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How to bind a human conscience

For all the pastors trying to get people to do what they should, here is an easy set of directions to follow;

Preparation:

In order to be truly effective, you must gloss over any scripture that speaks of the finality of Christ’s work, or the continued unconditional work of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer.  If you let them know this, what will be the motivation for sanctification?  For example, where it is written Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2), add the idea ‘if you follow His commands faithfully’.  This will give you the entry to dictate what application points the congregation needs today.

Method:

1. Assume that All of Scripture has application points for believers.  They want something to do, and your job is to make the action points crystal-clear.  If you have difficulty finding application points, expand the amount of scripture you’re covering until you find some

2. Separate verses from their context to emphasize their importance.  James 1:22 reads, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  This is ready for your application points to the congregation.  Don’t forget that these need to be tangible actions they can follow

3. Other verses don’t seem to be ripe for application, but you can overcome that if they are general.  1 Pet. 1:16 states, “Be holy for I am Holy”.  “Being” isn’t really doing, but you can expound on this verse and explain that this verse means we have to keep clean from sin.  Then, you can give them 5 or 6 ways to do this.  Philippians 2:12 states, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”.  Ignore the fact that this is written to a group (your is in the plural) and move right into private morality.

3. Do NOT preach out of the Old Testament!  Although there are many good rules to follow in the Old Testament, that part of the Bible does not apply to Christians

4. Give your sermon a catchy name like, The seven steps to a better prayer life, or Nine ways to overcome sin.  When people read the title, they know they are going to get some practical instruction.  This empowers them to believe they can do it

5. Remember, people are sheep.  They need to be directed at every turn.  Without the guidelines you give, they will end up outside the sheep pen

©John Dostal 2016

Stray thoughts

Your worth does not earn God’s love.  God’s love makes you worthy.

Some people think that the Gospel is freedom from ‘tradition’ and liturgy.  They attend church services where it’s relatively free-form.  Underlying the sermon, however, the pastor binds the conscience of the congregants in rules.

In liturgical settings, the service is not focused on the self.  It appears to be ‘bound’ in tradition, but the service and the preached word communicate Grace.  In which of the two can one find true freedom?

 

Love Connection

From Romans 8:

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

The Intern is a movie about a man named Ben Whitaker who is 70 and retired.  His wife has passed away, and He has used all of his frequent flyer miles to see the world.  When he comes home from these trips, he feels bored.  Retirement is not what he had imagined.

So, He finds a flyer calling for retired people to be interns at an internet clothing site in his neighborhood. He ends up making a romantic connection with the masseuse who works for the company.  The first place Ben brings Fiona (Rene Russo) is a funeral service.  That is a strange location for a first date!

The contrast is striking; Ben has lost a friend (separation), but is connecting with a new person on the same day! Your English teacher might call this juxtaposition.

Life is very often like that.   Children grow up and leave for college then spouses  become closer.  Friends move away and new friends enter in.  Co-workers retire and new co-workers arrive.  Unless we make the effort to continue connecting with those who left, the relationships drift into fond memories.

Paul gives us good news in Romans 8 (see above). He wants you to know that there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God ‘in Christ Jesus’.  How powerful is that?  His own confidence is translated into forceful language given to the church of his time.  And, that church was certainly suffering.  Persecution and execution were the order of the day.  In fact, Christians face persecutions for 300 years before the Emperor Constantine came into power.

The early church faced separations as the people they loved were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Not a pleasant thought!  Even today, Christians are being persecuted and executed all over the world.  They are separated from family and church.  The losses are staggering to those who love them.

Yet, Paul is telling the church of his era and the church of our era, “Take courage!” “You might think that these situations can separate you from God, but they can’t!”  He tells us the following things cannot separate us from the love of God:

  1. Death – the most dreaded and feared of our enemies in this life
  2. Life – persecutions from the world and rejection
  3. Angels – Lucifer and his minions cannot divide us from Jesus
  4. Rulers – Governmental authorities can imprison and do other things, but cannot separate you from Jesus
  5. Things present nor things to come – frightening situations, calamities, disasters
  6. Powers – groups or governments
  7. Height nor depth – being stranded or isolated by geography or position
  8. Anything else in all creation – what other situation or entity can you think of? This also includes guilt, shame, depression, confusion, doubt, despair, fear, etc.

Now, take a sharpie™ and cross out each one of these, saying, “_______ cannot separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus” out loud.

How can we cross these things out when they are part of our present existence?

Because the cross of Jesus utterly defeated them at the cross. Jesus has bonded himself to you in baptismal waters.  There, you were buried and made a new creation by the work of the triune God who has resurrected you in this life.  He has made you His daughter.  He has made you His son.  He signed the adoption papers at Calvary in His blood, and now you are His own.

He gives us this promise as we see the forces of separation bearing down on us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Continuing on, the author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 118 and 56:

“The Lord is my helper;

I will not fear;

what can man do to me?”

Take courage brothers and sisters! Nothing shall separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

 

Amen!

Pastor John

Don’t read this!

Animals have instincts.  Chemicals react.  Cells respond.

Humans have predictable behaviors.

Case in point: If I tell you not to look at that picture of a scantily clad buxom woman to your right, what do you do?

The command to do something does not distribute the power to follow the command.  In other words, when someone gives us a command or demand, we very often act to do the exact opposite.  Why?

Because we are slaves to sin.

Yet, that is not the whole story.  The deeper problem is that we believe this is all we are.  We forget (more often than not) that we have been crucified with Christ and buried with Him in Baptism.  We forget that we have been given the Holy Spirit.  In short, we forget that we have been forgiven and set free.  Many of us live as prisoners.

There are two main categories of prisoners.  If you ever watch The Bridge over The River Kwai, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  There are obedient prisoners who whole-heartedly follow the rules.  Then, there are rebellious prisoners who seek to disrupt and disobey and disrespect at every chance they get.  Both are prisoners, though.  They are prisoners in relation to the Law.

It is the job of the preacher to preach Christ as the one who has set us free through His cross.  Jesus tells us He is this kind of savior in Luke 4, when he unrolls and reads the scroll of Isaiah in the Synagogue.  At the end of this, He says this is fulfilled in your hearing today.

He has set us free.  If the Son sets you free, you are free, indeed.

Sanitized faith

Text: John 2:1-11

A lot of ink has been spilled attempting to explain Jesus’ first miracle at the Wedding at Cana.  It is not uncommon to find pastors trying to minimize the amount of alcohol in the wine or the size of the stone pots.  Heaven forbid that Jesus would be supporting alcohol consumption!

If we look a little deeper however, the stone pots were used for ritual cleansing before and after eating. Everyone was to wash his/her hands.  This tradition was put in place after the Jews returned from Babylon.  It is part of the Talmudic (think 600 more laws added to the Old Testament laws) tradition.  It is the very system that Jesus rejected when confronted by the Pharisees.

In other words, the washing wasn’t necessary according to Old Testament Law.  The washing of hands was an added level of ‘purity’ to avoid God’s wrath (i.e., being sent back into exile).

Returning to our time, modern evangelical theology is a theology of sanitizing.  The main goal of this theology is to make sure Christians don’t do ‘dirty’ things.  So, it makes sense that many pastors try to minimize the first miracle of Jesus Christ.  They don’t want to appear to be advocating alcohol consumption as the Scripture apparently does.

Sanitizing is not the same as sanctifying.

Sanitizing is the individual’s attempt to keep oneself clean from the dirtiness of sin.  It is the self-made and self-focused religion of hazmat suits and Lysol.  Gross sins are … well … gross.  We must sanitize!  This obsessive compulsive, type-A behavior is the underlying premise of modern evangelicalism.  Christian living is centered around this principle.

Sanctifying has nothing to do with sanitizing.  Sanctifying is not what we want.  It’s not what we think we need.  It is the work of Christ to kill the urge to sanitize.  Actually, it is the work of Christ to kill the self-sanitizer and raise him up in resurrection with Jesus.

This is beautifully illustrated by baptism.

1 Peter 3:21 states:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (ESV).

Note how this verse is ‘sanitized’ by another translation:

and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (NIV).

Why do we need to justify God (Stephen Paulson is great on this topic in Lutheran Theology)?  Why do we feel the need to sanitize His very word.  Either it is true or it isn’t.

Attempts to minimize this word are the outworking of the Old Adam who hates the fact that God does the work.  The Old Adam resents it and the Old Adam resents God.  The Old Adam doesn’t want freedom.  The Old Adam wants rules to follow and a ladder up to Heaven.  In short, the Old Adam effectively sidelines Jesus and His work in favor of the self-made religion warned about in Colossians.

Self-sanitizing will not bring us closer to God.  Instead, it denies Christ and His benefits.  To all of this I pray, Christ have mercy!

Flights of fancy

unique bird

What is the difference between astrology and astronomy?  The answer is that astrology is categorically false because it is based on a geocentric universe.  That is, the earth is at the center of the universe.

Astronomy, unlike astrology, makes no such assumption.

Foundational assertions matter.  Understanding them allows us to distinguish whether or not something is true or false.

Such is the case of Jonathan Cahn’s writings.  If one was able to place his books in a pot and boil them down to their essence, what would remain?

First, you would be able to determine that his works are highly speculative.  At many points, he refers to circumstantial evidence which is highly suspect.  This is fun when it comes to fiction, but is quite dangerous to the spiritual life of a Christian.

Secondly, numerology plays a significant role in the interpretation of present-day events.  Many people are susceptible to arguments based on ‘bible codes’ because they love the unveiling of a mystery.  They want to feel special because they ‘figured it out’.  They are part of a select few who have discovered the truth.  Therein lies the principle of  gnosticism.

Thirdly, astrology plays a significant role in his assertions.  The locations of planets, moon and other celestial objects are more the provenance of medieval doomsday predictions than 21st-century economic meltdown predictions in the United States.

This last point leads me to the fourth point.  The United States is not Israel.  Never has been.  The only people asserting such garbage are Mormons (otherwise known as ‘Morons’).  This group went as far as to adopt native Americans because they believed they were part of the lost tribes of Israel.

Jonathan Cahn is playing on ethno-centric prejudices.  In fact, he’s better at it than Donald Trump.  Cahn’s work is far more subtle and engaging (thus ends the positive portion of this analysis).

Back to the point: the United States is not the center of Christianity.  It is not even the linguistic center of Christianity.  Guess which continent has a negative growth rate of Christianity?  While the other 6 Continents show grow (some of it very dramatic), North America is poised for a major retraction.

Finally, it plays into the conspiratorial scare tactics of the modern American evangelical dispensational theology.  If you have ever heard something like, “You better repent and ask Jesus into your heart, because He’s coming soon”, you’ve experienced what I’m referring to.

All of this leads the readers into desperate acts of self-preservation out of fear of economic judgment.  Screw your neighbor, save yourselves!  Yell at them to get their house in order, then batten down the hatches!

But Scripture states “Love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).  In Acts, we read of a gentile church donating to the Judean church in desperate need (Acts 11:19-30).

Finally, Jesus is an appendix to all of this hype.  Speculation overruns Gospel.  Christ is submerged beneath the waves of manic excitement and desperation generated by these works.

Yet Paul, living in prison, wrote the ‘Epistle of Joy’ – Philippians.  Read it.  How many times does he use the word ‘joy’?  It is counter-intuitive in light of his circumstances.  If I had the choice of being a self-preserving, paranoid with frayed nerves, jumping at the slightest downturn of the financial world, or being a person of such confident faith that not even living in prison could sink my spirit, I would take the latter every day and twice on Sunday.

Throw this book away.  Then find your copies of ‘Left Behind’, ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ and any other literary work that employs fundamental horrible Biblical Exegesis, and promptly lay them on the bottom of you guinea pigs’ cage where they can serve the most glorious purpose they were designed for; the reception of excrement.

sincerely,

Your crotchety Lutheran

 

 

Mystery in Ephesians 3

Notes for Ephesians 3:1-12                          Service: January 10, 2016 – Baptism  of our Lord

Paul is talking about a ‘great mystery’. That mystery is the inclusion of the gentiles into the promise(s) given to Israel.  He has referred to the division that existed between the Jews and the gentiles.  That division (wall of enmity) is the Law.  This doesn’t mean that the Law is bad.  It means that it is a distinguishing hallmark of God’s people.

Through Christ, however, the gentiles have been incorporated into spiritual Israel through the body of Christ. He has abolished the wall of enmity through the cross and his blood.

 

On a deeper level, one recalls the divisions between brothers in the Old Testament; Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. One received the promise(s), while the other did not.  The other was excluded.  Only the blood descendants of the recipients of the promise inherited the promises.  Division after division.  Even the expulsion and permanent cutting off of the Northern tribes (Israel) further divides and eliminates those who can claim the inheritance of the promise(s).

 

Why, then, did Christ come? To reconcile those who are far off with those who are near.  He is the reconciler of the world.  He brings about the transformational work of unity through his own body, the church.  That happens in this world.  The eschatological present exists in Christ’s present body, which is the church.

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