Saturday, December 25, 2010
Words: Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413);
trans. John Mason Neale, 1854 and Henry Williams Baker, 1861
Tune: Divinum mysterium
Of the Father's love begotten,
ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega,
he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!
At his word the words were fram'd;
he commanded; it was done:
heaven and earth and depths of ocean
in their threefold order one;
all that grows beneath the shining
of the moon and burning sun,
evermore and evermore!
O that birth for ever bless d,
when the Virgin, full of grace,
by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
bare the Savior of our race;
and the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
first revealed his sacred face,
evermore and evermore!
This is he whom seers in old time
chanted of with one accord;
whom the voices of the prophets
promised in their faithful word;
now he shines, the long expected,
let creation praise its Lord,
evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven, adore him;
angel-hosts, his praises sing;
powers, dominions, bow before him,
and extol our God and King;
let no tongue on earth be silent,
every voice in concert ring,
evermore and evermore!
Thee let old men, thee let young men,
thee let boys in chorus sing;
matrons, virgins, little maidens,
with glad voices answering:
let their guileless songs re-echo,
and the heart its music bring,
evermore and evermore!
Christ, to thee with God the Father,
and, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
hymn and chant and high thanksgiving,
and unwearied praises be;
honor, glory and dominion,
and eternal victory,
evermore and evermore!
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
"A sacramental view of life is not much different from a supernatural view of life. It affirms the mystery of the universe and allows that everything in life is, in one way or another, related to the mystery of the Creator and the Redeemer. For example, I once saw a poster on which were written the words of a Catholic thinker, Teilhard de Chardin: 'Because of creation and even more because of incarnation there is nothing profane for those who know how to see.' That's it, I said to myself, that phrase captures the broadest sense of sacrament. Because God created this world and even more because he actually became his creation, creation itself- its material substance, its history, its events, and even my small history within the whole- is not profane or secular. There is a religious underpinning to life, a purpose to everything, an end when all things will work out all right. Therefore, everything in life points to the center, to Christ the Creator and Redeemer in whom all things, visible and invisible- find their meaning. That's sacrament in its broadest sense. As an evangelical, I already believed this. I simply had not recognized that this was a sacramental view of life. Now I had a name for it."
"I have found in the past that I too was a supernaturalist when it came to the inspiration of the Bible, the deity and resurrection of Jesus, and personal conversion. The practical supernatural dimension of the Christian faith in the sacraments was rejected by me as superstition. I no longer regard the sacraments as magical or pagan. Rather, I have come to believe they are visible means through which the saving and healing action of God through Jesus Christ is communicated to his people. The sacraments do not save us. They are vehicles through which the salvation of the world accomplished by Christ is extended to us. They bring Christ to us and touch us with his healing power....God communicates with us through visible and tangible means. He came to us in an enfleshed form. He was made man and lived among us. Now he continues to act in our lives through those symbols we call sacraments. I can only testify to the power of that experience as one that continually keeps me in Christ and the church."
Monday, December 06, 2010
"I find the presence of Christ to be particularly true for me in the sacrament of the Eucharist. When I used to think of it as my personal sign of faith, I always wondered, 'Did I take it in the right way? Did I properly prepare myself through the confession of my sins to make myself worthy of the bread and wine? Was my faith strong enough to be pleasing to God? Will his wrath come against me because I wasn't serious enough?' All these worries rolled away when I was set free by understanding that the bread and wine are God's symbols of his love toward me. They now speak to me of the mystery of my salvation. Rather than sending me into myself in search of this or that sin to confess, the Eucharist makes me aware that I never have been and never will be worthy. But more than that, the Eucharist tells me that I am acceptable to God because of Jesus Christ. He has done all that needs to be done to make me acceptable to the Father. This is his sign to me of his work for me. I receive this sign in faith and it effects a healing with God, my neighbor, nature, and me. What Christ did for me on the cross is now extended to me. I receive the benefits of his salvation again and again. So the Eucharist has become the sacrament of my encounter with Jesus Christ. He who saved me at the cross continues to extend his salvation to me through the simple and concrete signs of bread and wine."
Friday, November 26, 2010
I lift up my eyes to the hills;*
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the Lord,*
the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved*
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.
Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel*
shall neither slumber nor sleep;
The Lord himself watches over you;*
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
So that the sun shall not strike you by day,*
nor the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;*
it is he who shall keep you safe.
The Lord shall watch over your going out
and your coming in,*
from this time forth for evermore.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Lord, open our lips,
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Blessed are you, God of all mercies,
you extend forgiveness and aid again and again.
You confront us with the mystery of your grace,
beyond all human comprehension;
you cause us to be merciful in your Name,
that all whom we serve may see beyond us
and find you there.
For these and all your mercies, we praise you:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
Blessed be God for ever!
Be merciful to me, O Lord, for you are my God;*
I call upon you all the day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,*
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,*
and great is your love towards all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer,
and attend to the voice of my supplications.
In the time of my trouble I will call upon you,
for you will answer me.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.
Continue your loving kindness to those who know you,
and your favour to those who are true of heart.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Paul is writing from prison, where he has been sentenced for his preaching. But he is not discouraged, saying "...the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect...".
"Do you think you are able to help or hurt other Christians?" asked Fr. David. "Do the things you do have an effect on them? How deeply connected are we to the Lord and to others?"
The connection, he pointed out, runs very deep. "Paul writes that he is enduring prison 'for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.' In other words, Paul is suffering for those he says elsewhere, in his letter to the Ephesians, were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, but who haven't yet come to faith.
"Paul himself was therefore chosen, before anything was created, to be Christ's instrument of salvation for many throughout the known world of his time, and his purpose for suffering in jail had little to do with his own life but much to do with the lives and welfare of others, including believers right to the present day who are still reading Paul's letters and experiencing spiritual growth."
Fr. David went on to give some examples of ways Christians can affect each other. Negative effects come through the concept first articulated in the Old Testament of the sins of the fathers being visited on their childen. We see this today in dysfunctional families, where the bad behavior and example of parents has an inevitable effect on the children, sometimes continuing
In another example, the author Ann White writes in her book Healing Adventure of her need to go and make peace with a person she'd been unwilling to forgive before she could pray effectively for healing for her asthmatic son.
"We ARE connected with the Lord and one another," Fr. David continued. "We can have a positive and holy effect. As we read in James 5:16, 'the prayers of a righteous person avail much,' and when we're living a better life, we're really doing that for others.
"There's an old saying -- 'Jesus first, others second, yourself last spells J-O-Y'. When we lift up others we lift up ourselves too. Even the knowledge that our lives are of eternal value to those around us also lifts us up when we're called to suffer for the sake of the elect. And when we feel
weak, if we're open about that, God will assert his strength in us. Praise the Lord!"
Sunday, October 03, 2010
"Today, people often respond to others’ pain with clichés: “Everything happens for a reason,” or, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” glossing over the hard realities of pain in favor of the lessons to be learned."
"Our culture operates under the assumption that “pain is gain” (and that an inability or unwillingness to bear it is a character flaw)."
"Certainly, the Cross demonstrates that pain can be redemptive, and many of us can relate experiences whereby pain led to positive transformation (though such transformation often comes once pain is relieved, because in the midst of severe pain, it’s hard to do much of anything besides be in pain). Christ’s suffering also helps us to know that when we suffer pain, God actually does know how we feel."
"Yet the abundant stories of Jesus' healings also suggest that God understands how pain can limit human flourishing, especially when it leaves people unable to participate in essential human activities (family and community life, work, rest) and disconnected from their true selves."
Click on the article title to read the full piece.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
In our Gospel lesson this Sunday, we considered a parable of Jesus that graphically shows us the outcome of an "in money we trust" attitude -- Luke 16:19-31, the story of Lazarus and the rich man.
Jesus was instructing his disciples about money and some Pharisees were listening and scoffing. Luke characterizes them as "lovers of money" and records Jesus' response to them: "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." (Luke 16:15) Jesus then goes on to tell the story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man at whose gate he lay.
The story goes like this: A rich man, wearing the best clothes of purple and fine linen, feasted sumptuously every day. Lazarus, a beggar covered with sores, lay at the rich man's gate desiring to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table as dogs licked his sores.
One day Lazarus died and was carried by angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and woke up in hell. Looking up he could see Lazarus and Abraham far away and, calling to Abraham, he asks him to send Lazarus down to cool his mouth with some water.
Abraham reminds the rich man that he got all his good things while he was on the earth, whereas Lazarus had gotten only evil things, and now their situations were reversed. The rich man then begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his five brothers, but Abraham says that even if someone were to rise from the dead, the rich man's brothers would not be convinced.
We know this is a parable rather than a literal description of heaven and hell because we know that eternal life in heaven isn't dependent on our deeds, but on our acceptance of the unmerited favor of God. Deeds, however, are a reliable gauge of how we stand in our spiritual life. "Our resources and gifts are for the purpose of loving God and our neighbors," explained Fr. David. We are, like Abraham, "blessed to be a blessing".
We also need to be sensitive to the context: Jesus was talking to two audiences at once. To the Pharisees, he was telling a story about values under the Law, while at the same time he was preparing his disciples for a harder truth about their future.
Fr. David pointed out that the parable has three themes. First, how we fare on earth determines how we fare in the afterlife. Second, God will balance and make things right. Third, every person has a choice.
First theme: In the parable, Abraham tells the rich man that he had his good things while he was on the earth. Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus warned people to be careful where they were taking their rewards. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said, "...when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have their reward in full." (Matthew 6:5) By denying himself nothing, the rich man chose the part of his eternal life that would be the easiest, and that was the part that was the shortest -- his life on earth.
Second theme: "God isn't interested in our intentions -- we know the way good intentions pave, and that's the way to hell," Fr. David said. "God is interested in our actions. Do we love God with our whole hearts and our neighbor as ourself? It's on these actions that our final retribution will be based."
He pointed out that the rich man recognized Lazarus in the afterlife and even called him by name. One can easily imagine the rich man believing he was being kind to Lazarus by allowing the beggar to lie at his door and forage in his rubbish, and even perhaps by saying hello to him as he came and went from his fine house. The rich man certainly fits with the unrighteous Jesus speaks of in Matthew 25, who are told at the judgment that they failed to give the Lord food, drink, clothing or help and they respond, "Lord, when did we see you (in these situations) and not help you?" Respectors of persons to the very last breath, just like this rich man who apparently saw himself as Lazarus' benefactor.
"Even in the most dire circumstance of waking up in hell, the rich man's thoughts still revolve around himself," Fr. David continued. "He didn't lift a finger to help Lazarus on earth, but expects Lazarus to come down to hell and put a finger of water on his tongue, to cool it. Just as Sartre would later describe it, the rich man feels his needs and wants are more real and legitimate than anyone else's -- that he's the only person with a full thought life and everyone else is lesser. He even argues with Abraham, patriarch of all the Jews, about what Abraham should be doing for him. The sad truth here is that people will continue to justify themselves even in the face of final retribution."
Third theme: "Is life like the old advertising slogan -- 'You only go around once, so go for the gusto'? Should we really 'look out for Number One'? Who is 'Number One' in our lives?" The rich man thought he'd be judged on the basis of his social status ("Whoever dies with the most toys, wins.") and when he found out that the standards were much different, he begged Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his five brothers before they made the same mistake.
Abraham's response, that if the rich man's family didn't heed the warnings they already had from the Law and the prophets, then they wouldn't heed anyone who would rise from the dead, was Jesus' way of preparing his disciples for their own lives after his resurrection and ascension. That his chosen people, represented that day by the Pharisees, would in large measure fail to heed even the message he would provide as the firstfruits of eternal life.
In summing up, Fr. David quoted theologian John Piper: "If during our time on earth we pursue things instead of God, then earth will be the extent of our heaven and eternity our hell. But if during our time on earth God is our treasure, then earth will be the extent of our hell and eternity our heaven."
Let us always keep before us the One who came back from the grave to show us the way to heaven. "Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits. Selah." (Psalm 68:19)Notes: Parish annual meeting is Sunday, Nov. 14.... We're developing program topics and lessons for congregant-led after-service discussions during our coffee hour. More information to follow.
That's what The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has concluded after surveying over 3,000 Americans of all faiths and no faith. Atheists and Mormons scored highest on the survey; Protestants, not so much. How about you? Click this post's title to read the full analysis of their findings, and click here to take a sample quiz of 15 questions from the full 32-question survey.
Monday, September 27, 2010
So says the author of a recent blog post on Internetmonk.com called "Spiritual Formation: The Plain, Hard Truth." The Bible gives numerous examples of suffering which ultimately lead to great benefits, spiritual and otherwise. There are times when it seems as if God is hiding from us, and we suffer all the more because of it. But if we pass through those difficult times with Christ, and thus sharing in His sufferings, we will come out having grown spiritually.
Check out the article at:
"Spiritual Formation: The Plain, Hard Truth."
Friday, September 17, 2010
Fr. David began his sermon by pointing out how often the Bible presents stories of rescue and sacrifice -- two in the day's Gospel reading alone, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin found in Luke 15:1-10.
"Among the lasting memories of 9/11 are the heroic stories of self-sacrifice, for example the heroes aboard United 93, and of rescue, such as we saw in the brave response of New York's firefighters and police.
"In the Bible, Jesus is God's rescue worker. In our second reading (I Timothy 1:12-17), Paul makes this plain when he writes: 'The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.'
"You know, when Paul calls himself 'foremost of sinners', we have to wonder if that's an act of pride or of humble faith. What do we know about Paul before his conversion on the Damascus road, when he was still called Saul?
"We know that Saul was pedigreed in Judaism and very proud. In our reading passage he lays claim to being a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor, and also that he was ignorant in his unbelief.
"How was Saul a blasphemer? Well, primarily, it was because he took upon himself the job of speaking for God rather than letting God be God -- something like 'healers' who blame the afflicted when healing fails to occur or false prophets with their 'listen to me; I have the answers' attitudes.
"Saul was a blasphemer because he thought by killing the followers of Christ he could stop things from changing, even though the change was ordained by God. He was full of arrogance and pride.
"Saul was also a persecutor and aggressor, zealous to avenge what he saw as Christians' defiling of God's honor. He presided at stonings where people were being killed for no other reason than belief in Christ, and he was proud of it and proud of the honor he received from those casting the stones.
"Spiritually, it was the same as if he was a tormentor of Christ's at the crucifixion. Saul stood and watched as St. Stephen, just before giving up his life, repeated the words of Christ: 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them,' (Acts 7:59) and yet he was not troubled and was happy to receive the tribute of the mob afterward.
"In his own defense, Paul writes that at the time he 'acted ignorantly in unbelief'. So this begs a question, which is whether we can blame people for vigorously doing wrong if they believe they're doing right? We can, because at heart this wrong comes from turning to one's own way versus stopping and asking God the right thing to do.
"Fortunately for Saul, and for us, and even for our enemies, the Lord has perfect patience. He sees goodness in us when it isn't apparent and gives mercy when we least deserve it. How close was Saul to blaspheming the Holy Spirit, and how merciful was God toward him to stop him in his tracks and transform his life?
"If Saul could be forgiven for having no faith, for being arrogant, cruel, and merciless, how much more forgiveness is available even to our enemies, and how does God's patience and mercy affect our own feelings toward everyone around us?
"How can we offer forgiveness and mercy to each other and even to those we don't like at all, recognizing that the Lord is still seeking all who are lost? Governor Bradford of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, upon seeing prisoners going off to jail, famously said, 'There but for the grace of God go I.' We're works in progress -- God isn't finished with us yet, but we can be encouraged by Saul's miraculous transformation into St. Paul through the perfect patience and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise the Lord!"
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
When Christians express their belief that "Christ has risen", for example, they should not be taken as making a factual claim, but as expressing their commitment to what Wittgenstein called a certain "form of life," a way of seeing significance in the world, a moral and practical outlook which is worlds away from scientific explanation. (BoldingWhat the... what? I mean, I'd agree when we make the claim we aren't trying to explain the event scientifically, since one of the many things Christ did in addition to justifying us to God Perfect and Eternal was to break the shell of human knowledge and show us, as Shakespeare so perfectly said, "There are more things in heaven and earth... than are dreamt of in your philosophy." But that doesn't change the fact that a huge percentage of Christians -- those who are orthodox -- are, indeed, making a factual claim when they say "Christ has risen." When we fail to make it plain that this is, in fact, our claim -- when we stop placing emphasis on "Christ the firstfruits" of our eternal life in resurrected bodies perfect and outside the laws of physics, then we are reduced to discussing the relative merits of ethical systems -- are we correct in emphasizing that evil thoughts are the same as deeds, or are Jews correct that only deeds count? Which faith's rules of behavior do we like best? A paltry portion indeed compared to what God has actually prepared for us.
And more to the point, there's little in a discussion of ethics that can possibly captivate non-believers. The atheists claim "you don't need God to be good," and aside from the quibble that you can't be good 24/7 with or without God, any thinking person can go right down that road with them. The only problem being it's not the road that leads to factual eternal life.
It's imperative to be unequivocal in affirming the factual content of our belief, even when the facts stretch the boundaries of what we think we know. We don't need to get wound up in internal discussions such as that between Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and the Rt. Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, in which Spong accused Williams of pretending to believe in the resurrection and Williams responding that he's really more conservative.
On the other hand it really isn't new news, is it? Even among the earliest Christians there was waffling and stumbling in this matter, according to St. Paul:
Let's do our best not to waffle or stumble when proclaiming the fact of Christ's bodily resurrection. Let's not cave before the demands or ridicule of those who adhere to the limited subset of human knowledge we call science. Yes, the resurrection is a "mystery" -- the Bible even says so. But it's also an awesome fact.
"How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? ... For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, then your faith is in vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." (I Corinthians 15:12, 16-19)
Monday, August 30, 2010
Your child is following a "mutant" form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.
Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls "moralistic therapeutic deism." Translation: It's a watered-down faith that portrays God as a "divine therapist" whose chief goal is to boost people's self-esteem.
Click the post title to read the entire article on the CNN website.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
"We all want to do things and intend to do them, but then sometimes we forget. Sometimes we have bad habits, like procrastinating or else failing to finish what we start. Other times we veer off course by forgetting the reason it was important to do the thing in the first place. Or we can try stubbornly to find an easier way to do it," Fr. David enumerated as he began our Sunday meditation.
The passage in the Book of Hebrews we were considering was written to a church that had grown tired and, for one reason or another, was no longer vigorously pursuing its mission. In order to rally these believers, the author of Hebrews recounts many old-time heroes of faith. The implication is that the heroes faced harder struggles than the contemporary readers but still persevered.
The Israelites were able to breach and overrun the fortified walls of Jericho because they were obedient to God regardless of the unusual tactics they were commanded to use. "They weren't stubborn and didn't look for an easier or even more logical way to meet the foe," Fr. David explained. "God told them to march around the city blowing trumpets for seven days, and on the last day to end with a shout! I think what they shouted was probably 'hosanna', but whatever it was, when the Lord gave them the way forward and the task at hand, they didn't procrastinate, or equivocate, or fail to finish. They acted with faith in Him and this is what God also desires of us."
Rahab, a resident of Jericho, also appears in the roll call of heroes. Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, doesn't seem like a person God would call to be a hero. In fact, she seems like what another of the day's texts would call a "wild grape". Isaiah 5:1-7 presents a parable of a vineyard planted and tended on a fertile hill, but instead of juicy grapes it yielded only hard little wild grapes. Many times throughout scripture we are shown instances where the Lord seeks to bless His chosen ones, but people who were less "choice" serve Him instead. Thus, Rahab.
"Rahab understood that nothing would stand in the way of God's will and decided she would assist with His plan even though it meant changing her loyalties. She hid the Israelite spies and even lied to save their lives. And she also made a bargain that she and her family would be spared when the invasion finally came," said Fr. David.
"We'll have to reconcile the lie (and the manifest flaws in all the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews). Rahab and the others exercised a faith that transforms sinners -- restores, heals and honors them. In her case, her honor was to later become the great great grandmother of King David and a member of the lineage of Jesus Christ. She became great through her great faith."
Fr. David next drew our attention to verses in Hebrews that "sometimes get skipped over. We're told that we're united with the saints who went before us, but that 'apart from us they should not be made perfect'. There's something we need to do for them. What could that possibly be?"
Theologian John Piper interprets this as follows:
I take verse 39 to mean that when the believers in the Old Testament died, their spirits were made whole and perfect (as 12:23 says), but they do not receive the full blessing of God's promise, which is resurrection with new bodies in a glorious new age with all God's enemies removed and righteousness holding sway and the earth filled with the glory of God. They did not receive that promise yet.
Why not? Why must the saints wait, without their new resurrection bodies? The answer is given in verse 40: 'Because God has provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect'. In other words, God's purpose is that all his people -- all the redeemed -- be gathered in before any of them enjoys the fullness of his promise. His purpose is that we all come into the fullness of our inheritance together.
Because of this, the writer of Hebrews concludes, we need to "run with perseverance the race set before us" -- in other words, not neglect the harvest or our witness -- "looking to Jesus... who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross".
"The Lord's desire," Fr. David concluded, "is that we should 'get it'. See the eternal importance of the task before us, forget what lies behind and focus on the prize before us, that multitudes would come to a saving knowledge of Christ. This is God's will. This is what the heroes of faith are desiring for us, that the great task might be complete. Let's renew our faith, strongly commit to the ACTION of living by faith and go forth to serve the Lord, Amen."
Sunday, August 15, 2010
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Sunday, August 01, 2010
"Heavenly perspective- seeking the things that are above, setting our minds on things above- that's what Christians need encouragement to do. It's something we often neglect. There is a different attitude, a focus, a perspective, in the Christian reality. We often lose and forget that, and misunderstand the Christian reality of what it is to be focused on heavenly things.
"Our passages today encourage us to set our minds on things above. This passage from the third chapter of Colossians has a pre-amble to it, in the second chapter. 'If with Christ you died, to the basic principles of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to it?' Colossians 2:20. If we've been raised with Christ, we ought to be setting our minds on heavenly things, and not earthly things. Let's set our minds on heavenly things first so we can live and take advantage of the earthly things. We can't do it otherwise. We need to think of heavenly things, Godly things, first, in order to have any kind of meaningful life here on earth. Otherwise, we're going to be depressed, severely challenged, in the muck and mire of this world, and wondering what in heaven's name is going on. And it's because we're missing what it means to be a Christian, to live in a Christian reality, and the difference that it makes... not what it should make but does make. Just wake up, smell the heavenly roses, if you will. And know the reality of Christ in the midst of us and the mystery of all of life, and that is Christ in you- the hope of salvation! We've got the realities of heaven already available as a Christian. By virtue of the Lord Jesus Christ and our faith in Him, we are raised to virtue and to heavenly things. By virtue of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the deathblow that Jesus dealt, we know that nothing can hold Him, not even death, not the devil, nothing can hold Him down. He was raised up and you also ought to have that attitude, that reality, in your life as a Christian believer.
"'If then you have been raised with Christ.' Are we raised with Christ? Well, have you been baptized as a Christian? The reality of baptism, whether the church is living it out or not, is that we're buried with Christ in baptism, and we're raised with Christ, through faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit. And baptism isn't a one time experience of a ritual- it is a reality, everyday, of being immersed in Christ. And we know that baptism of water and baptism of fire, of the Holy Spirit, is a reality in our Christian lives. What's wrong with us that we smother ourselves when the Holy Spirit's so available? You can't be the same old, same old person. A transformed way of thinking, of approaching life is so readily available to us through faith. You know, so why do I keep going back to the same, old, same, old, so-so life. But transformed thinking is available to me and to you through the renewal of our minds in faith. We have: a new vantage point, a new outlook, a new way of looking at life, a new way of looking at myself, a new way of looking at God, even; a new way of looking at other people. Yes, indeed, then what's the matter with you that you keep doing it the same old way?
"Here's our viewpoint as a new creation: 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 'From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh, even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh.' You mean that people can look at Jesus and only think about historical matters, or just the un-spiritual aspects of Jesus Christ? But there's more! We have an attitude and a perspective that needs to be transformed, and they're saying, 'Ours has been transformed, from now on, therefore, regard no one according to the flesh, even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.' That's what goes before that verse, by the way. You want to celebrate being a new creation? Well there's a transformed way of looking at life too that goes with this. And it's imperative for us as Christians. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.
"OK, about the renewal of the mind, about the need for transformation, because we have our minds so warped and flawed by this world that we're pretty well trapped. We are trapped, that is, if we don't wake up and pray for help and ask for deliverance from the Lord, and ask the Holy Spirit to come in and do spring cleaning. 'Do not be conformed to this world.' That's not just a suggestion, it's a mandate. 'Do not be conformed to this word, but be transformed, by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God assigned him.' (Romans 12:2-3). Can you imagine what it's like to consider yourself, and consider the way that you're looking at life through faith instead, and therefore have your thinking transformed by the renewal of your mind? But you're going in the same circles most of the time, and those circles make ruts. So we're supposed to spiritually have the mind of Christ, 1 Corinthians 2:16. Chapter 2 of 1st Corinthians goes through this whole thing of having a carnal way of looking at life and having a spiritual way of looking at life, and you know the two are not compatible. And you've got to figure out where you're going to be living. What are you taking as your focus in life? 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 'The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foreign to him.' He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 'The spirit of a person judges all things but is himself to be judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord as to instruct Him? But we hold the mind of Christ.' It's not just automatic. It's not just most of the time. You have the mind of Christ as you pray, as you read Scripture and let the Word of God minister, as you seek to live your Christian faith and not just report that that's what you are doing, but that you're actually living it. Then indeed we begin to gain the mind of Christ, looking at life through the eyes of Jesus, through the heart of Jesus... letting yourself be transformed, a new creation! There is a difference, and that's the point, there is a difference in attitude and outlook and focus, depending on where we're looking first. And we're commanded, it's imperative, that we consider heaven first. 'If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is.' We think the Lord of Light, Jesus Christ, is in heaven now. We're meant to have fellowship with Jesus in heaven now, as He is seated at the right hand of God. He's been raised, and so are we, through Him, in Him, with Him. Are we spending time with the risen Lord Jesus or the Jesus of Good Friday only?
"Seek things that are above. Here's our action, here's our response to this Christian reality. 'Set your mind on things above, not the things that are of earth.' We tend to get complacent about our faith, but first we need to set our minds on things that are heavenly so that we can see afresh, see with a heart of love, see prayerfully what we should do here on earth, from a Christian perspective, not from a judgmental, self-centered perspective. As Philippians 4:8 says, 'Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything excellent, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.' We have a junk diet, otherwise.
"So we're seeing with the spirit and the heart of Christians. Focused on heaven and not conformed to this world. And so we're looking for heavenly wisdom and seeking to have a spirit that discerns.1 Corinthians 2:6-10 'Among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it's not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart the secret, hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before He gave us our Lord. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. As it is written: No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.' Are you in a position in your spiritual life, in your reading of Scripture, in your thinking, so that you are available to God so that He can reveal to you the wisdom He wants to bring to you?
"The application of this message is that we would be praying, reading Scripture, daily, and we would be applying our faith, daily... that we would ask: Lord, did I get it right this time? How can I do better, Lord? How can I honor You with the gifts and the life that You've given to me? And this passage says take certain action, folks. You have to put something to death. And if you don't, it's going to keep coming alive, taking and holding you captive. It's going to keep raising its lousy head, and have to be beaten down. And so, I say, give it a Christian burial. There are certain things that are plaguing you. Yours are probably a little different from mine. So... do what we need to do about this? We need to put to death the things and the attitudes and habits that are holding us down and keeping us in sin. Don't keep making excuses for yourself or keep going back to those places in your habits, your affections, or in your attitudes and emotions. That's what it's talking about here. There are two levels of what to put to death that are brought to light in Colossians 3. Some are activities and affections, while others are attitudes and emotions. Some of the emotions included are anger, rage or wrath, malice, which is holding deep-seated anger or resentment, slander, and foul talk, even those little jokes that are off, those are foul talk for a Christian. And it says do not lie to each other, that means even white lies. It's got to be put to death, these habits that ruin us. And they can be put to death, hallelujah!
"You know what I mean by Christian burial? Romans 6:3-4 'Do you not know that all us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?' We were baptized in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Death to sin. Death to death. 'We were buried, therefore, with Him, by baptism into death.' The old self, ways, habits, the same old, same old. They're supposed to be dead now. So, we give it a Christian burial. Let it die... because there is more for life, for living, for the sake of freedom for your soul and your life in Christ. 'So it is Christ was raised from the dead, that by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.' That's what it's all about: so that we can walk, not in the same old ruts, but in newness of life. We are Heaven-bound, not just aiming at heaven, but entering into heaven... living in the kingdom of God, entering as children, a child of faith, the children of God.
"And then it says not only according to death, but we need to take some action here. Not just saying, it's all got to be gone, as a Christian it's supposed to be, and I don't know why it's still around here. We are also to put on the new nature, Christ in you. So... we examine or thoughts and actions: Would you be sharing these thoughts with Jesus? Would you be going there with Jesus? We are to even put on (clothes our selves and our actions with) real, deep compassion. You know, it's interesting that this passage (Colossians 3:1-11) was selected for today, and it especially focuses on what needs to be put to death. However, you go a few more verses, 12-17, are all the good things that we're supposed to be doing is offered. The synopsis of this part of the passage is: put on real, deep compassion. Put on holiness, let it sink into your life, being forbearing, and forgiving, and loving, and in peace. This is what it means to have knowledge after the image of our Creator, being made in the image of God, a new creation in Christ. Like the clay would say to the potter, 'You go ahead and shape me, because I've made a mess of it all. Form me, break me down, and re-shape me. Go ahead, have your way. Be glorified, even in this servant.' That's the place where Christ is all, and Christ is in all. This is what Christ through our souls is longing to bring us to. May we respond, in Jesus' name, Amen.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-13
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Our message this Sunday is based upon Colossians 2
As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
"A Dangerous Belief" by Stephen Prothero
And take a look at the Boundless blog's take on the article:
"Do All Paths Lead to the Same Truth?" by Heather Koerner
Monday, April 26, 2010
"The End of Christianity As We Know It" by Mark Galli
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
He also mentioned that all the significant events of the week happened either in Jerusalem, in Bethany (home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, two miles away), or on the way from one town to the other. Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead quite recently and people were curious to see him for themselves. The Gospel of John states:
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out Jesus was there (in Bethany) and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him, many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him. (John 12:9-11)
"As we look at the events of the week, notice how sacred the Scriptures are to Jesus -- how he carefully and knowingly honors all the Scriptures as he instructs the disciples to prepare for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Sunday, just for one example," Fr. David pointed out. He added that the Palm Sunday procession was at once an instance of charismatic worship, with cries of "Hosanna" ("Save us, Lord"), but at the same time, "while the people were celebrating, Jesus was weeping over Jerusalem and the Temple, knowing as he did what was to happen later in time."
Two events are recorded for Monday of Passion Week: the cursing of the fig tree for its lack of fruit, representing Israel, and the cleansing of the temple. "This was the second cleansing of the temple, in which Jesus drove out people making money from worship by selling animals for sacrifice. Jesus reminded them that God desired the Temple to be a 'house of prayer' (Isaiah 56:7) and already told them their sacrifices were meaningless without repentance (Isaiah 1).
"Our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit, and should be a house of prayer," continued Fr. David. "How are you prepared?"
On Tuesday of Passion Week, the Pharisees challenged the authority of Jesus. He responded by teaching on many subjects and by indicting the Jewish leaders on 12 counts. Twelve wasn't an accidental choice, relating to the 12 tribes of Israel (and the 12 apostles of Jesus). In mathematics, 12 is called the "sublime number", making this list of indictments a strong one indeed. He also taught about the end times that were to begin at his ascension.
Wednesday was the day that Judas Iscariot devised his plot to turn Jesus over to the authorities.
On the first Maundy Thursday, in Bethany, Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with the disciples. He settles once and for all their constant contention over which of them was greatest by washing their feet, showing that the one who would be greatest must have a servant's humility. Peter proclaims his fidelity and Jesus warns him that Satan will sift him like wheat and that Peter, instead of being faithful, will be ashamed to admit his discipleship. "How often do we think we're better than we are?" asked Fr. David. "Peter's failure reminds us of the futility of trusting on our own strength."
After Jesus comforts the disciples and offers the High Priestly Prayer, they sing psalms together before going to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The disciples are worn out and sleepy, but we see Jesus as "God and man joined in a moment of decision and truth," Fr. David explained. "Jesus prays to the Father that he would that the cup of death be removed from him, being genuinely human before expressing his faith-filled spiritual nature by praying, 'not my will but Thine be done.' Then the soldiers come, the arrest is made, and the stage is set for the crucifixion and resurrection.
"May we grow in renewed faith and love as we walk through this Passion Week with our Lord Jesus Christ."
NOTES: Walk with Jesus through Holy Week services -- Tonight, Maundy Thursday, 7 p.m. in the chapel of Reformation Lutheran Church, 111 N. Chestnut St., we will celebrate a special Eucharist, "Re-living the Last Supper"; Good Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Holy Cross Anglican Church, 615 Bay Road, Webster, we will join for the Tenebrae Service; Easter Day we will celebrate Festal Eucharist at 10 a.m. in the chapel at Reformation Lutheran with a special message, "Knowing Jesus and the Power of the Resurrection". The second Sunday of Easter, April 11, we will again worship with our brothers and sisters at Holy Cross in Webster, resuming worship at Reformation April 18, 10 a.m.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Friday, March 05, 2010
Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.It seems hard to stand firm these days. It's literally hard to stand firm in the midst of a disaster such as an earthquake or a tsunami, and it's spiritually hard to stand firm surrounded by people who "live as enemies of the cross of Christ". Paul's description is oddly modern: "their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame." Makes you think of any number of reality TV shows.
And then there are those who live more knowingly as enemies of the cross, like Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's second in command, who exhorts Muslims to take up arms against "the cross and Zionism".
"We can't sugar-coat reality, but neither should we operate from fear," explained Fr. David. "Standing firm comes down to the difference between faith -- the 'perfect love that casts out all fear' -- and the anxiety that comes when we trust in our own strength."
The foundation on which we can stand firm, he said, is the Word of God, scripture. "We have no idea the strength of God's word in our lives when we know it even unto memorizing it, and then stand by it."
Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee. -- Psalm 119:11
Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. -- I John 4:4
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. -- Philippians 4:13"The Word of God is the one offensive weapon we are given when putting on the armor of God," Fr. David continued, "'the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.' With eyes fixed and resolute, looking to Jesus and 'forgetting what lies behind (Philippians 3:13)', we need to commend ourselves, our circumstances, and our actions to the Lord, remembering always that it's His battle. This is how we can stand firm, by hiding ourselves in Him."
NOTES: Opportunities for mutual ministry abound! The sign-up list for lectors is available each Sunday outside the chapel, and help is also welcomed by the Altar Guild and for a new ministry of cleaning the chapel. Just ask; you can help!
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Check it out at:
The Bible: Rated "R"
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.""God loves us and He wanted each one of us to be born" Fr. David said. "Before we were formed He knew us and consecrated us for a holy purpose. Even though some of us may have been 'unwanted' by our parents, in knowing us as only God can know us, God is the One who wanted us to be born and to live!"
He mentioned the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade: Sometimes in anxiety and heartache lives are snuffed out. We have a choice and we bear the consequences of our choice. The dilemma is difficult -- the anxiety and heartache that comes from contemplating a difficult pregnancy and birth, or the heartache that follows an abortion. We need to consider what God shows us in what He is saying to Jeremiah: for He likewise looks upon each of us in His holy love as we are being 'knit together in our mother's womb' (Psalm 139:13).
Fr. David told of the life of Tim Tebow, Heisman Award-winning quarterback of the University of Florida Gators. His parents were missionaries in the Philippines when his mother-to-be was afflicted with amoebic dysentery severely enough to be in a coma for a time. Saving her life required a series of very strong medications, and while her treatment was still going on she learned she was pregnant.
This in itself was unsettling news, but the situation became even more challenging when doctors informed the Tebows that Pam's placenta had detached. An abortion was recommended but the family persevered in faith and Tim was born healthy and grew up to be a star athlete.
During the Superbowl, Focus on the Family will be running a pro-life message featuring Tim. Watch for it!
"We don't know how things will turn out, but our Lord does," Fr. David continued, then turning to the common response people give when the Lord reveals His divine purpose, a response similar to Jeremiah's:
Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."There are other people of the Bible who made similar responses thinking it cannot be possible for God's purpose for their lives to be true or to come to fruition. Moses had a raft of excuses: "What if they don't believe me? What if they don't listen? I'm slow of speech, let someone else do it." Mary could not understand how it was possible for what God was expecting her to be and do could ever come to pass...
"It's not about you (alone)," Fr. David explained. "It's about God working His will in you. Trust God and ask the Lord to reign, and He will help you with all that He created you to be and to do. There's only one you and God loves you for who you truly are and for what you will become." May God be glorified as we live into who He has created us to be through faith in Him!
NOTES: We will be observing Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, in a 7 p.m. Service with our brothers and sisters at Holy Cross Anglican Church, 615 Bay Road, Webster. Bon-Ton coupon books are again being offered for the Feb. 27 Community Day sale. See Sue Hemphill for the books, which cost $5 and contain a $10 coupon and many other percent-off coupons. All of the proceeds of the book sales and a percent of the sales on Feb. 27 directly support All Saints. Our parish directory is in the proofing stage; if you haven't yet reviewed your directory information, please do so next Sunday.
Friday, January 15, 2010
The sermon was jointly preached by "the two Davids", Fr. David Ambuske of Holy Cross and our own Fr. David Harnish.
Fr. Ambuske began by reminding us that the word "liturgy" means "the work of the people". "What better work could we have than to worship and serve God every day?" he asked, before proceeding to the sermon text, Luke 2:47-50.
"What would you do with a 12-year-old who acted as Jesus did? You take him to Jerusalem for the observance of Passover. The already large city is thronged with pilgrims, and as you're preparing to go home you discover that your son has left your family group and you have no idea where he is. He's not with your relatives. He's not with your friends.
"You rush back into the city, searching everywhere, and finally find him in the temple, among the learned rabbis, listening and asking questions.
"Relieved but also a little upset, you ask him why he did this, and his reply is, "Didn't you know I must be about my Father's business?
"Now, everyone who heard him was amazed at his knowledge and insight," Fr. Ambuske continued, "so while Mary and Joseph didn't understand what Jesus was telling them that day, we can assume he opened the scriptures to them as he had in the temple and as he would even after his resurrection, when he appeared to the disciples at Emmaus. We don't know if Mary and Joseph viewed Mary's son as the Messiah while he was growing up, but we know he returned with them and continued to grow in wisdom and grace."
Fr. David Harnish continued the message, pointing out that we aren't told a lot about the teen and young adult years of Jesus. "We know that he was able to answer the teachers at the age of 12, this 'homeschooled' boy. And then we have to try to fill in the gap between the ages of 12 and 29.
"We know Jesus continued to be homeschooled and that he learned carpentry from Joseph. There are apocryphal stories such as one in which he makes a clay bird and then causes it to live. We can reject this -- it's what a human would do who was becoming God, but Jesus was God become human. In these years he was learning more than Torah at home; he was learning to be fully human, fully obedient to His Heavenly Father, and learning how to communicate God to us.
"Today we also celebrate His baptism, the beginning of His earthly ministry. And we know the first words He spoke in that ministry were, 'Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.'
"Now, Jesus had no need for baptism, but He did it as a step of obedience to God that all could see because He was inviting all humanity to take the same step -- to die to self and come alive to God, obedient and faithful.
"Life is about transformation (repentance and faith): starting to see better and recognizing that God is here with us. Becoming all that we were intended by God to be because we have heard the call of Jesus Christ to turn and come back to God.
"In the baptism of Jesus Christ," Fr. David concluded, "all Heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended as God, the Father said, 'This is my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.' Jesus invites us to the same experience, and to open to Him in faith with repentance and then to hear these same words. May we be open to his call and listen carefully to Him."
NOTES: We will be worshipping in the chapel at Reformation Lutheran Church as usual this coming Sunday, Jan. 17, at the usual 10 AM time. Please join us there.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
The doctrine of Hell is the model for Mohler's theory, but can easily be applied to other doctrines as well. The steps he outlines are:
1. The doctrine stops being mentioned.
2. The doctrine is revised and reduced.
3. The doctrine is ridiculed.
4. The doctrine is reformulated in order to remove its intellectual and moral offensiveness.
Check the article out at:
Monday, January 04, 2010
Friday, January 01, 2010
On the calendar, today is the beginning of a new year and a new decade. I can’t think of a better text of Scripture upon which to meditate than this one from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
In Eph. 1:3, Paul tells us that every person who is in Christ is immeasurably rich, a multi-billionaire when it comes to “spiritual blessings”—God’s favor and gifts. We lack nothing. Nothing. You can’t get any more from God than you have right now in Christ. He has given you the keys to the whole store.
These blessings are a pure gift from God. The text says God has blessed us. Period. It was his idea, his initiative, his undertaking. He planned it and performed it on our behalf. He came to us and laid this gift on our doorstep. God’s favor and gifts are entirely of grace.
These blessings are ours in Christ. It is in union with Jesus the Messiah that we come to own these blessings. In salvation, we have been personally united to him, a connection that has been established by God’s grace working through faith (2:8-10). Since we belong to Christ and are citizens of his realm, all the benefits thereof accrue to us. And this is true of everyone who is united to Christ, no matter how weak or immature their faith.
These blessings are operative in “the heavenly places”. This phrase is one way Paul described “the kingdom of God,” the realm where God rules, invisible to us now but nevertheless real and present. The heavenly places are not “way out there,” far away. Nor is this domain reserved only for the future. In Christ, God invaded this world and right now, through the Spirit, his kingdom is nearer to us than ever before. There is much more to life than meets the eye—the spiritual realm where Christ reigns is as real as the ground beneath our feet.
Now as we go into this new year, those who hold pietistic views or promote a prosperity gospel will try to tell us that the challenge for 2010 is that we must do something for our lives to be more blessed. It’s time to step up our game as Christians so that God can work. They will challenge us to pray more, read our Bibles more, serve more in order to have a barn heaping full of God’s blessings. They will goad us to be more spiritually disciplined so that God can transform our lives. They will encourage us to plant seeds of faith in order to bring forth a harvest of blessings. They will try to sell us their books containing the secrets or principles that will lead the skilled practitioner to a place of blessing.
In their view, “faith” is the key. But it is faith as a technique, a tool, a key that opens the way for God to work. It’s spiritual technology. To them, it’s also what we display to show God we’re serious. Then he will act. Exercise faith (in whatever specific form being promoted), and God will be impressed and give us the blessing.
They have it exactly backwards. More accurately, God has blessed us, therefore we believe.
The true and living God does not wait for the likes of you and me to act. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. And as we face 2010, we can be sure that he has already moved ahead of us into this new year. He knows everything that is coming and he has already given us every resource we need in Christ to face what is coming. We need not ask God for more. We need only have him and his immeasurable wealth. Through the simple means of Word and sacrament which he himself ordained for us, he is with us each day and communicates to us the blessings we need from his inexhaustible storehouse.
In response to God’s incalculable blessings in Christ, we face this New Year with this as our bold confession:
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (Romans 8:31-39, MSG)