Monday, April 19, 2021

The Proper Use of Doubt

 Luke 24:36-49

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.' 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.' 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?' 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.' 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.'

The week after Easter, as I was browsing through my Facebook feed, I saw that someone had posted an article in one of the groups I belong to.  The name of the group should tell you everything you need to know. The name of the group is: The Lutheran Nerd Clan.  Yes, it is everything both Lutheran and nerdy, and I am a proud member.  But that is beside the point.  The point is the article that was posted, and it’s title immediately intrigued me: “A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics.”  It was a science article in the New York Times.  I love science, and I know that oftentimes, science points us towards the majesty, wonder, and beauty of God.  Really.  If someone ever told you there was a conflict between science and faith, they are misguided.  Not just misguided.  They are wrong.  There is no conflict in the least, but that’s not the topic of this sermon.  The topic of this sermon has to do with what this article in the New York Times was all about.

Let me quote the article here, “Evidence is mounting that a tiny subatomic particle seems to be disobeying the known laws of physics, scientists announced on Wednesday, a finding that would open a vast and tantalizing hole in our understanding of the universe.”

Again, quoting the article, “The particle célèbre is the muon, which is akin to an electron but far heavier, and is an integral element of the cosmos. Dr. Polly and his colleagues — an international team of 200 physicists from seven countries — found that muons did not behave as predicted when shot through an intense magnetic field at Fermilab.

The aberrant behavior poses a firm challenge to the Standard Model, the suite of equations that enumerates the fundamental particles in the universe (17, at last count) and how they interact.”

Now, that’s all of the article I am going to read.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to push the science any further.  Some of you may be going, “Wow! This is cool,” but I know there are others out there who are thinking, “Man, I hated science.  Why in the world am I hearing about science at church?  I thought I was done with this stuff.  What in the world does this have to do with my life and my relationship with God?”  Patience.  I am getting there.  Really.  I am getting there because this experiment along with another one which had similar results back in 2001 has shaken the scientific community.  It has caused a lot of doubt.  Whereas they once thought they had most of physics figured out, it might turn out that they have to completely and totally rethink how they believed the atomic world operated.  There is still much data to be waded through, but if this experiment is confirmed, it will turn everything topsy turvy.  And now, there is much debate within the community about this matter.

The results of this experiment are very much like the results of Jesus coming and sitting in the room with the disciples on that first Easter evening.  Our Gospel lesson this morning is Luke’s account of Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples after the resurrection.  You may recall that last week, we heard the Gospel of John’s account of this appearance, and there are many, many points of connection between the two accounts.  The major difference between those two accounts is that John emphasizes the reaction of Thomas, one of the disciples.  That account is often referred to as the doubting Thomas account.  But as Pastor Casey said last week, we would do better to call it the disbelieving Thomas account.  The Greek is pretty clear there.  Thomas didn’t doubt, he was disbelieving.  In today’s account, there is a much better example of doubt.  We actually have the doubting disciples, and this time, the Greek wording matches up.

Let’s set the scene.  Again, like in John’s account, the disciples are huddled behind closed doors. The disciples who Jesus met on the road to Emmaus have just arrived and have shared their account.  Everyone is talking about this, and suddenly, Jesus appears.  Like in John, Jesus’ first words are words of peace, “Peace be with you.”  A bit of chaos ensues.  The disciples are startled and terrified.  That’s the wording that is used.  They think they have seen a ghost.  

Jesus then works to convince them that they aren’t seeing things.  He is real, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”  Let’s stop there because here is where the word doubts actually comes into play.  The Greek word here is dialogismoi, which has the definition of discussion, consideration, or debate.  Perhaps a literal translation would be, “Why are you frightened and why do you debate with yourselves in your hearts?”  This is true doubt.  This isn’t a “I believe!”  And this isn’t a “I don’t believe.”  This is a “I really am not sure what to do with this information.  If this is real, then everything that I have once thought I knew is now topsy turvy!”  I told you, this biblical passage is very much like what happened with the results of those scientific experiments.

But the disciples were having quite the difficulty coming to grips with Jesus being there.  They weren’t sure about what was happening.  So, Jesus keeps pushing. He keeps giving them evidence.  Look at my hands and my feet.  Touch me.  See, I am real.  

And again, we are told that the disciples were “in their joy disbelieving.”  Probably a better translation for us would be, “They thought this was too good to be true.”  So, once again, Jesus takes another step to show that he is real; that he is not a ghost.  He asks for something to eat and eats it right in front of them.

Now, I want to take just a moment before continuing to point out something that the Bible is showing us.  Sometimes, there are folks today who dismiss ancient people.  They will say things like: ancient people weren’t as advanced as we are today; ancient people were not as skeptical as we are today; ancient people were not as scientifically minded and so they would accept things back then that we would never accept today.  They just didn’t know any better.  And while that is true about some things, that is not true about every thing.  Just because ancient people didn’t know about atoms and protons and electrons, they knew that people didn’t just rise from the dead and appear.  They knew that once someone had been crucified and was buried, they stayed dead and buried.  The Bible here does not show the disciples just accepting the resurrection of Jesus without any thought or skepticism or doubt.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, Jesus appeared to them.  Jesus was in the room with them, and they didn’t just automatically believe it.  They didn’t just automatically accept it.  They doubted.  They wrestled.  They tried to figure all of this out.  They didn’t turn their brains off.  Instead, when confronted with this new reality; when confronted with this new information; when confronted with the risen Jesus; they turned their brains on and tried to figure it out.  They questioned.  They debated.  They wondered.  Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that we are more advanced than they were.  They were just as skeptical as we are.

But they had one advantage over us.  They had Jesus with them there in that room.  And Jesus took the time to convince them.  Jesus took the time to get them through their doubts.  Of course, we already heard that Jesus showed his hands and feed.  We heard that Jesus had them touch him.  We heard that Jesus ate food in front of them.  But that wasn’t quite enough.  There was more that was needed, and Jesus gave that to them too.  He opened the Scriptures up to them.  He explained the Scriptures to them.  He showed them how the entire Old Testament pointed to him and was fulfilled by him.  As Jesus taught these things, the disciples were convicted.  

Step by step, Jesus showed them that the Messiah was destined to come into this world and live the life that they were supposed to live.  Jesus showed them how he alone fulfilled the commands of God.  Jesus showed them how he loved the Father with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Jesus showed them how he loved his neighbor as himself.  Jesus showed them how he was the spotless lamb of God who had come to take away the sin of the world.  He was the sacrifice of atonement to end all sacrifices.  He was the one who had come to give his life as a ransom for many.  Step by step, he showed them that it was necessary for him to die for them; to take their sins upon himself and then give to them his righteousness.  He then showed them how his resurrection has defeated sin, death and the devil.  The gap that once existed between humanity and God is no more.  All of this Jesus showed them as he opened God’s Word to them.

As he spoke, I am certain the disciples’ hearts began to burn within them. Their eyes were opened.  Their doubts turned to belief.  And here is the crucial thing about doubts.  Doubts are healthy–they poke at us and make us think deeply.  They make us consider things we may not have considered before.  They make us ask questions that we may have been afraid to ask.  But, doubts are meant to lead us to answers.  Doubts are meant to lead us to find truth.  You don’t just say, “Oh, I doubt that.” and then stay in your doubts.  That’s pure laziness.  The disciples didn’t stay in their doubts. When Jesus offered them evidence; when Jesus opened their minds to the scriptures; they believed.  Their hearts became convinced.

And now, let’s bring this home.  Let’s talk about the Christian faith in the midst of life in the 21st Century.  Let’s talk about faith in a culture full of skepticism and unbelief and competing truths.  Let’s acknowledge that it is okay for us to have doubts.  Let’s acknowledge that it’s okay to wrestle with things deeply.  Even scientists who once thought they had things figured out have to do that in the light of new evidence.  But let’s not use that as an excuse to reject the tenets of Christianity.  Let’s not use doubt as an excuse to turn to internet atheists and others who claim to be more enlightened.  For you see, doubt is nothing new.  The disciples faced them, and Jesus answered them.  And throughout history, the church has faced doubters, and very smart people have been led by the Spirit of God to have answers to those questions as well.  How do I know?  Well, I have doubted.  I have sought.  I have found answers.  And I have been asked questions.  Sometimes I didn’t know the answers, so I had to learn.  And the more I have learned, the more I have studied the scriptures, the more I am convinced of the truth of Christianity.  The more I long for a chance to be a witness to the Gospel-just like he called the disciples to be in that room long ago.

I remember shortly after I started going to college and had started taking theology classes, I went home to visit my folks.  I remember going to church on Sunday and sitting in on the confirmation class.  One of the young men there asked me a terribly difficult question, “Why did God pick such a lame way to save the world?”  What I wouldn’t give to be able to respond to him now.  I had never wrestled with that question until he asked it.  I didn’t have a good answer.  I had nothing.  He wasn’t satisfied with my pastor’s answer, and I knew he wasn’t satisfied with mine–and I wish I could remember exactly how I answered it then.  I don’t.  I just remember it wasn’t good.

But through my doubts, I have had a chance to study.  I have had a chance to learn.  And if I had the chance to talk to that young man again, this is what I would say, “I don’t believe it was a lame way to save the world at all.  In fact, I think it was beautiful.  God cannot let sin go unpunished.  When you do something wrong, you deserve to face the consequences of your actions–that’s justice.  And you and I both know that we have sinned.  You and I both know that we haven’t done the things we should do and been the people we should be.  Deep down, we know that we are not right and have not done right.  We know that we deserve punishment–we deserve justice, and God should probably toast us.  But God also loves us.  God doesn’t want to have us be punished because that would mean complete separation from Him.  And so he somehow has to find a way to bring both love and justice together.  And here is how he does it. Instead of punishing us; he takes the punishment for us.  That’s what Jesus does on the cross.  Jesus is God taking the punishment that we deserve.  It’s like a parent paying to replace a broken lamp that their kid has destroyed.  The kid can’t pay the price and replace it, but the parent can.  Our heavenly parent pays for our sin by dying in our place.  And when you understand that. When you understand what God has done for you, and for the world, you will see that as a thing of beauty.  If you doubt this; if you are debating in your heart; seek the answers.  When you do, I know that you too will be convinced.  That Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  And Christ will come again.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Story Continues: Dealing with The Gospel of Mark's Abrupt Ending

  Well.  What a horrid way to end a Gospel.  Really.  I mean, picture this: Jerusalem 33 A.D.  Jesus has been crucified, died, buried.  This Jesus on whom so many had pinned their hopes and dreams.  They had either seen or heard the stories of his miraculous abilities. The ability to calm storms.  The ability to produce food out of thin air.  The ability to heal the sick.  The ability to cast our demons.  The ability to make the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, and the blind to see. The ability to raise the dead.  That was power.  That was authority.  Surely he was the promised Messiah–the promised one that was to bring about wholeness and peace and God’s kingdom on earth.  Ah, but all of that had been discarded; cast away; trashed.  This Jesus had been betrayed, arrested, condemned.  Hung on a cross to die on that hill called Calvary.  Wrapped in burial cloths.  Laid in a tomb.  Dead.  The movement he had started was all but finished.  Cut the head off a snake, and the rest of the body dies.  It had happened before.  It would happen this time.

But some women went to the tomb.  They didn’t have time to prepare Jesus’ body for burial after he had been taken down from the cross.  It was a rush to get even the body buried before the Sabbath’s restrictions on work kicked in.  So, now, they would come and do the job they would have done had it not been for those restrictions.  They would anoint his body.  They would place spices on it.  They would grieve appropriately.  And they found something they did not expect.  The stone that had sealed the tomb–an object of concern because of its size and weight; an object that stood in the way of these women’s mission was now rolled away. The tomb was not sealed.  It was open.  And walking into the tomb, they did not see the body of Jesus.  They did not see the body of the one who walked on water. They did not see the body of the one who rode into Jerusalem on the donkey.  They did not see the bloody, torn flesh; the thorn pierced forehead, the nail pierced feet and hands.  No.  There was no body.  There was only a young man; a young man dressed in white and sitting on the right hand side.   Who was he?  Was he an agent of Pontius Pilate there to catch any of Jesus’ followers and have them prosecuted?  Was he an agent of the Jewish Religious Leaders–there to spy out those who might be unfaithful; who they could charge with blasphemy and cast them out of the Jewish faith?  Were they in danger?

No. Not by a long shot.  The young man looked at them with a look of peace; with a look of confidence; with a look of unfettered excitement.  “Don’t be afraid.  You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.  He has been raised.”  Let that sink in for a minute, y’all.  It’s the reason we are here this morning.  It’s the news that changed the world.  It’s the most shocking thing that has happened in all of history.  “He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place that they laid him.”  Oh my; oh my.  Oh my, oh my.  If this is true; if this is real; then oh my, the implications are astounding.  Reality is changed.  If he is raised, then everything he said was true; every teaching he pronounced was trustworthy; he was and is the Messiah; he was and is the redeemer of the world; that teaching about giving his life as a ransom for many; well, that’s true too.  Oh my, oh my.  This, this is too good to be true.  This is an amazing occurrence.  He is not here, he is risen.  Death could not hold him down.  God has righted the injustice that was committed against Him, and wait...if God righted the injustice against him and death could not hold him down, does that now mean that the same thing will happen to all of his followers?  Does that mean that we too will be raised from the dead?  Does that mean that we too will have our injustices reversed?  Surely it does!!  Surely this is good news!  Surely this good news demands that we tell it.

Well, that’s exactly what that young man says. That’s exactly what that young man calls upon those women to do.  “Go.  For God’s sake.  Go!  Go and tell his followers and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.  Go!  There you will see him, just as he told you!!  Go!  Go and tell!  Let them all know!!  Stop waiting around here!! Go!”

And they went. Yes, they went.  They hurried away from the tomb for terror and amazement had seized them.  They were overwhelmed.  And they went and told...they went and one.  Wait.  What?  This can’t be right.  That can’t be the ending.  They went and told no one?  Possibly the most earth shattering news they had ever come across; quite possibly the most hopeful thing that they would ever encounter, and they told no one?  Are you kidding me?  By God, they must have been Lutheran!  Okay, that’s a joke.  Please don’t take it personally.  But you gotta admit, it’s kind of funny.  I mean, we do have a reputation out there.  They make jokes about us.  What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s witness and a Lutheran?  Someone who goes around knocking on everyone’s door but doesn’t know what to say.  

Okay, enough poking fun.  Gonna stop that.  It’s Easter.  We are not here to be made to feel guilty.  We are not here to be made fun of.  We are here to hear the proclamation of the Good News that Christ is risen!  And we hear it.  Loudly and clearly, we hear it. We hear it in the spoken word.  We hear it in our hymns.  We hear it in our lessons.  We hear it.  Yes, we hear it just like those women heard it, but I have a nagging question.  I have a question that bothers me some.  Why didn’t those women go tell the disciples?  Why didn’t they burst forth with excitement?  With this earth shattering news, why did they tremble in fear?  Why do we?

I mean, maybe they thought everyone would think they were crazy.  Maybe they thought that everyone would look down on them.  Maybe they thought no one would believe them.  It’s all a possibility.  But maybe, just maybe it was something else.  Maybe just maybe it wasn’t a matter of fear of how others would react.  Maybe it was because things hadn’t sunk in yet.  I mean, despite the evidence they saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears, it wasn’t enough to convince their hearts.  Despite seeing the evidence of the stone rolled away; the absence of the body; the words of the young man; the teachings that Jesus himself had told them; despite all this evidence, it didn’t sink in.  It didn’t hit them deep down within their soul.  I mean, I am sure they wanted to believe it.  They wanted to believe that their Lord had conquered the grave.  They wanted to believe that he was risen, but they just couldn’t get there.  They just couldn’t bring themselves to that point.  Their fear was too great.

And I think many of us can resonate with those women.  Many of us struggle too. I mean, let’s be honest.  Let’s be truthful.  Let’s be real.  Some of us have heard this news for years–since we have been small.  And we know we should be telling the story; we know we should be engaging others with the Gospel, but when we think about even starting that conversation our insides turn to absolute mush.  We are sore afraid.  And for others, I mean, some of you out there might not be so sure about this whole Christianity thing. You might think that this resurrection business is simply something we believe without evidence.  And that’s not true.  In fact, there is some pretty good, reasonable evidence to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.  But event that won’t necessarily bring anyone around.  Even that won’t necessarily convince anyone to walk out of here with bravery and bravado to engage those who are not worshiping this morning.  I mean, I can stand up here and share with you those very good reasons why the resurrection is an actual historical event.  I can lay out the evidence: first, there was an empty tomb–all the authorities would have had to do is produce the body, and the movement would have ended.  Second, the authors of the Gospels said that women were the first witnesses–if you were writing fiction back in that day, you would have never used women.  Their testimony wasn’t even allowed in court.  You would have used men if you were writing fiction.  Third, the disciples believed they saw Jesus raised from the dead.  You could excuse one or two of them, but hundreds, as Paul tells us about in Corinthians?  No.  Mass hallucinations like that just don’t happen.  Fourth, those same disciples died without recanting.  Have you ever, ever heard of a lie being kept so well.  Yeah, me neither.  Criminal justice folks will tell you someone always cracks.  And finally, every single other Messianic movement died out; went away; disappeared after the Messiah figure was arrested or killed.  Every.  Single.  One.   There is only one that didn’t.  The Jesus movement.  All of these things are historical fact.  All of them.  And the question is: What overarching story puts all of these facts together?  What does all of this evidence point to?  The simplest and best possible explanation is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.  Jesus was resurrected by God the Father.  That’s the best possible explanation by far.  It’s the explanation that fits the evidence.  You would be hard pressed to come up with better.

But, like I said, even this evidence; even all of this put together cannot make you or me go out into the world and tell all.  Even though our heads right now might be thinking, “Oh, yes.  I can see this. Jesus really did rise from the dead.  He is alive.  The things he said must be true...”  Even though our heads might be thinking this, when we head out into the world and confront the world, knowing we might face hostility; knowing we might be laughed at; knowing we might face rejection; we clam up.  We stay silent.  We tell no one because we are afraid.  Oh, my, we are just like those women.

And that’s just great.  I’ve just come to the same place as the ending of the Gospel of Mark.  And this would be a horrible way to end the sermon.  Ah, but wait.  Just wait.  There is more.  Sorry if you are disappointed.  The ending is not quite here.  It will be here shortly, but there is just a little bit more that we have to put forth.

You see, even though the women sitting in fear and telling no one was the ending of the Gospel of Mark, it was not the end of the story. For you see, those women didn’t stay huddled in fear.  Eventually, their hearts were convicted.  Eventually, their fear disappeared, and they went to Galilee.  They and the disciples saw the risen Christ.  Their hearts became convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead.  But they were still afraid.  They still did not move out into the world.  Their fear was still too great.  Because even though they had seen the evidence; even though they had seen Jesus; something still had to give them the conviction and the fortitude to move out into the world.  Something more had to happen, and eventually, that something did.

It was the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost that transformed their fear into boldness.  The Spirit moved among them and in them, and they unlocked their doors; they stopped trembling; the knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection and his redemption of the world by grace moved from their heads into their hearts and they fearlessly proclaimed it to the world.  

They were persecuted.  They were killed.  They were hunted.  And yet, they kept proclaiming.  They faced rejection.  They faced skepticism.  They faced scorn, but they kept proclaiming.  Why?  Despite all the resistence, why did they persist?  Because of what St. Paul says in the book of Romans: faith comes through hearing.  Faith comes by hearing the good news.  Yes, we point to the evidence, as I did earlier, but for the Gospel to move from your head to your heart, you must hear it over and over and over again.  And that is why countless people have passed this good news down throughout history.  Beginning with those women, and then the disciples, and then the evangelists; and then the Church Mothers and Fathers; and then countless pastors and preachers, teachers and mothers and fathers, and grandparents and aunts and uncles–all of them kept telling the story.  They kept passing down the good news.  And even though it took time for people to believe; even though it sometimes took months or years or decades, they kept preaching and teaching.  Their conviction led them into the streets; they went into the synagogues; they climbed into pulpits over and over and over again.  They read and prayed to their children and grandchildren.  They taught children and adults who seemed to be preoccupied with other things.  And slowly, but surely, they watched hearts change; and they saw courage build.  New generations became convinced that this news was true, and then they stepped forward to  tell the news.  And so the story continued, and it continues.  The good news continues to be announced by those who are convinced that through His life, death and resurrection, Jesus has changed the world and that He is the only hope of the world.  And that is why I stand before you today.  And that is why you are here this morning: to hear the proclamation and have ours heart convicted as we become the next generation to continue the story; to continue the announcement of the good news: Christ is Risen!!  Christ is Risen indeed!! Amen.  Alleluia!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

An Alternative to Cancel Culture

  In 2018, scholars Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon published a report titled, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape.”  In that report, they shared the data collected from a nationally representative poll with 8,000 respondents, 30 one-hour interviews, and six focus groups. And what did they find?  They found this: 80 percent of those in that representative group believe that political correctness is a problem.  Let that sink in for a minute.  If this study is truly representative, 80 percent of the U.S. believes that political correctness is a problem.

Now, I know that we pastors are supposed to keep politics from the pulpit.  I know that we are not supposed to tell folks who to vote for or which political party to support.  I know that we are supposed to essentially stay neutral on such matters, but it has come to a point where such matters must be addressed.  And not only because six Dr. Seuss books, including one of my childhood favorites “To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry St.” were taken out of publication; Pepe Le Pew will no longer be seen; and they are trying to remove Speedy Gonzales.  My entire childhood is in danger of vanishing!!  No.  It’s not just because of that.  There is more.  Just this past week, I posted the Lord’s Prayer to my Facebook feed, and it was fact checked.  I didn’t include anything about Facebook trying to censor the Lord’s Prayer.  I made no commentary what-so-ever.  It was just the Lord’s Prayer.  And it was fact checked.  Whether we believe it or not, this stuff is having and will have a direct effect on our ability to be the church in society these days. 

And there is some bad news that goes along with this.  And the bad news is this: we are not going to convince that 20% to change.  I hate to say that, but we won’t.  And the other piece of bad news is that there is always a chance that we could become the next target of those who are subscribing to this train of thought.  You never know what is going to catch their eye and draw their ire.

So, what do we as the church do?  How do we deal with this movement within our culture and society?  At this point, I am tempted to be like Lucy in the Charlie Brown comic strip who went up to Charlie Brown one day and said, “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?" "You know what your whole trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you're you!"

Charlie asks, "Well, what in the world can I do about that?"

Lucy answers, "I don't pretend to be able to give advice...I merely point out the trouble!"

Yeah.  I don’t pretend to be able to give advice...I merely point out the trouble.

But that is also a cop out, I think.  It’s a cop out to simply point to a problem and then tell everyone, “Well, you need to do some thing about this,” without a willingness to engage in the process of problem solving.  And so, what I would like to entertain this morning is how we might bring our faith to bear against this cultural movement, and instead of directly combating the movement; we offer an alternative.  Instead of going to war against cancel culture, we offer a different vision; a different mood of living; a different set of values that will actually lead to a more just and whole society.  

And I think that this is important to say.  Because when it comes down to it, cancel culture wants a just society. They want justice.  They want folks to feel included; that everyone has value.  But here is the question: how do they bring such a thing about?  How do they try to bring about this type of society?  By punishing and banning anything that is perceived to perpetuate injustice.  If a cartoon character represents oppression, it must be banned.  If a person makes a certain hand symbol that is deemed inappropriate, they should be forced to resign their job or the company should be made to fire them.  If a song is thought to have racist roots, it must be banned completely (U.T. fans know that one.).  So, to be inclusive and bring in the Aggies, if a college president was a member of the confederate army, their statue should be removed.  If a comment is perceived to be a threat or is perceived to be racist, one is removed from a social media platform or is shadow banned for presenting such thoughts.  The idea is: if we continually point out the injustice; if we continually shame someone; if we continually ban offensive content; then, at some point people will change, systems will change, and we will have a just society.  Now, I am trying to be very careful in my analysis here because it is very easy to caricature this movement, and indeed, I may have oversimplified.  But I don’t think by much.  These are the things that we have seen happening around us, and they seem to have intensified.

So, what is the alternative?  What is the response to this?  Well, let’s first acknowledge that Christianity also seeks a just society.  We also want folks to feel included, and we want everyone to know that they have value.  In this we are not different from cancel culture.  And sadly, in our history, the Church has also practiced a cancel culture of its own.  We have also participated in book burning and censorship.  The namesake of our own denomination: Martin Luther was threatened if he did not recant his writings; and the Spanish Inquisition was notorious for persecuting those who did not toe the line.  This is much to our shame as an institution because we did not practice the heart of our faith in these things.  We did not practice those things which Scripture brings about a change of heart and a just society.  And what are those things?

They are at the heart of the Gospel: forgiveness and redemption.

Let me paint the picture for you using our Bible texts this morning from the book of John and from the book of Ephesians.  You see, Christianity starts with the premise that all human beings are flawed.  It starts with the premise that the world is flawed.  And not just flawed.  No, humankind and the world are in open rebellion against God.  Paul writes in Ephesians, “You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.”  And when you read the Gospel of John, you will notice that the world is never looked upon with favor.  The world is always referenced as evil; preferring to live in the darkness of ignorance and selfishness instead of entering into the light of God.  The world hates God because it wants to do its own thing; go its own way; and it finds God to be placing boundaries which prevent it from being its own boss.  

Cancel culture, if it held to this train of thought would see every person and every entity in the world worthy of cancellation; worthy of condemnation.  According to the tenets of cancel culture, the world and the people in it should be destroyed!  Canceled!  

But here is the difference.  Here is the major difference.  For you see, even though God could have destroyed the world.  Even though God could have canceled the world.  God loved the world.  God loved the people in the world.  God loved you.  And God loved me.  He knew that we deserved cancellation.  He knew that we deserved punishment.  But instead, He offered something quite different.  He offered forgiveness and redemption.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him.”  That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.  And Ephesians fleshes this out even more, “4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Let me break this down for you and show you what Christianity says.  Christianity says that we are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. We owe God a debt due to our sin, and it is a debt that we can never pay.  We are too caught up on ourselves. We are too willing to fall into temptation.  We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  We cannot live the perfect life.  We cannot overcome racism. We cannot love our neighbor as ourselves.  We deserve punishment.  We deserve cancellation, but Jesus steps in.  Jesus says, “You can’t live the life you are supposed to live.  But I can.  You can’t love your neighbor like you should.  But I can.  You can’t follow the commands of God, but I can.” And he does.  He lives the life that we should have lived, and then he pays the debt that we owe.  He gives himself in exchange for us and dies for us on the cross to cancel not us, but to cancel our debt!  Instead of giving us deserved punishment, we receive grace.  We don’t lose our job.  We don’t get deplatformed.  We aren’t shamed into submission.  We are given a love that is unimaginable!  

And that is all well and good, but the critics of cancel culture will say, “But where is the justice?  Where is the change in society and the change in people?  You talk of this grace and forgiveness, but it is just a way for you to justify your injustice!”

No.  Not in the least.  This is a horrendous misunderstanding of grace, because this is what happens.  When you understand grace; when you stop trusting in yourself for your righteousness.  When you stop trying to justify yourself and trust in Jesus justification; to the extent you trust in Jesus’ work and not your own, your life will be totally and completely transformed.  You will sin less.  You will work for justice more.  You will extend compassion and forgiveness and redemption.

Which means, you will know that no person or institution or book or anything for that matter in the course of history is perfect.  A song can have racist origins but be changed into a song that unites an institution.  A confederate general can institute reforms as a governor including the beginning of a home for blind, deaf African-American children and as a university president including working for the inclusion of women at said university.  A cartoon character can be used to teach important lessons.  The list is endless.  Redemption is endless. Transformation is endless.

And that means, the way to salvation is open to everyone.  The way of transformation is open to everyone.  Yes, Christianity has certain boundaries.  Christianity has certain expectations of behavior, but when someone crosses those boundaries; when someone fails to live up to those expectations, we now respond with the same grace that we have been given.  We respond without condemning the person.  We respond knowing that God wants this person included in the Kingdom, and the best possible way to bring them into the Kingdom is not through punishment, but by grace.  And therefore, we treat others with respect, kindness, compassion and integrity.  We invite.  We do not impose.  In short, forgiveness and redemption accomplishes exactly what cancel culture seeks to accomplish–justice, acceptance and value for all, but Christianity does it with love, grace, and compassion instead of punishment and shame.

The contrast is stark.  And it is a contrast that I think we must be willing to promote as strongly as possible.  But there is a great risk.  A great risk indeed.  For cancel culture could come for us.  It could try to silence our message of grace and forgiveness and redemption.  It could try and deplatform us.  But, again, that’s nothing new to Christianity.  They tried to do the same thing to Jesus.  They tried to shut him up. They tried to cancel him by putting him on a cross and then in a tomb.  And we all know how that turned out.  Not so well for cancel culture.  Because our God is mighty to save and as author of salvation, He has conquered the grave.  And let us now shine the light.  A light that shines on a different path.  A path of forgiveness.  A path of redemption.  A path of transformation.  Let us shine the light of Amazing Grace.  Amen.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Really Tired?

 Facebook is an interesting animal.

The other day, I commented on an article that one of my friends had posted--an article by John Pavlovitz.  And what should come up in my suggested articles' feed: another article by John Pavlovitz.  And I clicked it.  

Well played FB.  Well played.

Now, full disclosure, I am not a fan of John Pavlovitz.  John is a card-carrying member of the Progressive Christianity movement.  It is a movement that has aligned itself with progressive politics, and while its themes of compassion, care, and kingdom building are themes that I share, this movement is little more than legalistic fundamentalism from a different angle.  Hence, I reject it because it redefines the New Testament concept of grace, and turns Christianity from a focus on what God has done into a focus on what I have to do.  

Which leads me directly to respond to the article Facebook suggested, John's article titled, "I'm Really Tired of Hatred."

John is tired of seeing hate in the world.

And John is tired of how hate in the world makes him hate and is slowly, and I will use my own view here, destroying him from the inside.

He doesn't use that terminology, but that's what is making him tired. He knows he is supposed to be full of love and joy and peace, but he is full of anything but those things.  "I’m trying to make sure I stay a loving person opposing things that make me angry, and not a perpetually angry person—but it’s difficult to tell when you’re swimming in so much enmity every day."

John, I hate to tell you this, but the world has been swimming in enmity for a long, long time.  While our technological advances are numerous and quite amazing, our progress in becoming better people continues to run up against the same hindrance it always has.  And interestingly enough, without naming it, John alludes to it:

Well, from a biblical perspective--not a chance.

We find peace in Jesus--God incarnate.  Not in anyone or anything else.  Other people were never meant to bear the weight of our need.  Other people were never meant to fulfill the deep emotional holes within us.  They can't.  They are imperfect, fallible, sometimes angry, sometimes needy, and sometimes down-right stubborn and nasty.  That's human nature.

And if you are trying to bear the weight of such a thing, geez, no wonder you are tired.  John, quit trying to get people to find peace in you.  Get them to Jesus!!!

Because it is also in Jesus that we find the answers to all the other things you are tired of, John.  You are tired of people hating other people?  You are tired of trying to get politicians to listen to you (are you really that important, John)?  You are tired of real and manufactured crises?  You are tired of judging people when you walk into a room?

It's all a result of self-centeredness.

It's all a result of people putting themselves in the place of God.

It's all a result of a state of being that we are all born into: we are sinners wanting to reject the authority of the Creator and ruling over our own creation.

And that's another reason you are so tired, John.  You are trying to control things you have no control over.  Might want to stop that.  You might want to give orthodox Christianity a try.

Because orthodox Christianity says that I am a sinner who needs a savior.

Orthodox Christianity says that a Savior has come and redeemed me by grace.

Orthodox Christianity says that only by encountering that grace can hearts change.

Orthodox Christianity says that once hearts change, amazing things happen: the poor get cared for, hatred disappears, love abounds, fulfillment reigns, respect grows, self-righteousness evaporates.

Orthodox Christianity replaces me with Thee, and so I no longer live for myself (which is less tiresome but a detriment to others) nor do I live for others I (which is very tiresome and a detriment to myself), but I live for God which enables me to care for myself and others because a proper perspective is kept.

And orthodox Christianity commissions me to make the world a better place by pointing to Jesus and not myself.  I'm not all that and a bag of chips.  I'm imperfect, fallible, sometimes angry, sometimes needy, and sometimes down-right stubborn and nasty.  People don't need me.  They need Jesus.

And I'll tell you something, John, I never, ever get tired of pointing to Jesus.  I never, ever get tired of telling others what He has done for them.  I never get worried if I walk into a room wondering how many folks support one political party or the other.  I never worry about what I may or may not say at family gatherings.  I'm not caught up in drawing those lines of demarcation because I know that each and every person in that room needs a Savior just like I need  a Savior.  And I know that I cannot change them or their hearts, but God can.  

It's not your or my responsibility to change this world, John.  We aren't going to bring the Kingdom of God.  Trying so will just leave you frustrated and tired because you are trying to do something that is above your paygrade.  Let God handle what God is supposed to handle.  Work within your sphere of influence.  Bring a word of God's grace into people's lives.

The real grace, not the redefined grace that progressive Christianity likes to use.  You know, the grace that says that I stood condemned before God before Christ interceded and bought me with his holy and precious blood; taking my place and dying the death that I deserved and giving me his righteousness.  That's good news.  Focus on it instead of yourself.

Might find yourself energized.



The kind of person you want to be instead of the person you are right now.

Monday, February 8, 2021

What if You Had the Answer?

 Sermon Audio

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. 19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Some of you may remember the name Paul Harvey.  For some of you that name brings warm memories and a longing for a much simpler time–at least it seemed simpler.  Paul Harvey was a radio news man who was famous for storytelling.  Millions of people, including yours truly, would tune in to hear his, “The Rest of the Story.”  Fortunately, you can find many of his stories collected on YouTube and throughout the internet.  And one of his most famous stories was told over and over again on Christmas.

I will not go into all of the details of the story, but it is titled “The Man and the Birds.”  At its core, it is a story about a farmer who was staying home one Christmas Eve instead of going to church with his wife and kids.  As he sat warm and comfortable in his home, snow began to fall.  As he sat he began to hear a repeated thump against his house.  He investigated and found that a flock of birds had gotten caught in the snowstorm.  They were trying to fly through his picture window to get out of the snow.  

Of course, the farmer was not going to let the birds into his house, but he thought of the barn where the kids kept their ponies.  That would provide a warm, safe spot for the birds.  He went out and opened the door to the barn, and then proceeded to try and get the birds to go to the barn.  He brought bread crumbs out of the house and made a trail.  It didn’t work.  He circled around them and tried to drive them to the barn.  It didn’t work.  He tried to catch them and carry them to the barn.  They flew away.  Nothing he tried could work.  The birds were simply too scared of him.

And pausing, the farmer thought, “If only I were a bird.  If only I were able to be among them and communicate with them.  If only I were able to show them to safety because they understood me.”

It doesn’t end with that, and I am not going to give the ending to you just yet, but even the portion that I have shared with you thus far is very powerful.  And at this point, what I would like to invite you to do is put yourself into the place of the farmer, except I want to change the parameters.  I want to change the story a bit and invite you to believe that instead of a flock of birds that needs to be brought to safety in a barn; I want to invite you to believe that you have discovered the answer to some of the major problems that humanity faces.  Imagine you have discovered the answer to poverty; to hatred; to racism, sexism, and all other isms.  Imagine you have discovered the answer to greed, self-righteousness, and even self-loathing.  Imagine you have discovered the answer to despair and hopelessness.  Imagine you discovered the answer to the questions of “Why am I here?” and “Does my life have a purpose?”  Imagine that this answer could bring an end to war and division bringing complete and total transformation to individual lives as well as entire societies.  What would you do to try and get people to understand?  What would you do to try to communicate that answer?

If you can understand this; if you can imagine this; you have just stepped into the mind-set of the disciples who saw Jesus’ raised from the dead.  If you can understand this; if you can imagine this; you have just stepped into the mind-set of St. Paul to whom Jesus appeared on the road to Damascus.  If you can understand this; if you can imagine this; you have just stepped into the mind-set of Martin Luther who was grasped by the Gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  These things were absolutely earth shattering; they were absolutely mind blowing; they were absolutely transformational, and once these folks experienced these things–once the Gospel grasped them, they were compelled to spread the news. And I use that word compelled on purpose.  When you are grasped by the Gospel, you don’t feel like you have a choice in the matter.  It has such a hold on you, that you must spread the news.

This is Paul’s point in our lesson today from 1 Corinthians chapter 9.  Paul is explaining to the Corinthians why he does the things that he does.  He wants them to understand his calling as an apostle.  Now, Paul tends to get rather wordy.  He is also very logical and tedious.  So, when we read him today, we are oftentimes scratching our heads.  Therefore, I am not going to read through this text step by step, I am going to explain the teaching and then give the application for our lives.

Now, we need to begin with Paul’s understanding that because of the Gospel; he is radically free.  You see, one of the consequences of the Gospel is that you no longer have to justify yourself to anyone.  You get your justification from God alone.  You don’t have to prove your value.  You don’t have to prove your worth.  You don’t have to bow at the feet of anyone for approval.  God has already given all of this to you, so you don’t need to go seeking such things from anyone.  The downside of this is that you could get a big head; you could get arrogant thinking that God loves you so much and approves of you so much that you don’t have to care about anyone. But not so fast.  You see, Paul knows this danger, and that is why he tempers his writings with a couple of other notes.  He knows that he has no room to boast.  Why?

Well, because he knows that he was not justified by his actions.  He knows he was not accepted because of anything he did.  He knows that he was a major sinner. He knows that he persecuted the Church and persecuted Christians.  His actions had led to the deaths of Christians.  He knows that there is no way Jesus should love him, and yet, Jesus died for him.  Remembering that he was a sinner kept Paul humble.  That applies to each and every one of us too, folks.  We have our ultimate freedom and approval because of Christ and yet are absolutely humble because we are sinners.

But not only this...not only this.  With St. Paul there is something more.  The Gospel is so life changing; the Gospel is so compelling; it is something that Paul knows will reshape the world, that he feels absolutely obligated to share it.  This isn’t like adding sprinkles to your ice cream down at Clear River.  This isn’t like fixing dessert for a meal.  The Gospel isn’t an add on.  It is central and core to Paul’s life so much so that he now is obligated to share it.  He doesn’t sense that he has a choice in its proclamation.  He has to preach the gospel.  He somehow has to communicate this marvelous; wondrous; amazing; beautiful; transformational news to the world.  It has become his sole purpose in life: to share what God has done in Jesus Christ.  

Now, here is the question?  How is he going to do this?  You need to understand, the Roman empire was not an empire with uniformity.  It was composed of a wide diversity of people.  It was composed of a wide variety of thought and practice.  There were all kinds of differences in cultures; in people; and in belief.  How could Paul possibly share the Gospel amongst so many different folks?

Paul’s answer: I became a slave to all of them.

At first this comment might take us aback.  The idea of slavery leaves a bad taste in our mouths given the situation that our country faced, but we also need to know that the slavery Paul is talking about is nothing like the slavery that our country went through.  For you see, slavery in the New Testament was almost always voluntary.  If you went into debt and could not pay your debt, you would sell yourself into slavery.  Your master would purchase your debt, and then you would work your way out of it.  You were not owned.  Your debt was.  Once your debt was worked off, you were free. This is the type of slavery Paul was talking about.

But here is the question: why would Paul talk like this?  Why would Paul say he would become a slave when he did not owe any debt?  Just this: when a slave became a part of a household, then that slave would be expected to learn the customs; the traditions; the way that household functioned.  He or she would have to learn the culture of that household to be able to function within it with the aim of doing one’s job and pleasing the master.

And here is where the rubber hits the road for Paul.  This is where his obligation to spread the gospel comes into play.  This is where living in the Roman empire with all of its diversity comes into play.  Paul says I became a slave to everyone:

To those under the law, I became as one under the law–even though I am not under the law.  In other words, I moved within the Jewish culture.  I made sure I understood how it functioned.  I grasped its logic and its nature.  I understood its people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations.  I am absolutely free from all of those things, but I put myself under them so that I could win some Jews.

To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law, even though I am under Christ’s law.  In other words, I moved within the Gentile culture.  I made sure I understood how it functioned.  I grasped its logic and its nature.  I understood its peoples hopes and dreams and aspirations.  I stuck to my principles as a follower of Jesus–I did not compromise my faith, but I rubbed elbows with folks who didn’t know Christ so that I could win some Gentiles.

I became all things to all people–I became a slave to all people to learn what makes them tick; to learn their language and their culture; to learn their reasoning and hopes and dreams and aspirations.  I will not compromise my Christian faith.  I will not seek to sin or bring dishonor to God, but I will do whatever it takes to spread the Gospel.  I will spend as much time as it is needed so I can find points of entry; points of connection; points where I can communicate how their hopes and dreams and aspirations can only be fulfilled by Christ.  I will show how their culture falls far short and how their culture can never deliver what it promises.  I will make sure I know the language, customs, and traditions so that I can gain some credibility; some trust; some authority, so that at the very least, I may bring a few to the salvation of Christ.  I may bring a few into this reality of the Gospel–this reality that is absolutely life-changing.

I hope that the application of this text is not hard to see.  The application has momentous consequences for our lives and for the life of the church.  And it is wrapped up in this question: are we willing to become slaves to everyone?  Are we willing to learn the language, culture, traditions, hopes, dreams and aspirations of all the groups in society?  Are we willing to learn the language culture, traditions, hopes dreams, and aspirations of Democrats and Republicans?  Are we willing to learn the language culture, traditions, hopes, dreams and aspirations of liberals and conservatives?  Are we wiling to learn the language, culture, traditions, hopes, dreams, and aspirations of social justice warriors and alt-right wingers?  Are we willing to learn the language, culture, traditions, hopes, dreams, and aspirations of atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others?  Are we willing to learn the language, culture, traditions, hopes, dreams and desires of Hispanics, African-Americans, Germans, Norwegians, and other ethnicities?  Not with the thought of absolutely affirming all of these things, but with the understanding that by doing so, we can make connections in order to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

“But Pastor Kevin, why?  Why would I want to do such a thing?  Why would I want to think about and learn the culture of some of these groups that I absolutely cannot stand?  Why would I want to subject myself to these horrendous thoughts and ideas?”

Remember the story about the farmer and the birds?  Remember how I told you the farmer had skipped going to Christmas Eve services with his wife and children?  Well, it was because he couldn’t bring himself to believe the Christian message.  Why would God, if there were a God, become human?  

Let me tell the story in the words of Paul Harvey: 

“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safety, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.

And he sank to his knees in the snow.”

You see, Jesus looked down at humanity.  He saw our sinfulness. He saw how far from God we truly were. He saw our hatred and envy and self-righteousness and anger.  He saw what we hoped; what we dreamed; what we aspired to.  He saw our inability to find safety, and security, hope and fulfillment.  Despite our ugliness and horrendous thoughts and ideas, he loved us.  “If only I could be one of them.  If only I could communicate with them.  If only I could show them the way and give them a hope and a promise and a vision of the Kingdom of God.”

And so the word became flesh and dwelt among us.  The Son of Man entered into the world not to be served but to serve.  He did not sin.  He did not compromise what it meant to be holy, but he lived the life that we were supposed to live.  Then he died the death that we deserved.  He took our sin upon himself, and gave to us his righteousness.  He gave to us an everlasting hope as he was raised from the dead.  

Is that hope alive in you?  Is that hope alive in this church?  Has your heart been claimed by the grace of God?  Have we seen the glory of God and seen the beauty of the Gospel?  Do you believe that this Gospel is the hope of the world?  Do you believe that this Gospel has the power to transform both individual lives and society at large?  If so, then let us join the disciples; let us join St. Paul; let us join Martin Luther and all of the saints who also believed.  Let us venture forth to become all things to all people telling the old, old story, that we might save some.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

When Heroes Fall

Well, to each his own. I chose my path, you chose the way of the hero. And they found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you've done for them, eventually they will hate you. Why bother?  --The Green Goblin, Spiderman

Heroes fall.

All the time.

Especially in the church.

The list is a long one from televangelists to ordinary, everyday pastors.  Something comes along and knocks us down.  Two of the biggest hero slayers: sex and money.  

Recently, one of my heroes of the faith was knocked down: Ravi Zacharias.  If you travel in the circles of apologetics, you know who I am talking about.  

Ravi was world renown.  He preached and lectured throughout the world.  He was seen on university campuses. He was invited to lecture halls.  He spoke in large congregations and at conferences.  He portrayed himself as a man of integrity; a man who had been radically changed by God's grace; a man who often said that his "hungers" had been changed drastically.

And I have no doubt that this was the case.  I have no doubt that Ravi had been radically changed.  I have no doubt in the sincerity of his commentary.

But there was a secret Ravi kept; a secret hidden where very few saw.  There was a hunger that still ate at him and gnawed in his being.  It was a hunger that only was revealed after his death, and he was not able to speak to it or deal with the consequences of it.  He will no doubt answer to Almighty God, and I hope that he was truly convicted of God's grace--for that grace will cover him as it covers all of us who are both saint and sinner at the same time.

Sexually inappropriate behavior now haunts the legacy of Ravi and has tainted much of his work.  It shouldn't, but purity codes die hard.  Public Christians are still held to a different standard than others.  And when you break those standards, it can be brutal.

Again, it shouldn't be, but this is reality.  It is a reality that we clergy must face head on.  No matter how many times we want to say that we are just like everyone else, and we are; we are not held to the same standards.  

And I think we should be as open and honest as possible to tell folks, "Look, we know that we are supposed to be above reproach.  We know we should be pillars of morality, justice, and a model of the godly life.  We know every bit of this, but we are still saints and sinners.  We will eventually break those high standards."  

You see, sometimes a spotlight shines into the inner darkness where we hide those secret sins, and they are brought into the open.  It's not a pleasant experience for us or for those who look up to us.  And so we must admit our imperfection.  We must admit our brokenness.  We must continue to admit our status as redeemed sinners, not perfected sinners.

This is one of the reasons I am glad to reside in the Lutheran faith tradition.  Our namesake, Martin Luther had sins of his own even after his transformation due to grasping the knowledge of grace.  A quote is often attributed to him, "I know in baptism the Old Adam is to be drowned, but I discovered that he is a good swimmer."

Indeed, the Old Adam is a good swimmer.  Even though our appetites are changed by grace, the sinful appetites still reside, and they depart waiting for an opportune time.  And when they hit, they are merciless!  It does us no good to pretend that they are not there.  It does us no good to tell others that we are not tempted.  It does no good to tell others that we are completely and totally transformed.

We are saint, but we are also still sinner. 

So, why bother?  If we are still a sinner; if we are bound to fall; if we are bound to face public scrutiny for that falling and failing; why preach?  Why teach?  Why continue to put ourselves out there in the public's eye?

Because it's right.--Spiderman, in response to the Green Goblin

Because it is the right thing to do, especially if you have experienced the grace of God; especially if you have experienced the call of God; especially if you know that your life has been radically altered by the love of God in Christ Jesus.  It's the right thing to do.

God uses sinful human beings to convey His message, not because we are perfect but precisely because of the opposite: because we are imperfect.  Face it, the vast majority of people know their imperfections.  They cannot (and they oftentimes do not) relate to someone who believes they are perfect.  They know (despite the lie that they are often told), that they are not perfect the way they are, and they want someone who understands that.  They need to see that there is hope for imperfect people; that there is redemption; that there is acceptance and love.  Not that anyone's flaws are ignored or even condoned, but that those flaws are eventually transformed into absolute beauty.

The Christian message is taken by imperfect people to other imperfect people.  Imperfect people who have been imbued with a sure and certain hope that even though at this time they are still imperfect; they still struggle with sin and desire; they still do not measure up; God has radically changed them by grace, and they do not rely on themselves in becoming perfect.  They rely on God changing them.  Sometimes slowly.  Sometimes rapidly.  And in their imperfection, they point to and give glory to God.

Because it's right.

Even if they fall.

Because God picks them up.

Every time.




Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Back in the Saddle

 It feels good to be blogging again.

I have no idea if I will garner an audience again.  Over two years of silence is not conducive to building your brand.  😜 

But I am no longer blogging to build a brand anyway.  Lots has changed since I began this blog. Lots will no doubt change in the years ahead.  In a very real way, there has been a great reset, and that is why I also deleted all comments from my previous blogs and will no longer allow comments on future blogs.  I am not interested in internet battles which have no victors.  Most folks, as am I, are so seeped in our own convictions that we do not hear arguments.  I know that is the case for me in the past.  Reading old comments has taught me that.  If you want to dispute something I say, I am fine with that.  Write a blog tearing down my arguments.  I welcome that.  Perhaps we shall actually further debate that way.  Likely not, but that is a conversation for another time.

At this time, I would like to write a word or two for those who may happen upon my blog and have some curiosity as to why there is over a two year gap between posts.  Was it because I lost a love for writing, or for talking about the Christian faith, or did not have thoughts on current events?  Not in the least.  I voluntarily silenced myself because of church conflict.

Fortunately, I had been prepared for such a thing by mentors and classes that I had taken.  But classroom learning and deep conversations only take you so far.  When you are hit by wave  upon wave of false accusations, lies, innuendo, and outright demonic behavior, your mental, physical, and spiritual health suffer.  I am thankful that my health did not suffer as bad as it could have.  There are still moments...

Perhaps one day, I will describe the details of what happened to end my tenure at St. John Lutheran Church of Cat Spring.  Perhaps I will describe what happened to end a relationship that I held dear--for a pastor serving in a congregation is oftentimes like a marriage.  I loved that little church, and still do even though I fell out of favor with a small minority of people there.  Those people made my life and my family's life a living nightmare for a year or so, and that is why I stopped blogging.

There were several reasons contributing to my decision.  The first of which is that it was awful tempting to go into attack mode and air all my grievances.  Perhaps in decades past this would have been acceptable: to call out those who were attacking me; to strive to set the record straight.  Recently, I came upon a quote by John Calvin, "A pastor needs two voices: one to gather the sheep, and the other to drive off the wolves and thieves."  I think this is oh so true, but in our day and age, and in my particular denomination, a pastor who dare use a voice of driving away wolves and thieves would be considered angry, hostile, and unfit for ministry.  The days of a Luther who rebuffed his attackers with driving words and cagey insults are gone.  Instead, the Luthers of the world have been replaced by bishops and administrators who would prefer you to get scratched, bitten and eaten instead of defending yourself.  I provided undisputable proof of the lies that were told about me, and...crickets.  So, with no one to defend you and actually receiving criticism if you defend yourself, and the when anger builds...sometimes it is better for self-preservation to slide into silence.  Sometimes it is better to keep thoughts to yourself that you would like to express.  Sometimes it is better to just let things pan out instead of go on the offensive.  

In the big picture of things, I cannot complain.  The Lord led me to a place of soft landing--to a congregation where I can use more of my gifts for ministry; to a wonderful, picturesque setting, to being a part of a team of people who work together using strengths and weaknesses effectively for ministry.  I marvel at how our ministry team works together--a function that I had not been able to experience until now.  And so far, I do not have to worry about the other reason I muzzled myself.

No one is taking my words and warping them for their own purposes.  Geez, that happened so many times by those seeking my departure, it was not even funny.  Things that are of truth: comparing sin to cancer that grows and kills; saying that a portion of the book of Romans is a bit dark; apologizing that an air conditioning unit needed to be replaced.  All of these things were used against me to portray me as unfit; evil; uncaring; dictatorial.  Ah, and not to mention that some things were brought into public that were meant to be kept in confidence--nothing, mind you, that even crossed the line into inappropriate behavior.  There was a moment when I was fending off the wolves in a meeting that went into executive session...  But, it was still used against me.  When patterns of behavior develop in such a fashion; when your words are warped beyond the context you spoke them and they are used by people who should know better, when boundaries are crossed and confidentiality is broken, it is better to refrain from using words and allowing them to be misappropriated.  It is better to keep your mouth shut and speak only those things you are required to say.  There was enough material in my sermons to enrage those who were attacking me--not that I was trying to expose them in the least.  I wasn't.  The Law does a good enough job of that without my help, and as a Law/Gospel preacher...well, I hope you get the gist.

It has taken a couple of years to overcome the fear of speaking and writing once again.  It has taken that long to become comfortable in thought that the attacks will not come.  Perhaps they will.  Perhaps the reach of the internet will stoke the anger of those who attacked me, and once again they will become infuriated.  

But maybe not.  Maybe I now have an opportunity to type once again.  To share thoughts once again.  To reflect once again.  My words may indeed be warped, but comments are off, and I know what I said and what I meant.  And I will remember that as I climb back in the saddle.  I hope there will not be such a pause least until I decide to retire from the ride.