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Strange curiosity

I have a question.  I don’t know the answer.  Here it is:

Why do so many evangelicals seem to gravitate toward speculation?  What makes speculative observations so attractive to Christians?

I don’t think it’s boredom.  But, I don’t know.  Somehow, people become obsessively fanatical over the speculations of some ‘Christian’ author.  This happens even if the author/speaker is patently unqualified to teach theology.

They imbibe a titillating ‘revelation’, then become a proselytizing evangelist of the apocalyptic vision of a peripheral Christian.  Once the fuel is spent, and the prophecies and speculations have come to their natural conclusion, they hibernate until another peripheral Christian author/speaker finds some new ‘hidden knowledge’ to pass on.

It reminds me of those who are tossed by every wind of doctrine.

W   T   H  ?

I owe, I owe, it’s off to works I go

Hebrews 10:11:

11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  (NIV)

The Levitical priests were required to perform sacrifices for various things.  This includes sacrificing for sins.  It happened on a daily basis.  It is not too graphic to say it was a bloody mess.

But the author of Hebrews, who was contemporary with this institution in the Temple in Jerusalem, asserts that these repeated sacrifices can never take away sins.

In our day, I have seen many people who are not living in the now.  What I mean to say is that they are motivated in their present living by their past.  I think all of us are motivated by this to a certain degree.  But some are find their motivation from guilt over real or imagined sin.

Maybe something really bad happened and the person felt responsible, or even was responsible for the event.  It was something that could not be undone.  No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t clean up this mess.

Then, the individual changes the way they live.  Unable to fix things, they become obsessed with doing penance.  That is, they try to pay for their sin by living in guilt.  From that moment on, whether it was a conscious decision or not, they become enslaved by guilt.

This is not the worst part, either.  These individuals often drag others into perpetual guilty penance.  The guilt they feel enslaves others.

Penance is actually the ‘Old Adam’s’ attempt to assuage his guilty conscience.  False religions operate on the premise of penance.  But false religions emanate from a heart which sinfully resists grace through Christ.

That is not how I would approach a person that lived this way, however.  Instead, one can point out that Jesus has paid for all of their sin.  Not just sin done before they knew any better.  But even the real and painful sin that they become aware of now.

The person living in penance for guilt requires a Gospel Intervention.  They require the hearing of the words from Romans 8:1,
‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’.  They need to hear that ‘If the Son sets you free, you are free, indeed’.

The only thing that can drown a guilt-penance life is to tell that person that Christ is not a liar; He has paid for even the sin of trying to pay for your own sin.

I once heard a phrase from someone as they referred to the impact of using credit cards.  He said that using credit cards was “mortgaging your future”.  Living by guilt is essentially the same thing.

And, if you are forcing others to fall in line with your guilt, then you are enslaving them as well.

Christ have mercy,


Turning human examples into law

When we were little, we all had role models.  These were people who performed athletic feats, achieved success in the arts, or lived out their vocation in an extraordinary way.

They were on T.V. sometimes.  Back then, if they had a character flaw, you wouldn’t find out about it.  Even your parents might “cover for them”, because they didn’t want you to become disillusioned.  Keeping up appearances was important for your achievement and success.

Our God doesn’t act this way, though.  Throughout the Old and New Testament, we are given God’s view of how people really are, warts and all.  He wants us to know that not just anyone could have saved us.  He wants us to know that only His own Son Jesus was good enough to save us.  And He did just that.

In our text today, Jesus warns the disciples about one group of people and then gives God’s perspective on a widow’s action.

To many of us, this is a familiar account.  You’ve heard it a number of times over the years.  We can sit next to Jesus in this story and whole-heartedly agree with Him.  “Yeah! Those scribes sure were self-centered!”  “Yeah, that poor widow sure was humble”.  We agree that Jesus got it right when He looked at these two examples.

The scribes are pompous, self-serving religious leaders who are hypocrites.  They are bad examples.  And, I won’t argue that.  They are bad examples.

On the other hand, the poor widow was a shining example, the mother Theresa of Christian selfless giving.  Isn’t she someone we should aspire to be?  She would be a great role model for kids and adults.

That thought process is deeply rooted in us.  You and I want a pattern to follow.  We want the moral compass that will guide us through this life.  We want the Lord Jesus to speak well of us.  We want to do good things.  We want approval.  We might be able to get that if we follow the example of someone like this widow.

But then, most sermons will probably take the direction of something like “sacrificial giving”, or proper tithing, or even having the right “heart-attitude” when you give to the church.  It all falls under the heading of “Christian living”.

Have you ever heard artists talk about their works of art?  Or a writer talk about a book they wrote?  One common phrase they say is that their creation is like their child.  That explains why they are so sensitive to criticism of the piece they made.  I mean, nobody like when their child is criticized!

Giving away your most prized possession would be really difficult, wouldn’t it?

The Scribes in our account, though, couldn’t care less about what the widow gave.  In fact, Jesus says something that I’ve often overlooked when I read this in the past.  In verse 40, He says, “They devour widows’ houses”.  Are we talking about the gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel?  No.  That’s too literal.

Jesus is saying that the scribes take the payments of people without regard to their deep poverty and need.  Even if a widow was relatively young, she might not have any means of making a good living since her husband had died.  But any required taxes or payments were not eased because of her condition.  It was only a matter of time before she was living on the streets, begging for money because she lost her home.

And the widow in our account was probably no different.  The coins she dropped in the treasury box were a tiny percentage of a normal day’s wages.  These offering boxes had trumpet-shaped openings on top.  What is a trumpet for?  Amplifying noise.

When rich people dropped their coins in, it probably sounded something like when a slot machine in Las Vegas pours coins out when someone wins big.  Even if you weren’t looking, you could hear that crashing metallic sound and turn to see who was making the racket.  Then you might think, “boy that person is rich and generous”.  Some of those people might have poured all those coins in just so others would see them.  They were self-serving.

But the widow was a huge contrast.  When I imagine the scene, no one is around her.  Probably nobody noticed.  Even her two thin coins made very little sound as they fell down the trumpet.  Those coins were practically worthless to people like the scribes.

To this widow, though, those coins were all she had.  In verse 44, our Bibles say, “all she had to live on”.  The Greek word for live is ‘Bion’.  It comes from the word Bios, meaning life.  She gave her entire life to God in gratefulness.

Rick Warren, Pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County did something extraordinary a few years back.  Instead of giving a tithe, or 10% of his income, he does a reverse tithe, giving 90% of his income away to charities and church.

Both Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have done something similar, giving large amounts of their money away.

But, that’s not what the widow did.  She didn’t give 10%.  She didn’t even dare to give 90%.  She gave everything to God.  She didn’t hold back.  She also didn’t make a show of it.

Her actions came out of a heart that was transformed.  Whatever grace she experienced empowered her to give everything she had.

That’s why Jesus said she gave more than all of those who contributed to the treasury that day.

But is she our role model?  Let’s be honest.  Which one of us is willing to sell all we have today and donate it to God’s church?  I mean, we have a hard time parting with some of the junk we have that has even the smallest sentimental value.

Think about the wonderful boutique we had yesterday.  There were many hand-made items that really reflected the love of their creators.  But, I’ll bet that some of the items that weren’t hand-made were put there just because someone had extra and didn’t really need that thing.  Maybe the closet was getting full, and more space was needed for new stuff.

If we use this woman as a model of how to behave; if we use her as a Law, then the Lord Jesus is not pleased with us at all.  In fact, we stand judged before God by that standard.  Even if we take out what she did and are judged on our attitude toward giving to God’s church, how many of us have that grateful, self-sacrificing attitude?

Think of the Beatitudes.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, and the pure in heart.  If those are the ones who are blessed, what about me?  You see, the Bible doesn’t just expose others “warts and all”, but the Word of God exposes us in our sin.

Jesus observed and explained that the widow was a lowly, poor, abandoned beggar.  He knew who she really was.  Nothing is hidden before Jesus’ eyes.  But, to the untrained eye, she was worthless.

Look at Jesus who is describing her actions.  Who is He?  The Glorious, eternally-begotten Son of the Father.  God of God, light of light set aside his Glory and descended to the earth.  He was born to a lowly, blue collar family.  By the time he is an adult, His earthly father seems to have died, making Mary a widow with many children to care for.  Before Jesus began his ministry, it is entirely possible that he had been a carpenter, supporting the family until his four brothers were able to take that responsibility.

Then, this lower-class worker became a nomad, traveling from place to place.  Sometimes, he was out in the open, exposed to the elements.  He was oppressed by religious leaders, rejected by the people of his hometown, misunderstood by his own disciples.  When it came time to pay the tax, Jesus told Peter to get the payment out of the mouth of a fish for both Peter and himself.

Now that’s poor!  And he lived like this for three years.  God lived like this for three years.  The one of Ultimate value was demeaned, mocked and minimized by the rich and powerful.  But, like the widow, he paid no attention to their attitude.  His death on the cross was hardly acknowledged.  The poor, nomadic carpenter’s son’s life was worth little to the world.

But his death was the greatest payment ever made to God!  He paid for you with his life!  And if that wasn’t enough, he has given you great riches!  The least, the lowliest, the unlikely are the children of God.

Think of this; you have been saved from death.  You have been forgiven all your sin by the washing of his blood.  You have been adopted into God’s family through baptism in Jesus.  You have been made a co-heir with Christ.  You have been clothed in glorious robes of righteousness through him.  You have been given a new family, the church, and are getting new brothers and sisters every day.  You have been given a new and living hope through the Holy Spirit who lives in you and comforts you through the Scriptures.

All of this is because of Grace.  God’s riches at Christ’s Expense.  You didn’t earn it, work for it or even win it in a lottery.  Jesus gave all of himself, all his life for you.  And now, He give it to you.  Because that’s the kind of God we have.  No matter what troubles we face in this life.

As Saint Paul wrote in Romans 8:

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,

39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Jesus’ name


It’s about relationship, not relgion (?)

Spiritual, but not religious

20140913_095005(0)[Grapes becoming raisins]

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious”? Maybe they said it to you after you invited them to come to church.  How did you respond?  What did you think?  Were you thrown off-guard and feel that you were being judged because you are “religious”?

Many in the church have accepted this form of thinking. They say things like, “It’s a relationship not a religion” to distinguish how they worship God.  But, why the distinction?

Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller explains that many evangelicals are adopting this phrase because they see religion as law, and relationship as gospel[1].  In other words, religion is the repetitive, meaningless, impersonal and somewhat legalistic practices of a church without God.  It’s empty and hollow at best.  At its worse, it prevents one from having a real relationship with God.  It’s deadly.

He goes on to explain that relationship is gospel to those who embrace this thinking.  It is free, flexible, personal, and liberating.  To a culture that is bound in so many ways (work, children’s activities, commitments at home, etc.), this personal spirituality is preferable to formal corporate worship.  Our problem, then, is a lack of direct contact with Jesus.  Relationship is life-giving.

To be honest, life-giving sounds a whole lot more positive than religion.  I can throw off all my cares and simply relate to God.  And modern evangelicals are right to point out the need for a Christian to read the Bible on a daily basis as a part of this relationship.  A poll taken in 2012, though, shows that Christians in America aren’t doing this across the board[2].  Less than 20% read the Bible daily.  Despite all the English versions, despite colorful covers, despite cross-referenced Bibles with color maps and concordances, Bibles are gathering dust on Christian nightstands.

Modern American Christians do read, however. We read books on spirituality, recovery, self-esteem, end-times drama and even weight-loss from the Christian bookstore.  Because, let’s face it, the Bible is a challenging book to read.

It is a sad state of affairs. Martin Luther, who was a Bible scholar commented, “For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year (emphasis mine). If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.”[3]

It is here that many of us (if not all) would admit that we don’t read the Bible as much as we should. We’ve, “gotten behind” in our readings.  And, maybe you are feeling a bit guilty right now as a result.  Who would want to continue a relationship where guilt and shame has poisoned the waters?  “I don’t want to feel condemned”, we might say to ourselves.  It’s easier to bury it under the busy-ness of our lives.  And thus, the relationship stops growing.  It goes dormant.  Eventually, it dies.

Now what? Some people decide that they will do a ‘Bible reading plan’.  They will re-commit themselves to their daily ‘quiet time’ and “really do it this time!” They are willing to set aside friends and family for this personal devotion.  And, by force of will, they push through for the first few weeks, but then, life starts to encroach.  Billy gets sick and needs to be taken to urgent care.  There’s a sale at the store, and we need to stock up on food.  My boss has called me in to work late again.

Or, we start to lose interest. The stories in Genesis (not fiction) give way to laws.  Laws give way to endless genealogies.  The walk through Scripture reading becomes a burden.  So much for the gospel of relationship!  Mid-way through Leviticus you think, “Can I get through this?  Maybe I could skip ahead.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll skip to the Psalms and come back later.”

Eventually, you have skipped over half the Bible and realize that you’ve cheated. Now, you’re feeling guilty again.  “I just can’t do it.  I give up”.

And this is where many people end up after years of trying. They decide it’s futile.

The problem for the church is that it has made Bible reading into what Confessional Evangelicals call Law. That is, it is a demand and a requirement that God places upon you.  If you do this, you will have a relationship.  If not, you need to re-commit your life to Jesus.

The Christian is in a cycle of hopelessness. Despair for failing to fulfill the requirements of this relationship overwhelms the individual and they suffer in silence.  They are forced to cover over their relationship in fear of judgment from fellow believers.

Now, something spiritual is taking place.  The heart (deceitfully wicked as it is[4]) condemns the believer; they become bound by condemnation.  Instead of promised freedom, liberation and hope, despair, guilt and shame rule over you.

And that, my friends, is the Devil’s work. Making something that God meant for refreshment and encouragement into something oppressive and enslaving is clearly the theology of the devil worked into the church.  So, God must rescue us from this body of sin and death!

He does this by starting with … Scripture. Hear the following truth; 1 ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8).  And, 3 ‘For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.’

God did it! He has set you free in this relationship.  He doesn’t condemn you when you haven’t read your Bible in a while.  Instead, He beckons you to hear His Word of forgiveness and grace.

You see, the problem is not that we don’t have a relationship with God, it is that we have a law-based relationship with God. In verse 2 above, it is better read, “… through Christ Jesus the rule of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the rule of sin and death.”  You are no longer under the rule and dominion of the devil and the heart.  Christ has set you free.

But, how can I learn about this true freedom? You can hear about it in the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel given in church.  You can read about it in His Word.  You can find out more through the small catechism and the confessions of our church.

The Son of God hasn’t come as a new Moses, giving new and better laws. Nor has He come to give less laws or easier laws.  Jesus Christ has come to fufill the Law[5].  And, He has already done it!  All of the Holy requirements for Spiritual perfection have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

Additionally, we are called to go to Him when we feel any kind of condemnation for our relational shortcomings: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). John continues in this letter: 19 ‘By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything’ (1 John 3, ESV).

Our relationship with Jesus began when we were buried with Him in baptism and raised through the very same waters as mentioned in Colossians 2:

6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

See, you just read a bunch of Scripture! That didn’t hurt a bit, did it?  And, if you don’t like to read, just find the Bible on C.D. somewhere.  You can listen in your car or at home.  It’s God’s gift to you.  It’s not a ladder of perfection that you have to climb.  It is God’s word of promise (Old Testament) fulfilled in Jesus (New Testament) for you.  Now that’s a good relationship!

And now, may the grace of God keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,


Pastor John

[1] http://issuesetc.org/2015/02/17/2-responding-to-evangelical-proof-texts-christianity-is-a-relationship-not-a-religion-pr-bryan-wolfmueller-21715/

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/september/new-research-less-than-20-of-churchgoers-read-bible-daily.html

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works Vol. 54, 165

[4] Jeremiah 17:9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (NIV)

[5] Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (ESV; Jesus speaking).

Repetitive thoughts (but not obsessive)

Here are some thoughts that seem to ‘come back round’ to me:

  1.  Many people go to church, but never own their faith.  This concept of ownership was introduced to me as a teacher.  If the students take on ownership of what they are learning, they can become independent rather than dependent.  It is not to say that I want people to own their faith so that they can become independent from church, but that they will be capable ministers of Christ’s church to the world.  If they are called to be priests of His church, then it is their responsibility to take that call seriously.  The Priesthood of believers is actually a thing.
  2. Nobody was saved by doing the works of the law; ever.  Jesus fulfilled all righteousness for us, but He was righteous at birth.  Even before birth, Jesus was righteous.  He didn’t gain righteousness for himself through the law.
  3. Almost all errors in the church stem from unbelief in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  There.  I said it.

Have a blessed day!

Socially distorted

American society is pre-occupied with the self.  It is not just health, but “Beach Bodies”.  It is not just making a living, it is “Think and grow rich”.  It is not just security, it is extreme safety we’re after.

In all of this, people are led into self-judgment and self-doubt.  The (legitimate fear) of others’ judgment develops.  Insecurity is fed.  Shame grows.

Or, the opposite reaction develops.  Haughtiness, arrogance, and superiority complex are fed.

Either way, these attitudes are not just unhealthy (even if you do have a “Beach Body”), they are disproportionately weighted on the superficial and transitory.

These attitudes and expectations make slaves out of all who submit to them.

In theological terms, they are unwritten laws that demand perfection.  No one can attain them, so people effectively become hypocrites, hiding behind the mask of their projected image.

Deep down, this develops anger, anxiety and depression because no one is free to be their ‘true self’.  How very sad.

You might be a Pharisee if …

You might be a Pharisee if …

  1. You speak out against Christians who exercise the freedom they have been given in Christ
    1. examples: Don’t Drink, Don’t smoke, Don’t listen to secular music, Don’t watch movies
  2. You refer to a theology not based on Scripture.
    1. Many Modern American Evangelicals have received demands which are not based on Scripture (Under the trigger word Sanctification).  Jessica Kramasz calls this the American Evangelical Talmud because it echoes the 613 laws that were added by the Jewish Rabbis to the Laws God gave them in the Old Testament.  Jesus confronted the Pharisees who attempted to use this “law” to accuse Jesus and His followers.  Jesus addresses them using THE Law of God as seen in the 10 commandments (Mark 7:1-23).
  3. You have never, not once, ever questioned your faith.  If a question comes up regarding a practice or belief, you simply dig in your heels.
  4. You use theology to maintain your power and authority over others.  You put a yoke on people that you cannot even bear.
  5. You reject the premise that the Scripture is ‘God-breathed’.  Instead, you turn the Bible into a list of moral dictates without a Savior.
  6.  All Pharisees set aside incarnation.  This is an ancient heresy called ‘Nestorianism’.
  7. You excuse the sin of judgmentalism and condemn ‘gross sins’.  Thus, you can agree with Paul as he writes to the Corinthians, but reject his letter to the Galatians.
  8. Having begun by the Spirit … you are now being perfected by the flesh.  That is, you ‘received Christ’ in conversion, but now live according to dictates in order to keep yourself pure.  This denies the work of Christ, who is the author and perfecter of faith.
  9. You lack the ability to be self-reflective.

These are simply observations.  They are not ‘nine commandments’ to be avoided.  Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can set us free from the flesh.  This He does by burying us in the waters of Baptism and resurrecting us to new life through the very same waters.  What is impossible for man is possible for God.


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