Romans 12:2

 

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…”

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If I want to take the measure of the temperature in our house I look at the thermometer. If the temperature is not to my liking I am not obligated to live with it. I have the option of adjusting the thermostat. If the temperature becomes unbearable, making the adjustment becomes a necessity.

Jesus had some specific words for those in whom faith is a living reality. He called them ‘salt’ and ‘light’. When these things are present, the temperature of life is adjusted to the atmospherics of the kingdom. Or, to use Paul’s words, the Christian is not a conformer but a transformer. 

At the same time it is important to point out that the New Testament authors do not put out a call for deliberate social transformation. The New Testament is no Communist Manifesto. St. Paul and the others were not offering a program designed to turn Christians into a legion of social workers. As often as not the Christian life transforms precisely because it’s intent is not to transform. Why? Because Christians are called to continually adjust life to the atmospherics of the kingdom.  If I am a police officer and join a corrupt police department, my duty as a Christian is not to conform to the corruption. If I am in business and am tempted or even ordered to perform in a dishonest fashion, my Christian duty is not to conform to the dishonesty. I am under no obligation to get along with anyone who invites me to conform in this way. 

Simply reflecting the status quo in life is not the way of the Christian. Our lives are tempered not by the latest expedient but by the Word of God as we hear the Law and the Gospel and receive the sacraments, as Christ Jesus conforms us to Himself. The culture offers this formula: ‘Go along in order to get along’. Our faith reminds us, ‘You are not a thermometer. You are a thermostat’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ephesians 1:18-21

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“…that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come;…”

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While on vacation a man went canoeing on a river that was unknown to him. He paddled along for a long time, enjoying the landscape, when he began to feel the current accelerating.  As the canoe picked up speed it suddenly hit a submerged rock, jarring the paddle loose from the man’s hands. He watched helplessly as it floated away. Then, his ear caught the sound of roaring water up ahead. The canoe was being pulled  toward a waterfall. 

One of the signal contradictions of our time is, on the one hand, the triumphant progress of technology and science and, on the other, the sense that humanity has reached a point where the problems, the chaotic difficulties we face may be too much for us. The world has gotten out of control and we may not be able to pull it back. There have been voices in recent decades suggesting that, like the dinosaurs, humanity’s time on this planet may be coming to an end. The urge to leave the planet, to consider the daunting challenge of actually colonizing other planets can be a reflection of this way of thinking. The mood is here. And while it may not always surface it is here. It may be in you. How do we deal with it?

Some would suggest that when the canoe reaches the edge of the waterfall the thing to do is get up and jump. We should defy the ominous future and take things into our own hands, be the masters of our own fate. Others, would drift along keeping their eyes on the shoreline, pulling into themselves, trying to deny the reality of what is actually happening. Still others would lie down in the canoe, cover their heads and ride their fears into the future.

We do face an uncertain future. But when has it not been so? No generation has been given a road map for tomorrow. Each day must be received in trust, in faith. The Christian faith affirms that however ominous the future may appear to be, it will always resolve into the purposes of God.

The gospels tell the story of the ascension of Jesus into heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. From this place of power and authority, the Bible tells us, Christ holds the reigns of history, and your life, in His hands. You may not have the assurance of knowing where you are going, but you can be assured that the currents beneath you flow out of His good and gracious purposes.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

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Titus 2:13

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“…as we await our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…”

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This may sound funny to some of you but whatever happened to whistling? That’s right, whistling.  Oh sure, once in a while you might catch someone whistling a bit, but for the most part you just don’t hear it anymore. I can’t account for it completely but I have some idea as to what has happened, and why it matters.

When my great-grandfather was serving his congregation in southwestern Minnesota at the opening of the twentieth century, events in Moscow, Bangkok or pretty much anywhere else in the far-flung world did not preoccupy him if he knew of them at all. The aches and pains of the world which did occupy him were mostly local, very close to home. There was an a kind of immediacy to life. The scale of life was manageable. 

Now, over a century later, the aches and pains of the entire world are broadcast into our lives almost instantaneously. Media cultures around the world are rubbing our noses in every imaginable dysfunction, tragedy and outrage.  Predictably, the humor of such an age is accompanied by the handmaidens of hopelessness – vulgarity and cynicism.  Whistling requires a light touch, an easy-going sense of humor. Why should anyone be whistling in the face of such a chaotic and crazy world? So, my argument is that whistling has become a casualty of the self-polluting of the contemporary human environment. It is a small symptom of a larger illness. 

A sense of humor ought to have a place in the Christian life. That’s the real issue. Can we have an authentic sense of humor, devoid of cynicism, in such a world? I think so. It is in the gap between what we are and what we ought to be where both tragedy and comedy dwell. Christians are very much aware of this gap. We know that gap to be the result of sin, our separation from God, one another and the creation. Apart from the framework of that “blessed  hope” that is in Christ Jesus, it is hard to face this gap without trending toward cynicism, even despair.

In Christ Jesus God has closed the gap between Himself and our sin. What this means for you as a Christian is that you can face the disparities in your life and the world in the light of God’s grace. Like everything else in the life of faith, both tragedy and comedy are informed and tempered by this grace. This grace enables you to employ both compassion and humor in your dealings with the aches and pains of your own life and this crazy world. And as you reflect on that grace, and all the promise and blessed hope it holds because of Christ Jesus.  It may even get you to whistling once in a while!

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

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1 John 4:8

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“God is love.”

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Many years ago a family moved in across the street from some friends of mine. On the very first day the husband invited my friends over for coffee. The next week they were invited again, this time for dinner. The new neighbor waved smilingly across the street each time he saw my friends. That is until one day when this new fellow approached my friend and aksed him if he needed any help with life insurance. My friend said no, he was well taken care of in that area. The new neighbor smiled and went home. That was the last time he heard from him.

It is important for me to know that even if God gets very little done with me He loves me nonetheless. In fact, it is truly a travesty when we use love.

Our language does not have a word for God’s love. The ancient Greek language of the New Testament does. That word is ‘agape’, which may be translated ‘undeserved’ or ‘unmerited love’. 

The love of God is an end in itself. He does not use it for other purposes. He doesn’t love us in order to save us or change us or do something to us.  If God accomplishes nothing with us He loves us still. God loves His children that are forever lost to Him as much as He loves those who have come home. God does not use His love to get something done.  This is part of of what it means to say ‘God is love’. God’s love is not an emotion or a feeling. It is not a responsive love that is attracted to the beautiful and repelled by the ugly. It does not calculate or count the cost.

A Coast Guard captain called for his crew to launch their ship into a great and terrible storm. A ship was foundering and the distress signal had gone out. One of the crewmen objected. “Captain”, he said,”If we sail out into that gale we may never come back.”  The captain replied, “Getting back is not our chief concern. Getting to that ship is.”

The love of God in the church, reflected in His people, is not an instrument. It is an end in itself. We are not to seek the welfare of others so that they will join our church or give money to the church or think well of the church. God loves and that’s it. And His people are to love whether it achieves anything or not.

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 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Knowledge, Power, and . . .

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“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,”

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Our time has been called the information age. We have more of it at our fingertips than previous generations could have imagined. And each day we gain more knowledge.  For many the key to the human future is knowledge. Knowledge will power us to a utopian human future, they say.

For others, power itself is what matters. Power in the form of money, political leverage, military might, the capacity to wheel and deal and aquire wealth. Life coaching types make millions off the promise of helping people discover and apply ‘personal power’, which is supposed to unleash one’s power to achieve success, however defined. The world is obsessed with knowledge and power as the levers, once properly controlled, that will bring us the life we want. We see it all around us and in ourselves.

You were created in the image of God. The Bible tells us so and this is a high calling. Therefore, the fact that knowledge and power preoccupy us is no accident. They are supreme gifts that distinguish us among all creatures. God is all-powerful and He has given you some power. God is all knowing and has given you some knowledge.

But there is a third characteristic of God for which you were also made and it is more important by far than the other two: holiness and righteousness. God is all-holy, we are not holy. This, not the lack of knowledge or power, is the great human tragedy. When the awesome gifts of knowledge and power are in the hands of a creature that lacks the most important quality God has given us, His very holiness, those gifts become tainted and our lives and the world look the way they do. And we have no solution.

In Christ Jesus, God has addressed our betrayal of Him and our descent into unholiness. He took up a cross and allowed our unholiness to crucify Him. Three days later he was raised from the dead. Now in a miracle of love and mercy, God has determined that His holiness and righteous are His gift to us through faith in Christ. It is this faith, not what we know or are able to do, that restores us to our Creator, the world and ourselves. Why has God done this? Is some remnant of righteousness left in us that makes us worth loving. Hardly. God loves us not because of who we are but in spite of us. His love is sheer, undeserved gift. The Bible’s word for it is grace. Our knowledge and power will not save us. The grace of God in Christ Jesus will.

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

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1 John 3:18-24

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“By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before Him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts.”

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The letter of 1 John reminds us that love shows itself by action. But what if it doesn’t? What about those times when we look inside ourselves and have to face the truth that we have not lived up to the great commandment?  

I knew a Christian man years ago who was obsessed with how unloving he was. He complained about it, lamented it, wore it like a thorny crown . His own sinful heart became his prosecutor. I said to him, “The way you carry on, you would think that your sinful heart is greater than Jesus your Savior.”

God is greater than our hearts. Our hearts may prosecute us but God is our judge, He sees through us and knows us. God knows our spiritual condition and He knows that the measure of love we do have in our hearts, born of faith, means that we have passed from death to life.  Although we are imperfect in love – and our hearts will tell us this – we are, nevertheless, born of God’s great love in Jesus and we are His beloved children. Now, there is something to be obsessed about!

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 “May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

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Matthew 28:19

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Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,…”

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The photo above was taken at Pisa, Italy, sight of the famous leaning tower. You can see the tower at the far right of the picture just behind the cathedral. The tower, however, is only one structure in this large complex. It is actually the bell tower for the cathedral. And in front of the cathedral, in the foreground of the picture, is the baptistery. If there was ever an unapologetic statement about the importance of baptism, this might be it!

In Matthew 28 our Lord Jesus issued his final command and promise to his disciples. These words represent the “marching orders” of the Church. Sometimes they are called the “Great Commission”. Significantly, baptism has a prominent place in our Lord’s command.

The first thing to note about our Lord’s words is that they are a command. Baptism, therefore, is not an option the church or the Christian can take or leave. We are not to despise baptism or treat it lightly. Neither are we to speculate on what happens to those who are not baptized. As followers of Jesus, our job is to carry out His command. He will deal with the exceptions. After all, Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Although this text is often quoted as a condition that people must meet to be saved, that is not what the text actually says. The text says that Christ will decide who has access to the Father. How Christ will handle those who do not receive baptism is His business. Our business is to baptize, as He has commanded.

The most important words in Jesus command, however, are these; “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We baptize with water together with God’s name. It is not our word (our decision to repent and follow Christ) that is added to the water (as in what some call believer’s baptism). In baptism God adds His word to the water. That is why the Lord includes the Triune name of God along with His command to baptize. He wants the Christian to know and trust that in baptism God promises to give you His name. This is the central promise God gives you in baptism. This is the promise that we are called to trust, in which we place faith. It is a promise designed to comfort and encourage sinners.

Though some may challenge it, you don’t have to apologize for your baptism. God has promised in baptism to be your God, to identify you with everything he has done for your salvation in Jesus Christ, to give you the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In baptism, God has made a decision for you. 

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“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

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