Looking but not seeing

Yesterday I was out doing some visitations.  These took me to 3 different towns in our county and so I had some good windshield time.  We live in a rural area and as I drove I saw the rolling hills and the now brown and yellow fields slumbering in the winter cold.  The occasional small herd of cows or goats also stuck out.  It was beautiful and I truly thanked God for being able to live in such a lovely place.

I grew up in the county next to the one I now live in and it too has a lovely landscape of hills and dales and hedge rows.  But when I was young I never truly saw the beauty in them.  In fact, I used to joke that I wanted to pave over the entire valley and turn it into a cityscape.  I was so self absorbed then that I could not see what was truly just in front of me and all I could think of was how to turn it into something that would be more in tune with my thoughts and ideas.

Well, as we age our opinions and ideas change.  And the things that I value today are the very things I ignored all those years ago.  Today I cannot only look at the world around me, I can actually see it in a way I couldn’t back in the day, as they say.  Of course my own opinions and ideas still impinge on the picture, but at least they cloud it over a lot less than they did 50 years ago.

Looking but not seeing is a problem for most of us and it shows up in our opinions and attitudes about faith.  Some people look at the Christian faith and those who profess it and think they know what it is all about, but they never really do.  Instead they create for themselves a caricature of the faith, which they believe they can safely ignore.  Still more folks carry with them an understanding of the faith which is really that of a child.  They sort of remember Sunday school with it’s “Jesus loves you so be good” lessons but they have never become men or women who truly get it.  Often they’re the ones we call C&E’s–people who come to church only on Christmas and Easter.

But being a follower of Jesus is process that involves, as St. Peter writes to us in both of his letters, knowledge and understanding.  And knowledge requires more than mere looking, it requires seeing with the clear eyes of one who has spent the time necessary to learn about the most important topic in the world.

Jesus, on several occasions in His teaching, says that those who have ears will hear and those who have eyes will see.  When you turn your eyes toward Jesus, do you see Him?  Or are you just looking?  Do you see God’s love for you in His sacrifice on the Cross and His rising from the grave?  Do you see how that event forever changed everything?  Do you see, or are you just looking?

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It’s In The Details

I have a general idea about how an internal combustion engine works.  There is gasoline in a tank and a pump moves it to the engine where a spark ignites the fumes and the explosion that makes drives pistons up and down, etc.  However, I could no more repair said engine than I could fly without an airplane.  I don’t know the details of how an engine works–just an overview.  Being completely honest, I couldn’t even tell you what a fuel pump even looks like.

If we want to succeed at anything in life we need to know the details of what we are doing.  Typing requires knowing where the keys are placed.  Good cooking requires us to know the amount of the various ingredients for a recipe.  You get the idea.

Today I finished leading a Bible study on the letters of St. Peter to the Church of the first century and to us. (Next week we start on Paul’s letter to the Romans).  One of the key points Peter makes in both letters is that followers of Jesus must have knowledge and understanding of the faith.  And he makes this point over and again because there will be people who will try to teach things that are not true, and if we don’t know and understand what the Bible actually teaches about the faith, we can be led astray.  It’s all in the details, you see.

There is no way to know the details of the Christian faith without studying that faith.  And there is no better place to study it than in God’s Word itself.  It is fine to read what other people write about what God says to us or wants from us.  But simply counting on another person to tell us what to believe about Jesus or what to believe about the Holy Spirit, leaves us open to errors and even to falsehood.

Over the centuries there have been numerous heresies invading the Church.  They have all sorts of names–Nestorianism, Arianism, Unitarianism, etc.  Each of these starts with the Word of God and takes it down a path that God did not ordain.  There is just enough plausibility in each of them to fool believers who know the outline but are fuzzy on the details.  Telling the good from the bad can often be a matter of knowing the details.

We live in a very certain time.  Things change daily, all around us.  Life moves rapidly from one thing to the next.  We run hard just trying to stay in place.   We feel buffeted by the storms of life.  But there is a solid Rock to which we can cling.  There is a Rock of Ages in which we can find haven from the elements and peace in our souls.  That Rock is Christ.  The gales may blow and the snow may fall, but Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.

For us to know that the Rock we are clinging to is the One that can’t be eroded away, we have to know the details of the faith we have received, the faith handed down once for all.  So today I encourage you to spend time in the Word of God.  Study it for yourself.  Study it in conjunction with other believers.  Study it and learn all the details.  No one has ever been sorry for doing that.

 

 

Hungry Again

I recently ate at an Italian restaurant and they had a cute sign up, it said the trouble with Italian food is that you eat it and 3 or 4 days later you’re hungry again.  After laughing about it I was struck by how that sign could be used to reflect on life in general.  One of the things many people suffer from today is dissatisfaction with their lives.  Somehow nothing much seems to make us happy for very long.  We try this and we try that; we pick up this hobby and drop it before we really master it; we buy this toy or that suit or that dress and then after a while they just seem old to us; we start a career only to find it doesn’t seem to  be what we thought it would; even our personal relationships too often seem less than we think they ought to be, so we move on to the next one always believing the best grass is just over the fence.  But it never quite seems to be.  America is full of restless, dissatisfied and unhappy people.  And this sense of vague discontent is spreading as the changes in our society come ever faster and we are told by countless commercials and pundits that we have to get on the rocket to somewhere lest we be left behind.

It is unfortunate that so many folks we see everyday of our lives cannot be content.  The lack of contentment is like a disease that erodes our mental and spiritual health.  St. Paul spoke of himself as he addressed this issue. “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound.”  Paul led a life of up and downs, great successes followed by disheartening failures, true friends and people who abandoned him.  Yet he could say he was content.  Why could he say this?  Well a few sentences after the last quotation he writes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Paul could be content however he found himself because he had the strength of God to see him through the hard times and help him rejoice in the good times.  He could be content because he wasn’t, as the old country song put it, looking for love in all the wrong places.

That, you see, is our trouble, we are always trying to find peace and contentment somewhere other than in the presence of Jesus Christ–and it isn’t there, wherever there might be.  You and I, we were made for God and our hearts are always going to be restless until they rest in Him.  Unless Jesus is your Rock and your Salvation you’re always going to be hungry again 3 or 4 days later.  People have the idea they can do very well without God or without His Church, but all the evidence is to the contrary.  So if you ever wonder why you can’t seem to go very long without getting “hungry” for something new, well, you’re just not seeking the right thing.  True freedom, true happiness, is only found in Jesus.

 

 

 

The Time Has Come

In the Alice in Wonderland stories there is a bit that says “the time has come the Walrus said, to speak of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, of why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings.”  I don’t know why but I always find this amusing and I use it when people strike me as talking nonsense.

There seems to me to be a lot of nonsense talking in the world today–especially amongst those who want to be ours secular leaders.  One of the Republican candidates for their party’s nomination was attacked last week over his shoes.  Now I understand we have to give these people a little leeway, but attacking someone’s shoes is at best infantile and at worse an insult to those who hear the attack.  Come on folks–do you really think we’re that stupid that we would care?

There’s also a lot of nonsense being spoken in the Church today.  I could write a pretty long statement about that, but I’ll just give one example right now.  People who profess to be in the Church, theologians and pastors mostly, have taken to denying the Atonement.  What, some of you may be asking, is the Atonement?  Well, it’s the idea that Jesus, the Son of God born of Mary, bore upon Himself the punishment for our sins when He died upon the Cross at Calvary.  His death brought about our life.

Well, some of the bright folks have decided that the idea of Christ dying for us is just way too fanciful.  One theologian even called it divine child abuse if it was true.  The problem with the arguments of the bright folks is that, if they are right, Christianity is a fraud.  If Christ did not pay the penalty for my sins or yours, then there is no Christian faith.  The best you can get is a sort of Unitarianism in which Jesus just becomes a great teacher.

This is not a big issue for the Church today–these doubters remain a small minority.  But we seem to find them more and more and to the degree they influence teaching in the Church they can do great harm to the faith of the people.  So, as Peter and Jude and John and Paul all write in the New Testament, we need to be vigilant, testing the spirits and knowing what it is that is being said.  We can’t just listen to the words people use, but we need to ask what they mean when they use those words.

That said–no one can defeat Christ’s Church.  The Lord Himself told us that not even the gates of hell could prevail against it.  Those whom Christ has chosen for His own cannot be lost (read John 6 and John 10).  That’s why it is so very wonderful to pick up the Bible, because we find the answers to lies, to distortions and to just plain ignorance that seems to waft around us.  Pigs don’t fly.  The sea isn’t boiling hot.  But Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.

 

It’s Cold Outside

Winter came late to our area this year. December felt more like March or April than the cold season. But now we’ve settled into a normal pattern. I even saw a car with snow on it yesterday. So, officially, it’s cold outside.

That makes me think of another kind of cold that we find outside the Church. That’s the cold that C. S. Lewis wrote about, where it’s always winter. The cold where the warmth of God’s love never enters in. The cold where people just live their lives focused on themselves and never find any deep meaningful relationships with others or with the God who made them. This selfishness and separation is a frightening kind of cold.

I know the temperature around me is cold when I can see my breath or when I have to scrape my windshield in the morning. I can also see how cold the world is when I see the news full of stories of death and destruction, of hatred and anger, of greed and a lack of concern for the needs of the least, last and lost, and I know how cold the world is when I see young people groping to find some sort of hope in a seemingly hopeless world.

Still, there is hope, there is warmth, there is life and it’s open to anyone who is moved to accept it. That hope, that warmth, that life is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is found no where else. You can look high and low all you want to, but the One who called Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life is, always has been, and always will be the light shining in a dark and very cold world.

Welcome

Today is January 4th and I am starting out on a new venture–I’m writing a blog. I have to admit I’m probably the least technologically sophisticated person in the blogosphere (see–I knew that phrase)  But I do think there are things I would like to say outside of my normal venues of sermons and newsletter articles.

For this first message I’ll be content to tell you who I am.  My name is Terry Culler and I am the pastor of St. Paul’s Free Lutheran Church in Leitersburg, MD.  We’re a small rural congregation affiliated with the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (see aflc.org for more on them).  We have a website of our own–LeitersburgLutheran.org.

What I hope to share with you as we travel through the mysteries of the internet is the hope of life, joy and peace which can only be found in Jesus Christ.  This world is full of trials, troubles and irritants.  But when we turn our eyes toward Jesus, we see how this will all change for us and how we will be the people we were always meant to be.  That’s good news for a bad news world.