Tangible Grace

•February 5, 2009 • 3 Comments

The other day as I was driving home from work, heading east on 98th street in Bloomington, I noticed a police officer clocking traffic. Well, I hadn’t been paying close attention to my speed and when I looked down I noticed I was doing close to 50mph. That would have been fine, had the speed limit not been 35. Well, I thought for sure I was going to get stopped, and indeed I did. The officer came up to my car, asked for license and registration, asked if I knew why I had been stopped and I said “yes.” To which he responded, “so why did I stop you then.” “Because I was speeding,” I answered. Well, to make a long story a little shorter, he said he was going to take my license back to the car to “close it out.” I fully anticipated getting a ticket which I knew would be deserved. I wasn’t intentionally speeding, but I knew that was a lousy excuse so I didn’t even try it. Well, moments later the officer came back and said,  “well, it looks like you’ve got a clean record and I’d like to help you keep it that way so just pay closer attention to your speed because this is a residential street, ok?” I was pleasantly surprised, thanked the kind officer, and went on my way home.

As I reflected on the mercy shown to me by the officer, I couldn’t help relate it to the mercy we’ve been shown by God in Christ. Though we continually break God’s law – though we continually do things we shouldn’t and forget to do things we should, He has given us a “clean record” through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In fact, as I reflected more, I realized that even in terms of my traffic record, it may be technically clean, but I guarantee there are plenty of other violations I’ve commited – some I’m aware of, some I’m not – that I’ve never been caught for. Regardless, in those instances I’m still guilty of breaking the law. It’s the same way with sin. There are plenty of times I’ve sinned without even knowing it, or times that I’ve sinned where it was only known to me (and God, of course) The reality is, those times are still sin. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that even if we haven’t committed physcial acts of murder and adultery, we’re still guilty of committing those sins by our very thoughts. The bottom line is, we have lives that are tainted with sin through and through. We’re told that if we break the law at just one point, we’re guilty of breaking it all. Not a very pleasant picture. When I think of sin in those terms, it’s very convicting and left there, could even be very oppressive and depressing. But you see, that’s why the Gospel quite literally is the “good news” because as Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even though we have sinned against a Holy God; even though – try as we may – we can’t perfect our lives (see Romans 7 for more on the battle against our sinful nature), God has promised forgiveness and everlasting life to those who trust in the shed blood of Christ for their redemption. As I’ve discussed here and elsewhere, this doesn’t absolve us from doing good thigns or trying our best. Rather, what Christ has done for us transforms us and reshapes us to fall more in line with God’s will. And it’s not about coercion, it’s a natural byproduct; it starts happening more and more naturally – not perfectly – but more naturally. It’s what we call the process of sanctification. At the end of the day though, what it’s really about is that our salvation depends not on how much we do or don’t do or how hard we try; at the end of the day our salvation depends wholly on Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us. So I don’t know about you, but as much of a relief as it was to get a pardon for my speeding violation, the comfort I have knowing that all my sins before a righteous God have been pardoned in Christ is a relief that’s infinitely sweeter. Thanks be to God for His mercy, love, and grace showing in Christ! And thanks again to that police officer in Bloomington, MN for showing me grace in a tangible way.

Missing the point

•January 26, 2009 • 9 Comments

Lately I’ve been having some good discussions re: Christian morality vs. morality of those who are non-Christians, or more specifically, atheists.  I’ve been trying to make the point that morality without any objective truth is really unsustainable. That is to say, if one’s morals are basically subjective, ultimately you can’t hold anyone accountable because you have no objective basis for telling them they’re really wrong. It’s not to say in the end that Christians are ultimately more moral than non-Christians or even that non-Christians aren’t moral. It’s just that at least with some frame of reference (e.g. God’s Word – objective truth), you can at least make an appeal when someone does something that’s wrong rather than just say “who are you to say that this is really wrong?”

That’s all well and good (no pun intended), but I’ve realized that it’s really missing the point. The point is that no matter how hard we try, it’s never going to be enough. God demands that we live perfect lives – lives free of sin. The reality is, none of us can measure up to His standard but that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) So whether you’re Christian or not, and whether you recognize it or not, you still have God’s Law written on your hearts. That – and not the subjective morality of society – is what orients your “moral compass” in the ballpark of the right direction. However, since the fall (Genesis 3) and the entrance of sin into this world, our compasses are in need of some serious recalibration. Though we may all have some basic sense of what’s right and wrong, left to our own devices and sin-darkened reason, we still never get it completely right. And again, the point is we never will – no matter how hard we try. That’s why we often have that unshakeable feeling of guilt – that we just wish we could do better. And even when we master one problem, another one rears its ugly head. So left on our own, there really isn’t much hope – no assurance of being good enough – Christians and non-Christians alike. And really, this is at the heart of the Biblical message – that even though we can’t do good enough – even though we can’t measure up to God’s standard of perfection, Jesus did. And He didn’t just do it to show us how bad we are; He actually did it in our place – He did it for us. Jesus Christ – 100% true man and 100% true God pefectly fulfilled the Law for us and then suffered the punishment we deserve. He did it out of pure, unconditional love for us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ” (Romans 5:8). Through his death and resurrection, he has won for us the forgiveness of sins and promise of eternal life. It doesn’t mean we just throw our hands up and say “oh, I’m forgiven so I can do what I want.” Certainly not. The forgiveness of Christ has the power to change lives and that’s what it does for us. It restores our relationship with God and renews our hearts and minds, re-orienting our “moral compass” toward God’s Will. Again, we’ll still never get it perfect; but it doesn’t mean we don’t try. In the end, it’s not about how good we can be or how much evil we can avoid. In the end, it’s about trusting in the One who died and rose for your sins and mine.

The cross where Jesus gave his life for us; the empty tomb where he declared victory over sin, death, and the devil for us. That, dear friends, is the point.

Unanswered Prayers

•January 22, 2009 • 1 Comment

No, this isn’t a reference to the Garth Brooks song from years back but rather a reflection on what I thought was yet another very insightful devotional thought from Dr. Dale Meyer in his Meyer Minute yesterday. It read:

Keep in mind that prayer gatherings are being held today in Washington.

They call it the “miracle on the Hudson” but what about other families who  go no miracle and lost a loved one in another crash?  What about the people  who prayed for a miracle as they or a loved one faced a terrible disease but  weren’t healed, didn’t realize their hope, died.  What happened to their  prayers?  People who don’t get their desired miracle can easily conclude  that God is against them.  It’s like saying, “There but for the grace of God  go I.”  That pious platitude suggests God gives grace to some but not  others.

Jesus healed many people but at the same time did not heal others.  They  didn’t get the “grace” they desired.  Their prayers were not granted.  The  Gospel accounts tell us that Jesus came to announce a deeper care and cure  for people than just a medical supercenter or a fix for our immediate  problems.  Even if you get your miracle, ours remains a broken and sinful  world and Jesus’ message of repentance for sin and trust in the Father,  trust sometimes against the evidence, is about God’s grace for the greatest  rescue of all, our eternal rescue.

What does that say about the way we go about prayer, for ourselves, for  America?

I’ve broached this topic on this blog before but this really brought it to the forefront for me again. When it comes to our understanding of prayer, there is a fine balance. On the one hand, we heed Jesus’ words of promise that if we seek, we shall find; if we ask, it will be given; knock, and the door will be answered. (cf. Luke 11:1-13) That is to say, we ask with full confidence that God hears our prayers and will answer them according to our needs (note: not wants or desires, necessarily) and, more importantly, His will. On the other hand, we see instances where people prayed for something and did not receive it (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 – the thorn in the flesh). In Paul’s instance I’ve referenced – the thorn in the flesh – he didn’t get what he wanted not because he didn’t pray hard enough or because he didn’t have enough faith. Rather, I believe he didn’t get what he was asking for – well, the answer is right there – because God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

For those who have the idea that as Chrisitans our worldly lives (our physical lives, if you will) are supposed to somehow have less trouble or be “better” in this life than those of non-Christians – well, you need a serious wake up call. Even Jesus himself says “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). As Christians, we’ll experience the same problems and effects of a sinful, fallen world as everyone else. In fact, because of our proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins is not a popular or politically correct message, we can even at times expect an extra measure of “suffering” for our faith. The point being that if we try to gauge our relationship with God, our faith, God’s love for us, etc. by how our physical lives are going – we’re always going to be let down. But that’s why we have the hope and comfort in the message of Christ. The message that regardless of how our lives go now – regardless of the pains, struggles, suffering we suffer here and now – we have the promise that right now our sins have been for given and we have the promise of eternal life – a time when all the “bad stuff” will come to an end and we’ll experience joy that is beyond compare (cf. Revelation 21). Because Jesus Christ gave his life and shed his blood on the cross for you and me and because He rose again from the dead three days later, we have the assurance that a time will come when all we’ll experience is God’s grace in Christ and that’s something that gives us what St. Paul describes as a peace which transcends all understanding. May that peace in Christ give you hope and comfort in your daily lives. God bless you and thanks for stopping by my blog. It’s good to be back at it again!

My unexplained absence

•January 15, 2009 • 2 Comments

I know I don’t really have many regular visitors to this blog, but for the few people who had expectations of me, I feel I owe you an explanation why this blog is currently comatose. I started this blog knowing that there is much I have to learn as a pastor and as such, I wanted to seek the insight and wisdom of fellow pastors. In addition, I was also interested in hearing insights/views from other Christians (Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike) as well as non-Christians. In the process, I wanted to avoid this blog becoming my own personal soapbox or gripe session for things I’m unhappy with. Having read another pastor’s blog post on pastor’s blogs (confused yet), I began to wonder if that’s what I was doing and if in fact it was appropriate for me to carry on the discussions I was in such a public forum and where the boundaries lie. I’m still trying to sort that all out. So where does that leave this little project? I guess I’m not sure. All I can say for now is feel free to check out the posts I’ve already listed and leave your comments/questions and subscribe to the RSS feed so that if/when I decide to start up a new post for discussion, you’ll be the first to know :) Soli Deo Gloria

Where to begin?

•November 19, 2008 • 2 Comments

So I recently came across the blog of a former Baptist pastor, Dan Silverman, turned atheist (a.k.a. free thinker) and I find it troubling for a number of reasons (take a look for yourself here: http://allforfreedom.blogspot.com/).

  1. Anytime I hear of someone making a deliberate step away from the faith I am saddened. I can only imagine how God feels (cf. Luke 15:11-32).
  2. Where are all these churches that are seeking to squash people’s free thinking and rational thought? Perhaps I’m living a sheltered life as a Lutheran, but I’ve never felt that I’ve been coerced into believing anything. If I were to ever question my faith (and I’ve certainly had questions about it), I’ve been able to have open discussions and hypothetically speaking, even if I were to get to the point of doubting completely, I know that even though the truth of God’s Word and His work in Christ would be proclaimed to me, I would be treated with love and respect (assuming I weren’t arrogant and condescending about the whole thing) and should I leave the faith, people wouldn’t treat me with hostility but would reach out to me in love. This was really awkward to write, even if it was all hypothetical so I hope this part makes sense.
  3. As for the reaction of Dan’s church family, wife and children, I’m not really sure what to think. A large part of me wants to believe that he is really telling the truth: that he simply left the faith and as a result, the church and his family turned their backs on him in vicious ways. Sad to say, but that type of reaction even from Christians isn’t totally surprising. At one point when he was put in jail, he says the other pastor at his
    church visited him and said “see what you get for turning your back on
    God!” On the one hand, I think that’s a counterproductive thing to say and certainly it lacks tact. On the other hand I wonder, even if he is innocent of all the things he’s being accused of, could this in fact be a wake up call to come back to God? Or am I making a “friend of Job” move by even suggesting that?
  4. If he is telling the truth in all this, I think the reaction of the other Christians in his story are way out of line and they’re in need of some rebuking themselves.
  5. On the other hand, this is only one side of the story so there certainly could be more going on that we’re not hearing.
  6. Whatever is going on, I think it’s obvious this man, along with his family, are in need of some serious prayers. And, if he truly is being wrongly accused, I pray that he finds justice and more importantly, his way back to God.

I’m not sure why – perhaps guiding by the Holy Spirit – but I’m finding myself drawn to stories like this like a moth to flame. I have a heart for the lost and a desire to share with them the reason for the hope that I have in Christ, but always with gentleness and respect. I can’t convert anyone – that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. But it’s my duty as a Christian to share the message of Christ.

Please read Dan’s story, pray for him, and let me know if you have any words of wisdom.

Now What?

•November 13, 2008 • 8 Comments

Okay, so the elections are over and it’s probably obvious from my first post that I am disappointed by the results of the election. However, what’s done is done and I truly believe and trust that God is in control and He certainly knows what He’s doing. That being said, I will pray for President-elect Obama and all of our elected officials on a regular basis (and to that end, here’s an example of an excellent prayer: http://tinyurl.com/prayer-obama). I will respect those in authority over me in this country, even if I don’t agree with everything they say, do, or legislate.

This raises another issue that one of the members at my congregation brought up and essentially that is, “so what do I do now?” Let’s just focus on the issue of abortion to make things a little less complicated. How do we hold our government accountable to protect the lives of the unborn and to punish those who don’t? How do we respond, in a respectful way, to legislation that “forces” us to pay for abortions with our tax dollars? As I see/understand it, our primary role as the Church is the proclamation of the Gospel. However, that doesn’t absolve us from involvement in the left-hand realm. The question is, what do we do now? How do we get involved in these social issues that are clearly against God’s Word while at the same time maintaining respect for authority?

Part of the answer, it seems to me, is that there’s a definite distinction between what we can do publicly as the Church and what we can do as individual Christians. I haven’t sorted that all out yet, which is in part why I’m making this post. However, as I stated above, it seems pretty clear that one Biblical role of the government in bearing the sword is to punish those who do wrong. To that end, I don’t really understand how the issue of abortion is at all a gray area. Abortion is simply murdering a child that is in the womb and if our government has a responsibility to legislate against murder for those already born, doesn’t it also have a responsiblity to pass legislation to protect the unborn from murder? So again the question, how do we hold our government accountable to carry out this responsibility while still respecting their authority?

Your thoughts?

This is My Father’s World

•November 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring.
God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

As you head to the polls today, which I hope you do, remember that our Heavenly Father is still in Charge. Remember that Christ is our King. No matter who wins, we have a responsibility to honor and respect those in authority over us. We may not agree with their policies and there may be some things we down right find deplorable, but we still need to show respect and we need to pray for them. Pray that they would seek God’s will, pray that they would lead with honor and integrity, pray that they repent for the mistakes they will undoubtedly make. Above all, give thanks that we have a loving God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life, to shed his blood on the cross and die for our sins, and to leave an empty tomb on Easter Morning assuring us of eternal life and that this is the God who is ruler over all. Remember that even if it doesn’t seem like it now, even if your candidate doesn’t win – “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

 
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