Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pulling Out All the Stops

When seeking to make a good impression you just may decide to pull out all the stops. This may entail buying a dozen roses for your beloved, taking your boss or a client out to the city’s best restaurant, or deciding to spend your money on that once in a lifetime trip. We place our frugalities on the back burner in order to curry favor in the hope that it will elevate your standing with that person. This saying actually has its roots in the church. Pipe organs, so prevalent in older churches, were equipped with what were called stops that controlled the air flow of the organ, in fact, controlling the volume. Organists would pull out all those stops to finish with a flourish. In our faith journey, pulling out all the stops is not part of our plan.

While we often shower those close to us with gifts and love, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ gets less than our best, often becoming merely an afterthought. The one who gave His life so that we may live is relegated to a place secondary to our selfishness. The one who should be celebrated as King of Kings stands outside patiently waiting for us to allow Him to enter our hearts. The one who lavishes His love upon His children is rewarded with disrespect and indifference from those who owe everything to Him. Why are we so quick to prattle on about our children and then ignore the opportunity to share our faith and give praise to our Lord and Savior? Has our secular society that so looks down upon those that “cling to their Bibles” causing us to be ashamed of our God? Jesus said in Luke 9:26, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

As our faith is assailed by the liberal media, academia and even by “progressive” churches such as the ELCA, it is our responsibility to stand up and proclaim His praise unending. Those that stand by and acquiesce to the all-out assault on Christianity are just as much to blame as those who wish to destroy it. While this so-called new progressive and all enlightened generation chastises Christians for being purveyors of the most exclusive of all the world’s religions, nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is by far the most inclusive religion. After all, Jesus died for all humanity, one needs only believe in the one true Son of God took your sins to the cross, died in your place and rose so that all who believe can live eternally with the Father. Works are not required. Mandatory daily prayer is not required. Attaining enlightenment is not required. Faith in the Risen Christ is the only task required.

It is not important who is “in” or who is “out”. All are in if only they accept that the blood of the Savior cleansed their sin and accept the grace of salvation from the Father. When one accepts the gift of grace, we are filled with joy. When we first believe, we want to share our joy with everyone and bring the world to Christ. As we mature as Christians, it certainly seems that that joy and enthusiasm wanes when it should be just the opposite. As “baby” Christians our immature joyfulness, buoyed by our limited knowledge of Scripture, often would turn off potential believers. As we build up our spiritual armor through hearing and reading His word, we are much better equipped to be a Disciple of Christ, yet we balk when the Holy Spirit offers opportunities to share our faith. It is time to pull out all the stops and start proclaiming His glory, everywhere and to everyone. Every opportunity should be eagerly awaited and prayers made to have the Holy Spirit guide us in advancing His Kingdom. Share your joy!

Yet, the greatest impediment to those thirsting for the Lord is us. Yes, we are all too often the road block that turns potential believers away from God. Our propensity to remain trapped within the law by overemphasizing sin is the greatest obstacle. If engaging in sinful behavior would be  a disqualifier, I’m sorry, but we would all stand condemned. That is why we look to the cross. We are saved not because of what we do, but because of what Christ did for us. We tend to put the cart before the horse and turn off those willing to accept by our self-righteousness. Are believers better than any other child of God? No! We are, in fact, worse if our behavior turns even one of His children away. 1 Peter 2:24-25, “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” We all were once lost. We all are a fallen humanity. We all fall into disobedience. We all need a Savior and Redeemer. Jesus calls on us to teach the Gospel and to make disciples of the world. That final crescendo is waiting to be played. Will you pull out all the stops, listen to our Lord and work to bring the lost to Him?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Finger Pointing

One thing we Lutherans are good at is finger pointing. We are quick to point out the faults of others, especially when confronting, what we believe, is errant Christian doctrine. After all, the Protestant Reformation that begat Lutheranism began in 1517 when a priest by the name of Martin Luther, disagreed when the Roman Catholic Church sanctioned indulgences, or buying your way into heaven, and wrote his 95 theses to protest that errant doctrine along with many others. This began a movement away from a doctrine of salvation by works to justification by faith alone, away from the primacy of the Pope to the authority of Scripture alone, or Sola Scriptura. For Lutherans, the Holy Bible contains the word of God that teaches and guides us in our spiritual lives. The Bible is an ancient document. The Old Testament was compiled between 3500 BC and 450 B C, while the New Testament was written in the last half of the 1st century.

President Obama attended Easter worship services at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC this year. The presiding minister, Reverend Luis Leon had an interesting sermon for the celebration of our Savior’s Resurrection. Craftily inserted into his message of “Easter vision” was an admonition of the “captains of the religious right”. Apparently, he believed it important enough on a day of celebration, to point his finger at those who uphold the authority of Scripture. He said that the religious right would have Christianity return back, rather than look ahead to the new, to relegating blacks to the back of the bus, women back to the kitchen, gays back into the closet and immigrants back over the border. What his opinion on these issues had to do with his Easter message is beyond me. Finger pointing is obviously not exclusive to Lutherans, nor the religious right.

As a member of that apparently despicable religious right, I do, indeed, want the church to go back:

Back to the preaching of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, more and more come to believe. Luther explained in the Small Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.”

Back to having all persons, regardless of color, to feel welcome in God's House. I want persons of color to break the chains of dependency to government entitlements and look to be led by God. I want all men, no matter the color of their skin, to have an active part in their families as Spirit led fathers. Hebrews 12:7-11, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Back to having women to be a major part of a vibrant revival, from the pulpit or wherever the talents God has blessed them with can further the Kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Back to having people from other countries respect the laws of this country and immigrate here legally so that they can be a valuable member of this society and not have to hide in the shadows. 1 Peter 2:13-17, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

And I want the LGTBQ community to be welcomed in God’s house, for their sin is no worse than any other sinner in God’s House. I want the LGTBQ community to forgo their selfish nature and give themselves unconditionally to the Lord. 1 John 1:5-10, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

We are called to be of one mind in Christ. We are called to love one another as Christ loves us. Maybe we do need to go back to the basics of our faith, turn to God and follow His words. Dwell in His word and His path will become clear.