Friday, July 29, 2011

Martin Luther on the Gospel - Commenting on Galatians 1:7, 16

VERSE 7. And would pervert the gospel of Christ. To paraphrase this sentence: "These false apostles do not merely trouble you, they abolish Christ's Gospel. They act as if they were the only true Gospel-preachers. For all that they muddle Law and Gospel. As a result they pervert the Gospel. Either Christ must live and the Law perish, or the Law remains and Christ must perish; Christ and the Law cannot dwell side by side in the conscience. It is either grace or law. To muddle the two is to eliminate the Gospel of Christ entirely." It seems a small matter to mingle the Law and Gospel, faith and works, but it creates more mischief than man's brain can conceive. To mix Law and Gospel not only clouds the knowledge of grace, it cuts out Christ altogether. The words of Paul, "and would pervert the gospel of Christ," also indicate how arrogant these false apostles were. They were shameless boasters. Paul simply had to exalt his own ministry and Gospel.

Luther, Martin; Graebner, Theodore (2011-03-24). Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Kindle Locations 329-335). Kindle Edition.

We now hear what kind of doctrine was committed to Paul: The doctrine of the Gospel, the doctrine of the revelation of the Son of God. This doctrine differs greatly from the Law. The Law terrorizes the conscience. The Law reveals the wrath and judgment of God. The Gospel does not threaten. The Gospel announces that Christ is come to forgive the sins of the world. The Gospel conveys to us the inestimable treasures of God.

Luther, Martin; Graebner, Theodore (2011-03-24). Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Kindle Locations 463-466). Kindle Edition. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Daily humor - Witticisms

A few thoughts from a family email:

One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory. Rita Mae Brown
Retirement at sixty-five is ridiculous. When I was sixty-five I still had pimples. George Burns
The difference between genius and stupidity is; genius has its limits. Albert Einstein
I may be inconsistent, but not all the time.
No husband has ever been shot while doing the dishes
The secret to finding something is knowing where it is
Where do forest rangers go to 'get away from it all'?
Don't judge a book by its movie.
I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.
Smoking is one of the leading causes of statistics
Why is Greenland icy, and Iceland green?
Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?
If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?
All general statements are false
Be nice to your kids. They'll choose your nursing home.
What if this weren't a hypothetical question?
Do vegetarians eat animal crackers?

Loving Volunteers - Good thoughts received in an email today...

As received from a Group Magazine Email:

6 Ways to Become a Volunteer Magnet--and get your volunteers to stick around!

1. Watch your language

A healthy environment for volunteers is saturated with verbal honor--regular, specific praise for what they're doing. In his book The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, Hans Finzel says, "Organizational researchers have been telling us for years that affirmation motivates people much more than financial incentives, but we still don't get it."

2. Listen more intensely
Author Stephen Covey borrowed this from St. Francis of Assisi: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Next to physical survival, says Covey, "the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival--to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated." He adds that when you listen carefully to another person, you give that person "psychological air." Once you've met that need, the door is open for you to influence and problem-solve.

3. Lead from the big picture
Your job isn't to serve your volunteers--it's to serve God! In the soon-to-be-classic bookOn Being a Servant of God, author Warren Wiersbe says, "Ministry isn't easy, but you make it more difficult for yourself if you serve people instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can't please everybody, so don't even try".  What great advice! And when you practice it, you'll draw your volunteers away from trivial concerns and into a much bigger mission.

4. Love by your actions
Communicate love to your volunteers by respecting their time. How often have we asked people to show up early only to have them sit around? Been wishing for 10 new hands-on volunteers?  20?  If you answered yes, what would these leaders do? Unless you can assign specific responsibilities with meaning and purpose, they'll quickly lose interest, be ineffective, and drop out.

5. Laugh a lot...with your team
Create a tradition of getting together with volunteers for fun nights. Put names of restaurants into a hat, then pick one for appetizers, one for dinner, and one for dessert--or just pick one course if you're on a budget.  These nights are sure to be highlights for your team, as long as you follow one rule: no shop talk!  It may be challenging at first, but keep each other accountable.  Focus on having fun and getting to know each other personally.  And don't forget to laugh.  It sends a strong, personal message like nothing else.

6. Let go of some of your real responsibilities
Nothing frustrates volunteers more than shoddy delegation or excessive supervision. When you delegate, give specific guidelines and expectations. But don't equate "specific" with claustrophobic oversight. Show confidence in their ability and character; step back, and let them do it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted

One of the hardest things a pastor must do is keep reality before the people. It's easy to sugar coat life and to go along with the flow. Going upstream is always difficult. It makes me think of a quote by Walter Hooper in the preface of C.S. Lewis' Business of Heaven. Hooper writes, "There has been in recent years a movement to soft-pedal sin and to loud-pedal love joy, and peace."

One of the privileges and pains of ministry is the need to speak of the dark horrors of reality (sin, death, hell, judgment) and the unimaginable joys possible through faith in Jesus Christ (forgiveness, life, heaven, and peace). To neglect one over the other is to present something other than reality.

In our day, I sense Americans need to be reminded of the dark horrors of reality before they are ready to hear about the unimaginable joys. Those suffering in China, the Middle East, and parts of Africa are probably more in need of the latter--they are quite familiar with dark horrors.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Dangers of Misdiagnosis

Some of the saddest stories I come across are when we hear of someone dying because of a misdiagnosis. It grieves my heart to see the pain that results in death.Similarly, we must realize that most self-help books, popular talk-show hosts, and fad diets are misdiagnosing the real human problem. This is the main theme of my upcoming sermon this Sunday at Cornerstone Church.

But here's an example we can glean from a modern film: In a scene from Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs¸ a detective who is trying to catch a brutal killer goes to a convicted killer and canniblizer, Hannibal Lecter, and tries to get him to join her cause:

Starling: "...I think you can provide some insight and advance this study."

Lecter: "And what possible reason could I have to do that?"


"About what?"

"About why you're here. About what happened to you."

"Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can't reduce me to a set of influences. You've given up good and evil for behaviorism, Officer Starling. You've got everybody in moral dignity pants--- nothing is ever anybody's fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I'm evil? Am I evil, Officer Starling?"

Lecter hits the nail on the head. If you believe in social Darwinism or surival of the fittest, you would have to assert that such a monster is no more evil than a cute caterpillar. There is no "ought" morality in a world that just "is." If random chance is the determining reality, there is no Being or Beings capable of saying what is good or evil. Everything just is. But most people know the true answer to Lecter's question. "Yes, you are evil. You are a sinner. You are guilty before a holy God. You are a perversion of nature, a broken being in need of healing." Chuck Colson writes, “When we refuse to listen to the true diagnosis of the sickness of the soul, we will not find a true remedy, and in the end it will destroy us.” (191, How Now Shall We Live?)

Let's quit misdiagnosing humanity's problem and turn to the only solution that matters: the Christ who came to save evil sinners. Education doesn't save sinners. Money does not save sinners. Even morality does not save sinners. More to be said . . . hope to see you Sunday.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Reflections on this past Sunday

   About 9:55AM (5 minutes before the church service begins) this past Sunday, my mind, body, and soul began to stir. Not the kind of joyfilled urgency I sometimes sense on the Lord's Day, but rather a knot of doubt, confusion, anger, and the removal of all sense of peace. As the worship music started, I couldn't direct my heart to the Lord. I was overly critical of every thing going around: the music, the people, my son, etc. Then during the greeting time I spoke an unkind word toward someone (later I apologized). At that moment, I left the worship space to think, pray, and get away.
   Even after coming back into the sanctuary, I still had a difficult time focusing on the Lord and having a sense of love toward the people of God. I shared with the congregation before preaching of this sense of "being out of sorts" and had a moment of silence before preaching. I made it through the sermon. It wasn't the epitome of fine preaching but sufficient.
   That night the person I apologized too commented that it would be just the sort of thing Satan would do. My text was Colossians 1:15-23. I was attempting to show that through Christ the entire cosmos of God's making (heaven, earth, all that is visible and invisible) was reconciled through the Cross of Christ on Calvary. One reason the cosmos could be reconciled is that all of God's enemies (Satan and sin in particular) were overthrown and defeated. And as my friend noted, Satan "doesn't like people being told he's been defeated."
   Would you pray for me this week that I would rest in and live out of Christ's victory over Satan and all evil powers (Colossians 2:15)? Satan wants to thwart God's work, but may we press on in faithfulness and in the power of the Holy Spirit!

Final reflection:
One area in the sermon where I was confused (and therefore so was the presentation of it) is the conditional sentence found in Colossians 1:22-23. Maybe this was Satan or maybe this was just poor preparation. Thus, oftentimes after sermons, I keep studying the text to understand what was missed. Here's a short explanation of the difficult if/then clause:
   The text reads in the NIV: 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.
   Craig Blomberg explains (in Pentecost to Patmos, 291), "...reconciliation with God is guaranteed granted the Colossians perseverance (Col. 1:21-23). Verse 23a is a first class condition and does not introduce any doubts into the "if-clause." (italics in original) Paul is assuming it to be true that the Colossians will persevere in the faith (this is what a 1st class conditional sentence in Greek syntax indicates). The promise of Christ's reconciliation is based on persevering faith, which Paul assumes to be true of the believers in Colossae. It becomes a promise to all believers as well. N.T. Wright argues from his commentary on Colossians and Philemon (footnoted in Blomberg): "From God's point of view, genuine faith is assured of continuing to the end. From the human point of view, Christians discover whether their faith is of the genuine sort only by patient perseverance."
   One warning I made in the sermon that I'll echo again is this: we must persevere in the faith. Perseverance is not humans adorning themselves with good deeds or righteous actions. Perseverance is persistent faith in Christ alone to bring us Home. That is why in 1 John 5:13 the apostle tells us: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. Belief in Christ assures eternal life. If we lack spiritual fruit in our life, we must address the root (unbelief). Going out and doing good deeds and acting nicer is not perseverance; that is like looking at a fruitless apple tree and going out and buying apples at the store and duct-taping them onto the branches. Real faith is faith alone in Christ alone; this is saving faith. And by the grace of God saving faith results in spiritual fruit.