this country have very few freedoms – the government controls virtually every activity.  The only legal radio, television, and news organizations are operated by the government. The media universally praise the administration of Kim Jong-Il.  It’s hard to believe that a power-hungry dictator is as kind and gracious as the news outlets say he is.

Life in North Korea is far different from life here in Canada.  For every dollar North Korea spends in order to feed its people, the government spends twenty-five dollars on the military.  In the late 1990’s, massive flooding and widespread droughts resulted in two million people starving to death.  If you criticize the government, you’ll be sent to a re-education camp and brainwashed.  You risk your life by simply making phone calls to people outside the country.

The true nature of life in North Korea is not known; in a world of instant communication, North Korea is completely cut off.

Can you imagine a place like that?  How would you feel if you grew up in a place like that, or lived in that country for your entire life?  Even if you had never known life outside of that country, you probably still would have the feeling that life could be better – that there’s got to be something more to life than just government-run television and a job that doesn’t even provide for your family.

The truth is: No matter what your background is, no matter where your family came from, no matter when you were born – each of us lived in a spiritual North Korea.  Spiritually, you were born into a country ruled by a cruel dictator, a dictator who took everything you ever owned or wanted.  This dictator shattered every one of your dreams and sucked the joy out of everything that life had to offer.

We didn’t live under a dictator named Kim Jong-Il – we lived under a cruel dictator called DEATH.  That’s what Paul is telling us today in verse 14, when he says: Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam… 

In this section, Paul goes back to the beginning of time, to the first people: Adam and Eve.  On the sixth day of creation, God had formed Adam out of the dust and breathed into him – and Adam became a living person.  And one of the first things God said to Adam were some instructions: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” 

What’s interesting here is that God says this to Adam, even before God created Eve.  Adam was supposed to teach Eve what God had commanded – because even though God only gave the command to Adam, it also applied to Eve.  Later, Adam and Eve both broke God’s command – but God sought Adam out.  Even though Eve had been the first one to eat the fruit, God held Adam accountable for their sin.

After the fall into sin, Adam and Eve’s children were born with sin – that’s what we call original sin.  Every human being has inherited a sinful nature from their parents, just like a person might inherit their hair colour or eye colour.  But in today’s reading from Romans, that’s not what Paul is talking about.  Paul isn’t talking about original sin, the sin we receive from Adam simply because we’re human.  Paul IS talking about life from God’s point of view.  God holds you guilty of Adam’s sin.  God holds every person guilty of Adam’s sin – because when Adam sinned, the entire human race sinned.

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, [because] everyone sinned. 13 Yes, people sinned even before the law was given at Mount Sinai. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14 Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did.[1]

This is a very precise point that Paul is making here.  In God’s courtroom, God holds us legally responsible for Adam’s sin.  Even though Adam was the one who broke God’s command, God holds you accountable for that crime.  Each of us has been charged with Adam’s guilt.

Well, like any lawyer, you might ask for proof.  Paul lays out the proof in verse 12: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…  Sin entered the world through Adam.  Sin brought death to Adam, Eve, and every other person.  The fact that people die is proof that God holds every person accountable for Adam’s sin.  Death came to all people because the first person sinned.  Even if you had never personally done anything wrong in your entire life, you would still die – since you are a human, God holds you accountable for the first human’s sin.  That’s the point Paul is making here.

This is a striking concept!  I hate the sentence of death pronounced on me & Adam.  When God said to Adam, “You shall die” – he was talking to all the sons & daughters of Adam.  God’s words also apply to you: You shall die, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Ever since Adam’s sin, every person has tried to escape this sentence of death.  Every person seeks some distraction from the fact that the grave stares back, waiting to take you in.  Every person wants to forget the guilt of being held accountable for Adam’s sin.

Think about it.  Why do we spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year on cable TV, internet, sporting events, hobbies, and other entertainment?  It’s not because life is so boring – it’s because life can be so DREARY!  Each day brings another reminder of our sin and guilt.  That pain in your joints is a reminder that God will turn your body back to dust.  That death of a loved one is another reminder that you cannot know or prevent your own death.  At the grocery store, birthday cards for young people celebrate life: congratulations!  You’re six years old!  You’ve finally turned twenty!  But the birthday cards for older people have a different tone, as though people have begun mourning the passing of time and the only way to deal with it is with jokes.

All this reflects the feeling that, in the hourglass of life, there’s more sand in the bottom than in the top.

“…you will surely die.”  The words God spoke to Adam ring true in our lives, too.  Each of us tries to forget about this death sentence, to forget about our own mortality.  Living a life on earth means that we trying to escape death – and there’s no way to escape.  Even more, we misuse and abuse God’s gifts as we try to forget about death – we waste time in distractions that have no lasting value.  We spend money acquiring more things – because we love that feeling, that rush when we buy the latest and greatest fashion or gadget.

The sad truth is that each of us was born into this country called DEATH.  Anything that we gather or collect will eventually be destroyed, whether by moth or rust or accident.  Each of us was born into this country ruled by the cruel dictator called SIN, and everything we do as citizens of this country is simply our efforts to escape death.  That is your personal history, your personal story.  That is my story.

Have you ever heard such a sad, depressing, ugly story?  And if you think to yourself a little bit – you know that I speak the truth.  You can see from today’s reading that I speak the truth – and this truth reverberates in your heart like some incessant drum beat.

But thanks be to God!  God entered history and changed your story – God has given you a brand-new story!  God has rescued you and me from death – Jesus entered this world of death and has brought us into a world of life!  Paul writes: Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.  But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

God counts Christ’s life as YOUR life!  God counts Christ’s perfection as YOUR perfection!  Jesus became a human – he took on human flesh, but with one big difference: Jesus did not have a human father.  Although Jesus was completely human, just like you and me, Jesus had no sin or guilt of his own!

Yet, even though Jesus had zero strikes against him – no sin or guilt of any kind – Jesus went to the cross and died.  Jesus paid the penalty that we deserved – Jesus died in order to release you from your guilt and your sin.  Christ’s death paid for your inherited sin; Christ’s death paid for the guilt you inherited from Adam; Christ’s death paid for everything you’ve ever done.

In other words: Jesus Christ entered this dismal, despairing country ruled by the harsh and cruel dictator.  Jesus picked you up in his arms and brought you to a new land – a land of freedom and joy and happiness!  You no longer have to spend your days trying to forget about the sentence of death hanging over your head – you have NO SENTENCE of death any more!

That’s what God is talking about in verse 15: But the gift –that is, life through Jesus – but the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  In other words: Every person dies because of Adam’s sin – but God’s gracious gift of life overflows to every person because of Christ’s life.

Yes, each of us will die – but through Jesus, each of us will rise to eternal life!  God has released you from the power of death!  That’s why the resurrection is so important!  If Jesus had not risen from the dead, you would not be freed from the sentence of death that God had pronounced upon Adam and you.  But – Jesus HAS risen from the dead!  Jesus has given you life!

This changes EVERYTHING!  It changes how we live our lives.  We don’t have to walk through this world depressed and downtrodden – God has promised us LIFE, today!  God has promised us life for ETERNITY!  We don’t have to spend our time and energy and resources trying to forget about life, or forget about death – we can freely spend our energy worshipping God in all we do!  We can daily worship God in our attitudes toward God’s blessings – viewing our time and our resources as blessings to use for God’s glory!  We don’t have to be sorrowful about the passing of time – we can be confident that the God who gave us life is the God who holds our times in his hands!  In fact, we can freely use our days on earth to serve God – God has only given us a limited time to glorify him on this world, and then we’ll be with him eternally.

God has given you a brand-new story – and this story displays a lively, life-giving glory!  You are God’s glorious children, because you have been rescued from death and raised to life!  Where death had permeated all creation and determined every person’s actions, Christ’s LIFE now permeates your life and influences your actions!

But: even though God has given you a brand-new story, don’t forget where you used to live.  Don’t forget that you used to live under death and sin.  There are a lot of people who are still trapped in death and sin.  Every person who doesn’t believe in Jesus still lives under that cruel dictator of sin and death.  Every other religion is a false map out of sin and death.  Jesus is the only way that you are RESCUED from death.

Jesus has rescued every person from death – but if they don’t know about it, they’ll still die in sin!  Christ’s rescue applies to every single person you see!  And YOU can rescue other people from the power of sin and death just by telling them about Jesus!  “Come on, come check out our church – it’s a life-changing message!  If I’m wrong, you’ll just spend an hour of your time learning something about Christianity.  If I’m right, you’ll have a whole new perspective on life!”

Thanks be to God, for setting us free from sin and death!  Thanks be to God, for releasing us from that dreadful dictator!  Thanks be to God for giving us the gracious gift of life – life with purpose now, with the promise that we will have eternal life with Jesus!  Amen!


[1] From the New Living Translation (2007)

The cross, by quarter and dime

May 11, 2011
“To pour myself out for others. . . . To pay the ultimate price of martyrdom – I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory.”    – Fred Craddock
Commentary (not mine)
We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table–- “Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”
But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 25 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, “Get lost.” Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.
Usually giving our life for Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul.

Another article

April 29, 2011

Christless Christianity:

Getting in Christ’s Way

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Only in Christ is discipleship the consequence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, rather than its own contribution to human redemption.

What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.

Not to be alarmist, but it looks a lot like Satan is in charge right now. The enemy has a subtle way of using even the proper scenery and props to obscure the main character. The church, mission, cultural transformation, even the Spirit can become the focus instead of the means for “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). As provocative as Barnhouse’s illustration remains, it is simply an elaboration of a point that is made throughout the story of redemption. The story behind all the headlines of the Bible is the war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman (Gen. 3:15), an enmity that God promised would culminate in the serpent’s destruction and the lifting of the curse. This promise was a declaration of war on Satan and his kingdom, and the contest unfolded in the first religious war, between Cain and Abel (Gen. 4 with Matt. 23:35), in the battle between Pharaoh and Yahweh that led to the exodus and the temptation in the wilderness. Even in the land, the serpent seduces Israel to idolatry and intermarriage with unbelievers, even provoking massacres of the royal family. Yet God always preserved that “seed of the woman” who would crush the serpent’s head (see 2 Kings 11, for example). The story leads all the way to Herod’s slaughter of the firstborn children in fear of the Magi’s announcement of the birth of the true King of Israel.

The Gospels unpack this story line and the epistles elaborate its significance. Everything is leading to Golgotha, and when the disciples-even Peter-try to distract Jesus away from that mission, they are being unwitting servants of Satan (Matt. 16:23). “The god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers”-not simply so that they will defy Judeo-Christian values, but “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:4-5).

Satan lost the war on Good Friday and Easter, but has shifted his strategy to a guerilla struggle to keep the world from hearing the gospel that dismantles his kingdom of darkness. Paul speaks of this cosmic battle in Ephesians 6, directing us to the external Word, the gospel, Christ and his righteousness, faith, and salvation as our only armor in the assaults of the enemy. In Revelation 12, the history of redemption is recapitulated in brief compass, with the dragon sweeping a third of the stars (angels) from heaven, laying in wait to devour the woman’s child at birth, only to be defeated by the ascension of the promised offspring. Nevertheless, knowing his time is short, he pursues the child’s brothers and sisters. Wherever Christ is truly proclaimed, Satan is most actively present. The wars between nations and enmity within families and neighborhoods is but the wake of the serpent’s tail as he seeks to devour the church, employing the same tried and tested methods: not only martyrdom from without, but heresy and schism from within. In the rest of this article, I want to suggest a few of the ways we are routinely tempted toward what can only be called, tragically, “Christless Christianity.”

Denial: The Sadducees

The modern spirit has been dedicated to shifting authority from the outside (the church or the Bible) to the inside (reason or experience). Kant said the one thing he could always trust was his moral intuition, which led to the irrefutable fact of “the starry heavens above and the moral law within.” The Romantics said we should trust our inner experience. In fact, was it not the desire to usurp God’s throne that motivated the rebellion of Lucifer as well as Adam and Eve?

Whenever we determine what really matters by looking within ourselves, we always come up with law. Some would object, “Not law, but love.” However, in the Bible, the Law simply nails down what it means to love God and our neighbor. Long before Jesus summed up the Law in this way (Matt. 22:39), it was delivered by the hand of Moses (Lev. 19:18, 34), and Paul reiterated the point (Rom. 13:8-10). We were created in the image of God, without fault, entirely capable of carrying out God’s moral will of making all of creation subservient to God’s law of love. The Fall did not eradicate this sense of moral purpose, but turned us inward, so that instead of truly loving God and our neighbor, we suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. The fall did not even mean that people became atheists, but that they became superstitious: using “God” or “spirituality” and their neighbors for their own ends.

The Enlightenment philosophers were right when they recognized that morality is the common denominator of humanity. Yet they concluded from this that whatever came to us from the outside-the reports of historical miracles and redemption-was the least essential to true religion. “All we need is love” and “All we need is law” make exactly the same point. Duty, love, or moral and religious experience lay at the heart of all the world’s religions-their insides-while the historical packaging (stories, miraculous claims, creeds, rituals) are the outer shell that can be tossed away.

Kant distinguished these in terms of pure religion and ecclesiastical faith. The former has to do with our moral duty. The latter consists of doctrines of sin, the incarnation and atonement, justification, supernatural rebirth, the particular historical claims concerning Christ, as well as the official practices of the church (such as baptism and the Supper). The story of the death and resurrection of Christ, for example, could be accepted only to the extent that it represented a universal moral truth (like self-sacrifice for others or for one’s principles). Taking it at face value actually undermined pure morality. If you look to someone else’s sacrifice to save you, then you won’t be as prone to fulfill your own duty yourself. One sect dealt with guilt by throwing children into volcanoes to pacify the gods, while Christianity says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son … ” (John 3:16). Yet once religion is refined of such “superstitions,” the residue left over is a pure morality that will at last lead us to build a tower reaching to the heavens. Trust your insides; doubt everything external to you. That was the lesson of the Enlightenment.

The problem, of course, is that we have an outside God and an outside redemption. Everything inside of us is theproblem. The good news, however, is that the God who is completely other than we are became one of us, yet without succumbing to our selfish pride. He fulfilled the law, bore its judgment, and rose again as our solution to the curse of sin, death, and condemnation. Furthermore, he sent his Spirit to indwell us, making us new from the inside out, until one day our very bodies are raised. In one sense, of course, the Enlightenment was right: the law is in us by nature, since we are created in God’s image. The gospel is surprising, good news that has to come to us from the outside. Everyone knows that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated ourselves: the Golden Rule does not by itself provoke martyrdom. It does not need witnesses and heralds. In fact, it did not require the incarnation, much less the atonement and resurrection.

So it’s not surprising that the world would think that “all we need is love,” and we can do without the doctrine, since the world thinks it can do without Christ. Doctrine is where the religions most obviously part ways. Doctrine is where things get interesting-and dangerous. As the playwright Dorothy Sayers said, doctrine isn’t the dull part of Christianity, rather, “The doctrine is the drama.” Jesus was not revolutionary because he said we should love God and each other. Moses said that first. So did Buddha, Confucius, and countless other religious leaders we’ve never heard of. Madonna, Oprah, Dr. Phil, the Dali Lama, and probably a lot of Christian leaders will tell us that the point of religion is to get us to love each other. “God loves you” doesn’t stir the world’s opposition. However, start talking about God’s absolute authority, holiness, wrath, and righteousness, original sin, Christ’s substitutionary atonement, justification apart from works, the necessity of new birth, repentance, baptism, Communion, and the future judgment, and the mood in the room changes considerably. If postmodernism is simply a revival of modern romanticism (experience as sovereign), then it’s not very postmodern after all.

Historians often point out that for all of their differences, pietism and rationalism converged to create the Enlightenment. The heirs of modernity looked inward, to autonomous reason or experience, rather than outward, in faith and repentance toward a God who judges and saves. With Friedrich Schleiermacher, father of modern Protestant liberalism, the emphasis fell on Jesus as the supreme example of the kind of moral existence that we can all have if we share in his “God-consciousness.” So while Christianity may represent the purest and fullest realization of this principle, other religions are in their own ways attempts to put this universal religious and moral experience into words. We just say things differently, but we are experiencing the same reality. Where Kant located the essence of religion in practical reason (moral duty), Schleiermacher located it in religious experience, but either way the self is made the measure of truth and redemption is something that we find within ourselves, even if it is “Christ in my heart.” Revivalism, which is the mother of both Protestant liberalism and Evangelicalism, pressed the “deeds over creeds” and “experience over doctrine” thesis to its limits.

This means, of course, that Christ is not the unique God-Man, but the most divinized human being. The gospel is not what Christ did for me, outside of me, in history, but the impression that he makes on me, the nobility that he stirs up within me, to experience the same God-consciousness and love. Sin is not a condition from which I need to be saved, but actions that I can keep from doing with sufficient motivation and instruction. Christ’s death is not an atoning sacrifice that satisfies God’s just wrath, but an example of God’s love that moves us to repentance. Hence, “What would Jesus do?” is the main question, not “What has Jesus done?” The inside takes priority over the outside.

Distraction: The Pharisees

In contrast to the Sadducees, the Pharisees were scrupulous. The outside mattered, but in a legalistic way. They believed in the resurrection, the last judgment, the truthfulness of the miracles reported in the Bible’s historical narratives, and were so eager for the messianic age that they wanted everybody to get their house in order. Only when God’s people obey the law in all of its details (even the rabbinical rules designed to guard against violating the actual prescriptions of Moses) would the Messiah visit Israel and vindicate his people in the last judgment.

Now what could be wrong with a call to moral renewal and national righteousness? But the Pharisees were distracted from the real point of the kingdom. Expecting a king who would overthrow Roman rule and reestablish the Mosaic theocracy, they missed the real identity of the Messiah and his kingdom under their noses. The disciples themselves were also distracted, routinely changing the subject whenever Jesus spoke of the cross as they neared Jerusalem. They were thinking inauguration day, with the last judgment and the consummation of the kingdom in all of its glory. Jesus knew, however, that the only route to glory down the road was the cross up ahead. For all their emphasis on external righteousness and behavior, they too affirmed salvation from inside: by moral effort.

Jesus contrasts the false piety of the Pharisee with the genuine faith and repentance of the citizen of his kingdom in his famous parable in Luke 18:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted. (vv. 9-14)

Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others, but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). While Jesus basically seems to ignore the Sadducees, since they probably viewed each other as irrelevant, he warns repeatedly of “the yeast of the Pharisees,” which is “their hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).

In the parable that Jesus tells, the Pharisee even prayed, “I thank you that I am not like this tax collector.” The only thing worse than his hypocrisy and self-righteousness was that he pretended to give God a little credit for it. We have all witnessed awards ceremonies in which recipients acknowledged the many people without whom such success could not have been possible. This is quite different, however, from being a beneficiary of the estate of someone who, at the very moment of drafting the bequest, was treated as an enemy. Christless Christianity does not mean religion or spirituality devoid of the words “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Lord,” or even “Savior.” What it means is that the way the names and titles are employed will be removed from their specific location in an unfolding historical plot of human rebellion and divine rescue and from such practices as baptism and Communion. Jesus as life coach, therapist, buddy, significant other, founder of Western civilization, political messiah, example of radical love, and countless other images can distract us from the stumbling block and foolishness of “Christ and him crucified.”

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis has the devil (Screwtape) catechizing his minion (Wormwood) to keep the Christians distracted from Christ as redeemer from God’s wrath. Rather than clumsily announce his presence by direct attacks, Wormwood should try to get the churches to become interested in “Christianity and…”: “Christianity and the War,” “Christianity and Poverty,” “Christianity and Morality,” and so on. Of course, Lewis was not suggesting thatChristians should not have an interest in such pressing issues of the day, but he was making the point that when the church’s basic message is less about who Christ is and what he has accomplished once and for all for us, and more about who we are and what we have to do in order to justify all of that expense on his part, the religion that is made “relevant” is no longer Christianity. By not thinking that “Christ crucified” is as relevant as “Christ and Family Values” or “Christ and America” or “Christ and World Hunger,” we end up assimilating the gospel to law. Again, there is nothing wrong with the law-the moral commands that expose our moral failure and guide us as believers in the way of discipleship. However, assimilating the good news of what someone else has done to a road map for our own action is disastrous. In the words of Theodore Beza, “The confusion of law and gospel is the principal source of all the abuses that corrupt or have ever corrupted the church.” When God’s Law (and not our own inner sentiment) actually addresses us, our first response should be, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” not the reply of the rich young ruler, “All this I have done since my youth.”

Another way we distort the proclamation of Christ in the “Pharasaic” mode is by what has sometimes been called “the assumed gospel.” This is often the first stage of taking our eyes off of Christ. Even where Christ is regarded as the answer to God’s just wrath, this emphasis is regarded as a point that can be left behind in the Christian life. The idea is that people “get saved” and then “become disciples.” The gospel for sinners is Christ’s death and resurrection; the gospel for disciples, however, is, “Get busy!” But this assumes that disciples are not sinners, too. There is not a single biblical verse that calls us to “live the gospel.” By definition, the gospel is not something that we can live. It is only something that we can hear and receive. It is good news, not good advice. The good news is that, “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the Law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” since sinners “are now 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, received through faith” (Rom. 3:21-25).

When the gospel-that is, Christ as Savior-is taken for granted, we are no longer being constantly converted from our hypocrisy and self-trust to faith and love. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, we thank God that we are not like others, but we are really trusting in our own “discipleship.” The Pharisees were disciples too, and they had their disciples. But only in Christ is discipleship the consequence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, rather than its own contribution to human redemption.

Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). When he was rebuked by his disciples for raining on their parade by talking about the cross, Jesus said, “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). When Philip asked Jesus to show them the way to the Father, Jesus said that he is the Way (John 14:8-14). Similarly, Paul told the Corinthians that he was not only single-mindedly determined to preach Christ alone, but “Christ crucified,” although it is “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks,” since it is the only good news capable of saving either (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-30; 2:1-2). In other words, Paul knew (the super-apostles were always providing concrete evidence) that preachers could use the name of Jesus, but as something or someone other than the vicarious sacrifice for sinners.

The Greeks love wisdom, so show them a Jesus who is smarter at solving the conundrums of daily living and the church will throng with supporters. Jews love signs and wonders, so tell people that Jesus can help them have their best life now, or bring in the kingdom of glory, or drive out the Romans and prove their integrity before the pagans, and Jesus will be laureled with praise. But proclaim Christ as the Suffering Servant who laid down his life and took it back up again, and everybody wonders who changed the subject.

The church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various “missions” to save the world to Christ’s mission that has already accomplished redemption. If the message that the church proclaims makes sense without conversion; if it does not offend even lifelong believers from time to time, so that they too need to die more to themselves and live more to Christ, then it is not the gospel. When Christ is talked about, a lot of things can happen, none of which necessarily has anything to do with his doing, dying, rising, reigning, and return. When Christ is proclaimed in his saving office, the church becomes a theater of death and resurrection, leading to genuine lives of witness, love, fellowship, community, and service-yet always requiring forgiveness and therefore always coming back to the good news concerning Christ.

Today, we have abundant examples of both tendencies: denial and distraction. On one hand, there are those who explicitly reject the New Testament teaching concerning Christ’s person and work. Jesus was another moral guide-maybe the best ever-but not the divine-human redeemer. However, evangelicals are known for their stand against Protestant liberalism. On the other hand, many who affirm all the right views of Christ and salvation in theory seem to think that what makes Christianity truly relevant, interesting, and revolutionary is something else. Distractions abound. This does not mean that Jesus is not important. His name appears in countless books and sermons, on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and billboards. Yet it has become something like a cliché or trademark instead of “the name that is above every name” by which alone we are saved.

Jesus Christ as the incarnate God in the merciful service of redeeming and reconciling sinners is simply not the main theme in most churches or Christian events these days. And what happens when we stop being reminded of who God is and what he has achieved in human history for a world in bondage to sin and death-in other words, when doctrine is made secondary? We fall back on our natural religion: what happens inside, that which we always know intuitively: law. “Deeds, not creeds” equals “Law, not gospel.” For all their theoretical differences, liberals and evangelicals end up sounding a lot like each other. Evangelicals who say that they believe in Christ end up reducing Christ to a moral example just as thoroughly as liberals, not by outright denial but by distraction. The goal of this article is not to brand contemporary Christians “Sadducees” and “Pharisees,” but to point out that one doesn’t have to deny Christ and the gospel in order to end up with Christless Christianity. In fact, one can appeal to Christ and “make Jesus the center” in a way that drifts back toward “pure religion” (morality) and away from “ecclesiastical faith” (doctrine).

Today, partly in response to the appalling lack of genuine discipleship in a post-Christian era, many Protestants like Stanley Hauerwas and Brian McLaren encourage us to recover the Anabaptist legacy, which, as I mentioned, focused on Jesus as moral example. In A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren explains, “Anabaptists see the Christian faith primarily as a way of life,” interpreting Paul through the lens of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount rather than vice versa. The emphasis falls on discipleship rather than on doctrine, as if following Jesus’ example could be set against following his teaching. What happens when the Sermon on the Mount is assimilated to a general ethic of love (i.e., pure morality), and doctrine (ecclesiastical faith) is made secondary? Christ himself becomes a mere example to help people become better non-Christians. In fact, McLaren writes, “I must add, though, that I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” “I don’t hope all Jews or Hindus will become members of the Christian religion. But I do hope all who feel so called will become Jewish or Hindu followers of Jesus.” It is no wonder, then, that McLaren can say concerning liberal Protestants, “I applaud their desire to live out the meaning of the miracle stores even when they don’t believe the stories really happened as written.” After all, it’s deeds, not creeds that matter. McLaren seems to suggest that following Jesus (pure religion) can exist with or without explicit faith in Christ (ecclesiastical faith).

There is nothing especially postmodern about any of this, of course. It is simply the legacy of the Enlightenment and its moralistic antecedents. If following Jesus’ example of love (never mind his exclusive claims, divisive rhetoric, and warning of judgment) is the gospel, then, of course there will be many Buddhists and liberals who are better “Christians” than many of us who profess faith in Christ. As Mark Oestriecher, another Emergent church writer, relates, “My Buddhist cousin, except for her unfortunate inability to embrace Jesus, is a better ‘Christian’ (based on Jesus’ description of what a Christian does) than almost every Christian I know. If we were using Matthew 26 as a guide, she’d be a sheep; and almost every Christian I know personally would be a goat.” Yet at the end of the day, “radical disciples” will burn out, too, and realize that they, like the rest of us, are hypocrites who fall short of God’s glory and need someone outside of them not only to show the way but to be the way of redemption. Although McLaren himself does not deny the Christ confessed in the creeds, he believes that what is most important about Jesus Christ is his call to discipleship, which allows us to participate in his redeeming work, rather than his unique, unrepeatable, completed work for sinners two thousand years ago.

In his book, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations, Dan Kimball, pastor of Santa Cruz Bible Church, announces the goal of the emerging church movement: “Going back to a raw form of vintage Christianity, which unapologetically focuses on kingdom living by disciples of Jesus.” If we are allowed to pick and choose whatever we like from the New Testament (again, hardly a uniquely postmodern trend-Thomas Jefferson had his own edited version, the moral Jesus of love minus the Christ of “ecclesiastical faith”), we will always gravitate toward ourselves and our own inner experience or morality, away from God: the external authority of his law and redemption announced in his gospel. Emergent Christians recognize the hypocrisy of evangelical consumerism with remarkable insight, and properly recoil at the images of Christians one finds in The Simpsons’ character Ned Flanders. However, they forget that before Emergent there was the “Jesus Movement” that turned into the megachurch movement that they recognize as deficient.

For all of their reactions, the “post-evangelical” emerging folks seem to follow the well-worn path of their revivalist forebears in seeing the church primarily as a society of moral transformers who preach themselves rather than Christ. Like many emerging church leaders (in continuity with my evangelical pastors growing up), Kimball invokes Francis of Assisi’s famous line: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” “Our lives will preach better than anything we can say.” But doesn’t this mean to preach ourselves rather than Christ? The gospel that we preach is good news because it is not the story of our discipleship, but of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection in our place. The good news is not, “Look at my life” or “look at our community”; it is the announcement that in Christ God justifies the wicked. Yes, there is hypocrisy, and because Christians will always be simultaneously saint and sinner, there will always be hypocrisy in every Christian and in every church. The good news is that Christ saves us from hypocrisy, too. But hypocrisy is especially generated when the church points to itself and to our own “changed lives” in its promotional materials. The more we talk about ourselves, the more occasion the world will have to charge us with hypocrisy. The more we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, and pass this good news on to others, the more our lives will be authentically changed in the bargain. With all due respect to St. Francis, the gospel is only something that can be told (i.e., words), a story that can be declared. When our lives are told within that larger story, rather than vice versa, there is genuine salvation for sinners and mission to the world.

Kimball writes that the “ultimate goal of discipleship … should be measured by what Jesus taught in Matthew 22:37-40: ‘Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul.’ Are we loving him more? Love others as yourself. Are we loving people more?” This is not a revolutionary, new message; it is the imperative preaching that many of us have always heard growing up in Evangelicalism.

For all of its incisive critiques of the megachurch movement, how different is the Emergent message from Rick Warren’s call to “Deeds, Not Creeds”? These voices are right to remind us of what the law requires, and how Jesus in both his teaching and example exhibited the deepest demands that love places upon us. But if this is the good news, then we are all in trouble. As I grow in my holiness-realized in greater love for God and neighbor-I am actually more aware of how far I fall short. Therefore, on good days, I might answer Kimball’s question with cautious optimism, on other days it might lead me to despair. But the gospel is the good news that I need on any day, leading me away from myself to Christ “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Many conservative evangelicals and emerging “post-evangelicals” display their common heritage in an American revivalist tradition that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described as “Protestantism without the Reformation.” In a recent issue of TIME on Pope Benedict’s critical relationship with Islam, conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak was quoted as saying concerning the pontiff, “His role is to represent Western civilization.” There are a lot of evangelical leaders who seem to think that this is their job, too. The mission of the church is to drive out the Romans (i.e., Democrats) and make the world safe for democracy. The Emergent movement’s politics are different: they lean left rather than right. For many reared on the “Christian America” hype of the religious right, this may seem like a major shift, but it’s just a change in parties rather than a deeper shift from moralism to evangelical mission. The Emergent sociology is different, too: Starbucks and acoustic guitars in dark rooms with candles rather than Wal-Mart and praise bands in bright-lighted theaters. Yet in either case, moralism continues to push “Christ crucified” to the margins.

We are totally distracted, on the right, left, and in the middle. Children growing up in evangelical churches know as little as unchurched youth about the basics of the Christian faith. They increasingly inhabit a church world that is less and less shaped by the gospel through Christ-centered catechesis, preaching and sacrament (the means that Jesus instituted for making disciples). The songs they sing are mostly emotive, rather than serving to make “the Word of Christ dwell in [them] richly” (Col. 3:16), and their private devotions are less shaped by the practices of corporate prayer and Scripture reading than in past generations. Nothing has to change on paper: they can still be “conservative evangelicals,” but it just doesn’t matter because doctrine doesn’t matter-which means faith doesn’t matter. It’s works that counts now, so get busy!

So now people are called to be the “good news,” to make Christ’s mission successful by living “relationally” and “authentically.” Where the New Testament announces a gospel that changes lives, now the “gospel” is our changed life. “We preach not ourselves but Christ” (2 Cor. 4:5) has been exchanged for a constant appeal to our personal and collective holiness as the main attraction. Church marketing guru George Barna encourages us to reach out to the unchurched on the basis of our character: “What they are looking for is a better life. Can you lead them to a place or to a group of people that will deliver the building blocks of a better life? Do not propose Christianity as a system of rules but as a relationship with the One who leads by way of example. Then seek proven ways to achieve meaning and success.” I am not at all implying that we shouldn’t follow Christ’s example or that the church shouldn’t have models and mentors. What I am suggesting is that discipleship is teaching others, and teaching them so well that even when we falter as role models, the maturity of their own discipleship will not fail because it is grounded in Christ and not in us.

No matter what we say we believe about Christ’s person and work, if we aren’t constantly bathed in it, the end result will lead to H. Richard Niebuhr’s description of Protestant liberalism: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.” According to University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith, the working religion of America’s teens-whether evangelical or liberal, churched or unchurched-is “moralistic, therapeutic deism.” And the answer to that, according to many megachurches and emerging churches is “do more; be more authentic; live more transparently.” This is the good news that will change the world?

Christless Christianity can be promoted in contexts where either the sermon is a lecture on timeless doctrine and ethics or Christ gets lost in all the word studies and applications. Christ gets lost in churches where activity, self-expression, the hype of “worship experiences” and programs replace the ordinary ministry of hearing and receiving Christ as he is given to us in the means of grace. Christ gets lost when he is promoted as the answer to everything but our condemnation, death, and the tyranny of sin, or as the means to the end of more excitement, amusement, better living, or a better world-as if we already knew what these would look like before God addressed us in his law and gospel.

Back to Barnhouse’s illustration. Of course, Satan loves war, violence, injustice, poverty, disease, oppression, immorality, and other displays of human sinfulness. And of course he is displeased whenever a cup of cold water is offered to a thirsty man in Christ’s name. However, what he spends most of his time plotting is the displacement of Christ from the focal awareness, ministry, and mission of the church. Keeping unbelievers blind and believers distracted is his main strategy. Genuine renewal only comes when we realize that the church is always drawn to distractions and must always be redirected to Christ, always one generation away from becoming something other than the place in the world-the only place, in fact-where the finger points away from us to Christ, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).


1 [ Back ] The quotations from Brian McLaren are taken from his work, A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004) pp. 61, 206, 214, 260, 264. The quotation from Mark Oestreicher is found in Dan Kimball’s The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for a New Generation (Zondervan, 2003), p. 53. The direct quotation from Kimball is from the same book, p. 26. The quotation from Francis of Assisi is taken from pp. 185 and 194 of Kimball’s work. The TIME magazine article on Pope Benedict is from the November 27, 2006, issue, p. 46. George Barna’s quotation is from his book Grow Your Church from the Outside In (Ventura: Regal, 2002), p. 161.

Link.

April 18, 2011

Teaching phonics is a good thing.

Mt 24

April 15, 2011

Matthew 24:1-35    Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” 3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

Signs of the End

4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.  6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,  11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,  13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Destruction of Jerusalem

15 “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—  16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  17 Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house.  18 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak.  19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!  20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.  21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again.  22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.  23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.  24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.  25 See, I have told you ahead of time.

Christ’s Appearance

26 “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.  27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  28Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. 29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.  31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 32 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.  33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.  34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.  35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Parallels in Luke 21 and Mark 13

Today’s guest speaker

March 25, 2011

Today’s guest speaker is Prof. Carl Lawrenz – circa 1973.

On the Manner in which Scripture speaks of a Christian, with reference to the Law as a Guide

1. Scripture recognizes that the Christian has a dual nature, an Old Adam and a New Man.

2. Sometimes Scripture simply describes the Christian according to the New Man.  It can do so because that is the Christian’s true nature.  The new life which the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, has implanted in our hearts makes us a Christian.  According to the New Man the Christian knows God’s holy will and does it (Jeremiah 31:33-34;  32:40;  1 Timothy 1:9).  Describing the Christian according to his New Man, the Apostle John (1 John 3:9) can even say:  “No one who is born of God will continue to sin.”  If, according to the New Man, the Christian does not sin, then he must know the Law according to the New Man.

3. Scripture never describes the Christian according to his Old Adam.  For if the Christian lets the Old Man have dominion over him, he is thereby denying his faith and not acting as a Christian.  Scripture recognizes, however, that the Christian, as long as he lives here on earth, is constantly at war with his Old Adam.  Thus the Scripture also sounds constant warnings against our Old Adam, constant exhortations to crucify the Old Adam with all of its deceitful lusts.  The Old Adam needs to be coerced with the demands and threats of the Law.

4. Most often Scripture speaks of the Christian, and describes him, as he is in his dual nature, a new spiritual creation, yet one still battling with his Old Adam.  When Scripture describes the Christian in this way, it also asserts his need of the Law to instruct the Christian in God’s holy immutable will.  Thus the apostolic admonitions set forth not only negatively what is against God’s holy will, but also set forth positively what is God’s holy and acceptable will, commending every virtue for the Christian to strive after.

5. It is therefore scriptural to say that the Christian needs the Law as a guide to hold the holy, immutable will of God before him.  It would not be proper to say that the New Man of the Christian needs the Law as a guide.  It is proper, however, to say that the Christian needs the Law as a guide.

Why?

As Christians we have no way of knowing whether the thoughts relative to God’s holy will and to what love means are coming out of our Old Adam or out of our New Man.  As Christians we have no way of knowing when a desire arises in our hearts whether that desire comes out of our Old Adam or out of our New Man.  These desires and thoughts do not arise labeled.  In part we know whether the thoughts and desires arising in our hearts come from our Old Adam or from the New Man on the basis of God’s holy Law written in our hearts, yet dulled through the fall.  Fully and exactly we can determine whether our thoughts and desires arise from our Old Adam or from our New Man only as we compare them with God’s holy will which is perfectly revealed in His Word, the Holy Scriptures.  That is why it must be said, and is acknowledged also in Scripture, that the Christian needs the Law to guide him, that he needs to study God’s Word to see clearly what is God’s holy and acceptable will, what is a part of that perfect love which constitutes God’s holy will.

It is not wrong to say that the Christian needs the Law because the Old Adam has to be coerced and crowded into the corner with his evil thoughts and his evil desires.  But until the Christian knows whether he is dealing with the thoughts and the desires of his Old Adam he cannot begin to restrain and coerce his Old Adam.  So it still amounts to this that the Christian needs the instruction of the Law so that he has a proper guide for his conduct.

It is just as though in a three-person group you were confronted with one person who was a traitor and another who is your loyal friend.  If both were speaking and directing you and telling you what to do and you did not know who is speaking as a traitor and who is speaking as a friend, you would be in a dilemma.  You would have to have a guide telling you who is the friend and who is the traitor.  Then you would be able to coerce and reject the traitor’s advice and gladly espouse the advice of your loyal friend.  That is the way it is with the Christian.

——————-

In the use of the Law, also as a guide, we do have to exercise caution as we operate with Old Testament passages from the Mosaic Law Code.  We need to keep in mind that the Sinaitic Law Code was for one people only, God’s chosen people, and we need to acknowledge the truth of the abrogation of this Mosaic Law Code by the completion of Christ’s work of redemption (Ephesians 2:14,15).  From Sinai to Cavalry it was addressed only to Israel.  The immutable holy will of God, which was the core of the Sinaitic Law Code, and particularly the core of the Ten Commandments, applies for all times and for all men.  We have this immutable holy will of God expressed in the New Testament and must find it there.  We do not have it as a code.  Whatever in God’s holy will as addressed to Israel is repeated in the New Testament, and only that, is God’s immutable holy will for men and for all times.

 

Ever overwhelmed?

March 23, 2011

When was the last time you felt a little overwhelmed?

John 9 is the text for this Sunday’s sermon – the healing of the man born blind.

There’s soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much to talk about, so much to say, so much background and backstory and undercurrent and application…….makes me really glad that the effectiveness of a sermon rests with God, rather than with me.  I feel like I could study for days, weeks and write or lecture for months – and still not say enough.

Well, check it out for yourself.  You’d hafta start back at John 5 (maybe only John 7), to get the whole picture – and read through to John 10:21.

It’s pretty overwhelming, in the sense of LOOK HOW AWESOME THIS ALL IS!  LOOK AT WHAT JESUS SAYS AND DOES!  THERE’S MORE GOING ON HERE THAN A ‘MERE’ miracle – that’s always the case, of course – but read the account in its context, and see the message John hammers home again and again and again: Jesus is the light of the world, and all outside of Jesus will be forever in darkness.


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