Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Church's Call: Welcome All People, Tell the Truth About Sin and the Son, Jesus

Over on Facebook, Holly Robinson, who, like me, is part of the crew that produces the blog The Moderate Voice, wrote to say that a friend of hers is leaving an ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] congregation because the ELCA is not "gay-friendly enough."

I'm a pastor of the ELCA and, as many readers of this blog will know, I remain opposed to recent policy changes in the denomination allowing gays and lesbians in monogamous relationships to be ordained as pastors in the church. (By the way, current policy states that heterosexuals living in monogamous relationships without the benefit of marriage may not be ordained, unlike their gay and lesbian counterparts. Figure that one out, if you can.) My opposition to this policy change is based on the clear teaching of Scripture that the genders were created to express sexual intimacy in covenants of marriage involving one man and one woman (see: Genesis 2:18, 20-25; Exodus 20:14) and the overt Biblical condemnation of sexual expressions outside of lifetime heterosexual marriage (Leviticus 18:22*; numerous Biblical condemnations of fornication, which is sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual marriage; Romans 1:26-27, where homosexual activity is seen as a consequence of humanity's utter disregard for God's will).

None of this discussion, so far as I'm concerned, has anything to do with the debate over gay marriage as legitimized by state governments, by the way. The state's interest in domestic relationships is entirely different from that of God and the Church.

Here, slightly revised for clarity, is how I responded to Holly's comment:
The question before the ELCA is not about friendliness or hospitality.

The Church should welcome all people and should stand for civil rights for all people.

The question before the ELCA rather, is whether we will stand under the authority of God's Word or will stand over it as its judge. "Unsinning" that which God calls sin is not an option.

  Another question is whether we will uphold the Scripture's teachings on such issues as Jesus as "the way, and the truth, and the life." (See here, here, here, and here.) (There are no other pathways to God but through Jesus.)

Another is whether we will uphold the Scriptures' teachings on the physical resurrection of Jesus. (See here.)

Yet another question is if we will uphold the Scriptures' teaching that there will be a physical resurrection of the dead who trust in Christ as God and Savior. (See here.)

Yet all of the alternative views roused by these questions have been legitimized by the ordination of and the failure to discipline those pastors who adhere to them by the ELCA. For many of us, including myself, the actions of the ELCA last August are the official, public confirmations of the denomination's slide away from Christ, the Scriptures, and the Lutheran Confessions which has been ongoing for twenty-one years.

In the name of being friendly or nice, we as a denomination have often forgotten the Gospel and our call to share it with the world. (See here.) That, in fact, is the core purpose of the Church and everything we do should revolve around this Great Commission given to us by Christ Himself.

The consequences of our ELCA's spiritual amnesia can be tragic for all whose lives we touch! To consider this point, imagine a little scenario for a second. If you see a pedestrian floating unknowingly into heavy traffic, what is the most loving thing to do: allow them to do it unchallenged in the view that such floating expresses their natural inborn impulse, or warn them with all the compassion and passion at your disposal that her or his life is endangered by this behavior? The Church is called to proclaim God's Law and God's Gospel, because until we recognize that our eternal lives are endangered by heedlessness of God's Law, we won't understand what the Gospel--the good news--of Jesus' death and resurrection, involves. Until we who are blind are helped to see, we won't understand that Jesus has come to give those who dare to turn from sin and trust in Him, new, everlasting lives.
There is no love in a "Gospel" that fails to explain that our sins put the sinless Jesus on the cross and that apart from repentance for those sins and faith in Jesus, our deaths will result in eternal separation from the God Who wants nothing so much as to forgive us and live with us for all eternity!

The ELCA has chosen to float along with the prevailing winds of the intellectual currents in this post-modern world. We've bought into what C.S. Lewis once described as God as grandfather, a jolly old soul who doesn't mind what we do so long as a good time is had by all. God is turned into an irrelevant caricature with no sense of right and wrong and with no need to send the Messiah to save us from sin and death.

I believe that the Church is called to cling to the God revealed in Jesus and to His cross, no matter what.

So, whether the congregation I am privileged to serve votes to stay or leave the ELCA, I will continue to proclaim the Bible as it stands and pray for the moment when the ELCA or what's left of the ELCA turns back to God and proclaims the Word in its truth and purity.

I am a sinner, an imperfect person saved only by God's grace. I welcome others to worship and study and repent with me because God welcomes me, imperfections and all.

I have learned though, that while God loves me just as I am, God loves me too much to leave me that way. I, like all who repent and believe in Jesus, are, in Martin Luther's phrase, "the Holy Spirit's workshop," submissive to the often painful and jarring, but always rewarding and joyful process of being made over in the image of my Savior. That painful, jarring, rewarding, joyful process will continue for the rest of my days on earth so long as I keep submitting to Jesus. I love Paul's words in Philippians 3:8-16:
I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Being a Christian is about submission to God and to God's will, even when we don't like it. Absent such submission or the daily desire for submission to God, there is no reason to speak of God as God. Without submission to the God we know in Jesus Christ and to the revealed will of God, the one true God of the universe becomes just another entree in a spiritual buffet, a choice among many, rather than the one God Who will reign over us without rivals or will not reign over us or have anything to do with us at all. I honestly struggle with submission to God each day and this is why confession of sin is a daily part of my life. This is also why I refer to the Church as a fellowship of recovering sinners who have hope not because of their rectitude or their virtues, but solely because the God revealed in Jesus has covered our sins and sent the Holy Spirit to help us make the painful midcourse corrections we all need to undergo each day in order to keep walking with Christ.

When we--members of the ELCA or human beings, in general--reserve the right to call our own shots irrespective of God's revealed will in Scripture, we become our own gods and that is a violation of the first and most basic commandment, the one that inheres in each of the other nine: "You shall have no other gods before Me."

God wants to welcome all the prodigals home. But God can't welcome prodigals who want, simultaneously, to come home and do their own things. It is impossible to follow two gods and that, sadly, seems to be what the ELCA is currently intent on doing: the God of Israel and Jesus, on the one hand, AND the God of post-modern me-worship, on the other. In Exodus 20:5, we're told that God is a jealous God, meaning God will not accept our spiritual waffling. God will either reign over us and our churches or God will be absent from our lives and from our churches; there is no other course. ELCA members who, in the name of not hurting people or of being nice, want to waffle, are flat-out refusing to unambiguously adhere to the basic Lutheran understanding of "grace alone, faith alone, word alone."
At our congregation, Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, I believe, the welcome mat is always out for all people. But all who come should consider these Biblically-rooted lines from an old Randy Stonehill song:

"You'll be tempted, tried and tested
There'll be wars the devil wins
But God's love is not a license to lie
there in your sins
He understands the human heart
His mercy is complete
But His grace was not intended
As a place to wipe your feet"
('Angry Young Men' Randy Stonehill, 1984)

God bless you, Holly!

*Not all of Leviticus should be read in the same way all through. But the section from which this verse comes is one in which the Ten Commandments, the Mosaic Law, valid for all peoples everywhere, are explicated. In Leviticus and other places in the Old Testament, there are three different kinds of laws. I talk about this issue here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Human foot is discovered on beach" "Big strides"

Those were the top two headlines, in order, on the BBC News Front Page feed on Google Reader just now. It's hard not to make a connection between the two stories. Here's how they appeared on the BBC site:

By the way, the subject of the second article, is pictured on a beach.

'Fine Line' and 'Helter Skelter' Live by McCartney

Love this!

Zoo Seven

I downloaded this band's new LP for free earlier today. I like it!

By the way, here's a video for the title track, 'Lifesaver.'

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Think about how good it will feel when it stops hurting."

And it will one day, through Christ!

It makes me think of this song by Randy Stonehill:

Words and Music by
Randy Stonehill

All the earth will watch in silence
When love banishes the night
Every heart will worship in His


And we'll all be together
In a world without pain
And we'll fly like eagles on the
His breath from which we came

All our longing will be over
Every secret shall be know
When His voice of thunder calls
us home

(Repeat Chorus)

© Copyright 1983 by Stonehillian Music &
Word Music (a division of Word, Inc.)

Equator is available on iTunes!

Monday, August 09, 2010


I love this T my wife picked up for me at a thrift store recently. As every Buckeye alum knows, we who graduated from the school mentioned here, matriculated at THE Ohio State University. Back in the day when I wrote out checks for my tuition, I heeded the bursar's instruction to note the payee in just that way.

Living as a Christian is Always Subversive

This is an outstanding devotion and so appropriate for us today when the culture seems to encourage and reward narcissism, self-absorption, and winning at any price.

It's amazing how countercultural and subversive Christian faith always is...and how gratifying for those who embrace Christ as Lord and King over their lives!

Sunday, August 08, 2010


[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Luke 12:32-40
Like the other three gospels in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, and John, the Gospel of Luke tells us about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But each of the gospel writers do this in their own style. In Luke, chapter 9, verse 51 through chapter 18:14, a section that the scholars call the Great Interpolation, we see Jesus’ movement to His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension as a journey, a journey Jesus was intent on taking no matter what the cost, a journey that would bring all who repent and believe in Him everlasting life in God’s kingdom.

The careful reader of this section of Luke will notice that in Jesus' journey, there are echoes and allusions to another journey, the one taken by the ancient Israelites when God led them out of slavery in Egypt to a land that God had promised to give to them. That journey had taken forty years and had been filled with challenges, difficulties, and temptations. In the end, only two people from the original generation that left Egypt ended up crossing the Jordan River into the promised land. One was Caleb. The other was God's designated successor to Moses, God's hand-picked leader of His people, a man named Joshua, whose name in Hebrew is Yeshua, in Greek is Yesus, and English is Jesus. It's a name that means, God saves.

One-thousand, five-hundred years later, God the Father would send another Yesus, Jesus, this one both a sinless man and the incarnation of God Himself, to once again save people, this time from sin and death, and to lead those who believe in Him to a better place. So, there are good reasons for Luke to portray Jesus’ movement to the cross and beyond as a journey, not the least of which being that you and I are on journeys too; we call it life.

Along the way, we, like the ancient Israelites, as we read in the Old Testament, and like Jesus and His first followers, as we see in Luke's Gospel, face challenges, opposition, and temptations.

Will our journeys culminate in our living eternally in the presence of God and in the fellowship of all who trust in Christ?

This is a question being answered daily throughout our own life journeys. Forgiveness, life, and hope are free gifts from the God most fully revealed to us in Jesus. But, as was true of Jesus’ first followers, it's possible for us kick all of God’s free gifts away. That happens when we trust in ourselves, or our own reasoning, or wealth, or power, or acceptance, instead of trusting in Jesus Christ alone. Doing any of these things constitutes betrayal of Jesus and builds up walls between God’s grace and us that can only be torn down when we turn from sin and surrender to Christ.

During His journey to Jerusalem, when the temptation to look out for Himself must have been incredible, Jesus spent most of His time encouraging His first followers—and you and me—for our journeys through life, assuring us of God’s love and and grace and favor for us. Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke comes from Luke's journey narrative. If you would, please pull out your Celebrate insert and find the Gospel lesson.

Our lesson can be divided into two major sections. The first is verses 32 to 34. Here, Jesus is finishing up some teaching on money, possessions, and worry. Those three things always seem to go together. And after twenty-six years as a pastor, I can tell you that this cluster of issues is one the most important causes of marital discord. Most couples who call me up to talk about tensions in their marriages will immediately mention this as a major cause of tensions. So, Jesus’ words are really important here. Read along silently while I read these verses:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms [alms are gifts of charity for the poor]. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Here, Jesus addresses His flock—the Church—and all its individual members. “Don’t worry about your finances [Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to be reckless spendthrifts. He says not to worry about finances.]” Then Jesus says. “Just as it brings God pleasure to give You His kingdom, give to others.” The God Who gave His Son and gives us, as James puts it elsewhere in the New Testament, “every good and perfect gift,” frees and commands us to be givers as well. Secure in all of God’s good gifts, we are set free to be the loving, giving people we were meant to be.

The WELCA group members know that, this past week, I read about two modern American churches that have tried to live out these words, not as a means of earning God’s favor, but as a way of expressing their thanks for God’s grace and as a way of saying that in the journey of faith, their fear of poverty would not trump their trust in God.

In one church, a pastor wondered one day how much money was being spent on altar flowers every Sunday. He then proposed setting up a fund made up of money the congregation otherwise would have spent on altar flowers; the fund was designated for the emergency financial needs of members of the congregation. Their sanctuary may not have been as pretty on Sunday mornings without the flowers, but all who gave and all who received were drawn closer to Christ!

In another congregation, members reached a stunning—and seemingly impossible--decision: “There will be no needy among us.” The church set up a fund to provide for the needs of its members.

These churches took seriously Jesus’ admonition not to allow our purses to become weighed down or worn out from carrying the stuff of the world. Instead, they invested in what lasts—the love of God and the people of God.

How might we do this at Saint Matthew? Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also!

Do we treasure Jesus more than we do our wallets? That is a question that Jesus challenges us to ask ourselves every day!

When we do value Jesus more than anything, we will see our money not as an end—a god to be worshiped—but as a means of sharing Christ’s love. (I am still learning this, by the way.)

In verse 35, Jesus changes subjects. After He’s gone through cross, resurrection, and ascension, He says that one day, He will return to the world. When Jesus does that, He will set all of creation right. How should we live as we continue this journey of life before Jesus' return, then?

Again, read along silently with me while I read verses 35 to 38.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”
In first-century Judea, where Jesus lived, weddings would begin whenever the groom and his party showed up at the door of the bride’s house. And the celebrations could go on for two weeks afterward. (And you think you've been to some wild wedding receptions!)

There was no telling when the groom would come back to his home. In this little parable, Jesus says that the smart servants or slaves of a groom would be ready for his return at any time. Elsewhere, the New Testament describes the Church as Christ's bride.

Are we in the Church ready for Christ the groom’s return?

Are we trusting in Jesus more than anything?

Are we heeding the authority of Scripture more than our own supposed wisdom or cleverness?

Are we seeking to love God and love our neighbor?

There are many congregations that are more social clubs than churches.

Some are more political organizations than churches.

Some are places for the elite to meet and exchange business cards.

Some are hubs for the self-righteous to look down on the rest of the world.

Jesus says that if, when He returns, we are serving Him and sharing His good news with the world, He will do something extraordinary. He’ll fasten His belt—that is, cinch up his robes, to be ready to work—and He will serve us. The God of all creation, Who has already given His life for us on the cross, will serve us!

That’s a fantastic promise. But it’s followed by daunting words from Jesus. Again, read silently along with me, if you would, verses 39 and 40.
“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Thieves don’t announce their break-ins in advance. Jesus says that, just like a thief who arrives unannounced, He—the Son of Man—is returning to this world at a time we cannot predict. In 2 Peter, in the New Testament, we’re told: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some of you think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

Jesus’ return to the world has been delayed by a God Who wants to give we Christians the opportunity to share the Good News of new life through faith in Jesus with our neighbors, friends, and relatives, people who will be separated from God forever apart from repentance for sin and faith in Jesus Christ.

But, as surely as He first came into this world, as surely as He died on a cross, and as certainly as He rose from the dead, Jesus is coming back one day. Are we prepared?

We prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus by valuing Him more than anything on this earth—including our money.

And we prepare ourselves for the return of Jesus by turning from our sin, by trusting in Him.

We prepare by telling all we know about the God Who wants nothing so much as to love us, to give us His blessings, to forgive our sins, and to feed us on His grace for all eternity.

We prepare also by being steady in our praying, laying the whole world before God, asking His Holy Spirit to move in every facet of life, and by remaining steady in our serving others in Jesus’ Name.

Whenever Jesus returns or if we see Him face to face before He returns to this earth, may we be prepared. May we be found to be faithful. May we hear those words which I have said before I long to hear more than any others, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Amen