Archive for January, 2011

Weekend Extra – It’s Crystal Clear!

In 2008, the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life conducted one of the largest surveys ever of Americans’ religious beliefs.  Though it found that 92 percent of people believe in God, when asked to specify who God is or make hard and fast distinctions between their faith systems and the faith systems of other religions, respondents struggled.  Instead, most Americans have an increasingly nonexclusive attitude when it comes to faith.  70 percent of people surveyed believe that many paths lead to God.  Gregory Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum, explains:  “Even though Americans tend to take religion quite seriously and are a highly religious people, there is a certain degree of openness and a lack of dogmatism in their approach to faith and the teachings of their faith” (“Most Americans Believe in Higher Power, Poll Finds,” Washington Post, 9.24.08).

In all honesty, the Pew Foundation’s survey offers no real surprises.  Though it is one of the largest surveys ever conducted, the results are a dime a dozen.  Survey after survey has demonstrated that, though most Americans are “spiritual” and believe in “God,” they have no real cohesive doctrinal system nor do they subscribe wholeheartedly to an external source of authority such as the Bible.  People claim to be spiritual, but their spirituality is fuzzy.

Long before researchers were around to conduct in-depth surveys on people’s religious attitudes, the apostle Paul foresaw that such misguided faith would be the order of the day for many:  “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).  In a world which subscribes to fuzzy spirituality, Paul seeks to inject some clarity from the Holy Spirit:  “The Spirit clearly says…”  True faith in God is never ill-defined.  It is as clear as the Gospel itself.  Indeed, according to Paul, a faith that does not find its clarity vis-à-vis the Gospel is not a faith in God, but a faith from demons.  And for the nebulous faiths of demons, Paul warns, “some will abandon the faith.”  Two things are notable in this phrase.  First, the Greek word for “abandon” is apostesontai, from which we get our English word “apostasy,” a word which, etymologically, means “to stand apart.”  Paul’s argument, then, is that standing apart from faith in Christ means standing with demons. Second, the arthrous phrase “the faith” reminds us that, quite distinct from the popular conception that many faiths lead to God, there is only one true faith – faith in Jesus Christ.

What is the way out of the fuzzy spirituality which plagues our culture?  Paul cites two remedies.  First, fuzzy spirituality must be remedied by the Gospel:  “This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:9-10).  Hope in the living God and His Savior, Jesus Christ, leads to salvation.  Period.  Of this we can be clear and sure.  No nebulous spirituality can promise salvation like the Gospel can.  It can only conjure up shady specters of possible hereafters.  Second, fuzzy spirituality must be remedied by the authority of Scripture:  “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13).  The Gospel is revealed in, by, and through the pages of Scripture. Thus, if we desire clarity on the Gospel specifically and theology generally, we turn to Scripture and submit to its authority and believe its promises.  With the Gospel and Scripture in our hearts and hands, clarity is given to things spiritual, with even more clarity being promised in eternity:  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Praise be to God for the clarity which comes from our Creator!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Doctor Player’s ABC!

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January 31, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Weekend Extra – It’s Not Yours!

“It’s my body and I can do what I want with it.”  If you’ve parented a teenager, then you may have heard these words before, usually in an attempt to justify some dangerous behavior such as underage drinking, abusing illegal or controlled substances, or engaging in promiscuity.  This phrase has also been wielded to support abortion rights.  I even stumbled across a “Facebook” page of this name in support of those who want to get tattooed and pierced, much to their parents’ chagrin.

“It’s my body and I can do what I want with it.”  As much as some might wish this to be true, it is patently false.  On the one hand, there are some things which are simply physiologically impossible for us to do with our bodies.  We cannot force our bodies to produce healthy tissue rather than tissue which is cancerous.  We cannot stop our bodies from aging.  We cannot compel our bodies to work without rest.  We cannot drink excessively without suffering a hangover.  The bare restraints of nature constrain us to confess that our bodies are not always ours to do with as we please.

On the other hand, there are some things that, even if they are physiologically possible for us to do, are not beneficial.  As the apostle Paul reminds us, “‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Excessive drinking, chain smoking, and raunchy promiscuity are examples of such activities which are not beneficial to us, for they hurt our bodies.  And because they hurt our bodies, they dishonor God, for God has created and still cares for our bodies.

In our text for this past weekend, Paul exhorts us, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). There are a couple of things that are especially notable about this verse.  First, Paul reminds us that our bodies, rather than being used to chase after every hedonistic whim, should be used in worship of God.  That is, all that we say, think, and do with our bodies ought to give glory to the Creator rather than defy His commands and intentions.  For finally, our bodies belong to God:  “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Because things like promiscuity or substance abuse defy God’s commands and intentions, they ought to be eschewed by us.

Second, it is important to notice Paul’s subtle shift from the plural to the singular in this verse:  “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  There are many bodies worshipping God, but only one living sacrifice to God.  Why is this important?  Because it reminds us that not only do our bodies belong to God, they also belong to each other.  We are to come together to offer a single, unified sacrifice of worship with our lives to God.  This is why Paul continues, “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).  We belong to each other!  Thus, any protestation that says “It’s my body and I can do what I want with it” is wrong not only because it’s insufferably bombastic, but also because what I do with my body really does effect others, if not physically, then at least spiritually or emotionally.  And, as a person who is called to love others, I should worship with my body in such a way that not only guards against personal ill effects, but against corporate ill effects as well.

It’s not your body and you cannot do with it as you want.  Though this may sound strange to a culture that bows at the altar of rugged individualism, it is actually a precious truth.  For God’s will for our bodies is always better than our whims for our bodies.  And so we trust Him with our bodies – to the glory of God and in the service of others.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Dr. Player’s ABC!

January 24, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Luther on Romans 12

This morning’s text in worship is Romans 12. Paul opens this chapter, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Luther offers some great context on this verse – what comes before it and what follows it – in his commentary on Romans:

In the preceding chapters, the apostle laid “the true foundation which is Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11), or “the first rock,” upon which the wise man builds (Matthew 7:24), and he destroyed the false foundation, namely, man’s self-righteousness and merits, which are as “the sand” upon which the foolish man builds (Matthew 7:26). Here now he proceeds to “build upon this foundation gold, silver, and previous stones” (1 Corinthians 3:12). Good works, which are the building, must above all have a sure and dependable foundation on which the heart can purpose to stand and to rely forever, so that, even in the case that the site may not yet have been built upon, the site is ready to do so. The moralists do the opposite of this with their good works. They seek to put their trust in their conscience and, when they have performed many good works, they think they have done enough for themselves, so that they can feel secure. This is nothing else than to build on the sand and to reject Christ. The apostle tries hard to prevent this; this is the purpose of all his letters. To say, as is commonly done, that “sand” means the riches of the world is a superficial and weak exegesis. For Christ speaks here of the people who build (i.e., who do good) and not of misers and worldlings who rather destroy themselves than build up anything.

Hence, it is good works that the apostle calls “sand.” And it is upon this foundation that these people try to build their righteousness in order to obtain a dwelling place for the conscience and peace of mind. But, as a matter of fact, only Christ is this foundation – and before all good works. For even before we think of doing enough or building up, He has given us the foundation as a free gift, namely, a quiet conscience and a trusting heart. Has there ever been a builder stupid enough to lay also the foundation? Do not the builders look for the foundation that is already laid in the earth or do they not accept what is offered to them? So then, just as the earth offers us a foundation without our effort, so Christ offers Himself without us as our righteousness, peace, and security of conscience in order that from then on we can continually build upon Him in doing good. (WA 56)

January 23, 2011 at 7:35 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – You’re So Vain, I Bet You Think This Blog Is About You

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is fairest of all?” asks the wicked queen to her magic mirror in the fairy tale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  For years, the answer always came back the same:  “You, my queen, are fairest of all.”  But when a young maiden named Snow White comes of age, the mirror’s rejoinder changes:  “Queen, you are fair, tis true, but Snow White is fairer than you.”   After hearing the mirror’s reply to what was supposed to be a foregone answer to a rhetorical question, the wicked queen spends the balance of the story trying to kill Snow White so that, once again, she can be the fairest in the land.  First, she tries to suffocate Snow White with stay laces.  Next, she tries to kill her with a poison comb.  Finally, the queen offers her the dreaded and infamous poison apple, which lulls her into a deep sleep until, of course, she is wakened by her charming prince.

Being a fairy tale, this story is splashed with an unambiguous principled paint that could perhaps be better nuanced.  Nevertheless, its fundamental moral should still be well taken, for its basic point is this:  The queen’s vanity destroys the queen’s life.  And real life vanity can do to the same to us.  It can sneak and creep into our lives, take root in our hearts, and suffocate our souls.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a new series titled “Fit for Life II,” meant to be a second round of messages and Bible studies on health and wellness to follow up the series of the same name that we did last spring.  As an introduction to this series, I offered what I call “A Theology of the Body.”  People, when talking about and thinking about their bodies, tend to make one of two errors.  They assume either that the body is bad and only a cumbersome drag on a pure soul, or they make the body their “god” and spend exorbitant amounts of money, time, and energy either by feeding its sometimes sinful desires in gluttony or pruning and primping it in vanity.

In truth, the body is neither “bad,” nor is it “god.”  Rather, it is “good.”  It is a good gift of the true God, meant to be faithfully stewarded by us.  This is why we take care of our bodies through diet and exercise – not so that we can drop three dress sizes, or boast six-pack abs, or look ten years younger.  Instead, we take care of our bodies to the glory of God because they are the temples of God, as Paul says:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Do you ever treat your body as if it’s bad?  Do you spend endless hours complaining about your aches and pains, your wrinkles and your warts, rather than giving thanks to God for the body with which He has blessed you?  Do you ever treat your body as if it’s god?  Do you linger in front of your mirror, even if it’s not a magic one, just a little too long, obsessed with how others will see you rather than being satisfied with how the true God has made you?  This time of year, many people are still trying to follow through on their resolutions to “lose some weight” or “get in shape.”  Rather than just losing a few inches off your waste line or enlarging a couple of biceps, may you resolve to steward your body to God’s glory in what you eat, in how you exercise, and in everything you say and do.  For this is where true fitness lies.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

January 17, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Serious Joy

“Behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:9-10).  Now that’s some big time joy!  After all, the wise men didn’t just rejoice, they rejoiced exceedingly.  And they didn’t only have joy, they had great joy.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven” (Letters to Malcolm, 93).  Dallas Willard puts it like this:  “God is the happiest being in the universe” (“Wide Awake,” Leadership, Fall 1994).  Thus, when the wise men “rejoice exceedingly with great joy,” they are simply reflecting the character of God by responding appropriately to the gift of God.  They respond with joy to Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many of us do not heed C.S. Lewis’ call to take joy seriously nearly seriously enough.  We are all too often content with being bitter, anxious, or forlorn.  But joy is not only the serious business of heaven, it is also the serious business of Christians on earth.  This is why Paul, when speaking of the fruit of the Spirit, places joy only second to love (cf. Galatians 5:22).  He elsewhere says, “Be joyful always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).  Joy, then, is not an option, but a command!

With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on how joyful you really are.  Here are some questions that may help you think about your joyfulness:

  • When was the last time a person made you smile with a kind action or gift?
  • How often do you chuckle at the marvel of God’s creation – whether it be a pet who does something goofy or a scene from nature which brings a smile to your face?
  • When you worship, does your heart leap within you as it did with the Psalmist (cf. Psalm 28:7)?
  • When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?

Certainly life comes with its ups and downs and, sometimes, things can become so wearisome that joy is the farthest thing from your mind.  Indeed, during these times, you may even look at Paul’s admonition to “be joyful always” with a mild contempt and silently grumble about the unrealistic nature of such a command.  But it is at times like these that it is important to remember that joy is not only a command, it is a gift.  It is a gift to dull a hard season and heal a broken heart.  And it is a gift that comes straight from the character of God.

Hard seasons are things the wise men knew well.  For they arrived at Bethlehem only after a long journey from an undisclosed location back east, followed by an interrogation from a menacing despot named Herod.  The wise men had a lot to be stressed and upset about.  But they nevertheless found joy because they nevertheless found Jesus.  And Jesus is where true joy is to be found.

So are you feeling stressed and upset?  Does joy elude you?  Like the wise men, cling to the cradle of the Christ.  For in the gurgle of this Child is the joy of the ages.  In the words of Johann Sebastian Bach:

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.
Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

January 10, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Weekend Extra – “If it’s good enough for Jesus…”

It’s an apocryphal story, but one that has tenaciously hung on, thanks to everything from its publication in the New York Times to its unrelenting retelling by Kinky Friedman.  The story goes that Ma Ferguson, Texas’ first woman governor, was infuriated by the suggestion that Spanish speaking immigrants would benefit from public school classes taught in their own native language.  In a fit of rage, she picked up a copy of the King James Version of the Bible and exclaimed, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Texas!”

English, at least in the way we know it today in the King James Bible, did not arise until 1550.  And the King James Version was not translated until 1611.  Jesus did not speak English.  He spoke Aramaic.  Whoops.

Though Ma Ferguson’s fabled declaration is goofy because it betrays a complete ignorance of the history of language, the principle behind her statement, even if she never said it, is actually quite profound:  “If it was good enough for Jesus, perhaps it ought to be good enough for us.”  Indeed, Jesus Himself puts forth this principle when He says things like, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  Jesus is essentially saying, “If the way of suffering, persecution, and the cross is good enough for Me, it’s good enough for you also.  You too will suffer.”  As Jesus elsewhere teaches, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Over the course of my ministry, I have occasionally encountered Christians who, for one reason or another, do not want to be baptized.  Sometimes they will tell me, “I’m just not ready yet.”  Other times, their excuses are a little more nuanced: “I already believe in Jesus and that means I’m already saved!  So why do I need to be baptized?”  My response to such objections echoes Ma Ferguson’s:  “If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for you!”  Indeed, this is precisely what Jesus Himself teaches in the text we studied this past weekend in worship.

In Matthew 3, Jesus travels from His home in Galilee to the Jordan so that He may be baptized by John.  John, knowing that Jesus is sinless, and, as far as he can tell, in no need of a regenerative bath, objects:  “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me” (Matthew 3:14)?  Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).  I appreciate Hippolytus’ paraphrase of and commentary on Jesus’ statement:

Let it be so now, for it so becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. I am the Fulfiller of the law; I seek to leave nothing wanting to its whole fulfillment, so that after Me Paul may exclaim, “Christ is the fulfilling of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” Let it be so now, for it so becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. Baptize Me, John, in order that no one may despise baptism. I am baptized by you, the servant, that no one among kings or dignitaries may scorn to be baptized by the hand of a poor priest. (ANF 5:236).

Hippolytus states Jesus’ point this way:  Christ is baptized so that no one may despise, eschew, or reject baptism.  In other words, if baptism is good enough for Jesus, it ought be good enough for us!  So do not despise it!

Have you been baptized?  If not, let me ask you a simple question:  “If baptism is good enough for Jesus, shouldn’t it be good enough for you?”  Moreover, think about the promises attached to this Sacrament.  Luther explains:  “Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (Small Catechism).  With promises such as these, why wouldn’t you want to be baptized?

Finally, baptism is good enough for you not only because it was good enough for Jesus, but because you’re bad enough for baptism.  You, as Scripture declares, are sinful.  And you need God’s holy bath to wash you clean.  So, “be baptized and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16)!

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message!

January 3, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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