The Reading Of Many Books

St. John’s Gospel ends with these words, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

I love books.  I own lots of them.  Quite a few are in my office at church and there are more at home.  I believe that reading from the printed page is more than just getting information, it’s a holistic experience.  Books have weight and aromas.  The pages often tell the story of those who have read this book before us.  Their pauses are marked by “dog ears” and their excitement shown by underlining.  Books are meant to be used until they are used up.  I far more prefer to read a book than to read the same words on a Kindle which turns a full life experience into a cold and impersonal one (IMHO).

There is one book that can be read over and over again without ever exhausting it’s contents.  Of course, that’s the Bible.  Sixty six books that all have one purpose, to show us what God has done and is doing to bring us back into right relationship with Him through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the Cross and the tomb which was empty 3 days later.  No matter how often I turn the pages in my Bible, I find something I didn’t know or understand something better than I ever did before.  God speaks to me over and again in that Book of books.

And John tells us there is even more to know!  Can you imagine?  Oh what glory we will experience when we come into the presence of God and hear and learn of all the things we can’t find out now.  And yet, no one has even mastered what we now have.

I’ve mentioned before Luther’s statement that a person becomes educated, not by reading many books, but by reading a good book many times.  And of course there is no “gooder book” than the Good Book.

My prayer, as I sit here in my office today, is that anyone who reads this will go now and find their Bible and start to read it.  Maybe it’s covered in dust.  That’s okay, you can wipe it off.  Maybe it’s well used already.  That’s okay too, I know you’ve missed something.  Maybe you’re afraid God will get hold of you if you spend time in the Word.  Well, He will, I guarantee it.  But you’ll like the experience once you get used to it.

Go and read, my friends, go and read.  As our friend John also writes of the Word of God, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”



How Do We Do The Lord’s Work?

Eugene Peterson wrote a sentence in one of his books which the Church would do well to ponder. “You can’t do the Lord’s work using the devil’s ways.”  That seems like it should be pretty clear to us, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to get fooled into thinking that the ways of the world could ever properly serve the Kingdom of Heaven.

To see how easy it is for us to fail to see the difference let’s look at a parable Jesus told.  It’s the one about the farmer who had a bumper crop and found his barns too small to hold it all.  So he says he will build more barns, mete out the crop as he needs to and retire in comfort.  But then his plans are disrupted because his life would be demanded of him that night and the crop would do him no good.

Most of us would initially find it hard to fault the farmer for making provision for his old age.   Most of us would find it hard to understand what is wrong about using a blessing (the bumper crop) as we think it ought to be used.  But what is really going on here?  If this farmer had a bumper crop it is likely that others did too.  When there is a surplus of a product the price will generally go down.  So the farmer has decided he will hold his off the market until he could get a better price–maybe next year will be a bad crop and he alone will be able to reap the rewards.  But at whose expense?  The poor, who would suffer because they could not afford the higher priced grain.  As an early Church father wrote, the farmer had places to store his grain, in the mouths of the poor.

But what does this have to do with the Church, you might ask?  Quite a lot actually.  You see people, especially in this country, tend to calculate value in the same way that farmer did.  So in the Church we find congregations and church bodies holding on to huge endowments and investments.  They say it’s for a rainy day, or they say well, we use the income to help the Kingdom.  But that is not trusting in God to care for His Church and His people, it is trusting ourselves and our ways over His.  The Church should not hoard or harbor wealth for any purpose–it is all to be used for God’s work.  “Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and then follow Me.”

If you see a Church official, pastor, bishop, whatever, driving around in a luxury car, flying about in a private plane or helicopter (yes I know of one), or wearing $2000 suits, you should probably flee for the sake of your soul.  If you see a congregation that seems to care as much about how much they get in as what they do with it, you should flee for the sake of your soul.  If you see a church body of any sort getting cozy with elected officials for the sake of political power, you should flee for the sake of your soul.

The Church of Jesus Christ has one task–to go into all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Our road map for doing that work is in the Bible, not in management books or economic programs or politics.  The Gospel is our business and the Scriptures give us our methods.

On The Way

As we go through the Gospels we find the Lord using all sorts of metaphors to describe Himself, the Kingdom of God, the way we should live in relation to the  two great commandments, and so on.  One of the most important occurs when the Thomas gets confused about what is going to happen next and he says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?”  And Jesus responds, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

As we think about that statement, “I am the Way”, we ought to try wringing from it all the meaning we can, for it is indeed a mighty assertion.  Too often we reduce it to just one aspect–Jesus is how we get to heaven.  It makes Him into a sort of highway that we can travel to get to the place we want to go.  And that is in fact true.  But I think Jesus means much more than that for us.

If Jesus is the Way we follow, is He simply like a line on a map, or is He more an example to imitate?  Can we say, well, I believe in Jesus so now I can get into heaven and simply leave it like that?  I don’t think so.  If we’re going to walk this Way in our life, we must also act in the ways He acted when He shared this life with us.  I think Eugene Peterson said it best, “To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way He is doing it.”

If you’re going to go hiking for the first time you should take time to speak to people who do it frequently.  There is all sorts of information that can keep your hiking experience from from becoming painful.  If you’re going to drive a car for the first time, you should learn and follow the driving habits of those who are experienced at it.  If you’re going to walk the Way of Christ, you should spend the time necessary to see what that way is really like.  The Way of Christ means we are to love those whom the world doesn’t much care about.  The Way of Christ means we are spend time in prayer and meditation.  The Way of Christ means we are to seek to heal rather than to triumph, we are to seek to do good rather than to succeed.

God came to us in Jesus.  We go to God in Jesus.  He is the Way for both.  And the end we seek, eternity with God, can not be divorced from the means we use along the Way.

Think about that.

Why We’re Crumbling

I’ve noted before that the culture we inhabit is collapsing around us, like a line of dominoes that, when the first one is pushed, all the rest fall in their turn.  Now as a Christian I am not worried at all about the future.  God’s plans can neither be altered or ruined by anything people do.  Before time began God had everything worked out and His promises to His chosen people will be kept with 100% certainty.  But it’s still worth our time to consider what is going on around us and get a feel for how we are to survive until Jesus comes again.

I recently re-read an article written by Dr. David Wells 20 years ago.  Dr. Wells is a distinguished academic who teaches at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and has written quite extensively about religion and culture.  In the article at hand he quoted a number of rather scary statistics about American attitudes–statistics which today would probably be even more concerning than they were then.  I won’t spend time on them, but I do want to begin with a quote from this article that is both true and horrifying–“we [the West] have lost our ability to discern between, or even talk meaningfully about, Good and Evil.”  If you don’t believe in moral absolutes (and two thirds of Americans say they do not) then nothing is either intrinsically right or wrong.  In other words, whoever has the most guns gets to decide what is moral, and no one has the right to say otherwise unless they can amass more weapons.  One way to think about the results of this amoral view of the world would be to ponder what it would mean about who was right or wrong in World War II.  If two thirds of Americans were consistent in their thought they would have to say that the Nazis weren’t wrong, they were just different we can’t judge their moral standing.

Now of course very few people would say that out loud.  It would not be politic to do so.  But if what we have believed about marriage for thousands of years can be overwhelmed in just a decade, how long do we have to wait for the overcoming of our repugnance at the existence of death camps?  A culture based wholly on the idea that people should be allowed to do whatever comes to mind is a culture that won’t last very long.

Dr. Wells argues that our inherited culture could be divided into 3 realms–law on one side; freedom on the other; and, occupying the middle what we could call truth and character.  The Constitution of the United States deals with law and freedom, what we are not to do and what we are protected from.  But critical to our culture has been the middle ground where such things as personal honesty, moral obligation, civic duty, social responsibility, and such other personal and civic traits.  It is the place where what has been called “obedience to the unenforceable” takes place.  Without a functioning middle law must, of necessity, take on a greater role in the culture.  If people won’t act right on their own, they must be made to act right.  But the problem is that we no longer have any sense of what is right or what is wrong.

This situation is fraught with difficulties for Christians.  We have always been called to stand against the culture, to speak words of peace where there is war, love where there is hate, acceptance where there is bigotry.  But as the middle ground grows smaller and the law and freedom larger, Christians will be more outside the cultural mainstream than ever before.

Now maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe the Church needs the strength that comes from being constantly opposed.  I don’t know.  But I do know this, whether America follows Rome down the rabbit hole of history or not, whether this culture survives this century or not, our only hope is Jesus Christ.  As things are trending today, our influence on the culture is declining.  But a culture without an “obedience to the unenforceable” won’t last too long.  The Kingdom of God, however, now that’s forever.


A Long Time Coming

I apologize for not posting the last several weeks, my wife and I were on vacation.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I need more time just being quiet than I once did.  Our vacations used to be hectic.  Now they’re calmer.  I like calmer.

After returning I began preparations for a celebration at church next Sunday.  We are celebrating the founding of our congregation 190 years ago.  The President of the AFLC will be preaching, there’ll be a meal, and visitors from all over the place are coming to share this time with us.  190 years is a long time and the people who founded this congregation way back in 1826 have long since joined the Church Triumphant in glory.  We’re still here, carrying on the work of proclaiming the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us.

It’s been a long time since our congregation was founded.  And it’s been even a longer time since Jesus ascended back into heaven.  Sometimes we get a little concerned about that.  After all, we remember and give thanks for something that happened 2000 years ago–2000 years!  Now that’s a long time isn’t it?  And there are people who will say that if nothing has happened in 2000 years, nothing is going to happen.  Jesus isn’t coming again and we should just get along with our lives in this world.

There have always been doubters of God in this world.  David writes “the fool says in his heart there is no god”.  So doubters there were even then.  And others have pointed out that nothing seems to really change, so everything must just be as it is and will be in the future.  There are no end of people who try to measure God by their own standards and deny Him when He doesn’t fit.  To them the Lord replies, “my ways are not your ways and your ways are not my ways”.

One of the big differences between God and mankind is that we live within something we call time.  Things have beginnings and endings, they come to pass and they are over.  God, on the other hand, is not bound by time.  He stands outside it and relates to it in a way which the human mind cannot even begin to comprehend.  If we could understand God, even for a microsecond, I’m sure we would go insane.  The complexity of the human brain is no more comparable to God than a one celled organism is comparable to a human being.

So how do we know that Jesus will return?  It’s been a long time coming, right?  And yet Peter writes that to the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day.  So, in God’s eyes, even if we are to take Peter’s words literally, it’s only been 2 days since ascension.  So time is not the answer to the question of how we can know that Christ will return.  The answer is God’s sovereign will recorded in the Scriptures and testified to by number of kept promises we find there.  In just the right time, Christ came amongst us.  In just the right time, He is coming again.

Boosting the Gospel

I am fond of bluegrass music.  We are very lucky in this part of the country to have the premier bluegrass radio station, WAMU, just down the road in Washington DC.  Now their signal is not strong enough to carry the 75-80 miles across 2 mountains to my home.  So they have a system which are called boosters and repeaters.  In other words, there are electronic that pick up the signal they send out of Washington, boost the signal and send it on to those of us who live in the country.  Were it not for the boosters and repeaters we could not pick up that station.

Now I’m sure it’s not the best analogy I could come up with, but I think it fits–you and I are the boosters and repeaters for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years ago Christ did His work on this earth, He bore upon His holy shoulders the penalty for the sins we commit.  His followers, the Apostles and their associates spread that news throughout the Mediterranean world.  They told what they had seen and heard with their own senses.  But all of them died and what we have left are their written witness.

Not everyone reads the written witness of these men on their own.  In fact, St. Paul goes so far as to tell us that we come to believe because of what we hear.  It is the living witness of living people to other living people that spread the Gospel throughout the world today.  And we should do that, not by giving our opinions or our takes on things, but by repeating what the Apostles  themselves told us .

As witnesses to the Good News of Christ’s sacrifice for us we have nothing new to tell anyone.  What we have is the tried and true message that, as Jude says, was handed down once for all.  So rather than trying to find new ways to pass on what we know, changing or omitting or adding things to make them “relevant” we would do much better to stick to the ways that we have inherited from the giants upon whose shoulders we now perch.

Only In The Presence of Jesus

I’ve been following a dispute that has broken out among some of our Calvinist brethren about the definition of the relationship between the 3 persons of the Trinity.  It’s kind of technical, so I won’t bother to deal with it here–there probably aren’t too many people who would find it much more interesting than watching paint dry.

But the dispute made me think about the variations and varieties of Christian theology and what that means for those of us who are followers of Jesus.  I am a Lutheran.  I am a Lutheran because I believe that the Lutheran Church has the purest expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you.  But I also recognize the many commonalities  between Lutheran theology and Calvinist theology.  Indeed–I go so far as to say that John Calvin was Martin Luther’s best student.  Still, we do have differences.

And then there are our brothers and sisters who have an Arminian theology–the Methodists, Wesleyans, Nazarenes, etc.  I have more  areas of disagreement with them.  And don’t start on the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Assyrian Churches.  And yet, we are all indeed brethren if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, for we are then saved. (Romans 10:9)

You see, friends, when Jesus is in the mix, those things that separate us from one another cease to seem very important.  Just look at the Lord’s disciples.  We have Matthew, a tax collector for Herod whose operation encouraged gouging as many people as possible.  And then there is Simon the Zealot.  The Zealots were a radical group opposed to Roman rule and to everyone who collaborated with the Romans.  Yet here they were, following the same Lord, trusting the same Savior.  And Simon didn’t even try to stick a knife in Matthew’s back.  There’s something about Jesus that changes us, isn’t there.

I sometimes tell my congregation that American Christians have more in common with a Christian in Tanzania who lives in a mud hut than with the unbeliever who lives next door.  When the Lord comes again and the world is remade that guy from Tanzania might very well be your next door neighbor.

In the presence of Jesus everything is different.  Everything is better.  Everything is forever.