Tag Archives: sinful nature

Only God’s will in the New World of the resurrection Revelation 22: 1-6, 12-20 First St Johns May 8, 2016

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 forward to the eternal, perfect life in the resurrection and the new world said … AMEN!

I’m not that big into eschatology, end times, I’ve never really understood the point. When God decides to let the clock run out, it’s going to happen, whether I’m ready or not. What does fascinate me, and what it’s all about as Christians, is the eternal world, the new heavens and the new earth. One of my professors in seminary Rev Dr Louis Brighton, is a well known scholar and expert on the Book of Revelation. Dr Brighton is a professor emeritus at Concordia in St Louis, but he regularly did lectionaries on Revelation and I took advantage of taking in his expertise, especially concerning the resurrection. Between Dr Brighton and Randy Alcorn, I have come to a real understanding and appreciation of the resurrection that I never really had as a lay person. The resurrection is the ultimate reality.

We live our lives as Christ’s people, baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We take the Body and Blood of Jesus and are saved, sustained and strengthened to live our lives being nourished by His true Body and Blood. We are confirmed in His church, the Body of Jesus. These are the things the Holy Spirit leads us to do in our very short, difficult, sin-filled life on earth. If we die before the return of Jesus we, who are in Jesus, will go to heaven, will be the church in waiting for the promised resurrection. I know today the word promise is used a little too loosely, promises made but easily forgotten or a quick excuse because our promise is too often insincere and hastily made. So with Jesus we should read the word promise as iron clad/lead pipe guarantee.

There were Jews who believed in the resurrection as part of Jewish doctrine. It was a basic source of disagreement between the two main schools of Jesus’ time, the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection and the Sadducees who did not. The Sadducees tried to trap Jesus making a fallacious argument about a woman who had seven husbands “who would be her husband in the resurrection?” Really?! You reject the resurrection because of someone’s marital status in this earth? If you regularly present Jesus to people you will hear a lot of silly arguments and I have no doubt that this was one of many that Jesus heard. His answer made it clear that God had intended our resurrection from the very beginning of time. God knew that we would reject Him and we would have to be removed from the first earthly paradise, Eden. We know that there is a perfect life for us because of the first perfect creation in Eden. Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees emphasizes what our true life will be: “ESV Matthew 22:31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ESV Matthew 22:32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” ESV Matthew 22:33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” Jesus answers them a little more tartly in Mark’s version of this pericope: “”Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? … ESV Mark 12:27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”” Not exactly the oh so delicate Jesus the world likes to make Him. Basically, “you don’t know what you’re talking about because you obviously don’t know Scripture.” Luke has the scribes commending Him: “ESV Luke 20:39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.”” God did not create us to simply pop out of life, He created us so that we would have life and life more abundant. For those who are in His will He did create an eternal world, completely in accord with His being the God of the living.

Jesus took this reference from Exodus 3:6, way back to the second book of the Bible. This is important because the Sadducees believed that only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible were the only valid books of Scripture. Jesus is making it emphatically clear in a way they could not dismiss that it is all about the resurrection. God does not create us in order for us to simply blink away. He creates us in order to live our life in Christ that makes us truly prepared for eternal life in a new world that will only be suited to those in Jesus, because He will be the very present source of that eternal life. As Dr Brighton writes: “…whatever kind of physical life his people will live and experience in their resurrected bodies, God will richly supply their earthly needs as he did with Adam and Eve in the first paradise before the fall.”[1]

Don’t misconstrue, the world is not going to be one big garden with us sitting around eating fruit. God provided Adam and Eve all they could want in their own context. That is what He will do for us in our own context. There has been 5,000 years of recorded human history and the resurrection will be the culmination and inclusive of all that history.

Between Matthew and Revelation there are 41 references to the resurrection.

For those who like to tell us how unfair we are in saying that only those in Jesus will be resurrected, refer to Jesus’ words to John: “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it and his servants will worship him.” (Rev 22:3) What is accursed? … Everything! Sin made everything in creation, yours, mine, everyone from Adam and Eve to you and me. We are not “good”, we are all accursed, but in Jesus we are saved, we are justified and righteous. Dr Brighton writes: “The theology of the incarnation itself suggests that, as a result of Christ’s redemptive activity and his own bodily resurrection, those in Christ in his resurrection will be restored to God’s original design for humanity’s bodily state and so also the present earth be restored to its original, divinely intended state as the home for God’s resurrected people.”[2] Sorry, but there can’t be a diversity of opinion and “lifestyle” in the new world. There was only God’s will in Jesus through whom all creation came into existence in the original world. There can only be God’s will in the new, resurrected world. Sure there’s a lot of other “opinions” and lifestyles and diversity in this world. But that’s not how God intended in His original creation and it will only be what God intended in the new restored, resurrected world.
Jesus promises John who writes that promise to us: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.” “Coming soon” in the context of eternity, even two thousand years after the promise made means pretty much right away. In eternity we will clearly understand how quick and tenuous our short lives were and how even two thousand years in eternity is “soon”. God is a just, completely holy God, we expect that from Him. The problem is we expect Him to be just according to our perspective which is inevitably wrong. We are only just in Jesus. Yes in the final judgment we will have to answer for the things we failed in, we sinned in. The difference between those of us in Jesus and the rest of humanity is that our Great High Priest, Jesus, intervenes for those who know Him as Lord and Savior. Jesus tells John: “Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Rev 22: 15) Who does that include? Yes, all of us. But in Christ we are cleansed in His Blood, His sacrifice for all who know Him as Savior. For those, who He describes as dogs, who rejected Him, who denied who He is, they are on the outside of the new, resurrected world. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev 22:14) In Jesus our robes have been washed, in His blood.

The resurrection is entirely in God’s will, it will be the restoration of His creation according to His will. His will can only be in terms of His justice, His holiness, His righteousness. Only those who are in Christ will be able to share in that eternal world that is only in God’s creative will. We should do everything we can to emphasize that to all who we meet and point them to the only possible way to that new resurrected world that is only in Jesus. For those who reject and ignore us, we should mourn for those who are doomed and continue to hold them up in prayer that God will have mercy on them and lead them to the only hope and promise that is in Jesus. Go back and read the account of the resurrection in Revelation, it is between chapters 21 and 22. Journal how it will be all about Jesus and not about how the world thinks it should be.

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

[1] Dr Louis Brighton “Revelation” p 631

[2] Ibid p 632

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.

Sin is sin, trust in your pastor and quit thinking you know it all

I am still pretty much of a rookie pastor. I try to listen more than yap when others who have more experience, more education than I do, so that I will be a better pastor. Can’t say that everything I hear or am told is correct, that I should follow it. I do have a lot of life experience, so there are times when someone is telling me something that is just wrong. Just because someone else has been making mistakes for years, doesn’t mean that I should make the same mistakes.

Dr J Vernon McGee was the pastor of one of the largest churches in California. He also had a world-wide radio ministry, wrote a bunch of books, etc. He went to be with the Lord in 1988, but his radio ministry is still alive and well.

One of the observations I’ve made as a pastor is that people continue to try and impose their sin on me, as a pastor, or they expect me to endorse their sin, often due to their tortuous reasoning. I’m sure we all know which types of sins that people are finding all kinds of justification for. My overall favorite is “the church is full of hypocrites so who is a pastor to tell me I’m sinning, and so therefore I can continue to pursue my personal sin.” Yeah, like I said, those in the world live a very delusional life.

Let me make one aside, for those who recognize their sin, struggle with it, lift it up to the Lord for forgiveness, continue to ask God to deal with their sin and overcome it, “…If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins…” (1 Corinthians 11:31) God does forgive, will help us and is not there to beat us down on something that we are genuinely trying to deal with and conform to His will. Christians do not live deluded lives, our sin is sin. We’re not kidding ourselves that our particular sin and circumstances are justified, that, for those simple minds in the world, is what hypocrisy is. Maybe you ought to look into your own heart and be a little genuine. For those in the world, get over all your petty little justifications, get real and deal with your sin issues and be a part of a genuine Christian church that will help you in this area.

As a rookie pastor, I have had the experience where people pretty much confront me and demand that I justify their particular sin. Really! Yea the world really does bully and thinks that most pastors are entirely lacking in integrity and genuine biblical faithfulness, that you (me the pastor hears) just don’t know what you’re talking about at all and those in the world will be happy to set me straight. The hypocrisy, naivete, bullying, and straight out ignorance is just breathtaking.

Dr McGee had a wide breadth of experience and accomplishment for the Kingdom, a very accomplished pastor and these are his words: ” “What if there’s a sin in the Christians’ life that he/she won’t deal with, reveal it, confess it? … it’s amazing the number of people who are in sin, who come to a pastor and what they really want, is for the pastor to approve of their conduct and they become very much incensed if he does not agree with what they are doing or with their solution to the problem. When he attempts to put the Scripture down on their lives, why they wince under it and they get angry with the pastor and they say ”my he’s cruel, very unkind, he’s not the kind of pastor he should be, he’s not as sympathetic as he should be.” A lot of pastors know what this is because so many people will not deal with their sins. Now when they won’t, God will deal with them at the judgment seat of Christ and a great many people are going to find out, though they were busy down here teaching Sunday school classes, being the president of the missionary society, singing in the choir, leading different groups… yet they were disobedient and they would not deal with the sin in their lives, they won’t receive reward, they refused to deal with sin in their lives.” (Dr J Vernon McGee “Thru the Bible” Broadcast Dec 26, 2015)

I’ve had this experience. The person doesn’t want to discuss, they are going to tell and if you don’t listen and get it, then you  have a problem you’re wrong and I’ve had people tell me how lacking I am in what they consider to be the proper pastoral characteristics. No, I don’t get too spun up over it. I’ve had a lot of life experience (usually more than the person who’s telling my how it really is) and I get it, people are often not going to really think it out. They’re sure they know what it’s all about and they’re going to make sure that they give you the benefit of their “knowledge”.

Which leads me into another observation, Mr or Ms “I’ve been successful” in my world. They’re going to tell you how you should successfully run this church. I have news for you Mr Successful, God bless you that you’ve achieved some success in an area, I wish you the best. What a lot of these people don’t seem to understand, despite their obvious smartness in their success, is that success in one thing doesn’t necessarily translate into success in another thing. Not that I’ve achieved any level of success, but we certainly see that in so many individuals who have presumed that their success in one thing should ipso facto, translate to success in another.

Sorry Mr Success “so you should listen to me”, if you were as smart as you think you are you would know that. I have no problem whatsoever listening to others suggestions, direction and assistance. Frankly I find myself kind of begging for that. Having said that, it does not mean that I can always use and apply the input. Often times part of the problem is that the input just does not conform to the proper functioning of a Christian church. I think the church has done itself a great deal of damage in the last maybe 100 years, because it has allowed the world to dictate to it, instead of doing ministry in accordance with Scriptural direction. When pastors fold up and function according to the world, the world and the church realizes he as a pastor, or a Christian, that is not to be taken seriously.

It is amazing how much hypocrisy there is in the world and the world is the first to wag it’s finger at the church to criticize it for hypocrisy. The world’s hypocrisy really does border on the delusional and is absolutely breathtaking to see in action.

I hope that 1) people start to deal with their sin honestly. I’m not saying that because I’m perfect because, I’m not. On the other hand, I don’t try to delude myself into thinking that I’m above all that, if it’s my sin then it’s really not sin, it’s just A Skippy OK.

2) To Mr/Ms I know it all. I know that you don’t know it all, I can tell. You’ve been in church for decades, but I know that you don’t have even the most basic Christian/Scriptural understanding. You’ve been sitting in church because you think you should, just waiting to tell everyone how it should be.

The truly smart people who I know, recognize when others know more than they do about a particular subject. I really try to make sure, that when I can tell someone obviously has a grasp of something that I should shut-up and let them talk. I inevitably learn something and am thankful that they shared with me. Mr and Ms I Know It all, you might actually get smart and rely and trust those who actually know more about something. That doesn’t mean blind submission, that does mean realizing your limitations, recognizing someone else’s expertise and listening. That’s the smart thing to do and if you were really that smart you’d understand that.

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).

Wired by God, for God

Interesting how you can hear of the Higgs-Boson particle (yeah, I know what?). The so-called God particle from a year ago, published all over until reporters and editors found out what it really meant, then not so much yada-yada.
But when genuine scientific findings are made confirming over and over how, not only are we designed, but how the entire universe is designed, well that doesn’t get any newspaper ink.
Case in point, the recent “Leadership Journal” (Summer 2014) which goes into detail as to how our brains can be or are wired to be receptive to God.

Leadership Journal develops this rather extensively and it goes into some heavy detail, which I will attempt to lighten. I’m going to do a few blogs on this so that I can digest it betterand hopefully spew it out to you somewhat intelligentyl . I would like to add that if you are in ministry or any kind of lay leadership you really should get Leadership Journal it’s just an outstanding publication.

John Ortberg points out that our brains are wired so that “mostly our behavior does not consist of a series of conscious choices. Mostly, our behavior is governed by habit.” (p 21)
We usually think in terms of “bad habits”, which we all have much too much of. Ortberg points out: “Habits are enormously freeing. They are what allows my body to be driving my car while my mind is planning next week’s sermon.” Yea, right, texting on my phone, shaving, applying makeup, eating a big sloppy burger (not my imagination, I’ve seen each in real life). Point is, there is so much we do in life that doesn’t require us having to make a deliberate action, much of what we do is habit and happens because of conditioning.
“But sin gets into our habits. “…what Paul meant when he talked about sin being ‘in our members.’ He was talking about human beings as embodied creatures – sin is in the habitual patterns that govern what our hands reach to and where our eyes look and words our mouths say. Habits are in our neural pathways. And sin gets in our habits. So sin gets in our neurons.” (p 21)

Quoting St Paul “…there is nothing good in our sinful nature.” Ya, I know a little harsh, but let’s face it, we have developed a lot of bad habits. “Paul is a brilliant student of human life who knows that evil, deceit, arrogance, greed, envy and racism have become ‘second nature’ to us all.” Harsh? Ya, but true. Even our best qualities when you hold them up to the perfection of our God, then ya, our “bad” habits are much more obvious and our good habits, at best, ho hum.

Ortberg notes that our willpower is just not going to cut it. Let’s face it, we try to do it alone and usually we are back to the races. “…acquiring new habits through which we can receive power from God to do what to do what willpower never could.”

Ortberg’s next line is compelling because there has been a long standing belief that the physical really doesn’t affect the spiritual. The physical is certainly about the mind. Is there really any doubt that when we abuse our body it affects our mind. I doubt that anyone would seriously question that physical abuse, bad diet, drugs, lack of exercise, affects the mind, certainly affects the chemical composition of the mind. Couldn’t the physical/mental attributes of the mind, if they are abused, affect our spiritual outlook? Trying to separate the physical/mental/spiritual is just a false paradigm. As Ortberg notes: ” Neuroscience has helped to show the error of any spirituality that divorces our spiritual life from our bodies.”

I say AMEN! There are many belief systems that try to make it just about the spirit, that the body is just a husk. POPPYCOCK. Gnosticism, an heretical Christian belief tries to make the material evil, the spiritual, as it were, good. That when the spiritual separates from the physical then it will be hunky-dorey. That attitude has infused itself through orthodox Christianity. the image of spirit beings sitting on clouds in heaven. Certainly physical beings can’t sit on clouds, but the question is; is heaven the end? Eastern religions believe that once we get it right, we leave the evil of the bodily and the material world and then (yippee, skippee), we become some sort of ethereal being and then drop into the ocean of all ethereal beings where our ethereality (no I doubt seriously that’s a real word) merges us with the universe. Again, yippee, skippee.

Why the gratuitous sarcasm? God created the material and He pronounced it good. This also includes our body which He intended to be perfect, incorruptible and eternal. Where else could it have come from? Unless the rapture happens tomorrow, our body will give out and we will, in the spiritual, be in the presence of the Lord. But again, is that the end? No! Not by a long shot. At the final judgment we will all be restored to physical bodies, those who are in Christ, the “Lamb’s Book of Life” will proceed from the judgment to the New Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem will be the world as God had intended. No doubt, it will be much like the world that we left, but it will be restored to perfection, it will be familiar but it will be restored to a perfection that we can’t imagine. Certainly we will be restored to our physical bodies, again, the way they were intended to be before we messed them up with our sin. These bodies will be strong, healthy, immune to injury or damage. We were made by God to be both physical/mental/spiritual and we will be restored to eternity perfectly in all aspects of our being.

In the meantime we will continue to discuss how the physical/mental changes our spiritual outlook as we continue to affect the mental by our habits old and bad or new and good. OK, at least hopefully.