Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Are You in Denial?

The Apostle Peter, the Rock, denied Jesus 3 times on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. He denied our Lord to save his skin, since he believed that he too, may have been brought to judgment on that night. How many times have you denied the Lord his proper place in your life? Our denials are not always as literal as Peter’s. We deny our Lord by placing ourselves and our interests before Him. Jesus told his disciples in Luke 9:23-26, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up the cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  What good is it to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self?  If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” To follow our Lord requires complete dedication and willing obedience. If we choose to concentrate on our own identities, our own families, our successes, or accomplishments, we will lose that which really matters, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is necessary in order to gain our salvation. Those of us more concerned with satisfying our worldly desires and pleasing ourselves before pleasing our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will have no part in His kingdom.

So, we must deny ourselves in order to place Christ first and foremost in our hearts. This is not such an easy task for a sinful and selfish humanity. The ELCA is so passionate in their struggle for social justice that they have lost sight of the reason that we should work to right the wrongs of this world. Jesus is the reason that we strive to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, provide care for the sick and injured, and welcome all sinners to worship our Lord. We do these acts, not of our own volition, but because Jesus himself first did these things in His Father’s name. Without our Lord, we are lost, trapped in our selfish world, full of sin, with no one to deliver us from the corruption that can so easily overcome our lives. Luke 18:26-27,29-30, “Who then can be saved?  Jesus replied, “What is impossible with human beings is possible with God. Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” Salvation is a gift from God alone. No matter how we hard we try attain the kingdom of God by the virtue of our own accomplishments, we will fail. Only by the grace of God are we granted salvation.

Acts 4: 11-12, “Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” Jesus is indeed the cornerstone that our faith and church is built upon. Without His death and resurrection, we all would stand accountable for our sins and the punishment that we so greatly deserve. All that we are and hope to be is a gift that He has provided to us. Since we owe our very lives to our Lord, why is it so difficult to thank and praise Him in our daily lives? Study God’s Word and you will be filled with His Spirit. The Bible is God speaking to each and every one of His children. Read it, learn it, and let His Word lead you to the personal relationship with Christ that He desires and that we all are seeking.

1 Peter 4:1-2, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because those who have suffered in their bodies are done with sin.  As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” When we place our Lord at the center of our lives and express our love for others as He did, sinful desires and worldly practices that we once placed as priorities, will cease to be important in our daily lives. We must be diligent then and temper our desires for the things of this world, so that we always place Christ first in our hearts.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Christ IS the Heart of the Matter

Until late in the middle ages man believed that the earth was the center of the universe. This was a tenet that the Roman Catholic Church enforced, charging those who dared to challenge this notion, as heretics. Many were brought before the inquisition and forced to renounce those beliefs or face judgment. Much of the thought behind this belief was that man was God’s ultimate success and, as such, we were much too important to be relegated to a place other than the heart of the known universe. The church was ultimately proven wrong. 500 years later we see much of the same attitude permeating from the leadership of the ELCA. Enlightened man and his goals for social justice are held in such high esteem that our Lord is relegated to a secondary position in the hierarchy of this misguided denomination.

While a Christian needs to deny oneself and place our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, the ELCA promotes social justice as the primary goal and denies our Lord the proper place in their church. As the ELCA pushes forward with social justice as the central ambition in their ministry, they deny Christ and withhold salvation from those thirsting for Christ’s love and acceptance. All this social justice and good works that the ELCA concentrates so intensely upon certainly appears as if they are answering to a noble calling. But, these good works mean nothing if they are not used give glory to our Lord and as a vehicle to bring people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Especially troubling is the fact that the ELCA delights in tackling the most controversial of social agendas. Sexuality, immigration reform, healthcare, environment, and education are a few of the social justice agenda items listed on the ELCA website. The emphasis on these social statements leads one to believe that the ELCA is a social services agency, not a Lutheran Church Synod.

It appears that the ELCA has successfully removed Christ from the heart of their beliefs and replaced Him with themselves and their fight for social justice. Without Christ as the center of our beliefs, to who then do we turn? How can a church make confession and absolution optional in the worship service and replace it with a celebration of baptism? How does eliminating sin and disregarding Scripture by simply passing resolutions help lead sinners to the Gospel of Christ? The ELCA has lost their way and are adhering to and promoting a false gospel. They place man’s opinion and authority over God’s Word using words that sound so accommodating and pleasant. Their Biblical scholars have found a way around Scripture that coincides with the secular values of this world. We must work to open the spiritual hearts and minds of those falling prey to this bound conscience. If we stand up to the misguided doctrine of the ELCA, we will be fighting the good fight for our Lord and His people.

In order for the ELCA to turn away from their ill-advised secular goals and doctrines that attempt to invalidate scripture, their membership must rise up and tell them so. The time to remain comfortable in our cozy local churches has come to an end. Our indifference in allowing others to take on our responsibilities has given the ELCA the means to disregard Scripture and replace it with their own selfish desires. 2 Timothy 2:25-26, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” This bound conscience is of man and not Scripturally valid. The first step to eliminating this false gospel is to raise our voices and educate other members about bound conscience. There is a reason that so many congregations are not discussing the actions taken by the national assembly last August. If people are kept in the dark, this false gospel will be allowed to take root, grow, and eventually overwhelm the church, taking its members with it on a path to destruction. As Christians, we simply cannot sit back and allow this false doctrine to overtake the Lord’s Church.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

See the Big Picture

As much as we would like it to be, we are not isolated from the rest of the world. We often want to remain in our own little protected shell, secure that as long as we attend our church and listen to the inspired sermons of Pastor Jay we need not worry about what is going on in the greater church. We like to feel safe and comfortable and not have to worry about conflict or something new or unexpected. This is why it is easier to socialize with the same people that we are familiar with, rather than reaching out to new faces we see at church. As Christians, we have the responsibility to step out of our comfort zones and preach the Good News to the world. 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” We are Disciples of Christ, and as such, we are charged with the great responsibility to lead others to the Gospel of Christ. In our actions and our words, we are to set the kind of example that others may see and recognize that we are influenced by His Spirit.

Many thirst for the intimacy that comes with a relationship with Christ. Many only need to have the Good News shared with them to realize that relationship with Christ is what they have been searching for. When we emulate the life of Christ with our interaction with others, it may just open that door to an opportunity to witness for our Lord. Good works are important in this world, but if we fail to use those good works to help lead one astray to the Lord, we fail our responsibilities as disciples of Christ. The ELCA continues to do good works throughout the world, but they continue to fail to use those opportunities to give witness for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They persist in calling attention to, and praising themselves for their good works as they continue to strive for social justice. Jesus said in Matthew 6:1, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” The ELCA continues to boast of their intent to pursue social justice reforms. Social justice is  emphasized on their website and even their statement of “Who we are” leads with this goal in mind.

Bishop Mark Hansen stated that the ELCA intends to focus on and promote one particular social justice agenda item each year. All this emphasis on social justice while the ministry of our Lord plays second fiddle. Ephesians 2:8-10, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has a plan for us. We cannot earn our salvation by trying to take credit for our good work toward social justice. If we believe that our good work in fighting for social justice takes precedence over our mission to preach the Gospel of Christ, we fail as disciples of Christ. If we adopt a doctrine of bound conscience that allows us to disregard the parts of Scripture that are troubling or that we and our enlightened society disagree with, we are following a false gospel that leads us away from God.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Division by Subtraction

When the ELCA met in August of 2009 for their national assembly, their leadership had already counted on passing several key agenda items. In order to be more welcoming and accepting of the LGTB community, the resolution, Human Sexuality-Gift and Trust was expected to pass. By stacking the deck with activists and supporters of the resolution, only a few fence sitters needed to be convinced to vote in their favor. Bishop Mark Hanson and the other leaders of the ELCA expected that this decision would cause a rift in the membership of this Synod, and they fully expected to lose 20% or approximately 1 million members along with numerous churches. The resolution passed by the narrowest of margins and the fallout continues. While the ELCA preaches that reconciliation is occurring, the fact is, the outcry over the passage of this and other resolutions at that assembly reverberate throughout the Christian world.

Much of the chorus of disapproval stems from the church’s acceptance of a practice specifically prohibited in Scripture. That the leaders of the ELCA would have the audacity to disregard Scripture and replace it with an interpretation more in tune with the modern, secular world view is where much of the dispute lies. Many of the LGTB community activists take the new doctrine that allows for the blessing of homosexual unions and the acceptance of practicing homosexuals, in monogamous relationships to serve as pastors in the ELCA, as a victory to their cause. Unfortunately, their supposed victory places them and the church that disregards Scripture and encourages sinful behavior, at odds with our Lord. If the church accepts sinful behavior and teaches that God’s laws are no longer applicable, it leads those sinners on a course away from God. We are all sinful beings, no better or worse than any other sinner. It is when we deny our sin that we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. We must confess our sins, all of them, and realize that it is only through our Lord that we are saved. If we decide that our own foolish desires are more important than obeying and loving our Lord, then we are lost.

By placing ourselves above our God and using our bound conscience to disregard any part of Scripture that we happen disagree with, we subtract ourselves from His presence. When God removed His presence from Jesus on the cross, Jesus felt the crushing aloneness that sent him into a despair too deep to even begin to describe. By passing resolutions and adopting doctrines that separate us from our God, the ELCA is taking a course that saddens our Lord and absolutely delights the evil one. The leaders of the ELCA are embracing a misguided course of action, using the buzz words of acceptance, tolerance, and welcoming. Our fellow sinners need to be guided to the narrow path, not sent on the easy and wide path of destruction. What part of Scripture will be the next victim to our bound conscience? How many will be led away from God to fight for social justice while learning to disregard Scripture and place their own opinion over and above the Lord?

We need to learn that God loves and accepts us as His children, but He does expect us to return that love, in part by obeying His law for us. We cannot decide to invalidate Scripture when it does not suit our own selfish cravings. We are, by nature, selfish and it is often more desirable to follow our own fancies. But, if we choose to place our wants above our Lord, we fail our Lord and ourselves. Romans 8: 5-8, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their mind set on what the nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind controlled by the sinful nature is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” While the Spirit will never lead you to sin, our sinful nature is disobedient and rebellious and will only lead us to death. We must strive to please our Lord with our faith, our love and acceptance of His Word. This will keep us on that narrow path that leads to our salvation.