Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christ=The Main Thing

John Calvin had it right. Jesus Christ is the "Main Thing". Not his attributes, not love, not justice, but Him alone. For from him flow love, justice, freedom, grace, mercy and Salvation. And when we live in him, the outflow of that relationship are the above and many other things. Read what Calvin said on this. He was right.

We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ. We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else. If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is "of him." If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. For by his birth he was made like us in all respects that he might learn to feel our pain. If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge. In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other. (Inst. 2.16.19)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

From The Cradle to the Cross

I'm sure that sometime during this Christmas season, at one time or another, you have heard or sung the carol, Good King Wencelas. Now, you may know who King Wenceslas was, but if you don't let me fill you in. He was a chap of the 10th Century. He was also known as Vaclav the Good but this poor Duke of Bohemia ended up being assassinated by his wicked brother, Boleslaw the Bad. Hmmm, I wonder how he got that name? I know I'd be bad if I had the name BOLESlaw. Anyway, because of his holiness, the good guy, Vaclav, now known as Wenceslas, had his bones interred in St. Vitus's cathedral in Prague. I wonder if that's where the dance stared. But that is another tragic sad story that many today are afflicted with.

On with the story, The song named after Good King Wensaslas was written by J. M. Neale (1818-1866). It has nothing to do with Christmas really, but is based on a story about Wenceslas who befriended a peasant. This poor peasant lived on the edge of a forest and so touched the good king, that he felt impelled to give this poor man a pine log. Now why a peasant would need a pine log is not told. But logic would tell me that probably the forest belonged to the king and anyone who chopped down the kings trees could probably have his head chopped off...or something like that, I surmise.

Nor is there any explanation of the footprints in the snow. But the verse I find interesting is the reference to Steven. What was this "feast of Stephen?" Those of us in the "free church" tradition relegate saints to a dusty corner of our library shelves, but most of Christendom has celebrated this "Feast of Stephen" from the earliest centuries. It is also known as Boxing Day in Europe and England and is celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church on December 27 instead of today. It was a day when gifts were gathered and given to the poor, hence, Boxing Day. And since Stephen was noted for his ministry to the helpless in the New Testament he is honored with this tradition.

The other thing we know about Stephen is that he was the first martyr of the church. But why in heaven's name do we celebrate this event the day after Christmas? Well, here's where tradition and the teaching ministry of the ancient church kicks in. One of the teachings of the church down through the centuries has been that Jesus, the babe born in Bethlehem, was born to die. He came to this earth, lived 30 or so years, and then fulfilled his destiny on the Cross in a horrible execution. His life was given in order that we might live. The sin that broke our relationship with God with Adam and Eve was forever destroyed by the death of Christ so that we can have eternal life with God. That has been the teaching of the Church.

And what the church wanted to show was that we too, who have been redeemed by Christ, also go through hardship. What the church is telling us is that the message of Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection is filled with similarities for us. Jesus himself warned,
"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you...Remember the word I said to you; a servant is not greater than his master: If they persecuted me they will persecute you."

This has been the story of Christianity from day one. Good old St. Augustine said, "Every age is an age of martyrdom...Don't say that Christians are not suffering persecution; the Apostle's words are always true...: All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12) All, with no one being excluded or exempted. If you want to test the truth of this saying, you only have to begin to lead a pious life and you will see what good reason he had for saying this."

Jesus said, "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."

St. John Chrysostom, the great preacher of the fourth and fifth century wrote: "Don't say that they didn't suffer, but that they rejoiced to suffer. We can see that by the use to which they instantly put their freedom: immediately after the flogging they gave themselves up to preaching with wonderful zeal."

Today, persecution still goes on. Look at the house churches in China. Weep over the Christian Palestinian, Arab, Jordanian churches and all of the churches in the middle Eastern region who are suffering at the loss of their pastors and churches due to persecution. Many of these poor folks have suffered horrible crimes perpetrated against them. And remember, war has also brought pain and suffering to these folks. Yes, even some of our own bombs.

Persecution goes on around the world. It may be the greatest argument for the sinful state of man that I know. Man needs a saviour. I know, I know, this is a message that falls on many deaf ears. But folks, how many of you are suffering from isolation for your faith? The words of Jesus are being fulfilled in our own country. Christianity is still, the most hated and despised religion in the world. How many news reports have you heard about complaints about crosses in public places or in places that can be seen by the public? How many displays of the 10 commandments are pushed into the shadows?
How many of your friends have ignored you on Facebook because you are open in your faith? What about those subtle little references like, "Oh, you STILL believe in a God and go to Church? How ignorant you are to be call yourself a Christian.

Now to be honest, those of us in the church have earned a lot of that scorn for trying to be something we aren't to take credit for the piety we exhibit. But the fact remains, there is a concerted effort to push Christianity back into the home and out of the public sphere. Oh, we can celebrate the muslim days, or the Jewish days, or push all kinds of new age spirituality on the unsuspecting public, but God forbid you wear a cross to work or have picture of Christ in you cubicle at work.

We can be encouraged, and in some companies, compelled to take meditation courses or new age self help classes at work but God help you if you want to have a private Bible Study or Prayer Group in your office. Why, that's a violation of church and state. I'll use my favorite theological term. HOGWASH!!

Face it folks, Christianity will never be popular. I don't care how much you try to package it into theatrical productions, the majority will ignore anything that bases its foundation on the message of the cross of Christ. And as time goes on and our nation sinks more and more into apostasy, we'll be the pariahs of humanity. As long as our churches continue to try to make our services more and more like the local nightclub we'll continue the downwards slide.

The church of Jesus Christ is different. It is counter cultural. It is not like the rest of the world. It is a haven for the lost. A hospital for sinners. Sinners belong in the church because that is where Christ is. He loves sinners. We are all sinners and if we Christians will finally admit to that and realize Jesus Christ is the source of our hope, love and living, then we'll quit trying to be Christians and instead let the Grace of Christ make us the kind of people he wants us to be.

So on this day of St. Stephen, take heart. If you are suffering, your consolation is in Jesus. Your suffering may not end until death, but you will have the hope of his presences with you daily and for eternity. Sing the song Good King Wenceslas on this day and remember Stephen who showed us the cost of being a Christian. It's a life from the cradle to the cross.

One final word. I know some of you will be appalled by what I've just said. Yes, I actually agree with you. The Cross is ugly, was then and is now. Suffering is awful and not to be desired. But it's life. And how you decide to live that life depends on whether you are willing to obey Christ by trusting in him as your Savior.

God bless you and have a Joyous Christmas Season...yes..the season extends into January. And have a blessed New Year.

Good King Wencelas

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas-Joy To The World

Joy To The World

Merry Christmas to Everyone



Thursday, December 24, 2009

Those in Christ Are Beloved

This is a great nine minute presentation. Watch it and be encouraged. You are loved.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas Prayer by Ian Oliver

Ian Oliver, pastor for the University Church at Yale University wrote a marvelous prayer for Christmas I'd like to share with you. I ran across it in the Magnificat Magazine this month. It's a prayer for the December 24th prayer readings, but it was so good I thought I'd share it with you.

A Christmas Prayer

On that holy night,
Somehow
It happened.

Somehow,
God took a handful of humanity:
Proud, petulant, passionate;
And a handful of divinity:
Undivided, inexpressible, incomprehensible:
And enclosed them in one small body.

Somehow, the all too human
Touched the divine.
And was not vaporized.
To be human was never the same,
But forever thereafter,
Carried a hint of its close encounter with the perfect.
and forever thereafter,
God was never the same,
But carried a hint of the passion of the mortal.

If God can lie down in a cattle-trough,
is any object safe from transformation?
If peasant girls can be mothers to God,
Is any life safe from the invasion of the eternal?

If all this could happen, O God,
What places of darkness on our earth
are pregnant with light waiting to be born this night?

If all this could happen, O God,
Then you could be, and are, anywhere, everywhere,
Waiting to be born this night in the most
unbelievable places,
Perhaps even in our own hearts. Amen.

Ian Oliver serves as pastor fo the University Church, Yale University

Monday, December 21, 2009

This Is A Grand Slam Home Run Program

I listened to the pod cast this morning of the White Horse Inn and thought it was a Grand Slam Home Run. The program was recorded yesterday December 20th and is titled The Word Made Flesh. The last ten minutes or so is worth the wait. So for those who are tired of milk toast Christianity, here's some good red meat. Just clck on the link and...Enjoy.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is it me? Or is it something else?

I don't know about you, but I've notice that the older I get, the more I study and think about life, I realize I know nothing and that life is not about me. Now some of you may agree with the first statement regarding my lack of knowledge. I was always a late bloomer. I don't think I grew up until I was in my thirties and at that, only because I was forced to recognize that I wasn't in control. My college years were, to say the least, less than stellar. I learned how to study long after I was out of school.

But, there were some foundations laid that have carried me through all my rabbit trail theologies. One of those foundations was that there is only one message we have as Christians and that is Christ and the Good News of his victory over death through his death, burial and resurrection. Paul the Apostle said, I preach Christ and him crucified. He said, "For me, to live, is Christ."
It wasn't about Paul, it was about Jesus Christ. It wasn't about what Paul did or didn't do. It was about Jesus Christ working and living and loving through Paul. Christ and the cross was the source of everything in Paul.

So that is the first foundation stone I've always believed in my Christian life. Now, have I lived that? No. All too often I've tried to be rather than obey. Did you get that? When Christ is not the foundation of our life, we try to do something to become like Christ rather than letting HIM be the source of my being. If I focus on being all I can be, I end up with a false works gospel. If Christ is my life then I become like him by his action in my life. He provides the faith to obey. He provides the ability to become what I am and he provides the action to do what he commands.

The second foundation stone I've never abandoned was a firm belief and trust in the validity and authority of the Holy Scripture, The Bible. I believe in the verbal, plenary (complete), inspiration of the Scriptures as given to the authors and assembled by the church. My trust is in what we Protestants hold to as the 66 books of the Bible. As for the Deutero-canonicals, I agree they are important and valid for study, but lack the authority of the rest of the sixty-six books. I firmly hold to what the leaders of the Reformation taught, Sola Scriptura. I know the doctrine of Sola Scripture is debated but I'll just let the debaters debate. I'm not into that dog hunt. It's not up for debate with me.

Now what has all that got to do with me. Well, here's where my use of the term curmudgeon comes that I referred to on Facebook the other day. I'm getting sick and tired of watching the church descend into a works theology. I studied Catholicism for ten years and came to the conclusion it was largely a salvation by works theology. Despite all their protestations to the otherwise, that is the fact. They have confused the works of salvation and sanctification and made them mean the same thing. I fear we Protestants are headed in the same direction.

When I came out of the bins of Catholic theological studies, blew off the dust and brushed the cobwebs of history off my clothes, and stepped into the sunshine of the twenty-first century, I was blinded by what I saw. I had to rub my theological eyes and put on sunglasses to see more clearly what was going on. And what I saw confused me at first, but then as my eyes adjusted I began to wonder, "What is this church I've claimed to be a member of all my life?"

Oh, I've been faithfully attending church, gleefully participating, grousing about cosmetic changes, but mostly chalking it up to my growing older and less flexible. But I'm an introvert and love studying, so I started reading again. And boy, did I get an education. New terms I'd never heard of like, Emergent Church, Emerging Church, Life style evangelism, Ten steps to Holiness sermons, How To Be All You Can Be programs. I heard preached Be The Real You if you just do...You fill in the blank.

I sat back and scratched my bald head and thought...man...what is this. I just left this stuff behind in the church history section of my library. It's the same mistake the Catholic church made, only now in new terminology. And then to boot, I see syncretism seeping into the old theologies with ancient Bhuddist and Hindu practices of meditation being practiced. The reason given is that this is how the early Christian fathers practiced their faith.

In a strong theological term...BALONEY!!! I don't know of any early church father who practiced Bhuddist practices. Yes, they practiced contemplation and meditation, but I just don't see where far Eastern practices were a part of their worship. I know some of my Reformed brethren may disagree with me here because any form of contemplation is held in suspect by many of them. But trust me, I've done my homework on this. I may be wrong, but I don't think so.

But back to my main point. Go online and read through the titles of most of the sermons you find. How many emphasize some kind of verbal statement like, what must I do, or How to (you fill in the blank)? Or "You Can Be A Better Saint by...." Or, Six Ways to Become..., or How to Pray? Or "You Can Be A Better Saint by..." I saw one today called Red Neck Christmas. The lead line was, "We Must Understand God's Holiness and Admit Our Sinfulness"
Now, that sounds innocent enough and it may be a good sermon. But if the lead verb is "I must" or "I need to" rather than how Christ does his work in us to accomplish what we are to be, then you've entered a works theology. And that is a false theology.

Pay attention to what is being preached in your service this Sunday. Make a list. How long did it take for the pastor to say Jesus? Do you know I've sat through an entire sermon without hearing the word Jesus once? What is the lead verb in the message or points of the message? Is it Jesus doing something or is it what you must do or can be? Is the work of the cross in relation to the subject ever discussed? Did you know the cross is swiftly becoming the most despised word in Protestant preaching? (An aside, is it even present in the place of worship) Did you know the cross is off limits because many pastors and church leaders believe that it's too offensive to the one visiting for the first time?

Well, shut my mouth! That sounds like something I read in I Corinthians 1:18 about the cross being foolishness. So, what's new? Of course the cross is foolishness and offensive. But without the cross, we have no message.

Let me expand on one of my questions regarding verbs in the sermon. Is Jesus the subject of the verbs. If he isn't you may have a salvation by works statement or sermon. And here is a bigger question. Are they verbs of Jesus or verbs of pop-psychology?
We are having more sermons based upon psychology than Bible. And that is dangerous. I think, far too often, topics germane to psychology are brought to a text and the text becomes the foundation of the topic brought to it. That is, in my way of thinking, a misuse of scripture. As it's been said often, "A text taken out of context is a pretext". I'm hearing a lot of pretext sermons today. And our people are hurting for it.

Biblical ignorance is at an all time high today. The Bible is no longer given the respect it once had. Church has become a country club rather than a gathering around the altar, the word and sacrament. It's time we return to the preaching of the cross and how Christ is our source of becoming, the one who is the source of our value, love and strength. I believe the most powerful way we can do this is to bring back the readings in the services of the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament, Gospel and the creeds. When done right, you give the congregation a foundation of belief that provides a source of strength for every day.

One other point and I'm done with being the curmudgeon...at least for today. I want to harp on Discipleship for a moment. We are being bombarded today with the phrase, "Jesus-Follower." People are dropping the word Christian because it is so misunderstood by many and replacing it with "Jesus-Follower." Folks, that is a works based belief. The action of the verb is on me. It is something I do. I am a Christian, pure and simple. You want to know what it means? Ask me. I am one bought, sealed and delivered by Christ. He makes me what I am. That's where the verb belongs.

I am a disciple of Christ. Oh..that makes me a Jesus follower doesn't it? Well, wait a minute. What is a disciple? If I look into my hand dandy little Greek Lexicon I read, disciple, from the word "mathetes" It means pupil. It is one who is taught. And the command in Matthew 28:19 is to go into the world and make "mathetes" pupils. Today, we have added a second meaning to something that is not inherent in the original. We've added follower. What Christ is saying, He the teacher (didaskalos) teaches us "methetes" to go into the world and make "mathetes", students.

We've turned the great commission on its proverbial ear and made it into a works based faith. If we follow Christ we will be rewarded by him. But what he's really saying, is since we are taught by him through the word, we are then to go and teach others, make pupils.

Maybe I'm belaboring the point. Yes, we follow Christ. Of course. But only because he is the source of our life. There is no way I can do enough to totally please my Lord. He told me to be perfect. Well, from this blog, you know that ain't happening!
So I rely on his grace, his cross, his power because on the cross, he made me perfect in him. And while I don't see the full effects of that today, I know he is using daily living to mold me according to his purposes. Sometimes he chips, sometimes he molds, sometimes he stomps, but since I'm his child, it's his work of love to make me like him. As a result, I slowly become more like him. But it's all grace. By grace alone, folks. It's his work.

I'm done.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Eve Confession

Now THIS is a real Christmas Eve story worth passing on thanks to Orrologian and Richard Wurmbrand.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My New Five Pound Brick

I finally did it. I just received my new five pound brick. It's called the ESV Study Bible. For those of you less interested but curious, ESV stands for English Standard Version. It's one of the best versions of the Bible I've seen. And this ESV Study Bible is a gold mine. I love the ESV translation. I've had a regular ESV Bible for a few years now as well as ESV cassette tapes. (remember tapes?) I've never seen so much information packed into a study Bible like this one. It will take years for me to absorb all that is in it.
Why did I buy this particular Bible? Well, first of all, all my other study Bibles, while good, are rather dated. New archeological studies as well as new insights in the original texts have made a new Bible almost a necessity for the student of the Word. Plus, I like some of the reformed thoughts contained in the notes of the Bible.
Am I finished. No, I'd like to add to my collection a Lutheran Study Bible. From what I've seen it contains some great stuff as well. But that won't be for a while. I'd like an Orthodox Bible simply because of the historical insights of the Eastern church that you won't find anywhere else.
Now...I happen to know Santa has also set another Bible under my tree this year. You know how Christmas goes once it's just you and your wife alone at home. She doesn't know how to buy my books so I give her hints, or ...uh...I buy it and she puts the wrapping on it. Ha Ha. Come on now...don't tell me you don't do the same thing. I've talked to enough of you to know this happens all the time.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to studying the Bible in Chronological order in the very near future. Thanks Thomas Nelson.

Well, that's it for now. Not much news. It seems time is slipping away. My time is so limited on the net anymore. I have little time for my blog. But I'll keep up on it now and then and try to stay in touch with my limited contacts. You'll probably find my name on blogs of others more often than not as I try to reach out to others.
In the meantime...get into the word. The Bible is God's love letter to us.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Real Santa Claus

Rev. Ken Klaus (yes, that's his real name) presents a marvelous video on the Lutheran Men's Network of the real story behind Santa Claus. St. Nicholas was his name and this video is one of the best I've seen. Enjoy. St. Nicholas.