Right to the edge

I apologize to everyone for not writing anything recently.  After Holy Week and Easter my wife and I went on vacation for a week and now I’m preparing to go on a Via de Cristo retreat weekend for men.  Next week will be normal–maybe.  BTW, just what is normal?

Anyway, when we were on vacation we visited a church in Myrtle Beach where we were blessed with the pure proclamation of the Gospel and the rightly administered Sacrament.  The pastor of this congregation had an interesting message and I took several ideas away and have pondered them since then.  I’m going to share one of them with you now.

Have you ever wondered why it seems so easy to sin?  Certainly sin is what we are all best at–it is part of our nature, built into the genes if you will.  St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans (and to us) notes that sin is in reality a power–a power that brings us so very often into the place where we do not do what we want, but what we do not what–that very thing is what we do.  As has been said many times, we are all sinners.

But those of us who are Christians ought to be able to avoid sinning, at least a little bit.  Or at least it seems we should.  After all, are we not indwelt with the Holy Spirit and do we not now love the Law, which before served only to condemn us?  But still we fall over and over again.

Well, part of the reason is because we so very much like to get really close to the sins that tempt us.  We like to get just up to the line, far enough to feel sins breath on our cheeks, its warmth just over the line.  We want to get close, but then back off.  It’s kind of game for us.  Certainly one example of that would be a man who likes to look at provocative pictures of pretty girls–maybe in the Sports Illustrated “swimwear” edition.  But that man might find that looking a picture of a nearly naked girl is just enough enticement to get him to start looking at porn on the internet.

In the interest of gender inclusiveness, let’s look at what some women might do.  There was a book out a few years ago, and then a movie called 50 Shades of Gray.  And before that there was the popular TV series Sex and the City.  Both of these were written for women to “enjoy” vicarious adultery, just as most pornography is created so men can be adulterous.

We like to go right up to the line, but when we get there what we far too often find is that the line isn’t real.  There’s nothing separating us from the sin that entices us–whether it’s sex or money or gossip or gluttony or whatever is the bauble you want to hold–just for a moment.

If we are going to resist sin, we must resist going to the line.  We must avoid the situations and the places where we can be enticed to sin.  Those are going to vary from person to person, but the line is often the real danger.  Maybe Johnny Cash walked the line–but you and I need to avoid it as much as possible.

 

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And So It Begins

This Sunday is Palm Sunday.  It marks the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Sunday before His execution.  It was the week of Passover and Jerusalem and the surrounding area had begun filling with the crowds that would soon find people from all over the Roman world congregating.  The crowds could be as much as 30 times the areas normal population.

As Jesus comes into the city He rides on a donkey–a symbol of a king who comes in peace.  Crowds of people wave palm fronds and shout for joy at His entrance.  The palm fronds were a symbol of the last Jewish monarchy which had been displaced by Herod and Rome.  They all believed something big was about to happen.  After all, this Man on the donkey had just raised someone from the dead and for many this no doubt reminded them of Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones being knit together again, God breathing new life into Israel.

Of course, scarcely any of the people there that day understood what was happening.  Probably only Jesus truly understood what was going on.  The crowds thought He would lead them in a war to overthrow the Roman yoke.  The Pharisees and Temple leaders weren’t exactly sure what He would do, but they knew it would undermine their authority and so they were determined to stop Him.  Even the disciples closest to Jesus were uncertain about what their Master intended to do, despite His frequent references to His coming passion in recent weeks.  No matter except Jesus really knew what was about to happen.  And so it began.

Each year at this time it begins anew for Christians.  Each Easter we stand in awe of what happened that week.  The atmosphere in Jerusalem and especially in the Temple would have been electric.  Only the most dense people could have been oblivious to all that was going on around them.  The structure of the Church Year is to remind us of that week.  The texts we read from Scripture, the colors in the chancel area, the stripping of the altar on Thursday night, the plain wood on Friday.  All of the these things bring us again into the week that shook the world to its foundations.  And so it begins.

I can’t help but feel sorry for people who don’t have a sense of awe and wonder about this week.  Everything in the world changed that week.  Everything that men believed was reshaped–God had kept His promise and done a “new thing” in the world.  But many people–maybe most people–will not experience the sense of God’s power and working in the next days.  They’ll be worrying themselves about candy rabbits and gifts and home and garden supplies, oblivious to the might and power around them.

Sunday marks the start of the most important week in the year.  Let it be so for you this year.  For so it begins.

Who’s Going to Miss Me?

This morning I heard a Loretta Lynn song on the radio and it asked the question “who’s going to miss me when I’m gone?”  [Side note: Loretta Lynn is 83 and while her voice is lower than it used to me, it’s still worth recording]

I think the question in this song is one that many of us ask ourselves at some time or another.  If I die today or tonight–just who is going to miss me?  Have I done anything that will make someone say, “gee, I wish Terry was here now”?  The fact of the matter is, we will be missed for only a very short time in this world.  My great-grandfather was named John Jacob Culler.  I have never missed him because he died 15 years before I was born.  I know his name, I have pictures of him.  But I haven’t missed him because he was never part of my life.  And that will be true for me and for you too.

Time passes swiftly in this world of ours and soon even the most important for the most famous or the most wonderful people in the world are just names on pieces of paper.  That’s how it is for us.

Now that would seem pretty depressing to me if that’s all there was to my life, especially given my age.  The world will not remember me–or you–for very long.  Things will go on until the Lord decides they’ve gone on long enough.

But there is indeed another reality that destroys my depression and lifts my spirit.  That is the absolute reality that there is a God who cares about His people.  There is a God who knows the number of hairs on our heads and our inner most thoughts.  There is a God who is involved in this world’s affairs.  And not only that, but this God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–has made for me a resting place and an eternal destiny filled with peace and joy.  All the world may forget me, but my heavenly Father, who sent His only Son to bear the punishment for my sins on the Cross, will not forget me, nor will He abandon me.

And such is the fate of all who believe that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

What a wonderful thing it is to have an assurance of salvation.  And that assurance is for all who believe.  God does not leave us guessing about whether or not He remembers us or will save us.  No He tells us that directly, that His people have been elected before time began and that they will not ever be lost.

So who is going to miss us when we’re gone?  Eventually no one in this world because they’ll forget us.  Nor will God miss us–because we are assured we will be with Him.

 

 

It Was A Bad Night

Last night I had one of those nights–you know, the ones where sleep is sporadic and the dreams are disturbing.  I woke up this morning feeling more tired than when I went to bed.  Yet, like it or not, there’s a day out ahead of me and work and family things that need doing.  So here I am, sharing my fatigue with you.

It occurs to me that bad nights are a lot like bad days, bad weeks, bad months and bad years.  We’ve all had them and we all know how they feel.  What I’m wondering now is whether God ever has a bad night.  You know, a night when He looks at the human race and all the muddle we’re making of His creation, thinking something along the lines of “maybe I should just get this over with and start the judgment tomorrow.”  I’m pretty sure that what the Lords see when He looks at our world is far worse than the dream I had last night when I was running from building to building looking for my sermon while wearing vestments, no less.

Well, in all honesty, the answer to the above question is no–God does not have bad nights.  He, of course, knows what is going to happen in the life of every person who ever has or ever will live.  There are no surprises for God.  In fact, the Bible goes even further and tells us this; “Who has spoken and it came to pass unless the Lord commanded it?”  [Lamentations 3:37]  So not only is God not surprised by the world–He is in complete control of it.

Now some people don’t like to think such a thing.  They feel that saying God is in charge of everything means that God is the cause of sin and death.  That’s not true–those are the results of our behavior.  But let me ask you this–if God is not in charge of everything that occurs in some way, how can we ever trust the promises He has made to us?  How can you be certain that all things will work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, if He isn’t actively in charge of all things?  How can you be certain that your body will be resurrected on the last day if God isn’t in charge of everything?  How can you be sure Jesus is right when He says He will never lose any whom the Father has given Him, if God is not in charge of everything?  In my mind you can’t be certain of anything if God isn’t in control of everything. 

There is great comfort in knowing that human history is not just one fool thing after another, but is instead the unfolding of an eternal plan of an eternal God who is bringing all creation back into balance.  The Bible says Jesus came “at just the right time.”  Why was it the right time?  I don’t know–but it was.  And so He will come again at just the right time and all that is warped and distorted will be made right again.  And I suspect I won’t have anymore of those bad nights that sometimes bother an old man.

The Three”I’s”

Most of us have probably heard someone reference the “3 r’s”–readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic”.  They were the basis of everyone’s education.  Now had I had a hand in it, I would probably of added spelling to the list, but so it goes.

Now I never talk about the 3 r’s, but I do talk quite a bit about the 3 i’s.  The 3 i’s refer to important points about the Bible.  The Bible is: Inspired; Inerrant; and Infallible.  Let’s take just a moment to see what these words mean.

When I say the Bible is Inspired I am saying that those men (and women?) who wrote it did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  That means that they were being used by God to record that which He wants us to know about Him and what He has done for us in Christ.  It does not mean that the Spirit just dictated the words to those writers–rather that He allowed them to use their own words and sources but in such a way that they recorded that which they were meant to record.  No more, no less.  The books we have gathered into the Bible, those which we call Scripture were written over the course of nearly 2000 years and in many different styles and types of literature.  So we would expect them to seem different, one from another.  What we would not find if they were simply human thoughts is the sort of unity of meaning and purpose that is so apparent to anyone who reads them under the inspiration of the Spirit.

The second “I” in our list is inerrant–in other words, without error.  The Bible is without error in all matters of faith and morals, but it is also without error in its history and its explanations of things that occurred in those long ago days.  If the Bible was not without error, how could anyone ever trust it about anything because they would never know what was error or what was truth.  That brings us to another important point when we speak of Scripture–only Scripture can assess or define Scripture.  In other words, if you find something in the Bible that puzzles you or seems wrong to you, don’t go looking in the Encyclopedia Brittannica for the answer.  Don’t go to a secular source.  Use the Scripture itself to find the explanation of what troubles you.  Lots of folks believe they can stay orthodox in their faith even if they say some things in the Scriptures aren’t true.  But in fact such a position can only lead in the long run to heresy and apostasy.

The third “I” is, again, Infallible.  This means that Scripture will not fail to accomplish its purpose.  And what is the purpose of Scripture?  It is to bring to a saving faith in Jesus Christ those whom God has chosen before time to be His very own children.  In the Bible we find two things taught–the Law and the Gospel.  The Holy Spirit uses the Law to teach us that we are sinners deserving only of hell and to then teach us that there is nothing we can do about it.  He then uses the Gospel–Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you–to relieve us of our fear and dread and teach us that while the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  For those called according to His purpose, the Scripture will not fail to accomplish its work.

Ashes

This week we begin the part of the Church year known as Lent.  The word Lent actually comes from a word that meant spring.  Lent is the harbinger of spring, a signal that life will begin anew very soon.  We can’t see it yet, but we know something grand is about to happen.

This Wednesday people from St. Paul’s and Christ Community Church will gather together in our sanctuary for a service known as Ash Wednesday.  During that service most of the congregation will come forward and have a small cross of ashes put on their foreheads.  The words said to them will be; from dust you have come, to dust you shall return.  In other words, your body once was not, and, unless Jesus comes again before your death, your body will return to the dust from which it came.  We start the Lenten season by reminding ourselves that because of sin, our bodies will die.  It’s not exactly a place for a service of “happy, happy, clappy, clappy,” is it?

In terms of the Church year, which follows the life of Christ on earth, Lent represents the period of time after the Transfiguration which took place in a Gentile area north of Galilee.  It is the period in which Jesus and His disciples move from that place south, through Galilee, Samaria and the trans-Jordan to Jerusalem where He will be hailed first as King, and then 5 days later crowned not with gold but with thorns as He is hung on a cross to die.

Luke says that Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem.”  That’s an interesting phrase, “set His face…”  It speaks of the Lord’s determination, His resolute will to accomplish that which He came to do.  The binding of mankind’s destiny wrought by sin was soon to be no more, but such a mighty deed could not be fulfilled without great and terrible pain.  Jesus set His fact to go to Jerusalem because He had a mission–a mission to lift us, you and me, up out of the ashes of death and bring us into the light of life eternal.

Lent is roughly 6 weeks long but does not include Sundays, which are always celebrations of the Resurrection.  During that time I encourage everyone to be as resolute in their remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ as He was resolute in His determination to make that sacrifice.  It’s been said that there is no such thing as a free lunch–and when we consider what God did for us, that is most certainly true.

 

Who Says …

You probably haven’t had this  conversation since you were a kid, but you no doubt remember it.  Someone accuses you of something and the first thing out of your mouth is “who says?”  Who says I did it?  And the implication, of course, was that the person who said it was lying.  Who says?  While we generally said it with great indignation, it was often faked because whoever said “it” was probably right.

In today’s world Christians are often confronted with just this kind of question.  Who says Jesus is the only Way?  Who says sex outside marriage is wrong?  Who says that we’re supposed to love our neighbors when most of them are idiots anyway?  Who says staying away from church is a bad thing?  Who says …  Who says … Who says?

Of course the answer to all these questions is simple–God says.  God says that you will be shut out from His presence if you deny Jesus.  God says that we are to love others–even difficult people who dislike us or even hate us.  God says that we were made to be in life long relationships and that sex is part of that relationship alone.  God says that we are not to cease to meet together.  God says all of that and very much more.

The challenge for us as believers is to teach these things to people in ways which will engage their minds and hearts.  And that’s not always easy.  But then again, how easy do you think it was in the first century?  Was it easy to tell pagans that there is only one God and that He consists of three Persons, each of which is separate but also the same?  Was it easy to tell people in the first century that the Creator of the universe decided to become a man so that He could bear the punishment we deserve for sins which are not just bad things we do but an inherited trait?  Was it easy?  Of course not, it was hard then and it’s hard now.

And yet every day in this world of ours men and women, boys and girls are coming to an assurance of their salvation because someone told them “who says”.  This happens not  because some people are especially gifted with an ability to explain the unexplainable, nor because those who tell are especially anointed by God, nor because they’re using modern techniques of evangelism.  (Indeed, I would say that modern evangelistic techniques have proven themselves to be inferior to the old fashioned method of one believer telling another of what God has done for him and inviting his friend to come see for himself).  No my friends, these things happen because God has caused them to happen.

God has elected His children from before time began.  And the way He brings them into His fold is to have one of His who are already there telling others about the Good News that Jesus Christ was crucified and risen for them.  In his letter to the church in Rome and to us, Paul writes that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation.  The Gospel explodes into the hearts and minds of those whom He has called.  And when it does, they no longer say, “who says”.  They then know the answer to the question.