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Monday, August 30, 2010

Are churches creating "fake Christians"?

If you're the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning:

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

August 15: The ACTION of Living by Faith

Text: Hebrews 11:29-12:2


"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

Some words of encouragement

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.

-Thomas Merton

Sunday, August 01, 2010

8/1/10: Today's Sermon (based on Colossians 3:1-11) Having a Heavenly Focus

Today's post is a transcription of today's sermon. Enjoy!

"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.