Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Bride of Christ

They called the pastor to set up a meeting with the intent of asking him to baptize their newborn son.  They were not members of the parish but his parents were members of a sister parish so he thought the pastor would be amiable to their request.  The pastor inquired of the two parents regarding their faith and they assured him that they were Christians and had every intention of attending the parish in the future.  The vows taken at the baptismal service were reviewed and a date for the baptism was set.  Extended family was invited and the baptism was fit within a Holy Communion service with all going smoothly until toward the end of the service, before the last hymn, a grandfather of the newly baptized child had a heart attack collapsing in his pew.  An ambulance was called while nurses in the congregation attended to the man.  He survived the heart attack but it created quite a stir in the congregation as it was the first time a service ended abruptly.  Oh, and they never saw the family again.

The Church both locally and universally is the bride of Christ.  She is to be preparing for her groom by walking in the good works God has prepared for her.  She is to be beautiful as she basks in the love of her groom.  But there are those within the Church who will use and even abuse the bride of Christ.  People use her to relieve guilt they have for their sins.  They do this by attending church services and following the liturgy of the Church while never engaging other members or submitting to its leadership.  They use the Church by asking it to sanction their big events in life such as marriages, baptisms, and funerals for loved ones without offering any service to the church or a regular tithe.  People use the Church when it fits into their schedules and when it offers what they like in music and programs, especially youth programs while never sacrificially giving of their time and attention to what the parish is preaching and teaching.

Professing Christians also abuse the Church.  They abuse her by not giving their tithes and offerings and thus not providing for the basic needs of the local parish.  They abuse her by speaking poorly about parish leadership and being critical about decisions made by its vestry.  They abuse the bride of Christ by neglecting her need to love and be loved.

If you have ever used or abused the Church, repent.  A parish is there for you to serve not to be served.  It is there is for you to give to not be given to.  It is there for you to submit to not to submit to you.  Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand for Jesus is coming for his bride.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

”Best friend”

A strong desire within most women is the perceived need for a “best friend”.  The Bible encourages friendship in general, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” Proverbs 18:24.  Deep friendships are able to withstand personal rebukes “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses“ Proverbs 27:6.  But the Bible does not have the category of “best friend”.  I submit that it does not have such a category because a “best friend” does not exist.  

My wife has said that I am her “best friend” but I am not and when I have pressed her on it she agrees with me.  If a “best friend” existed the person to fill such a position would need to feel empathy for another person in all ways and I cannot do that for my wife.  She has experiences that only women can have (carrying and birthing children, monthly cycles, submitting to a husband, etc.). I can love her, respect her and support her but it is only women who can 
empathize with one another.  But I just said the category of “best friend” doesn’t exist so that means that even a woman cannot be a “best friend” for another woman, if I am correct.  That’s right and it is right because even though a woman can have greater empathy for another woman over that which a man can have, no person can, with satisfaction, fully empathize with another person.  Our personalities differences, our education differences, our intelligence differences and our mental and physical health differences impede our ability to fully identify with another person’s experiences.  We are, as the Bible says, “under the sun” and thus unable to know as only God can know.  This leads to an obvious answer which is that Jesus should be the best friend of every Christian.  But I am not going to fully agree.  Yes, Jesus can identify with us better than any person can.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in us can hear our cries and catch our tears.  But, we also “see through the glass dimly”.  We have not yet seen Jesus face to face.  This means that we are not fully whole and that weakens our confidence in believing  and experiencing Jesus as our best friend.  What women and men who feel the need for a “best friend” need to do is recognize and then confess that feeling the need for a “best friend” is a call to die to self.  Times we feel the need for a “best friend” are opportunities to bring such feelings under the authority of the Holy Spirit and to accept that what is presently possessed in this life is sufficient for the moment.  

I realize that my argument that the category of “best friend” doesn’t exist relies on you accepting the definition of “best friend” to be a person who fully empathizes with another person.  If you have a different definition you may dismiss my conclusion regarding the existence of  a “best friend” but please don’t dismiss the final point which is to die to self when such a desire for a best friend rises within.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Self Righteous Left

It does not need to be documented here to accept the fact that the western world and in particular the United States has benefited from the Christian work ethic exemplified by the Puritans.  Our nation continues to benefit from that work ethic even though most work among us is not motivated by desiring to bring glory to God but is instead for selfish gain.  That is what the devil does.  He convinces the weak minded and weak willed to turn a godly ethic into a selfish one.  He has done the same with social ethics.  While the Christian ethic toward our fellow man sets the standard of doing unto others as we would have them do to us and to do so neighbor to neighbor, the devil has removed any motivation to practice such an ethic for the glory of God, replacing it with self-righteousness.  Self-righteousness makes weak people “gods” who believe they can arbitrate who should give to what fellow man and how much while hanging past transgressions over them so that their guilt to give is never removed.  That must be what Hell is like. The unbeliever and his social ethics is self-righteousness and we should call it such.

Posting again

Had a visitor to worship this past Sunday and the primary influence was reading this blog.  I started it so that parishioners of St. Stephen’s could hear pastoral thoughts and answers to modern day sins and foibles.  I’ll continue doing so with the hope that more visitors join us.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Worship and Outward Joy

Church leaders make decisions that result in determined outcomes.  A church leader who decides that his presentation of Jesus and the gospel is going to be always positive and people who attend worship will always be happy and joyful outwardly, he will draw a crowd that wants what he is presenting.  And the better he presents happiness and joyfulness in Jesus the larger his crowd will be.  In contrast, a minister who decides to call people not to be friends with the world will need to present a worship experience that will allow sinners to resist the devil, to cleanse their hands, to purify their hearts, to confess their double mindedness, to lament, to mourn, to weep, to let their laughter be turned to mourning and their joy to gloom.  To do all is to humble themselves before the Lord.  Such a presentation is going to draw a crowd that wants to be humbled and the better the church leader presents such a humble worship experience the smaller the crowd will be.  That is the way of it. 

I asked a Bible study group what would happen if we put on our reader board for advertisement, "Come and worship with us!  Cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, lament, mourn and weep."  they just laughed.  James 4

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Shack - A Review


The movie, The Shack, has made its way to the movie theatres and so I want to address what it conveys head-on.  Disclaimer: I have not seen the movie nor will I see the movie.  However, I did read the book so that is enough authority for me to write this to you.  

The story, The Shack, tries to show how God (the Christian God) can help a distraught and spiritually bankrupt father (named Mack) work through the pain and find something redeeming from the horrible death of his young daughter who was abducted and killed by a serial killer as a result of the father needing to leave his young daughter alone at a campsite in order to save one of his sons from drowning.  

After four years the father is summoned back to “the shack” where his daughter suffered at the hands of the serial killer.  At the shack God supposedly appears to Mack in various personal forms in order to help him deal with not only the hellish death of his daughter but also the abuse Mack suffered from his own father.  

In the shack God is described as appearing as a “papa” or father figure to Mack by the personae of an overweight black woman.  In other scenes God is described as appearing as “Jesus” who has the personae of a Middle-Eastern carpenter.  In other scenes God the Holy Spirit is described as appearing with the personae of an Asian woman named Sarayu.  

The most obvious heresy in The Shack can be traced back to the third century A.D under titles such as Sabellianism or modalism.  The heresy in its simplest form teaches that God is not three distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) but instead He takes on three personalities in order to redeem humanity.  There should be no serious doubt that The Shack is guilty of said heresy and thus should be dismissed as heretical with nothing more needing to be said.  However, there is another demonic deception in the story that is more persuasive amongst Christians and thus more damaging to the Church than modalism.  The deception is another expression of the idol that is Jesus and me, only.  

The Shack has an appeal to the broken hearted who perceive that God was either not present in moments of their greatest suffering or that He was indifferent.  The story of Mack being met by three different persons of the godhead who meet him personally at the points of his greatest vulnerabilities is an attempt to portray God as adaptable to our sufferings.  Evidently, when a Christian comes to such an understanding about God then the faith of said person is preserved.   But is that the gospel?  

The gospel is described more generally as God so loving the world that He gave His only Son.  God loving the world has an end product of Him redeeming His creation when He establishes a new heaven and a new earth and all who live will live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  That Jesus is said to have been the sacrifice for the whole world (1 John 2:2) further verifies the ultimate end of the work Jesus accomplished.  I underline “the whole world” and “the world” not as a universalist (for that too is a heresy) but to point out that all of God’s creation longs to be redeemed and Jesus has sufficiently supplied the means by which it will (all of it) be redeemed in the end and part of that redemption will be the suffering of those who will be judged for eternal damnation.  

In addition to “the world” being redeemed we are also told that Jesus will return to take home his bride, the Church, to a place he has prepared for her, heaven. Therefore, the new heaven is going to be occupied by the Church.  The “Church” is a collective noun made up of individuals who do not and cannot exist outside of the body of the bride.  Directly speaking, Jesus is not coming back for individual believers but for his Bride, the Church, which is made up of individuals.  The point being that if an individual claims Jesus as his Lord and Savior he must be a part of the Body, the Bride, the Church or there is no such Lordship and no such Salvation.  Christians then are to think first of the Church and then of themselves as a part of the Church from which they cannot be separate rather than think of their personal salvation as priority and the Church and its importance in the redemptive story as tertiary. 

This leads me to making the point that in The Shack the Church is tertiary and that is being generous.  The reason for making the Church tertiary may be more complicated than I describe here, but what follows certainly contributes.  Christians often apply the fact that Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted like we are and yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15) to be an encouragement that Jesus identifies with us personally.  And while the point the Preacher to the Hebrews makes includes personal encouragement, the greater truth is that Jesus is our High Priest and as a High Priest he identifies with us as a people, just as the High Priest of Israel did when he entered the Holy of Holies to make an offering for the sins for all the people of God.  

There are other passages that Christians read individualism (Jesus and me, only ) into, such as when Jesus promises that he will never leave his followers.  When he does so such as in Matthew 28:20 he uses the second person plural “you” which can only mean his Church, as opposed to speaking to each individual person.  Even when he says in John 14 that he goes and prepares a place for “you”, that too is second person plural.  Yes, the plural “you” includes the individuals that make up the “you,” but not apart from the whole, the Church.  

Get to the point…Yes, the point is that The Shack portrays a God who becomes incarnate for the sake of an individual who has suffered a great deal of emotional and relational pain.  But the God of Holy Scripture is revealed as One who became incarnate for the sake of all of God’s people that they might identify with him and that identification with him (Jesus) is sufficient for salvation and that salvation includes the healing of emotional and relational wounds.  This is part of what St. Paul meant when he said to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”  Here, Paul could not be saying that the suffering of Jesus was lacking for that would be inconsistent with his own teachings.  No, instead he must mean that more of his own suffering is needed so that he could further identify with Jesus.  Hence, in our suffering it is not Jesus who identifies with us but us with Jesus and as we identify more with Jesus the more we are molded into his image.  

In summation the story of The Shack says that the incarnation of Jesus was not sufficient for all the pain humanity endures on the earth.  In contrast the gospel says that the incarnation of Jesus was sufficient for all the pain of humanity only when people suffer in relation to Jesus in the context of the Church instead of as individuals who insist on God identifying with them.   

Monday, February 6, 2017