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Conferred

graduation day

It’s that time of year again.  The ones who have worked so hard and diligently to complete years of study are graduating.  For mom and dad, it’s just a relief that their child has finally crossed the finish line.  No more tuition to pay for!

Seriously, though, graduation is a great event in the life of a student.  They celebrate the achievement of having persevered through progressively more challenging subjects and coursework to arrive at this day.  And the degree is well-earned.

In life, there aren’t many events that top this.  Graduation is one of those events that ranks just below getting married or having children.  You remember it for all of your life.  A sense of satisfaction and joy can be seen on the faces of all who have completed this journey.

That joy is amplified at the moment the student’s name is read.  The university president hands the student their degree, gives them a handshake and a photographer snaps the photo for posterity.  You can hear the relatives yelling for them from the crowd at that moment.

Not all people who receive degrees have worked for them, though.  Universities sometimes confer degrees on those who have never even set foot on the campus before.  These individuals might be a speaker at graduation who is given an ‘honorary doctorate’.  They didn’t work for it.  They didn’t stay up late at night cramming for exams.  They didn’t earn it.

In truth, people who receive such honorary degrees have accomplished something that the university staff believes is an important accomplishment that needs to be recognized.  The individual has struggled with great effort to achieve some great advancement.

Sometimes, you might think, “That person didn’t deserve it!”  Their achievements don’t deserve that recognition and degree.

It is true with the grace of God, too.  None of us earned Christ’s salvation.  None of us achieved anything remotely important enough to receive that kind of recognition.  Truth be told, even our best works are touched with sin.  If anything, we deserved to be kicked out of ‘school’ forever.

But God.  The Father recognized the dire straights you were in.  It wouldn’t have resulted in a great day of graduation, but the sum total of your life would have ended in permanent expulsion from God’s Kingdom.

So the Father sends the Son.  And the Son does everything the Father expects and demands of Him.  He follows Him faithfully in all things.  He follows His direction all the way to Golgotha.  And instead of receiving a justly-deserved crown, Jesus received your sin and a cross of death.

That death was your death.  He died it for you.  No one else could accomplish this.  Thanks God!

And on the third day after His death, Jesus Christ was raised.  This proved that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for your sin and mine.  In this resurrection, you were conferred something greater than all of the honorary doctorates in the whole world; Justification.  God made the ungodly to be godly in Him.  That means that when God the Father looks at you, He sees His own son and loves you.

This Justification was conferred on you through baptismal waters.  You didn’t deserve it, you didn’t earn it and you didn’t achieve it.  All of it was accomplished by the savior who came to save sinners.  All of it was accomplished by Jesus.  He conferred upon you the righteousness of God.  What a great and humbling honor!  It reads, ‘Christ alone is my righteousness’.  Thanks be to God.

Pastor John

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Disruptive Theology

Disruptive technologies are those that significantly alter the way that businesses or entire industries operate. Often times, these technologies force companies to alter the way that they approach their business or risk losing market share or risk becoming irrelevant. Recent examples of disruptive technologies include smart phones and e-commerce.’

Found at: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/disruptive-technology.asp

We live in a time of incredible technological innovation.  It used to be a rare thing to have a mobile phone.  Now, mobile phones can be found in the hands of 8 year olds.  And they are much more than phones.  They are cameras, video recorders, libraries of books and computers.  The mobile phone in your hand is more powerful than the computer that put men on the moon.

This disruptive technology has given power to individuals  that was out of reach forty years ago.

500 years ago, a German theologian was also seen as a disruptive force.  His personal and painful guilt led him to seek relief in a monastery as a Augustinian monk.  Unfortunately, he became more disturbed by the unswerving expectations of both monastic rules and God’s Holy Law.  He fell into despair.  No amount of self-punishment or confession could lift the weight of guilt from his heart.

He began to feel that God hated him.  Over time, he realized that he hated God right back for being so unmerciful.  It’s not that he wanted to feel that way.  Instead this was as a result of a sensitive conscience toward internal and external sins, and Law preaching without Gospel preaching.

Luther was then directed to teach theology.  He taught Romans and Galatians from 1515-1517 (See https://lutheranreformation.org/theology/luthers-breakthrough-romans/).  When he read Romans 1:17, it changed his perspective entirely,

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

From that time on, the Reformation that he began has had its center in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only righteousness you will ever need.

Since the re-discovery of the Gospel was threatened the power structures of the medieval church of his day, Luther had to defend his theology.  A ‘Disputation’ or, debate was set up in the city of Heidelberg on April 26, 1518.  In this disputation, he laid out the difference between the only two theologies there are in the world; the theology of glory and the theology of the cross.

Here are some sample theses:

  1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.

3. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.

18. It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.

26. The law says, »do this«, and it is never done. Grace says, »believe in this«, and everything is already done.

28. The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.

Talk about a disruptive theology!  Luther’s points were seen as undermining the authority of the medieval church.  And they were, only not in his favor, but in favor of Christ.

Few have read the 28 points of this disputation.  In fact, among Lutherans, few have even heard of it.  Yet, in the last 20 years, it has once again become a disruptive theology, and many are being exposed to it.

But, watch out!  If you read the short disputation, you might forever be changed by the good news of Jesus Christ crucified for you.

  • You can read the disputation here: http://bookofconcord.org/heidelberg.php
  • Better yet, purchase the book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross by Gerhard Forde.  It’s a little over 100 pages.

Come and be disrupted by the Gospel!

 

The Shepherd of shepherds

Martinus Antonius Kuytenbrouwer from Wikimedia Commons

The Lord is my shepherd  -Psalm 23:1

King David had come a long way.  From the obscurity of being the last son of Jesse living in the fields tending sheep, to the great halls of power as a military leader and King of Israel.  It was a meteoric rise.

Yet, from the beginning, he recognized God protection.  When David was told to bring food to his older brothers, he sees the Philistine giant, Goliath, mocking the troops of Israel.  When He tells King Saul that he could defeat Goliath, Saul is dubious.  David tells him how he defeated bears and lions with God’s help.  If he could defeat those, why couldn’t he take out a 9-foot giant? (1 Sam17:34-37).

Bears and lions are no laughing matter.  When you are alone in the darkness of an open field, you never know where they are coming from.  They are fast, powerful and vicious. And, David didn’t have a shotgun.  Instead, David had big cajones and an undeterred trust in God.  That faith was rewarded by God’s faithfulness to protect him.

Protection is just part of the role of being a shepherd, though.  There is so much more to this vocation.  Finding food and water for the flock, helping them cross hills, valleys and streams, checking them and taking care of injuries, and rescuing them when they got lost.  As if this wasn’t enough, it was a 24/7 job.

A shepherd can never let his guard down.

And so it was for David.  While He was tending to the sheep, all of his senses and attention were devoted to the sheep.  There was no ‘down time’ or ‘mental health days’.

I would hazard to guess that you are not a shepherd.  I’m not either, so it is hard to imagine the emotional, mental and physical strain it takes on a person.  However, if you are an overseer of staff, students, a congregation or children, you know the feeling of having to be responsible for the well-being of others.

After a while, it can take a toll.  You may not even be aware of the stress you are dealing with.  It is not just about taking care of yourself, but having concern for each of the people in your charge, as well.  Those people can be compliant, defiant, or wild in many ways.  Most people are a combination of these and other elements, too.

Although caring for people and straightening out issues is part of the vocation, you are also called to protect them.  You need to be aware of potential threats to their well-being from without.  This is most clearly seen in parenting.

You know what is bad for your child.  You are aware of the threats.  You do all you can to protect them from those threats.  It is on your mind day and night.  There is no break or rest from your job.  Even when you hand your kids over to family, there remains the concern because you don’t know what they may be exposed to.

There is no rest for the weary.

David knew that he needed sanctuary.  He didn’t have a vice-president that he could temporarily hand the reigns over to.  He didn’t have the opportunity to take a two-week vacation to Cabo to recharge his batteries.  He had to find relief elsewhere.

He found it in the Good Shepherd.  He found rest in the one who says “Peace”.  He laid his burdens before the Lord, and the Lord listened and carried those burdens:

1The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

2He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

3he refreshes my soul.

You see, even the shepherds need a Shepherd.  They need to find protection, rest and restoration for their souls.

Maybe you are reading this and feeling the need for rest, too.  This rest can be found in the one who entered into the locked doors of the room in Jerusalem and said, “Peace” to His frightened disciples.  This rest can be found in John 10, where Jesus declares, “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD”.  This rest can be found in His wounds where he bled for your sins and the sins of those in your charge.  This rest can be found in the communion table where God gives you himself to restore you and give you life.

Now, cast your cares upon Him because He cares for you.  Place all of your burdens into His nail-pierced hands and know that He’s got this.

Find yourself in the words of David who needed the Lord throughout his life.  Speak them out loud.  You will find that eroded faith can be rebuilt through the hearing of His word.

The Lord Jesus is YOUR Shepherd.  He has given His life for the sheep.  You are the sheep of His hand.  And, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, He will come, find you, and rescue you.  Because Jesus is the Shepherd of shepherds.

To God be the glory,

Amen

What’s left to do?

Galatians 3:

2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  4Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

Of all the multi-syllabic words used in theology, none is more controversial in the protestant/evangelical church than the word sanctification.  Although physical wars are not fought over it, thousands of pages have been devoted to arguing and defending positions.

For the Apostle Paul, Justification is the foundation of Christian living.  He argues in Galatians 2:16 that a man (read person) isn’t justified by works of the law, but by the faithfulness of Christ (read the Greek translation here: http://biblehub.com/interlinear/galatians/2-16.htm ) and by faith in that truth.  It is a crucial argument, because a group of people were attempting to enslave the consciences of gentiles under the Law of the Old Testament.  But Paul wouldn’t give an inch.

So, he continues the argument that it is not just that we are justified by the faithfulness of Christ Jesus (having faith in that promise), but  that we live in the Spirit by that promise, as well.  What else can produce love for our neighbor or love for God?  If behavior is dictated, then it is not empowered by Grace.  Instead it is coerced subservience.

God’s Spirit is given in the hearing of the Gospel.  We live by that Gospel because it produces faith.  And faith produces and empowers love and works of unconscious, selfless kindness.  The Law cannot do that.  It wasn’t built to:

10For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God …

and:

19Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.

The critical question then is, “Has the seed come?”

Paul argues that Jesus is Abraham’s seed.  The small, negligible mustard seed that has become a great tree of which you are a part.  We live on the sap of Grace running from the trunk of that tree into the branches to us.  We are the recipients of a Grace which is foreign and offensive to those who would live by works of the Law.  They must use another multi-syllabic word to describe those who would live in this freedom: anti-nomian.

The final question then, is, “Is it better to be anti-nominan or … Anti-Christ?”

May God have mercy.

Devastated

Job 9:32-35, 16:19-22

Have you ever thought that some of your trouble in life is self-inflicted?  The result of something bad you must have done?  If you forget to pay a bill, don’t be surprised that the following bill might have a ‘penalty’ for late payment.

On the other hand, there are times where you search for a cause.  You don’t understand why a certain event has befallen you.  The confusion you feel is due to a lack of connection to some bad behavior or choice.  In fact, you may feel that you have been living ‘On the straight and narrow’.  Yet, you still have trouble.

In Job chapter one, verse one, the following declaration is made, ‘This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.’  What more is left to say before the drama unfolds?  He had great wealth and was often seen worshipping God publically.  At the end of verse three of chapter one, it reads, ‘He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.’

Then, God allows Satan to destroy all that he held valuable; children, livestock, wealth and health.  He lost everything … he was totally devastated.  Even his wife instructed him to ‘curse God and die’.  What a miserable situation.  What a miserable man.  The great success had now become a monumental failure.

And then, his friends arrived.

As he sat there in physical emotional and spiritual agony, he longed for grace in the midst of his sorrow and pain.  Instead, these ‘friends’ told Job that there was some sin in his life that he needed to acknowledge.  They condemned him of pride and other sin.  They blamed him for his own bad fortunes.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

So Job has to answer these accusations (mind you, in the midst of losing nearly all his family and all his wealth and security) by asserting his innocence before God.  But, he longed for the support of another:

32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him,

that we might confront each other in court.

33 If only there were someone to mediate between us,

someone to bring us together,

34 someone to remove God’s rod from me,

so that his terror would frighten me no more.

35 Then I would speak up without fear of him,

but as it now stands with me, I cannot.

  • Job 9

He called out for a mediator.  Someone to step into the gap for him.  He needed a lawyer, a representative, an advocate.  Someone who would stop the beating he felt all day and night under the weight of God’s punishment.

Still, his friends council him that he must repent of his sin.

Job turns into a prophet in chapter 16,

19 Even now my witness is in heaven;

my advocate is on high.

20 My intercessor is my friend[a]

as my eyes pour out tears to God;

21 on behalf of a man he pleads with God

as one pleads for a friend.

Job doesn’t realize it, but this Gentile is pointing to a Messiah.  He is pointing to Jesus,

‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus’

  • 1 Tim. 2:5

‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’

  • 1 John 2:1

‘Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God–and He is interceding for us.’

  • Rom. 8:34

When you have gone through a devastating event(s), and you realize it is through no fault of your own, it is at those times you need to hear that God is not mad at you.  Quite the contrary, God loves you with His whole life.  The Son of God is Jesus, and He came down to suffer a fate worse than Job’s.  He died young, penniless, unmarried, without children and homeless.  What a pitiful person!

But He lived that life of suffering for you.  He lived it and then died a miserable, humiliating and shameful death.  He became the curse for all your sin and mine.  There is not one sin He hasn’t paid for.

So, when a ‘friend’ tells you that there must be ‘some sin in your life’ to have caused this pain, you can honestly say, “It’s not just my sin, but that I am sinful!  That is good news, because Christ Jesus came to save sinners!”

Job would eventually hear from God and know Him on a much deeper level.  After this, God blessed Him with even greater fortunes.  This is a picture of Heaven.  No matter what disasters, distress or disappointments you face in this life, God will restore and multiply your blessings in Heaven because of Jesus.

Now may the peace of God which transcends all understanding guard your hearts in Christ Jesus, Your Advocate and Lord,

Amen

 

Domesticating Christians

Do you have a chart on the wall for your children?  Often, parents will put up chore charts to show the kid what they need to do in order to receive their allowance for the week.

Some kids react very positively to these visual reminders.  It’s a giant to-do list that happens over and over again every week.  It can create a sense of security knowing that the expectations aren’t going to be modified over and over again.

There is a certain security adults appreciate about the predictable.  For example, I like the predictability that my van starts every morning.  I like the fact that I can drive on safe highways to get to work.  In some countries, this is not the case.  We take these things for granted, but others would truly appreciate these ‘little things’.

Predictability and order are necessary in church, too.  Some have a lot of order, where others are more ‘free’.  Yet, even in the free church, service times are regular.  As a church attender, you can look up the Facebook page of your favorite church and find the service times, when communion is offered and which staff members will be leading.

Often, those very staff members have an expectation of you, too.  I’m not simply speaking about punctuality and neatness, but deeper expectations.  The pastor wants you to behave.  It’s as if you are a child in an adult’s body who must be ethically re-trained.  Sometimes, pastors treat attenders as if they have no ethics or morals at all, and must be taught like preschoolers.

This can be especially true for men.  Although most men seems to behave well in society, Christian men are supposed to be examples of a higher standard.  They must be ‘above reproach’, ‘accountable’ and ‘examples of good behavior’.  If I didn’t know any better, I would say that some churches are trying to domesticate sinners.

And they may be able to do just that!  Let’s face it; moral improvement is not impossible.  If a man can stop smoking or cursing, then he is able to be domesticated.  The funny thing is that you don’t need to be a Christian to improve morally.  There are plenty of books, Youtube videos and audio resources to learn how to overcome bad habits.  One doesn’t need Christianity to become domesticated.

Your pastor may not feel the same way.  In fact, they have a moral improvement program that is relatively cheap, doesn’t take much time and is proven by the pastor, himself.  It’s based on a foundation called ‘Rationalism’.

Rationalism works this way: When you read a passage from any book of the Bible, you ask yourself, “What am I supposed to do?” or, “What am I supposed to avoid doing?”  You’ll find that there are a lot of passages that have moral requirements.  Even if you are not reading the requirements, you can read the passage about Nicodemus having Jesus over at his home and find some principle that you can then apply.

Soon, you will build a large library of expectations that will guide your moral behavior.  Apply yourself to these principles and watch your ethics and morals improve.

Pastors can then witness their congregations ‘falling in line’ with ‘biblical principles’.  The church is in order according to God’s will.

The German reformers of the 16th century called this Civil Righteousness.  This is an outward obedience necessary for a civil society.  People could be civilly righteous with a little effort and awareness.

More insidiously, a church attender who is domesticated might also be evil.  In fact, they may be completely blameless outwardly but inwardly are scoundrels and hypocrites.  That is because the pastor and the principles are unconcerned with the work of God.  They only evaluate the outside.  The inner life is insignificant.

That is just what some of the Pharisees thought, too.  If they could just get the people into line, maybe they wouldn’t be oppressed by the Romans.  If the Jewish people would simply follow the Talmud, the nation would be blessed again.  All they have to do is get with the program!

Just follow the Pharisees’ example!  After all, they got it together!  Yet, Jesus called them whitewashed tombs.  They had become practitioners of the law to become perfect sinners.  They expected others to tow the line, too.

The civil domestication of church goers according to ‘biblical principles’ refines the sinner’s skill at sin and hypocrisy.  Instead of making the person ‘good’, the person has become a white-washed tomb.

When the church is full of whitewashed tombs, the broken sinner finds no rest.  And they find no rest because rest is not offered.  Works and principles are offered.  Death is the diet given to the hungry.  Hope is crucified.  Life is condemned.  Christ is thrown out of the temple.

 

 

The dealers are running the rehab

Have you ever heard someone say, “The mental patients are running the asylum”?  What does it mean?  Simply stated, it means that the place being run is crazy.  The exact wrong people are in charge.

In the case of some contemporary American Evangelicalism, the statement needs a slight alteration; the dealers are running the rehab.

Years ago I had the honor of serving as a high school diploma instructor in a live-in rehab facility.  Many of the staff were former addicts who had gone through the program and had a full recovery.  They understood the addicts’ minds better than a person who has not struggled with addiction.  It was quite an education for me.  In that circumstance, they were the right people to run the rehabilitation facility.

The adjusted statement doesn’t read, ‘The former addicts (or, ‘recovering addicts’) are running the rehab’; it is the dealers who are in charge.

The question is, what is the addiction?  What kind of crack are they on?

Gerhard Forde explains in detail that many are addicted to works.  They are addicted to following the law to make themselves right before God.  His book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross is short but foundational.

Romans 7:12 states,

“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”

There can be no doubt that God’s law reflects His divine Holiness and perfection.  It is critical that church leaders use the law in the church.  Synonyms for law are; command, demand, and expectation in the biblical context.  More to the point: these are God’s commands, demands and expectations for you to live a holy righteous and good life.

Many gravitate to the law because in a society which is morally degrading, it offers an objective standard to prove one’s mental  soundness (“I’m not crazy, the world is crazy!).  That is quite understandable.

Others have taken it a step further.  They believe that the law is not just a standard of goodness that we can observe, but that the Christian life is all about following the law.  “I have to prove my faith somehow, so I will use the scripture as my personal moral code for living.  This way, God will have to accept me.”

Now, the confusion sets in.  You might have “received Christ”, or “made Him your personal Lord and Savior”, but after this, it’s time for chores.  It’s time to sanctify yourself.  It’s as if God made you holy to start with, and then you got dirty again.  You have to find a way to get clean and stay clean.

The insidious nature of this belief lies in the faith one places in one’s own efforts to keep clean.  In other words, a person starts with the good news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, but is then bound to keep the demands, commands and expectations of the Law.

Some find comfort in something so predictable.  The Law operates on the principle, “If you do this, (then) you will live”.  But, if you understand the nature of language, the prior statement is called a conditional statement.  It is conditioned on your behavior.  It infantilizes the user.  But that is not the life God has for you.

Perhaps the user wants to be a child.  They want to have a rewards and punishments chart.  They want to re-live their childhood.

Some of the ‘some’ become leaders (dealers) in the church.  They consider the Law to be good news.  They want others to hear this good news of living by conditional behavior to appear righteous before God.  They expend amazing, and even, admirable effort at the study of Scripture.

All the while, they are in the business of making more crack addicts.  Many in the seats come to hear “what their itching ears long to hear”.  They want to hear that they can do something about their failing marriages, repetitive sinning or their depression.

So the dealers direct them to a self-improvement program based on law-keeping.  They tell themselves and others, “You got yourself into this mess, now you can get yourself out” (with a little help from Jesus).  “Give it a spin, see if it works”.

Church leaders can only be aware of the outward behavior of the church members, because that’s all they can see.  In fact, this environment produces victims and victimizers

All the while, they bind the consciences (i.e., victimizing) of those who are already troubled with sin.  Momentary successes encourage the users to continue using.  And, if they fall, they add another layer of ‘accountability’ to get back on track.  The increasing demands and deepening guilt over failing brings on hopelessness for those of sensitive conscience.

But that is not the life God has for you.

Instead, He sends His Only Begotten Son to rescue you.  He has come to rescue you from the demands, commands and expectations of the law.  He comes to fully fulfill all of the law on your behalf.

Beyond this, He becomes your sin.  He becomes all of that failing.  He becomes all of that self-idolatry.  He becomes the repetitive sinning.  And He received His Father’s eternal punishment for all of it.  As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). 

Jesus, Himself said, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life“.  He is the sum and content of the Christian life.  You live by His continued faithfulness to you.  You do not live by your continued faithfulness to uphold the law.

Anyhow, why would you want to?  It’s requirements are not just demands for the hands, but demands for the heart.  It’s only a great way to find out that you are a hypocrite!  The good news is that the Savior came for hypocrites!

And He will sort out the hypocrites who are dealing the crack of Good Works to display one’s holiness before God.

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