Tag Archives: baptism

Baptism now saves you

1 Peter 3:20-21 English Standard Version (ESV)

 

20 because[a] they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
 Make this statement on line; “Baptism saves you”, the response will be immediate, “no it doesn’t”. The respondent never really says what does. Of course those who make their “decision” to “accept” Christ. Well just how magnanimous and smurfy of them. Because of course Jesus is waiting there just begging them to accept them, just hoping that they will be so kind as to accept Him so that He can then be their gini in a bottle.
Baptism saves you. You are led to church to be baptized. It is your sign that God has accepted you, that you are now born again in Jesus Christ, that you are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has become the Lord of your life through baptism, in His church, through His chosen minister. Not the concierge of your life.
For those self-appointed arbiters, who are basically taking direction from others that are more cheer-leaders and entertainers than Bible scholars, back up and really understand what you’re saying. You want to be baptized, as soon as possible. You want to be given that new life in Christ. You want that it is entirely God’s call and not yours. Why? Because when it’s God’s call, God’s action, God’s result, you know that it’s completely true and will not fail. When you presume to “decide”, “accept”, “make”, you look back after awhile and begin to think “did that really happen?” “did I do it right, right time, right way…” You don’t have any assurance, you just have continued doubt.
When someone comes to the altar at a, real, Lutheran Church, be they 8 hours, 8 days, 18 or 80 years old and are presented for baptism and baptized by a Christian minister, they know it was nothing about them and all about God. They are saved! Can they mess it up, can they reject and lose that salvation? Sure. But then they know it’s all about them and nothing about Jesus. Jesus did all that was necessary to save them. If they reject that, or presume on that, then it’s entirely on them.

Justified and sanctified in Jesus

I have been asked on a regular basis if Lutheranism is Christian. For all the denominations and “independents” and so many of these faux attempts at Christianity, YES! All of these other denominations and other presumed attempts at Christianity came from Martin Luther. In fact if your non-denominational “pastor” has any training at all (so many don’t and just presume to hand out a shingle calling themselves a church) but if he has any grounding in genuine Christianity he will, on a regular basis, quote Martin Luther. Dr Luther is the one who called out and broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman’s were right on one score, you open up Christianity, and you risk having a lot of presumptuous people thinking they know the drill who will pose themselves as “Christian” teachers and preachers. On the other hand the Roman Church was so wrong on many counts and we see those errors seeping into Reformed Christianity. Mainly in terms of “works-righteousness”. That is the idea that while Jesus saved us, you still have to do a few things to get you over that line into salvation. Make no mistake, we can reject our salvation. But as one Concordia seminary professor puts it, “God does the verbs”. That is God does what is necessary for us to be saved, there isn’t one thing we can add to what Jesus did for us to have salvation. It’s either all about him and nothing about me, or salvation doesn’t happen. There is also what is called antinomianism. That is that the Law doesn’t have any effect on Christians, we can go about and do just whatever we want and because of the grace of salvation, we’re forgiven of everything while we just flout God’s Law. There is no sin that Jesus didn’t die for. That doesn’t mean we can just go off and do whatever we like. There are consequences to our sin and at some point God decides that you really don’t have the fruits of the Spirit and that you’re just not really saved.

The point of this blog, though, is about the Lutheran teaching in terms of how our salvation is worked out. So for you who like to play at being a Christian, take some serious note here. We are saved because we are justified in Jesus. Justified, coming from the root word “justice” that we are completely innocent, completely guiltless because Jesus paid the price of our sin by dying on the cross. He took the punishment that we should have in order for us to be free of the guilt of our sin.

We are also sanctified, from the Latin “sanctus” completely holy, set apart, totally God’s man or woman. Again, that is only because we have been clothed in the holiness of Christ because of His sacrifice for us. If we are not completely justified, if we are not completely sanctified, and the only way that can happen is in Jesus, then we can not be saved. We cannot die and come into the presence of a completely holy and innocent God, God the Father of Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest Lutheran teachers, was C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church in the United States. I’ve started a book by Concordia Publishing House which is a collection of Walther’s writings in a daily devotional, translated by Gerhard Grabenhofer.

Walther writes: “Justification happens in a blink of an eye. As soon as a sinner, in despair, recognizes his sin and desires grace and redemption, God speaks a word in heaven and justification takes place.” ( p 670) Walther wrote in the mid 1800s and I really like the style of writing from that period and Walther doesn’t disappoint. Likewise, he doesn’t pull any punches.

While we are immediately justified in Jesus, there is a process of sanctification, of growing in holiness. “Sanctification, on the contrary, does not happen suddenly. It occurs gradually and it continues until the end of our life. Justification is immediately perfect. Each one who is justified instantly receives the full forgiveness of his sins, the complete righteousness of Christ, and a new status as a child of God. Sanctification, which follows justification , begins weakly and grows until death, but it never comes to perfection.” ( pp 670-671).

Having said that I would point out that while we are, hopefully, always growing in sanctification, when we die as directed by God, the Lord of our life, we come into His presence completely justified, completely sanctified, completely righteous, but not due to anything we’ve done, only due to what Jesus has done for us. In baptism we become that new child in God, therefore we become completely justified. Baptism is the “new birth” in Jesus. We become completely saved in Jesus. Yes people are baptized, then become as lost as anyone else in the world, through their own bad choices. But not because God failed them in anyway, they chose the way of the world, and the way of the world is sin, death and eternal condemnation in Hell. Sure, lots of people would like to amend that and make it according to their own plan, but this is God’s plan and that’s just the way it’s going to happen. You can continue to live in your little world of denial or realize that the only Lord of life is Jesus and He has revealed salvation to us and that’s the way it’s going to be.

Walther writes: “Perfection for the Christian is the clear recognition that he is imperfect in himself, but nevertheless perfect in Christ Jesus”. For those who think that they’re “all that and a bag of chips”, don’t need Jesus, ok, how’s that going to work out. While you’ve made an idol of yourself, because you think you know what it’s all about, the only way to eternal life is through Christ. You can make it up, but it’s pure fiction and you’ve basically told God “yea, not really happy about your way, I’ve got a better idea”. You may think it’s better, but without anyway to save yourself, again eternal condemnation. Harsh? Not really, we want to know how to be saved, but when we get God’s way and decide it just doesn’t work for us, well it’s God’s way or no way and you’re not god, deal with it.

“When a person is justified, God generally lets him taste the sweetness of His grace in order to draw the sinner from the world to Himself. At this point, many a beginner in Christ thinks he is rid of the world, sin and Satan. but if that were truly the case, it would not be long before such a person became secure and proud. Therefore, our faithful God removes the sweet feelings of grace and power from most of His believers and from that time on, He bestows such blessings meagerly and allows His Christians to grow in humility. When a person becomes truly poor, he must daily beg God for everything and adhere to Jesus’ word of grace so he is not lost. He also comes to realize that God’s work of grace in sanctification is revealed in the fact that his spirit continues to struggle against his flesh. If he feels that sin rages in him, but something else in him prevents sin from gaining dominion over him, this moves him to prayer and to the word of God.If he succumbs to sinful temptations, he goes to Jesus and prays to Him for forgiveness. Such a person is not dead, for a dead heart no longer beats.”

“We have been reborn into true life in Jesus in our baptism. We were dead in our sin with the rest of the world, now we have true life. When we are given that new life, we become completely righteous in Christ and as a new child in Jesus we begin the journey of Christian maturity in our sanctification in Jesus.” (pp 671-672)

This is what is truly important about being saved in Jesus. We can get into a lot of mushy, pointless, emotionalism, or we can understand that we are sinners, that our only salvation is in Jesus and only through Jesus do we become justified and sanctified and truly fit to be made a child of God and to be in His presence and to live in the resurrected, eternal, perfect world that God had always intended for us.

Baptized Children, New Life in God the Father Galatians 3 June 19, 2016 First St Johns

[for the audio version click on the above icon]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are born again, know God as their Father and cry out Abba to Him said … AMEN!…

Tony Cooke tells the following story: “…of a father of five children who came home with a toy. He summoned his children and asked which of them should be given the present. “Who is the most obedient one here? Who never talks back to Mom and does everything that Mom says to do?” He inquired. There were a few seconds of silence, and then all of the children said in one accord: “You play with it Daddy!”[1] This sounds like a father who actually gets it, I’m not talking about a mousey guy who just “yes dear, no dear”, but who is obviously modeling for his children what they need to know when they become parents and supporting their  wife, the mother of their children. I would bet that when he has an issue he and mom, work it out, how to truly model a godly father. That the children would be humble enough to acknowledge that dad does these things is a testament to how they’re being raised, they have enough discernment and respect to understand how things should be. As you see in the insert in your bulletin, Billy Graham writes: “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”[2] I think you can make a case that in today’s society Dads are very under appreciated. Watch television, there’s always the clueless, detached father in the program. You do have to wonder if this is some sort of shot, not just at fathers, but at God the Father. I get it many people have “father” issues, and there are way too many “fathers” who have just punted on their responsibilities, but if you have a father who is trying to help you mature, trying to help you be a real person, is really not concerned with your little desires or your dramas, but will do whatever he can to help you to become a man or woman who has integrity, to become someone who wants to be strong enough to be there to serve others and his or her family, a dad who wants you to be devoted to God and to be all that God wants you to be, then you should be thankful for a father like that. That is what fathers are supposed to do. If you’re a man with children and you’re not doing at least these basics, I would really look hard at my life and decide if I’m truly serving my wife and my children. It’s very fashionable today for a father to think that mom knows what’s best in all circumstances and just concede their responsibility to her to their children. That’s just not true, God gave children a father and a mother for a reason, a man and a woman for a reason, because men and women are very different, but we come together as one flesh, as we vow to do when we are married, and then our differences are very complementary and help each other to grow and especially for our children to grow, to be mature, strong adults who do serve each other and the community they live in as God intended for them to be.

We tend to minimize how we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Our Father…” some say they have a problem because of some abuse or neglect of their earthly father.  Yes, I understand, there can be bitterness towards your earthly father, there can be bitterness towards lots of different people. We almost seem to encourage bitterness against a father, that it is somehow justified, while we try to get people to forget their bitterness towards others. The effects of bitterness and anger, and we always feel justified, but those effects damage us like any other bitterness, regardless of who you think has hurt you. We have a Father in heaven who keeps us from bitterness, who provides for us, blesses us, guides us and carries us through the trials of life. The Father who gives us the promise of life in Him in this life and to the perfect life we were meant to live, to life eternal in the resurrection. So when we pray “our Father who art in heaven”, it is to the almighty perfect Father, Creator and Sustainer of all, not the man who you feel has failed you. We may reject our earthly father, but we reject our heavenly Father to our eternal loss and regret. John quotes Jesus: “Jesus said to them ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.” (John 8:42) I am truly sorry that anyone should be hurt, that someone should be in a situation where they are damaged in some way by the man who they should trust to do whatever he can for them, up to and including sacrificing his life for them. Fathers aren’t perfect, being a father I can certainly attest to that in my own case, but I think, along with probably the fathers here right now, that what I did was for the best of the child, albeit imperfectly, but that I would, without a second thought, give my life to protect my wife and children. We can overcome anything in the power of Christ, we can know how much our earthly father cares for us, or at least should care for us, but much more importantly, for eternal consequences, that our Father in heaven, who is far greater than anyone of us, does love us beyond anything we can imagine. We do, all of us, have a Father who will do whatever is necessary in order to save your life to eternal life, to true life in eternity in Jesus. I have no doubt that everyone here has a reason for some kind of bitterness, but in Christ, being guided by the Holy Spirit there is no bitterness that we can’t be healed in order to bring us into communion in Jesus “so that we might receive adoption as sons … God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” We can let bitterness about anything eat us up inside. Bitterness that will stunt our growth, isolate us from the world around us, give us an excuse to estrange ourselves from God the Father, continue to separate us from salvation in Jesus or we can; in joy, celebration, cry out Abba! Father! as we should do, that we have His promise, that we are protected by His infinite strength and His infinite provision. Our earthly father can only provide so much, but our heavenly Father can and will provide in every situation. Not to say He just hands us what we think we need, but our Abba, our daddy, our Papa, will provide what we need, when He chooses in His infinite knowledge and mercy when we need it, and no matter what, we will look back and realize how much we needed what He provided and in the perfect time that He provided it in.

From the Lutheran Study Bible: “the Holy Spirit assures us that we are God’s children, redeemed by Jesus Christ and made full heirs of the promise to Abraham. … Christ earned for us the right to call God ‘our Father’ a prayer taught only by the Spirit.” But not only ‘Father’ but ‘Papa’, again from the Lutheran Study Bible; “Aramaic, for ‘Papa’ an address of special intimacy not typically found in Judaism.”[3] Paul is saying that yes, before you were under the Law, people were left to strive, for those in the world, without Jesus, they are left to cope with the world on their own terms, worse led by Satan to their own destruction. God, our Father, Abba, guides us as His children, watching over us as only God the Father can. We see in our Gospel reading the power of God. Jesus asked the man in Gerasenes what his name was. The man answered Legion, for many demons had entered him. Jesus obviously, not the least bit intimidated or impressed, after all this man was led by the demons to fall down before Jesus, to beg him not to torment them. Jesus, God the Son, because of His strength and power, showed how He protects His children, us, from the power and evil of the world.

Tony Cooke quotes Steve Farrar: “A godly father is the unseen spiritual submarine who lurks below the surface of every activity of his child’s life. A man who has put on the full armor of God and with that armor, goes to warfare on his knees for his children, is a force to be reckoned with we cannot be with our children 24 hours a day through our prayers we have the ability to affect situations even when we are not physically present. You may be undetected but that does not mean you are ineffective.”[4] As fathers given guardianship of our children, by God the Father, the most important thing we can do is to keep our children focused on God the Father that in our baptism in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are His adopted children through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us to bring us into our relationship with our heavenly Father. Christ earned for us the right to call God ‘our Father’, a prayer taught only by the Spirit.”[5] We give Him our thanks and praise for His sacrifice for us and so that we can live in relationship with “Our Father who art in heaven”

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1]Tony Cooke, Tony Cooke ministries   http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/fathers_day/

 

[2] Billy Graham quoted by Upward Sports

[3] (Lutheran Study Bible p 2008)

[4] Tony Cooke, Tony Cooke ministries   http://www.tonycooke.org/holiday-resources/fathers_day/

 

[5] Lutheran Study Bible p 2009

Meekness and following the world’s lead Matthew 5:5

The world tries to shut the church up, by saying something to the effect: “Doesn’t Jesus say “the meek shall inherit the earth”? So that means you should just shut up and mind your own business because that what meek means.” Yea, No! And the last thing on earth we should be doing is listening to the worldly/secular about the Bible. They take a few isolated phrases (oh yeah, judge not blah blah blah…), think they really know what they’re talking about and throw those phrases around. As always, the secular is about an inch thick and a mile wide. Problem is too many in the church, who also don’t know what they’re talking about, who call themselves Christians but don’t read the Bible, don’t truly serve, just cave in to the secular do what they’re told and even have the chutzpah to tell others in the church what they should and shouldn’t do. Liberal Christians dismiss way too much in the Bible, have this sort of half-baked, groundless spirituality and try to sell that as real Christianity. This folks is the height of dishonesty, if you don’t really know what you’re talking about then do everyone, yourself included, and keep your mouth shut. Presuming to teach the church about Christianity is the height of arrogance, is called the sin of presumption.

Now I’m going to quote the Blackabys at length because this is the best explanation I’ve seen of what “meekness” according to Jesus, in the Greek, the original meaning actually is talking about in Matthew.

“The word Jesus used had a different meaning. His picture of meekness is that of a stallion that has been brought into subjection to its master…The stallion has lost none of its strength or endurance; it has simply turned these over to the control of the master.” (Experiencing God day by day Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby p 235) Meekness is in terms of submitting to God and His will, not the world’s. We have the power of Christ, yes we are supposed to be winsome, welcoming, encouraging. No the other extreme of the image of the church being “well you better just get everything together right now and be the perfect person, yada, yada!!” Well that’s wrong too, seems there’s always this middle that Jesus wants us in and we  either think we’re supposed to be just weak and stupid or we let the world convince us that we’re being bullies by proclaiming Christ. The middle is often too hard for people, yea even Christians. Most people like nice and cozy black and white. My experience in the corporate world, the military, government, school, church, there is no such thing as a black and white. There’s this place where you are supposed to leave yourself open to the Holy Spirit’s guiding and most of the time it’s not some nicey/nice vacuous cream puff. It’s hard to stand up for what’s right, I get it, but like the old saying “if it was easy everyone would do it”. Being a Christian isn’t easy, Jesus told us there is a narrow road, a narrow gate to salvation. Because the Holy Spirit guides us we know what that is and that is what we have to tell the world, even when obnoxious bores are telling us to shut up. They will, because they can’t tolerate the truth, they live in their own little fiction which leads to destruction and they don’t want to know the truth and they don’t want anyone else to either. “Meekness is not submitting to everyone around us, it is taking our direction from God. Meekness means a life submissive to the Holy Spirit…” Read the Bible, when people were standing for God they were not bashful about it. If anything they were very much asserting the truth of God, the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, the truth of the Bible. And yes quite often, be it an Old Testament prophet, Peter, Paul, John they were not bashful and they were very assertive. I’m not saying for anyone to go out of there way to be obnoxious, but again that big gray area. You must know what you’re talking about, be serious about it, get past this gloopy, sweetey Christianity, assert that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, that we do need to understand that and repent of our sin. We need to be baptized, not our decision, but because the Holy Spirit has led us, we need to be instructed in the faith so that we can function as knowledgeable Christians, we need to regularly attend worship and grow in our fellowship and Christian maturity, we need to regularly receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus and we need to be open to the leading of the Spirit to witness to those around us about Jesus.

It basically means to be mature, strong, knowledgeable baptized sons and daughters of God, we call that being a “disciple” of Jesus. Just as anyone else in the Bible is. To be any less is to cave into the world, and to be faithless to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christ saved us, He is the ultimate truth, the world is a lie, especially when it presumes to teach us something that it doesn’t even understand. This idea that a Christian is supposed to be a malleable cupcake for the world to push around is just not Biblical and it certainly is not going to serve anyone.

The Lord God is my strength and shield 2 Corinthians

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that God is their strength and their song, said  … AMEN!

How many times have you just thrown it in God’s face, just like the Prodigal Son? That was exactly what he was doing to the “Father”. Even now in the Middle East to do what he did, tell his father to hand over his share of the inheritance, is still a gross insult. Basically saying drop dead old man and hand me over all your stuff. Way over the top. We really miss that in western culture, this kid was totally out of line. We are certainly all sinners, but what this kid did was just so over the top, just a creep. Yet we are all like him. We’ve basically told God go away, we don’t need You, hand over what is “ours”, as if we have anything that is “ours”. Neither did the prodigal son, right? His father was still alive, the son wasn’t entitled to a thing, and yet …

And yet God is our strength, when we do something weak and nasty like the prodigal, we don’t get punished, we get grace. Bear in mind, there are consequences, it may not be God punishing us, but our sinful behavior always incurs consequences. If I go to someone right here, haul off and slug you right in the head, what’s going to happen? You’re going to call the police. God may not be punishing me for battery, but the police will because a complaint was filed after I belted the person. But in repentance I am still forgiven by the Father.

As Christians, though, we can be as obnoxious as this prodigal is, but it is in God’s strength that we are saved, we are forgiven, we are not only forgiven, but we are still, in Jesus, inheritors of eternal life, there will probably be consequences, but ultimately He still saves us. In God’s strength, He makes us His children in Jesus, He gives us forgiveness in Jesus, He gives us eternal life in Jesus. Some see that as weakness. “I saw what he did and he should be taken away and punished! There can’t be any reward for him! Don’t you know what he did? He deserves to be punished, the sooner the better!”

Is that what happened to the prodigal? After he put his father through all that he did? Insulted him, took his money, went off to a foreign land and spent every last dime? He must have caused his father unimaginable anxiety and pain, how many sleepless nights do you think that father had worrying about what happened to his son? How many fathers do you think might have said: ‘Eh, whatever, can’t believe what that kid did, maybe if he gets whacked around a little he might learn something and if something else happens, oh well.” But our Father in heaven doesn’t do that. In what is an enormous, unimaginable amount of strength, God endures so much because of our gross insults, our shameless flouting of His grace, His kindness, His many/countless gifts. What did the father do when the son came home? He could have taken him out back, beaten the tar out of him and no one would have said boo about it. Many would have expected it.

But no! The father shamelessly runs out to the son, kisses him, calls for a fine new robe, a new ring, and!!! The fatted calf, the most delectable meal they knew! Based on the description Jesus gives us, the Father was a very important and wealthy man in the community. Men in general do not run out to greet anyone. They would have to gather their robes up into their belt, which would leave their legs exposed, unless there was an emergency, men of such importance did not run. Reminds me of a Simpson’s line: “You were running? Unless there were lions chasing you down the road, you don’t run.” It would have been the same for the father in this story. Yet there he was, in a most undignified manner, running out to this contemptable, unfaithful young man, who himself admits he is not worthy to be called his son.

This had to be embarrassing for the father, I have no doubt the next day at the city gate some of his peers, at least, gave him a little ribbing, even downright derision, “what was that little demonstration yesterday? We are the leaders of this city, let’s conduct ourselves with a little dignity”.

That’s something we get way too caught up in ourselves, isn’t it? Our etiquette, proper demeanor. That’s something God doesn’t get too caught up in, our dignity. A lot of times, as in this story, He doesn’t get too caught up in His own, especially if it means the difference between saving us or letting us condemn ourselves. Isaiah was called to some undignified acts, David Peters paraphrases Isaiah 20: 1-3; “In the year that Assyria captured the Philistine stronghold of Ashdad, the Lord told Isaiah, ‘I want you to take off your clothes and walk around naked and barefoot.’ Isaiah did as the Lord commanded and walked around naked and barefoot for three years.”[1] Peters points out that God asks His people to suffer hardship and embarrassment because God in His dignity lowers Himself to us in order to pull us out of the hopelessness and despair we are lost in, in our sin. He doesn’t have to tuck up His robes under His belt and run out to take us in and clothe us and give us wealth and food as He did with the prodigal son, but He does it not just to save us, but to fulfill His promise that we would have new life. Paul tells us; “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Through Jesus and only through Jesus do we become that new creation and then makes us “ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.” Through Jesus, because of the indignity that He suffered on the Cross, we are put in relationship with God. We are no longer that old man, that lost, sin filled, pathetic hopeless being wandering around, obsessed with the things we think are important, our dignity, our opinion, our self-importance, our obsessive love of self. No! Instead we are a new creation. God the Father has put aside His dignity to run out to us to save us, to reach down from His infinitely high throne in order to save His lost, rebellious defiant creation. Not only does He save us, but He makes us His new creation and He adorns us with new clothes. Remember, a new robe was an extravagant thing in that time. Clothing was very expensive, the material was expensive and each robe was made by hand, a new gold ring was extravagantly expensive, the fatted calf was a costly, precious delicacy in a world where getting enough to eat everyday was a challenge. The Father takes His new creation, what He makes us in Jesus, gives us hope and promise, takes away the indignity of our sin and adorns us to the epitome of what we could expect. How then could we not know in our heart that God is our strength and our shield, even when he could be very righteously angry with us? And because of that, how can we not sing, give thanks and exalt His name because of what He has done for us by giving us His ultimate sacrifice, giving us His perfect, completely holy and sinless Son to die as the only sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. If that doesn’t make you want to sing and shout, then you have no appreciation for that Father who runs out to meet His lost child and is so elated, that His child was lost and now His precious child, you and I are with Him again in the eternal world of the resurrection that His Son Jesus gave us by overcoming death in His resurrection.

Jurgen Moltman writes: “In him the despair that oppresses us becomes free to hope. The arrogance with which we hinder ourselves and other people melts away, and we become as open and as vulnerable as he was.

What initially seemed so meaningless and so irreconcilable – our hope and Christ’s cross – belong together as a single whole, just as do the passionate hope for life and the readiness for disappointment, pain and death.

Beneath the cross of Christ hope is born again out of the depths. The person who has once sensed this is never afraid of any depths again. His hope has become firm and unconquerable: “Lord, I am a prisoner – a prisoner of hope!””[2]

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] David Peters  “The Many Faces of Biblical Humor:“ page 200 Location 4873  Kindle version

[2] Jürgen Moltmann, “Prisoner of Hope,” from The Power of the Powerless, English transl. Copyright © 1983 by SCM Press Ltd., reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Inc.

Fear the world or fear God?

Seems like we’ve had it backward for a long time. Oh sure, the world can do bad, mean things to you. However, can it do anything worse than an all-powerful God who can not only allow your life to be tough here, but can just allow you to slide away from Him and into an eternal world of “wailing and gnashing of teeth”. (Matthew 13:42, 50)

Fear is just so prevalent in the world, despite all the technological advances, plenty of almost anything, fear is even more common. You see these people with their facial hair, tatoos, piercings, all intended to intimidate. What you find are these fearful little people who live in a constant state of anxiety.

The Blackabys’ point out “…Their fear hinders them from pleasing God because they waste their efforts appeasing other people…Fear causes us to stop and question what God has clearly told us to do.” (Experiencing God day by day p 34)

Just like all the other vices of the world, the ones that we are just so “free” in, (yea ask the next heroin user you see how “free” that person is. Same goes for alcohol, sex, money, power, yea sure “free”)

The question for me is how to I help people understand how real God is, how they should fear Him. “ESV Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Shouldn’t this focus people’s attention? This life is not all there is, there is an eternity. That eternity will be in Christ in the new world, the perfect life of the resurrection. Or it will be eternal separation and suffering. That is what existence is separated from God, if you reject Him, you are choosing separation, existence without the all-powerful protecting hand of God.

God does not will anyone’s death, He does not want anyone separated. But if you let your fears separate you from God, if you do not trust in His power, that He will save you from anything you are afraid of now, ultimately in the new world, then you have rejected life and allowed yourself to be separated, because of your fears and that you thought you could handle your fears alone.

I hope that you will pray that the Holy Spirit guide you from your fears, to show you true freedom in Jesus, that life won’t always be easy. But in Jesus we will ultimately overcome our fears. Say thank you to the Holy Spirit for guiding you from your fears and into Jesus.

Sometimes you just want to chuck it Luke 4 First St Johns Feb 14, 2016

[for the audio of this sermon please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit, and all those who look for peace, rest, renewal and restoration in Jesus said … AMEN!

Yea, there are plenty of times when you just want to chuck it. We are blessed that the people who stuck with First St Johns didn’t feel that way. We are blessed with those who have persevered, carried on and passed on Lutheran worship here. And very blessed that the Holy Spirit has kept us strong and committed. But all of us, no matter how bull-headed have had times when we just want to pull back and rest. A lot of times we feel that being a Christian is a grind, always things to do, always a new season. Usually we are excited, anticipating the new season. Other times we feel we haven’t recovered from the last chain of events, and we’re looking down a whole new line of hoops to jump through. There are certainly times when we just need to pull back and rest. We can, and often are led to by the Holy Spirit to rest and re-energize for a new pursuit, new growth in Christ.

While we can make it that way, being a Christian isn’t about being ground down with constant tasks, constant occasions to have to step up and run into another burning house. Being a Christian is very much about rest, peace, promise, hope. It is about knowing that our heavenly Father isn’t pushing down on us, but we are there for Him to pull us up to him. The Father expects us to rest and wait for Him to move us, He doesn’t expect the effort to be on our part. We’ve all had the experience when you have felt the Holy Spirit grabbing you by the collar and sitting you down. “No more, stop, I’m not about constant frenzy. I am about peace, rest.” Jesus told us; “ESV Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” This is meant for the resurrection, but it’s also meant for this life too.

Rest, recovery is important. It is stressed over and over again with athletes. An athlete has to get eight hours of sleep. God designed our bodies to be mended while we sleep. Not just mended, strengthened too. We cannot repair and build muscle without sleep. We can exercise, eat right, do all the active stuff, but if we do not give our body the chance to do what it was designed to do, rest, sleep, so our bodily processes can take over and repair and build, we will not be as strong as we should be. Since God designed our bodies to be like that, it stands to reason that He has made our spirits to be that way too. We can be in perfect physical health, but if our spirit has been pushed to the limit, beaten down, it will affect our health.

I submit that the season of Lent was timed by God in order to help us to do that. Winter puts a lot of stress on the body, certainly this winter has so far. We need to be set up in order to charge out into the season of growth and renewal and it seems God intended Lent for us to do that. We have grown away from an agrarian society, we are out of touch with the seasons that God created. Most of us have to work and produce year round, so we miss the importance of restoration, renewal and growth. Shouldn’t we see the period of Lent as that time?

In our reading today, we see that Jesus has been led out into to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. It seems as though Jesus was given forty days of peace and then submitted to Satan’s temptations. Forty days where He was left to contemplate, to take in, to be built up, strengthened, fortified, and then to, as it were, take Satan’s best shots. Clearly Satan confronted Jesus when Jesus’ hunger was greatest and His resistance was lowest. The Jewish people actually considered the desert to be a place of evil, filled with trials and where evil lurked. God sent Israel into the desert to wander for forty years because they had continually defied God after escaping from Egypt, clearly that was a God ordained time out for people who just would not get with God’s plan. St Ambrose writes: “It is fitting that it be recorded that the first Adam was cast out of Paradise into the desert, that you may observe how the second Adam returned from the desert to Paradise… Adam brought death through the tree. Christ brought life through the cross. Adam, naked of spiritual things, covered himself with the foliage of a tree. Christ, naked of worldly things, did not desire the trappings of the body. Adam lived in the desert. Christ lived in the desert, for he knew where he could find the lost. With their error canceled, he could recall them to Paradise… So Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit is led into the desert for a purpose, in order to challenge the devil. If he had not fought, he would not have conquered him for me.”[1] Jesus took the fight to Satan in an evil environment. All of Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter is not about what we do or have to do. It’s not about us and what we have to do, because we don’t have to do anything. Sure there are things that we should do, we should be in worship. Not about us being there, but about being ministered to and receiving the gifts God gives us in worship. Worship is a time of rest and renewal. Jesus takes the fight to the desert, the desert which is the world, to confront Satan, in order that we can be left behind in our normal environment to live, to rest with a minimum of confrontation and conflict in our lives, we have time to rest and renew because it is about Jesus and what He does. When we are led by the Holy Spirit to take action, which can be to retreat, He steps up so that we are guided to step back. Jesus has been baptized, the Matthean version is more straightforward, Luke starts the chapter saying that Jesus was led from the Jordan, Matthew makes it clear what happened at the Jordon. In Jesus’ baptism, the Father makes it very clear who Jesus is, that was the signal that it was on. Satan knew it was on. The Holy Spirit picks Jesus up and puts Him in the desert, where Adam had been banished to out of Eden and Satan waits 40 days and then confronts Jesus, the battle is now on, who will impact the world. Satan tempts Jesus with worldly power, the easy way, Jesus knows that He will bring His Kingdom into the world, but it is not through a deal with Satan, but by overcoming sin, death and Satan; by being the perfect sacrifice to free us from sin and Satan. Jesus gives us the opportunity to rest in Him. Worldly people fall under Satan’s dominion in sin, to struggle against Satan, we have peace and rest in Jesus. The battle is on and being waged by Jesus, now.

Rev Dr Charles Stanley says this: “Although we can’t see all the specifics of God’s plan, we know that His goal is to use adversity to supply something we lack so we can be mature and complete. Even though the experience is painful, rest in the Father’s comforting arms, and let Him do His perfect work in you.”[2] We cannot fight the battle, only in Jesus is the battle fought and is won. Yes, there will be times when we need to be active and work according to the Holy Spirit’s leading. But the victory is His and instead of us being smashed on the rock, we are at rest in Him who saves us. Use this time of Lent to rest in Him, be restored remember it is His strength not ours.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] Ambrose in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke” p 73

[2] Dr Charles Stanley August 10, 2015  http://www.intouch.org/read/magazine/daily-devotions/don’t-waste-your-adversities

Body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12: 12-31a First Saint Johns January 31, 2016

[for the audio version click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who are part of the Body of Christ which is His Church said … AMEN!

The Apologetics Study Bible prefaces this discussion this way: “The church in Corinth was in some degree of turmoil, and Paul wrote this letter in response to some disturbing reports he had heard from the church as well as by way of reply to a set of questions the church had sent to him.”[1]

Have to give the Corinthians credit, they did realize that they were not where they should be and took the initiative to write to Paul and acknowledge that, and ask for guidance. As Christians we could take a cue from that. It’s a guy thing, if I’m lost I’m going to keep driving around thinking I will find the way. What happens? You usually end up more lost than you started. Today’s sermon is related to the last sermon in that we are given gifts in order to serve God and serve His church. But it is more than just properly utilizing your gifts, it’s understanding that as a Christian it’s not just about me. It is about the community, community is made up of many parts, the Holy Spirit guided you to be a part of this community. All the parts of your body are important. If you do not have all the parts then you are limited in what you can do. The church is the same way and this is also about your stewardship in the church. When all the parts of the Body, the Church, are working to the level that God designed for them and placed them together for, the Body/the Church functions at its finest level and serves each other and our neighbors much more effectively. The Corinthian church was sadly dysfunctional, it wasn’t the Body of Jesus, it was each man and woman for themselves. Much like today’s world; what am I getting out of this, I do for me let everyone else handle their own life. If I’m an eye, well too bad for the rest who can’t see. Imagine First St Johns where we have those who are so gifted in so many things, and yet chose to keep their gifts to themselves. Next week is our Chili-dog/bingo bash, what if Marge decided not to share her award winning chili? We would all be the lesser for it.

Paul writes that in baptism, in that new life that we are given, we are baptized into one body. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we are or do, it matters that we are all equally brought into the Body of Christ through baptism. Likewise we all eat the Body of Christ and drink His blood, all equally, all to our soul’s health. If we are all equally baptized and share in the Body and Blood of Jesus, doesn’t that mean that we also bring to the Body our gifts that make the Body stronger?

One aspect that seems to be ignored in today’s world is the understanding of synergism. Together we are much stronger in our individual life and in the Body of Christ by bringing our time, treasure and talent together, not withholding it and keeping it for ourselves. It is the synergism of the Body of Christ that not only helps us to grow and strengthen as a person, but also as a church. I bet you that any player in the NFL would like to be on the Carolina Panthers right now, than they would the 3-13 Tennessee Titans! You can be a superstar, but if you are in it just for yourself, no one’s really going to know you and you’re sure not going to be getting a Super Bowl ring anytime soon. If you’re Cam Newton, everyone knows you and you’re probably getting fitted for your Super Bowl ring right now.

Jesus has put together His church for a time and a place and a reason. He has made you part of His church in this time and place. For a tiny band, we had a 2015 season that would make any church sing and praise! We came together as the Body of Christ and in God’s strength proceeded to make a mark for His Kingdom in this community. That is because people put aside their individual agendas and came together as His Church to work His will. We all recognized that we’re baptized and given new life in the same water as everyone who is part of First Saint Johns. We all ate the same Body and drank the Same Blood of Jesus as everyone here and stepped up to collectively and in a positive and uplifting way build the Body of Christ in York! One of you were the eye, one the arm, one the leg and all came together in the Holy Spirit’s brain, vision and guidance to bring us together to accomplish so much in bringing the Gospel of Jesus to York. If someone chose not to come together, the rest realized the importance of what was being done and were used by the Holy Spirit to compensate for those who chose to withhold their gifts. Likewise for those who chose to take and to be a drain on Christ’s Body, others were guided to work around those who were hindering the advance of the Kingdom. Ben Paynter writes in Men’s Health Magazine quoting the journal Philosophical Transactions “… that men throughout the ages have clustered in tribes to stay motivated, embrace risks, conquer pain and build empires.” The Kingdom of God is the greatest empire and we as the Body of Christ, His Church, here at First Saint Johns are an integral part of the Kingdom. We have been clustered together by the Holy Spirit so that we can motivate each other, embrace the risks that we have taken. We have conquered pain, we have overcome the obstacles others have thrown in the path of Jesus’ Church. But it could only happen because, unlike the Corinthian Church we chose to take the difficult path. The result? Many have been touched by the church to hear the Gospel. If you have been listening to the radio station, the platform that we have all helped to build, was used by Bill Stockwell to broadcast a powerful message of the scourge of heroin addiction that is having a destructive impact on the York greater community. You all here, as members of this church had an impact on the world that far outstrips anything you could have done individually. You submitted to the will and leading of Jesus and accomplished far more than you would have if you decided: “If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Everyone, even those who did not think they had strength, stamina, skill or resources, decided that they would only grow and serve each other and themselves by bringing their gifts and blessings together to serve their part of the Body of Christ here at First Saint Johns.

Okay, no one’s going to be getting sized for a Super Bowl ring, but I have no doubt that for those who came together and overcame in order to bring about such great service for the Kingdom he or she will be the recipient of great treasure in heaven. You have followed Jesus’ promise: “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Because we have come together, because we have been good stewards, because we have acted like the Body of Christ we have laid up that treasure in heaven. That treasure in heaven will make a Super Bowl ring look like something you can get out of a gumball machine.

The Blackabys write: “If you are not a part of a caring community of believers, you are missing out on what God designed you for. You are also in danger of falling into sin. You must link your life with others who are seeking God’s will. Seek to be a person who willingly joins others in carrying out God’s assignments. Strive to be a source of support and encouragement that those around you need.”[2]

Let’s grow in our stewardship. How much more can we give of our time, talent and treasure in order to accomplish more for the Body of Christ in the world? We have seen what our mustard seed faithfulness has done in the past year. What can we do this year and the next? It doesn’t have to be a huge feat, so often the smallest mercies, gifts, blessings that you bestow on a young man or woman, on just one who is less fortunate, have effects that echo through years, decades. How would the Holy Spirit guide His church to use that extra money you give now to have an impact on the Body of Christ that will ring through our community for the good of so many, for years to come?

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

[1] The Apologetics Study Bible p 1707

[2] Blackaby’s Experiencing God Day by Day p 327

God chases after us and that’s a great thing

One of the things that Lutherans emphasize, different from other, as it were, Protestant denominations is that it is all about what God does for us. It is not about what we do, or chose in terms of God. “Jesus knew that because of sin, no one naturally seeks after God. Sinful man’s inclination is to hide from God, rather than to come to him:” (Henry and Richard Blackaby Experiencing God Day by Day p 25) “ESV John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. ESV John 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. ESV John 1:7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. ESV John 1:8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. ESV John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.” (from BibleWorks) John talks about man running from the light, avoiding the light. We don’t want to have anything to do with God in our natural state. We are dead in our sins and we don’t want anything to do with the Holy. Go out and mingle in the world a little, people will tell you straight out that they are just not interested in the holy.

It’s not about you walking down an aisle and making a profession of faith. It’s all about how God brought you to Him, gave you the understanding you needed, brought you to baptism and then brought you to an understanding of what you are in Jesus, how you are saved in Him. When we have this new insight into God, isn’t it the Holy Spirit who is moving us to that insight?

Jesus’ teaching (His actual ones, not the ones the world likes to pin Him into) are impossible for evil man to understand. We are lost in sin, we have no concept of the holy.

The Holy brings you into His presence and gives you what you need to understand. That is what baptism starts in our lives. We are drowned in the water of baptism in order to be reborn as that new person in Jesus. At that time as new children in God, we now have the facilities, given to us by the Holy Spirit, to being to apprehend the holy, true salvation. “As you desire to spend time alone with Jesus, recognize that this is the Father drawing you to His Son. You do not seek quiet times with God in order to experience Him. The fact that He has brought you to a place of fellowship with Him is evidence that you are already sensing His activity.” (Ibid)

This is all a good thing. How can we presume to say “I chose God!”? We can’t begin to understand Him in our fallen, evil state. He has chosen us. If I did the choosing, what would happen? In my fallen evil state, I would somehow mess it up, or doubt it, undermine it. When I know that God has done all the heavy lifting, He has made me His son and I did it with no action on my part, totally undeserving of God’s salvation, I have the assurance, the promise of knowing that it’s done right and I am truly saved in Him. Anything else makes me the pivotal figure and that is so wrong and is so bound to dump you hard back into the world.

Know that God saved you, that it’s all about His will, nothing about Yours. When you know that God does the verbs, does all the important things in salvation, we can rest in the peace, assurance and power of God and not sweat if we did something wrong.

You need community and it is only found in the truly Christian Church

Community, one of the most overlooked aspects of Christianity today. People will honestly look me in the face and tell me that they don’t need the church, they don’t a pastor, they don’t need a fellow Christian, and here it is “because it’s all about me” and then, almost incidentally, and God. Often times not even bothering to define what/who “God” is, but whatever makes me happy. At the same time describing the 12 with Jesus as His “ Apostals” (sic) vs the correct context would be disciples, students. Apostle is actually a messenger, almost in the sense of an ambassador. Henry and Richard Blackaby wrote a great devotional on Christian community. “Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion, But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10) (Experiencing God Day by Day p 327) As the Blackabys point out we were made by God to be in community and for those that God chose, starting with the nation of Israel and then progressing to Jesus and those saved in Him, God’s church has always been the community of His believers.

Certainly the Trinity is the original “community” God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Godhead working together to fulfill their roles and guide the people of God. The Blackaby’s note: “…the success of our endeavors depends upon our interdependence. This is why He established His Church and released His Holy Spirit to empower the community of believers to spread the gospel. We are to be a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9).” Obviously we can only support and build each other in the context of community. One thing that always bites me is someone telling me that they can worship God on their own. Certainly we can come to God and lift up our prayers, we are certainly, in Jesus, in relationship with the Father. But that is done through the church of Jesus. When we baptize we baptize as the Body of Christ, His Church, in the presence of the Body and through the authority of His ministers who administers the sacraments. I didn’t invent baptism, that was given to us in the Bible and passed down through His church. We only become a child of God in baptism, we become that new creation in Christ. If that is not done in and through His church, sorry, but it isn’t baptism. Can we as Christians, in extremis, baptize? Yes, and we should. If someone is right there dying and aren’t baptized in Jesus, we can’t wait for them to get to church for the normal baptism ceremony, absolutely baptize that person. But that baptism is still recorded in His church and done under the authority of the church.

The Blackaby’s write: “…if we have cultivated supportive friendships, we will find strength in the comfort and encouragement of those who care about us. Interdependence is also a safeguard for us when we are lured by temptation. The consistent testimony of those who have fallen to temptation is that they isolated themselves from other believers and were not held accountable by Christian friends.” The attitude today seems to be: “I will do whatever I stinkin’ want to do and if you do like it too bad for you.” Yea well the downside is that their particular sin finally bites them and who do they turn to? Or, in many cases they just let that sin drag them down and condemn them. Name it, being the pastor of a downtown church I see pretty much the whole span. People who have sunk in their sins of drugs, alcohol, sex, gluttony, covetousness etc. Always seem to mess them up and then they expect someone to be there to pick up the pieces for them.

Yes, I should try to help those who’ve really become lost in their sin. But on the flip side, I have a congregation of people who faithfully supported their church with their time, money and talents. Only so much time and how do I justify to them that I have to put ministry off in order to pay attention to someone who, by the sin of presumption, thought they had it altogether and could sin nice and safely and now they’re knocking my door down for attention? We are supposed to take responsibility for ourselves as adults and not engage in things that are inevitably going to hurt us. Yet in today’s world everyone is a smart guy and is sure they can handle drugs, alcohol, fornication, adultery, etc and then when the consequences hit them, as they will, “well someone’s got to bail me out”. That is what community is for. Pull that person back from the edge, pick them up when they fall. Not when they’ve created a situation that’s going to require extensive attention, or when it really is too late, but at the outset. We love to think that we know it all, but over and over I hear the same thing: “I should never have gotten involved and now I regret it, but now you have to help me.” News flash, I don’t have to help you. There are plenty of those have faithfully live their life and do innocently fall into difficulty. Have to tell you, there’s barely enough in resources to help those I really have to help. Why would someone compound their sin, with the sin of presumption and assume I’m just waiting around to jump through hoops for them? And quite often I just don’t have any way to help. Sorry, but there are times when I just have nothing.

Of course the whole “don’t judge me” attitude so prevalent in society plays into this condition. Not only that, but the attitude seems to be do what I want, enable me in my sin and then I will go on my way. Yea, no, that’s just not going to happen. The attitude of the world seems to be that the church is only there for their individual convenience. Because of this attitude that “it’s all about me”, more and more church’s just don’t have the resources to be there to provide. I have to hoard my meager resources just to make sure I have something to provide for those in the church who have faithfully supported the church. Why would someone presume to tell me that I have to just hand over what others have faithfully given to me to be a faithful steward of? The answer of course is that because “it’s all about me”.

It’s not to say that we don’t have individual lives that God has a plan for. God certainly wants us to live the life that He has made us especially suited for. But that life is always in the context of the church and how God puts the pieces together in His church to effectively serve. If people punt on that responsibility and expect to be served, but to never serve, how effectively do you think that plan’s going to work? Too many people just don’t seem to grasp, or probably more likely, don’t want to because they might have to do something for someone else, how God tries to pull each person together so that together we grow in the synergistic impact of the church. One person punts on their part and everyone loses. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that by choosing to do only live for yourself and ignore those in Jesus’ church that the person that rides off alone gets picked off by the world and makes things a lot tougher for those who stay and faithfully serve? That also goes for those who are part of the church, but expect that the church simply entertain them and just hand over the benefits.

An article in Christian Counseling Today (vol 20 No. 4 pp 34-39) certainly does convey the impact of community, the context being in terms of healing community, generally 12 step programs. These programs certainly have grasped the concept of healing and support in community and many have not just benefited from that community, but have also paid back by becoming an active part of that community to support others. I have seen in my own experience a very effective community, and one that is effective, but is also abused by those who, again, expect to just have it handed it to them and still expect to live in their one way life and continue to be abusive to others. My life has been made a little tougher because some who participated in a 12-step program thought that everything was there for their convenience unnecessarily stepping on the toes of others and of those who were trying to help. I don’t mind the extra effort, but I get tired of having to answer for those who think that the world is there for their convenience.

As I said I’ve seen those groups do great work and it should be supported. Henri Nouwen is quoted in the Christian Counseling Article: “’When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares”.[1]

Certainly that is the look that the church should have, but on the other hand, how far can the church go with that when everyone wants attention and few want to support. When the church was being supported, pastors could truly care for those who genuinely needed attention, there was the time and resources. But now with the attitude that “I know better, I’m going to do what I want, when I want”, there’s only so much, so far. In the same article Dr. Henry Cloud is quoted: “’It is interesting to compare a legalistic church with a good AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) Group. In the church, it is culturally unacceptable to have problems; that is called being sinful. In the AA group, it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In one setting, people look better but get worse, and in the other, they look worse but get better … The sad thing is that many of us come to Christ because we are sinners, and then spend the rest of our lives trying to pretend that we are not!”’ (Changes that heal). OK, point taken, and I think that is one reason why the church has wounded itself in the past. But I also think that the cultural paradigm has changed so much that churches today are putting up a fence is because there are so many who have decided that the process should be the other way around. Before the paradigm was, I’m part of a church, I support the church. But at some point I fall and need help and those in the church help me. Now it’s I don’t do anything for anyone and when I need help everyone’s supposed to jump to my aid.

Absolutely, we are all sinners and we need the church and none of us is going to come into the church perfect. We absolutely should stipulate that we are there to help each other grow and overcome those things in our lives. The Lutheran Church is certainly different than other Reformation churches in that we start worship with Confession and Absolution. Yes, we are sinners, we are here because we know that, and we are in need of continual forgiveness. So yes, in terms of “big-box churches” that I think Dr Cloud is referring to, we in the Lutheran Church all start from the same flat-footed start, we are all sinners, now what?

The problem with 12-step programs is that the person’s presenting issue is what constitutes their entire life. Well we in the Lutheran Church would say no. We are all sinners and we all need to deal with issues. Sure some of us need a particular way to deal with that, and if having someone who has gone through that experience helps you in that, great. The problem is that you become so immersed in your narrow issue, you really begin to lose real world perspective. The entire world is not in terms of your alcohol problem. The attitude of these 12-step programs is that only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic. I would submit that the best thing for a person is to be discipled in the church by a faithful, godly person of the same gender, who has lived their life as a Christian. They’ve had to deal with the sin, the world, all the stuff, but they’ve had a much more well-rounded life, that hasn’t consisted of only primary issue. The whole world is not about alcoholism. It is about being saved in Christ. We all have a sin issue and that is what we need to confront, not how do I deal with alcohol, or whatever is the besetting sin. I would submit that for most people who abuse something, and yes that’s all of us to some degree, being a part of a Christian community and dealing with a real world of all kinds of sin is more realistic than your little 12-step enclosed culture. The 12-step program is a good initial answer, but that should only be for a very short time and then time to get back and deal with the real world. Despite what you think that real world was made by God and is all about Him. Not about the places and people you used to hang out with as an alcoholic.

The same article quotes Richard Rohr: “’Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.”’

Amen, couldn’t agree more, but is that change going to effectively take place in a very narrow demographic of people dealing with a particular 12-step issue? No, I really don’t think so. It’s going to be more effectively addressed in a community that includes Grandma and Grandpa Schmidt, and the Hispanic kids, the folks who live here, work there, people who have really lived the life or are trying to get up to speed in the life. A genuine slice of contemporary society. The guy in the Men’s Group that works at the Insurance Company, the Computer Company, the auto dealership. Yea, they have issues to deal with too, but sorry, too often in 12-step programs it is more enabling someone in their particular sin, then genuinely giving them the help that will be life changing in a genuine Christian community.

I can hear the objection now; “they’re going to be so judgey”. Yea, that immediately tells me, that they’ve been more enabled in their very close 12-step program, instead of having to deal with the reality of the world. Sorry folks, time to be a part of genuine diverse Christian community. I get it, too many big box churches are fairly affluent, pretty much lilly white and do, as Dr Cloud claims, tend to exacerbate people’s sin problems. However, a church like First St Johns, that is slowly becoming very diverse, is still, white, but has been in a downtown location for many years. It is a community that fully gets the fact that there are people out there with serious sin and abuse problems and accepts them, because those same people don’t live under some goofy delusion like the big-box churches that everyone there has it altogether. While serving in the Coast Guard I would once in awhile be rotated down to a sub-station that was in a very affluent community. I got the chance to talk to the local police officers down there and I once made the observation to one of them that it must be really nice being a police officer in such an affluent community. He understood what I meant, but he quickly pointed out that their biggest problem was dealing with domestic issues. Physical abuse, substance abuse, sexual on and on. As much as we would like to think otherwise, the police there were expected to keep such situations under very confidential wraps. They were expected to basically cover over the issues and make everything nice and pretty. I agree with Dr Cloud that there are too many big-box churches that are like that. “Don’t you worry about that sin thing dearie, you’re a good person, just keep plowing money into the ministry so we can keep providing expensive entertainment and maintain an expensive facility and everything will be just fine.”

Yes, just by virtue of being a down-town church does not necessarily make you a spiritually healthy one either. There are too many who let their churches dwindle down to a couple of dozen, actively resist anyone different from being a part and expect it to be all about them.

I submit that there is a movement, especially among the denominational churches, admittedly still very much in its infancy, but to turn around churches so there will be genuine Christian ministry. That people can be a part of a church of people who are very much aware of the world around them in many aspects, not just the narrow aspects of substance abuse or some other 12-step program. Who want to reach people for genuine Christian ministry. Who are trying to grow as Christ’s disciples and who are ready to disciple others, effectively/real world, as well as be discipled. That is in a true Christian model, based on the Acts church, the churches that Paul describes in his epistles. Has the church messed up and been messed up? Absolutely. Is that a reason to shun the church? Absolutely not. Sorry, but more and more we are all realizing in society that we can’t go it alone, that there are not any institutions that will genuinely reach out to people and be there for them as well as have others be there for you. You can use all the hypocritical justification you can think of, but the only way to salvation is through Jesus. It is only through the Body of Christ that salvation and true life can come through. Otherwise you become lost in your sin and become a part of the ever growing angry and bitter world, that thinks that everyone else is supposed to be there for them.

As the Blackabys write: “If you are not a part of a caring community of believers, you are missing out on what God designed you for. You are also in danger of falling into sin. You must link your life with others who are seeking God’s will. Seek to be a person who willingly joins others in carrying out God’s assignments. Strive to be a source of support and encouragement that those around you need.” And I would add that you need too. The church is the only place that is going to do that. And a church that lives in a very real environment like First Saint Johns, is going to be that truly diverse group of people who will welcome you regardless of where you’re at, so long as you’re willing to serve and be served. Live in denial if you want, but serving and being served will only happen in the church of Jesus Christ. Being a lone ranger is only going to make you an easy target for the sin and death of the world to take you down. As smart as you think you are, you will go down.

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life).