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Seven Ways to Stop Gossipping

January 8th, 2013 3 comments

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Every pastor has to decide how he is going to handle the old “Pastor, somebody told me….” or “Pastor, people are saying…” or “Pastor, I heard that…” and then the inevitable criticism, complain, whine, accusation or otherwise. I decided very early on that I would refuse to entertain any conversation that began with “Pastor, people are saying…” and simply cut it off at the knees by saying: “I don’t want to hear it. Please tell whomever has something to say to me, to come say it.” Worked pretty well. Similarly with anonymous letters and now e-mail. I don’t read them. They are immediately put int he trash and/or deleted, as the case may be. What about the “gossip” problem that we have in all our congregations? It comes in so many shapes and sizes, doesn’t it? I thought this was some good, practical advice, found via Ed Stetzer’s blog. I like Ed’s blog, always lots of interesting posts and information, helps me keep my finger on the pulse of American Evangelicalism pretty quickly and effectively.

Stopping Gossip in 7 WaysRon Edmondson

In my job, I hear far more junk than I care to hear. The larger our church gets, the more mess we encounter among the people to whom we minister. We have designed our church to reach hurting people, so we are simply reaching our target audience, but some days it is more difficult than others to hear such sad stories.

One part of the drama of messiness that always frustrates me is how gossip begins about other people’s problems. As if dealing with the consequences of sin is not enough, many times some of the hardest repercussion is the gossip that occurs about the people involved and the situation that occurred. I have been the victim of unfair gossip and I know the pain it can cause. I have never found gossip to be helpful to the people involved or to the Kingdom of God. I have literally become a hater of gossip because I have seen it destroy so many people! Gossip hurts innocent people who are caught in the middle, it exaggerates the situation, and it keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration, and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. (Consider these passages: Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 26:20, Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 5:13 … the Bible talks a great deal about this…)

With that in mind, I’m listing 7 suggestions for how to stop, or at least slow, the spread of gossip. Will you consider each and take them personal? If the shoe fits will you wear it. Together, perhaps we can help stop the deadly spread of this harmful virus!

Here are 7 ways to stop gossip:

1. Don’t repeat something you don’t know is true firsthand…secondhand knowledge is not enough to justify repeating. You will get something wrong and it will hurt others.
2. Don’t repeat unless its helpful to do so and you have a vested interest in the situation, the people involved, and permission to share…doing so in the name of a prayer request is not a good excuse…
3. Don’t “confess” other people’s sins. Even if the wrong included you and you feel the need to confess, share your story, but not someone else’s.
4. If you must tell, and have passed the test on the first three suggestions, tell only what happened and not your commentary or “I think this is probably what happened” or why you think it happened…
5. Choose to pray for others every time you are tempted to tell their story…instead of telling their story…
6. When someone tells you something you don’t need to know, don’t allow curiosity to be your guide…follow your heart. Stop the person and tell them you don’t want to know! Remember, if they will spread gossip about others they will spread it about you!
7. Keep the circle of confession limited to the people involved or to no more than needed for accountability purposes. The wider the circle and the more the story is repeated the more likely things will turn into gossip.

Categories: Christian Life

Shattering Ten Popular Church Growth Myths

December 4th, 2012 3 comments

I picked this story up from Ed Stezer, popular Souhern Baptist researcher and writer on all things church stats, outreach and church growth. This is from an article on the Church Leadership web site, written by Brian Orme, editor of Outreach magazine, ChurchLeaders.com and SermonCentral.com.

Read through the article, you’ll find it interesting.

I will whet your appetite by listing out the ten myths and then giving you a few sound bites to ponder.

10 Old Wives’ Tales About Church Growth – Brian Orme

There’s a lot of discussion that goes on about church growth: what causes it; how to generate it; prepare for it; launch it; build it; cultivate it and even, to some degree, manufacture it. Many of the discussions are helpful, but there are a number of subtle beliefs that still creep up that aren’t healthy. In fact, they’re downright superstitious and, at times, dangerous to the church.

I’ve collected these myths over many conversations, coffees and lunches with church leaders and I’d like to share them with you.

1. If You’re Not Growing, Something’s Wrong
2. The More You Grow, the Healthier You Are
3. Contemporary Music Will Save Your Church
4. Church Growth Can Be Manufactured
5. If Your Church Grows, Your Leader Is “Anointed”
6. If Your Church Doesn’t Grow, It’s a Problem with the Leader
7. Good Preaching Is the Answer to Growing Your Church
8. You Will Retain a Large Percentage of Your Visitors on Special Days
9. The More Programs You Offer, the More Your Church Will Grow
10. If You Build It, They Will Come

Choice Quotes:

If growth and a bigger crowd is “always” the result of obedience then some of the OT prophets will have some serious explaining to do.

Just because your church has more people attending doesn’t mean your church is completely healthy. In fact, it might be cause to closely evaluate the message the crowd is hearing.

Changing your music and the feel of your worship gathering should have a reason bigger than, “We want to reach young people!” or, “We want to stay hip.” Contemporary music is not the salvation of the American church.

You can spend money and market an event and draw a crowd. That’s not hard if you have the resources.

Leading a large church doesn’t make you “anointed” by God and the flipside is true as well—leading a small church or ministry doesn’t mean you lack it.

The only problem is … it’s not always the leader. Sometimes it’s the members—or amember—spiritual warfare or even a season of transition.

Preaching is a core element of the church, but focusing on preaching alone—or trying to find a talented communicator—is not the answer to church growth. In fact, if you’re a really good preacher, you should probably have people leaving on a regular basis because making disciples is hard. Just ask Jesus about the crowds that left him.

Can God use these special days to reach people? For sure. Is it a solid growth strategy? Not alone.

More programs don’t typically equal church growth. In fact, sometimes church programs just keep us church-busy and hold us back from engaging our neighbors.

God never promised us a growing church if we just start to build it—faith and wisdom go hand in hand. Don’t buy into thisField-of-Dreams superstition.

 

 

 

Do You Want a Longer Life or a New Life??

December 1st, 2012 2 comments

A great post from Pastor Larry Peters, something to think about. I mean, to really, really think about.

It seems that our preoccupation with health and medicine is consistent with our preoccupation with the extension of mortal life.  We want a healthy life, a happy life, and, if the first two apply, a long life.  Listen to the commercials.  We want a face lift.  We want to get rid of all the wrinkles and we want to eradicate the effects of aging.  We do not yearn for new life but for the same old life — minus our complaints, of course.

Russell Moore touches on this point.  If it were not that you were forever captive to the cold, perhaps a vampire’s life would not be so bad.  If it did not encapsulate death for eternity, perhaps a zombie’s life might not be so bad.  The horror of such beings is that death is not freedom but the prolonging of the weakness, the making of the mortal immortal.  Born of a slave culture in which if even death cannot free you, you can never be free, we have beings enslaved to their slavery forever.

Part of the Christian witness is to expose the great lie that extending life is an acceptable substitute for life made new (everlasting life).  Sadly, Christians have trivialized the promise of the Gospel and tended to shape the immortal with the characteristics of the mortal — to the point where it seems all that is different is the length of it all.  We have taken the promise of life made new and settled instead for an old life made bearable and an old life extended.

Moore:
The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.

The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.

And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3).

Moore has it exactly right.  To extend this mortal life, even one cleansed of most of its troubles, is to become the walking dead for eternity.  We do not need this.  We do not really want this.  But we have come to settle for this instead of exploring more fully the promise of the Gospel which makes all things new — even people.

Moore again:
The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.

Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of his flesh, drink of his blood, share in his triumph over the accusing slavemaster.

Our devotion to ecology, our blush at the color green, our youth culture, and our quest for the right drug to squeeze a few more years from these mortal bodies — they all distract us from the reality of our prison and the promise of God which is better than today minus its down side.  It is a sign of our fallen natures that we scoff at the promise of life made new and eternal while bowing at the altar of a today extended to eternity.  How can a world hope for more when even Christians seem willing to settle for that which is so much less?

Don’t believe me?  Just listen to a hundred or so sermons trying to decipher the idea of the abundant life Jesus promises to us?  Then try to find a sermon written on Paul’s promise of that which is beyond imagination — which, as Scripture says, eye cannot see, heart cannot desire, and mind cannot conceive.  We have traded in the treasure of an eternal lifetime (now there’s an oxymoron — eternal lifetime) for the cheap imitation of a life well lived, a well lived life a little longer, and an eternity which is basically an extension of the present minus some of the bad stuff.  It is no wonder that such a Gospel does not sell to a world living in the shadow of death.  It is a wonder that so many folks come to church every week to hear about a life which is such a shallow imitation of the promised one.

We need to preach more powerfully and profoundly the promise of what is to come so that we will be less content to settle for a little bit more of what we already have.

Categories: Christian Life

We are to Pursue Holy Living and Good Works (Duh!)

November 30th, 2012 Comments off

Overheard today…something our Lutheran Confessions, not to mention, the Bible, clearly assert! Something that some Christians and yes, even some Lutherans get all “twitchy” about when discussed.

If I wake up in the morning, give myself a holiness score of 6, and then commit myself to get to 6.5 by the end of the day, that would be disastrous and silly. But what if I am struggling with lust and pray for God’s help that I might fight the urge to click where I shouldn’t click, and embrace my identity in Christ as chosen and beloved, and believe God’s promises about the pure in heart—is that also the “worst way” to go about holiness? I never describe holiness as a scorecard. In fact, though Galli says I provide no definition of holiness, I describe it chiefly as the pursuit of Christ himself. Is it really a dreadful thing for Christians to be intentional about wanting to be more like Jesus? I know that’s not where the gospel starts, but haven’t a myriad of Christians through the ages considered that at the heart of discipleship?

The language of inevitability also strikes me as misplaced. Is it really the case that everyone who has ever aspired to holiness ends up suffering from spiritual pride? To be sure, we all continue to sin, and pride is one of the ways we do. But Galli seems to be saying more than this. To simply point out that those who pursue holiness still have pride is a truism. We all still suffer from pride. Galli suggests, however, that pride is most prevalent in those who most consciously pursue holiness. Really? Is this always the case? Every Methodist, every pietist, everyone from the Dutch Second Reformation, everyone in every religious order, everyone in our churches deliberately trying to kill sin in their lives—all of them are essentially self-righteous hypocrites? Galli must be thinking of the pursuit of holiness in the worst possible caricature. Are Jerry Bridges and J. I. Packer—two men who have written extensively about the pursuit of holiness—especially judgmental and arrogant? The men and women at my church who strive each day to wage war against the flesh and grow in grace do not fit Galli’s description.

And the Puritans? Galli’s comment is either overstated or unfair. Besides the historical presumption of making such a sweeping claim against “the Puritans” (as if their theology and behaviors were monolithic), it is terrifically uncharitable to suggest, without naming a single example, that as a group they were especially marked by censoriousness. As in any church or any tradition, some who went by the name Puritan were no doubt arrogant and proud. But some lived lives of which the world is not worthy. We do ourselves no favors when we tear down all our heroes because they walked the earth on clay feet.

Most damaging to Galli’s thesis is the record of Scripture itself. If the call to pursue holiness is best forgotten, why does the Bible remind us of it so often? What do we do with Hebrews 12:14 and its language of “striving” for holiness? What do we do with Paul’s language of “fighting” and “toiling” and “pressing on”, or Peter’s language of “making every effort,” or Jesus’ language of “striving” to enter the narrow gate? And what about the exhortation in Philippians 4 to “think about these things” and “practice these things”? None of these descriptions envision a morbid navel-gazing. But they all envision that the Christian life involves the conscious and purposeful putting off of sin and putting on of holiness. Of course, we never achieve this perfectly or without the presence of indwelling sin, but that doesn’t lead the biblical writers to reject the conscious pursuit of holiness or the possibility of living a holy life pleasing to God and worthy of emulation.

In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus assumes that asking for forgiveness would be a daily occurrence, as would praying that we might be delivered from evil and led not into temptation. The mystery of the Christian life is that Christ expects us flee sin and the devil, but does not expect us to rid ourselves of either on this side of glory. Repentance is a way of life and so is the pursuit of godliness. I wish every Christian could be reminded of these two things. And I wish they were less controversial than they have become in our day.

Categories: Christian Life

When You Do Not Go to Church

November 21st, 2012 15 comments

It never ceases to baffle and confuse me when I hear people make the comment, “You don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian.” I used to try to respond to this with rather long-winded explanations of the third commandment, and the gifts given, and blah, blah, blah. Lately, I’ve just decided to respond to those comments by asking, “Really? Where does our Lord in His Word teach that?” Hint: He doesn’t! My friend, Pastor Weedon, offers this “take” on not attending Church.

“If I decided one Sunday just to skip Church that week, do you think anyone would notice? Ah, you say, but you’re the pastor. Yes, they’d notice. I agree. They would. But it also makes a difference when YOU decide to skip Church this Sunday.

“Each Sunday is a gathering of the family – and when a beloved family member doesn’t show up for the family gathering and meal at Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, there’s a hole, a gap, a pain that everyone feels. We’re all the less for that person not being with us to revel in the celebration of that day. Their absence diminishes the joy of the family. So when you choose to skip on Sunday, when you don’t come together with your church family to join in offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and to receive the gifts your Lord has for you, it’s not just you that miss out. Your extended family – the Church – misses out. They are diminished by your decision to absent yourself. The singing is that much quieter. The “amens” that much softer. The spot where you usually sit and stand reminds us all of your absence.

“Surely old Neuhaus was dead right on this: Christian discipleship should begin with a very simple commitment that any given Lord’s Day will find you in the assembly of God’s people, singing His praise, offering your prayers, receiving His gifts. The *only* reasons for missing is because you’re too sick to be present or because you’re away traveling – and even in the later case, blessed are you if you find the family gathered in that location and join with them.”

“Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

Categories: Christian Life

Daily Growth in Faith and the Fruits It Produces

November 19th, 2012 5 comments

 

Sadly, I continue to read serious confusion among Lutherans who have been sucked into error and overstatement from people like Gerhard Forde, and others, who speak incorrectly about sanctification. Nothing like a bracing slap of reality from the Lutheran Confessions to correct errors about this. Enjoy this quote from the Large Catechism. Just the other day, I heard a person trying to explain away Christ’s words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” as applying only by way of “second use of the Law” and thus directed at the unconverted, not to Christians. Huh?

Until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces. Source: The Large Catechism Part II/Article III.54; Triglotta, p. 691-93.


 

Categories: Christian Life

Foul Play with Foul Language

September 26th, 2012 15 comments

Recently, I noticed an article arguing for the “fair use” of foul language, by Christians. Yes, you read that correctly. According this point of view, the use of profanity, obscenity and vulgarity is acceptable, in certain circumstances, depending on a person’s intention, and depending on the context

Apparently some are even under the mistaken impression that using foul language is part of what it takes to prove you are no pietist, as if such behavior is even some sort of evidence of your credentials as a steadfast Lutheran. What a tragic contradiction of God’s Holy Word. It is simply foul play with foul language.

God’s Word is quite plain regarding these matters:

“Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” (Matthew 10:17-20)

Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:1-4)

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

It is undeniable that foul language appears in our minds and on our tongues and in our mouths far too often. But this is not to be celebrated, excused, or explained away, nor should we be trying to find ways to “nuance” the clear texts of Sacred Scripture to somehow make ourselves feel better about it.

This is a matter of God pleasing and God-honoring behavior, to which we are called, in Christ.

Can anyone really, honestly, say as they reflect on the words here that have been proposed as being “ok” in some circumstances, that their use is faithful to God’s word given to us through St. Paul?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Phil. 4:8

And let us also keep in mind the warning of James:

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

Dear Lord, guard my thoughts and my words. In your word you tell me: “The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse.” (Proverbs 10:32). Forgive me for my sinful speech and language. Cleanse and pardon me for the sake of Christ Jesus my Lord and help me always to honor you with my words. Amen.

 

Categories: Christian Life

Declaring You Are “Weak on Sanctification” is Not Something to be Proud About

August 15th, 2012 40 comments

regular_t_wos_front_black_largeThere has always been a problem among Christians, and Lutherans, with how we view the place and role of good works in the life of the Christian. It is a very old problem, indeed, for even St. Paul had to combat the attitude that as long as we are believers in God’s grace, we need pay little heed to our behavior. Paul says, in Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”

We must continue to resist any attitude that would mislead us into thinking that we are not to be concerned about living according to God’s commandments, letting our light shine before others and thus bringing glory to God through our good works. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

When we witness examples of falling away from the way Christ would have us go, our reaction should be one of humble repentance. As St. Paul urges in 1 Corinthians 10: “These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:11-13)

It is time to put an end to irresponsible and anti-Biblical attitudes about sanctification. It is time to stop excusing sin and lazy attitudes about good works. The Gospel does not excuse sin, it forgives it, and sets us on the path we are called to walk. Let’s keep straight what we sing about in the great hymn Salvation Unto Us Has Come: “Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone, and rests in Him unceasing. And by its fruits true faith is known, with love and hope increasing. Works serve the neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living.” And when we fail and once more fall into sin, we cling to Jesus Christ alone. “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).

Categories: Christian Life

The Battle of Flesh and Spirit

July 9th, 2012 5 comments

If all you hear about doing good works, is that you can never do a good work, you are nothing other than a no good rotten scoundrel but … not to worry, you are forgiven…you are not hearing the whole Biblical and Lutheran story on the subject of good works…hear then a proper view of these things:

In the battle of flesh and spirit, in which true Christians stand, they not only overcome sins, they carry off all kinds of precious virtues as their loot of their combat. The longer they battle, the more universal, comforting, and untiring their love becomes. Their joy becomes purer, their peace becomes firmer, their patience becomes stronger, their kindness becomes more sincere, their goodness becomes richer, their faith and faithfulness become more constant, their gentleness becomes more unconquerable and their self-control becomes more immaculate. In short, the end of the true battle of the flesh and spirit is an advance in sanctification. This resulting sanctification is as far from perfect as the victory of the spirit over the flesh is complete. Indeed, every Christian must confess, with Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect” (Phil. 3:12). Nevertheless, where that battle truly exists, a fighter must be able to add truthfully, as Paul does, “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Phil. 3:12). Oh may God grant that we all become and remain true fighters against the flesh and sin. May Jesus Christ, our eternal Prince of victory, help us all for the sake of His battle with death.”

— C. F. W. Walther, God Grant It, p. 717.

Categories: Christian Life

Why Same-Sex Marriage Perverts the Relationship Between Christ and His Church

May 11th, 2012 15 comments

 

We are hearing, reading and talking a lot about same-sex marriage these days, particularly in light of the fact that the President of the United States of America has made it known that he personally supports extending to homosexual persons the right to enter into legally binding and legally recognized marriages. I’m  pretty much convinced that same-sex marriage is inevitable, and it is just a matter of time before it becomes legal, or “civil unions” that are akin to marriage. The question appears not to be “if” this will happen, but only “when.” I have heard some Christians, even those who oppose same-sex marriage, personally. give a verbal shrug about the issue, resigning themselves to the invetibaility of it. But, even if it is something that will become part of our culture and society, the Church must continue, vigorously, to oppose it. There are many reasons, of course and there are many and various opinions being expressed.

I do not however often hear observations that take into account how, and why, same-sex marriage represents a fundamental perversion of the relationship between Christ and His Church. To me, this is the most significant reason to oppose same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage does more simply than corrupt the divinely instituted state of marriage as the life long union of one man and one woman. Nowhere in Scripture are sexual relationships, of any kind, condoned outside this “one flesh” union, as Christ Himself refers to it (see Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12).

But why? Further revelation through the Apostle Paul clarifies this question, quite precisely: because marriage, ultimately, is intended to be a one-flesh union between man and woman that typifies, or pictures to the world, the relationship between Christ and His church. It is through the fruit of marriage, children, that God blesses the whole world and provides for Himself more people for the kingdom of Christ and His Church. It may truly be said that marriage is sacramental, of a sort: through physical and tangible relationships between men and women, in marriage, God is pouring out His gifts and blessings on the whole world.

Same-sex marriage represents a profoundly corrupt and evil distortion of the relationship between Christ and His Church. For it is precisely that relationship that Christian marriages are instituted and called upon to reflect: both within the marriage itself and as a witness to others around the Christian married couple. St. Paul speaks of this unique and special aspect of Christian marriage in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter five. Consider with me, very carefully, how Paul discusses the nature of human sexuality, and human sexual relationships, in these words:

Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things yhe wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water jwith the word, o that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, ecause we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Do you notice how St. Paul frames his words? “Be imitators of God” and concluded with the comment it is precisely in Christian marriage that we see this “imitation of God.” How so? Wives are to submit to their husbands, as the Church submits to Christ, and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.

When a man and a man enter into a sexual relationship it represents both a perversion of God’s original Creation and the New Creation that is made ours through Christ as we are drawn into relationship with Him through the Church. The nature of homosexual acts themselves reflect the deep self-centered perversion of human sexuality that St. Paul condemns here in this text as “impure.” It represents a complete falling away from what was both created “in the beginning” as Christ asserts and what has been recreated by Christ Himself through the washing of water with the Word.

And so, as we consider same-sex marriage, let’s also consider the unique meaning of marriage for Christian people and how God intends marriage to be the public witness to the world of the relationship between Christ and His Church. Such a witness is both physically and spiritually impossible when homosexuals indulge in those things that “must not even be named, as is proper among the saints.”

 

 

Eight Reasons My Worry and Anxiety is Pointless

May 9th, 2012 3 comments

I found this blog post and thought it was extremely useful. Jesus cautions his followers that they can not add a single hour to their life by worrying, but we do our best to do so anyway, don’t we? Hat tip to Justin Taylor for passing this along:

1. God is near me to help me.

Philippians 4:5-6: “The Lord is at hand; [therefore] do not be anxious about anything, but ineverything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

2. God cares for me.

1 Peter 5:7: “. . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

3. My Father in heaven knows all my needs and will supply all my needs.

Matthew 6:31-33: “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

4. God values me more than birds and grass, which he richly provides for and adorns; how much more will he provide for all my needs!

Matthew 6:26-30: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

5. The worst someone can do to me is to kill me and take things from me!

Matthew 6:25: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” [I.e., you still have eternal life even if you have no food; you will still have a resurrection body even if you are physically deprived.]

Luke 12:4: “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”

Luke 21:1618: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Romans 8:31-323538-39: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? . . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

6. Anxiety is pointless.

Matthew 6:27: “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” [Answer: no one.]

7. Anxiety is worldly.

Matthew 6:31-32: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things. . . .”

James 4:4: “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

8. Tomorrow has enough to worry about and doesn’t need my help.

Matthew 6:34: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Lamentations 3:23: “[God's mercies] are new every morning.”

Categories: Christian Life

Daily Luther: How to Incite and Persuade People to Do Good Works

May 6th, 2012 1 comment

Some Lutherans have embraced a “don’t ask/don’t tell” approach to teaching and preaching clear, practical sermons about good works, Luther contradicts these views:

“The lawmonger compels with threats and punishments; the preacher of grace persuades and incites men by reminding them of the goodness and mercy of God which they have experienced, for he wants no unwilling works or grudging service; he wants men to render a glad and joyous service to the Lord. Whoever will not let himself be moved and drawn by the consoling and lovely words of God’s mercy, granted to and bestowed on us without measure in Christ, so that he gladly and joyfully does all this to the glory of God and the welfare of his neighbor, amounts to nothing and all labor is wasted on him. How can laws and threats soften him to do God’s will, whom such fire of heavenly love and grace does not soften and melt? It is not man’s mercy but God’s compassion that we have received and that St. Paul sets before us to urge and impel us.” (St. L. XII:318 f.)

Categories: Christian Life

Dangerous to the World: Good! Dangerous to the Word: Bad! Or…Getting Luther Only Half-Right

April 30th, 2012 11 comments

 

I’m passing along this terrific blog post by Mr. Nathan Rinne, an ELCA layman:

On Gene Veith’s blog, I recently came across this great quote from ELCA Lutheran theologian Steven D. Paulson:

`I forgive you’… Luther taught and demonstrated that these simple words give absolute, indubitable certainty, and no one is more dangerous than a person who is certain. The certainty was not based on human self-certainty; it was the opposite of that. It was the certainty of forgiveness because of what the Son of God did by taking the sins of the world upon himself and defeating them at the cross… (p. 7)

Amen to that!  But he then goes on to say:

“…The decisive cosmic battle of God against sin, death, and devil was already waged and won when Christ was raised from the dead to make a new kingdom of people who live with no law, nowhere to go, and nothing to accomplish. They were simply–free.” (7)

Now, I believe that we as God’s children are free indeed – to play and otherwise, but does this strike you as somehow a bit off?  As I have said before,

“Although God’s Law is the only consistent moral framework that exists which enables us to grow in our relationships with God and one another – albeit only when empowered by and freed by the Gospel of grace – have we not come to doubt just this?” and “From what, ultimately, have we been saved? Sin, or the Law of God? We have been freed from the Law, and are no longer under the Law.  But we have not been saved from the Law, for this we uphold and fulfill in Christ (Romans [3:31 and] 8:4).”

Is this just me refusing to embrace the radical Gospel as God has revealed it? (as Paul does in Romans 6:1).  I don’t think so.  In the conversation that resulted from the same blog post mentioned above, I had an interesting conversation with a gentleman who has visited this blog before.

This gentleman said: “God expects nothing of His children. That is the fundamental principle of the Gospel, probably best expressed in what Martin Luther wrote on his deathbed (cart?), ‘This is true, we are beggars all.’”

I responded: “Insofar as we are sinners, we need to be told that God expects us to follow His commandments. No? Not just that we ‘get to’, but that He expects us to, in His words, ‘make duty a pleasure.’”

He said: “… The relationship we have with our Father is not that we need to know what ‘He expects us to do’, but we need to know what His will is…. As soon as we think that ‘God expects something’, we have left the province of the Gospel. But as our Lord taught, even that will be forgiven.” (see the whole context here)

I said: “Not sure I really get the distinction. His will is that He expects love, no?”, and he replied: “No. HE IS LOVE. He expects nothing. Perfect love does not expect anything from anyone; perfect love only serves, as He Who took upon Himself the form of a Servant.”

To which I said: “…because God is love, He expects love from His children. He delights in making them into the kind of people who do love, and know the joy that comes through love. Insofar as we are sinners, we hate this and run from it. Insofar as we are saints, we delight and rejoice in it, for we desire to imitate our loving Father, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who revealed true love to us and made us the recipients of it. What a person needs to hear depends on the attitude we discern they have.”

I took notice when he quoted Luke 6: 35 (“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”) and said “’Expect nothing in return’? That is how God loves.” (see the whole contexthere)

But then I thought a bit and replied:

“The problem with this here is that sinful man’s kind of expectations – i.e. “tit for tat” – are being contrasted with God’s way of doing things. God’s love – and hence His expectations – are more like that of a parent in their most selfless of moments, who desires the best for their child in life. To really love God and neighbor is to live in freedom, and God would have His trusting children to grow in this wonderful love. It should be good news to us that He expects us to grown in His love, loving His will (which He has indeed given us and we are always trying to catch up to, grow into) – the fact that it does not sound like good news to us – even after He has redeemed us – simply once again illustrates the extent to which sin inheres in us. I John 4:17 is a wonderful verse, but it is the ideal that we won’t reach until the other side of heaven.

I can’t imagine a parent not having some expectations – hopes – for their child. To not have expectations of a child does not sound like love to me, but disinterest, lack of concern, lack of love.”

The conversation is not over yet, but I’m not sure how long it can go on…  Augustine encouraged Christians with the radical words, “love God and do what you will.”  Dare we go any further than that?  We know that God ultimately takes the sinner out for the sake of the little ones. And we want to be on the side of the little ones!  We want to keep the faith.

The first part of Paulson’s quote makes us dangerous to the world.  The second part makes us dangerous to the Word.  This kind of conversation has been going on a long time.  Read this. 

Also see my series on antinomianism here.

Categories: Christian Life

Root Cause for Much of the Confusion in Lutheran Circles about Sanctification, Good Works, and Preaching

April 27th, 2012 17 comments

I picked up these interesting comments from an ELCA pastor who was, and still is, a very admiring student of the theology of Gehard Forde, whose influence, in my opinion, has gained far to great a toehold in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and it may well be that this attitude explains why we see some Lutheran sermons going out of their way to avoid any kind of parenesis. This of course flies directly in the face of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and the preaching from all confessionally Lutheran orthodox fathers of our faith, from Luther well into the 19th and 20th centuries. This attitude has spread in Lutheran circles to the point that we often see sermons and teaching that ignores, even goes out of its way, to avoid mentioning anything concrete about the life of holy living to which we are called in Christ.

[Forde's] primary weakness can be illustrated by examining how he concludes his sermon “Justification by Faith Alone.” He proclaims, “There is nothing for me to do but just say it: You are just for Jesus’ sake. And there is nothing for you to do but just listen. Believe it, it is for you! It will really reform your life!”There is nothing for me to do? Really? Can’t we say anything, then, about what this reformed life looks like? Forde is adamant that preaching is not about moral instruction, paraenesis, growth, faith practices, or a description of what this new life accomplished through the word might look like. Most of it would amount to a “third” use of the law, an understanding of the law Forde opposed and thought was actually just a return to the first under a new guise. Forde refuses to preach about the Christian life, change, and progress for, as far as I can tell, three reasons. The first reason is anthropological, and is the most damning, for it virtually silences anyone who would even question Forde’s thinking on the matter. The second reason, this one harmatological, offers a view of humanity that does not include things like progress, growth in virtue, holiness, and the like. This second reason, less accusative in nature, is easier to engage. The third reason concerns imputed or passive righteousness, a doctrine that circles back to reason one, for it is a concept only the New Adam can understand by faith. 

Categories: Christian Life

What Christians Should Do

April 13th, 2012 7 comments
“Because you have taken hold of Christ by faith, through whom you are righteous, you should now go and love God and your neighbor. Call upon God, give thanks to Him, preach Him, praise Him, confess Him. Do good to your neighbor, and serve him; do your duty. These are truly good works, which flow from this faith and joy conceived in the heart because we have the forgiveness of sins freely through Christ.”   — Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 26: 133
Categories: Christian Life