Friday, December 2, 2011

Newsweek: The Sex Addiction Epidemic

When I saw this article, I thought, it's just another gimmick to sell magazines. As I looked at it more closely, and especially the new movie "Shame" that is coming soon, I realized this might actually be helpful.

There is nothing really new here. The culprit and common denominator in this malady is always porn. Illicit sexual experiences become addicting, and they fuel a drive for a bigger and better high. What we see again and again turns into what we do until it destroys us.

The ancients did not have digital porn. But they had something better... Religion devoted to sex addiction. I've always suspected that the Baal worshipers and the devotees of Aphrodite never had problems getting their teenagers to go to church.

One comment in the article surprised me (for a Newsweek article). A sex therapist said, "We see a lot of heterosexual men who are addicted to sex and, because culturally and biologically women aren't as readily available to have sex at all times of the day, these men will turn to gay men for gratification."

God's answer to all of this is still the same. When a person has become so ashamed of their sexual sins (or any other sin), God says, "Such were some of you (hetero- and homo- sexual sinners). But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6.11).

Jesus is the only one who promises to take the shame away. And He does.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Fire of Judgment Day

There is an old sermon illustration that compares Judgment Day to a wagon train crossing the prairie. Heading west, the pioneers saw a line of fire across the horizon coming straight toward them as it was driven by the wind. Quickly the wagon master gathered all the people together. Then he took several men with him, and they walked back over the trail to the east from which they had just come. The men deliberately set the grass on fire. After enough of it had burned, they moved the wagons back onto the blackened landscape. Now the original fire was coming toward them furiously. Some of the people cried out in fear as it approached. But the wagon master assured them: "Don't be afraid. We are standing where the fire has already burned."

That is a beautiful illustration of Judgment Day. We who believe in Jesus stand with Him on Calvary where the judgment of God against sin already burned. In His death, Jesus took the fire of God's wrath for us. As the wrath of Judgment Day approaches, those who are in Christ have nothing to fear. They stand where the fire has already burned. For more on the Christian view of Judgment Day, see my sermon on Judgment Day from November 20, 2011.

1 Thessalonians 1.10 (We)"wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."

Picture: Prairie Fire by William Ranney, 1848

Note: This illustration is adapted from one attributed to Henry A. Ironside. Henry was a well-known preacher in the early 1900s. But he was also a strong advocate for the teaching of dispensationalism - an approach to Bible interpretation that I strongly reject.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Mind Is Like Silly Putty

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.6-7 ESV).

Our minds are wonderful creations of God. But did you know they need to be guarded? When I was a boy I used to play with Silly Putty. You could do a lot of neat things with it. You could make shapes, and you could even bounce it like a ball. But the best thing to do was to flatten it out, press it on the Sunday comics, and pull up a copy of the comic on the Silly Putty. Our minds are like that too! They are made by God to pick up everything. If we constantly expose our minds to bad things, they will get filled with bad thoughts and desires. Prayer points our minds toward God, cleanses our hearts and minds, and fills them with good things. All of this helps to control anxiety.

For more on the problems of anxiety and the help that God gives us see my sermon "The Right Things Really Matter." (October 10, 2011)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Ultimate Kabash!

People know more Hebrew words than they realize. The most obvious are words like Halleluja = "Praise to the LORD" and Amen = "It is firm, true." One of my favorites is Kabash = "Subdue, tread, put down."

It is found, for example, in Micah 7.19 "He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea." What a colorful image of God's forgiveness! The word "subdue" is the Hebrew word Kabash. In Jesus Christ, God puts the ultimate Kabash on sin.

For more see my sermon "Crossbearing" (August 28,2011).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Centrality of Christ in Christian Education

The new school year is here! Teachers are getting their classrooms and lesson plans ready. Students are assembling their school supplies. This has always been one of my favorite times of the year!

As the school year begins, I've been thinking about the importance of the religion classes in our school. Beginning with "Jesus Time" in preschool and continuing all the way to Confirmation Class in 8th grade and theology classes in Lutheran high school and college... teaching the faith takes priority in all Christian education.

We make substantial sacrifices of time and money to maintain this priority. Some might even think it is a waste of time - a detriment to an excellent education. Why then do Christian schools still lead the way in academics year after year? The reason is that to serve Christ we must not only know what He teaches in the Bible, we must also know what He teaches through His creation. We serve the Lord in a variety of callings, and for each of them it is vital that we understand languages, mathematics, history, science, etc. It is precisely because we give so much emphasis to God's word that we also give so much emphasis to learning everything else.

One of my favorite quotes on this idea comes from Sir Francis Bacon, whom some consider the first philosopher of science:

"To conclude therefore let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's word or in the book of God's works divinity or philosophy but rather let men endeavour an endless progress of proficience in both only let men beware that they apply both to charity and not to swelling to use and not to ostentation and again that they do not unwisely mingle or confound these learnings together." (Advancement of Learning, 1605, p. 10)

God bless all the students and teachers heading back to school this fall. I pray that we would all advance in our learning from "both" of God's good books!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

One Hundred Sayings of Sirach

Jesus Son of Sirach was a Jewish scribe who probably taught in Jerusalem. Around 180 B.C. he committed to writing the oral wisdom he had taught his students. Sirach's wisdom is similar to that of Proverbs and also creates a bridge to that of the later Pharisees.

If you don't have time to read the entire book, you might enjoy clicking through the flashcards I've created... One Hundred Sayings of Sirach. These quotes (along with a few notes) will give you a good taste of Sirach's thought. Much of it is very good. Some of it is definitely not so good.

The errors in Sirach's thought is one of the reasons the Lutheran church never accepted the Old Testament apocryphal books as inspired. Two other important reasons for this is that they do not reference the plan of salvation nor are they hardly ever quoted or referenced in the New Testament.

However, there is much good to be gained by reading the apocryphal books. Martin Luther commended them, and they were included in the first Bibles published by the Lutherans.

Friday, August 12, 2011

iPhone, Dragon Dictation & Evernote

The iPhone, Dragon Dictation and Evernote have transformed the way I study!

One of the most important ways I study is to read and take notes. I used to do that by underlining and then typing out certain phrases, sentences and notes of the book I was reading. This was a painfully slow process. Then I advanced to audio notes. Instead of writing the notes, I recorded them with a digital recorder. This can still be helpful if listening is one of your best learning styles. But the drawback here is that it is difficult to search the audio notes you have taken.

The iPhone, Dragon Dictation* and Evernote** have enabled me to combine both the audio and the typographical records. Here's how I do it:

1. Record your notes in Dragon Dictation on the iPhone. Use the words "period," "comma," and "new paragraph" for punctuation. Keep your recordings short. But you can add new dictations to the same window before you go through the copy and paste procedure below.

2. Copy your text from Dragon Dictation.

3. Paste into an Evernote document.

* Dragon Dictation is speech to text software. The iPhone has a free application for this. It works amazingly well, and you can touch up all your notes with a keyboard.

** Evernote is a free online software program that allows you to type and paste all sorts of notes. There is an iPhone application and a PC program.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lessons from a Banana Tree

Trouble is everywhere in this world. God knows that, and His promises to us are not that we will be exempt from trouble but that we will survive it and thrive in spite of it. I once knew a retired pastor who grew banana trees in his backyard. Bananas will grow in our hot and humid summers in Southern Illinois. But the season isn’t long enough for them to produce much fruit. Some people tried to overcome this by starting their banana trees in a green house earlier in the spring. But, according to my pastor friend, banana leaves, in particular, have to be exposed to the wind as they are growing. If they grow in a quiet greenhouse, and are then put outside, those big beautiful leaves will be shredded by the first summer windstorm. So too, we are exposed to troubles of all kinds as Christians just like anyone else. But God uses those troubles mixed with faith to strengthen us. Job said, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” (ESV Job 23.10).

(Adapted from "Lord, Save Me" Matthew 14.22-33 Sermon for the 8th Sunday After Pentecost, August 7, 2011.)

Additional Passages that Teach Us About God's Grace in Adversity

NKJ James 5:11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord -- that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

KJV Psalm 94:12 Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law;

KJV Hebrews 12:6-9 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

NKJ Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

NKJ Job 13:15 Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him.

ESV Job 23:10 But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

NKJ 1 Peter 1:6-9 6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith -- the salvation of your souls.

NKJ 2 Corinthians 5:1-3 For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.

NKJ Habakkuk 3:17-19 Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls -- 18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. 19 The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer's feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.

NKJ John 16:22 "Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Prayer for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

The Iran Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence given to a 32 year old evangelical pastor in Iran. Youcef converted to Christianity from Islam when he was a teenager. The Christian Post reports that he is now being returned to his hometown in order to repent. What happens from there we can only hope will lead to some good.

Dear Lord,

Please be with Youcef, his family, church members and friends. Support everyone's faith in this terrible trial. Give him strength and wisdom to resist all temptations and to remain faithful to Christ.

If it be Your will, let him live and be free to preach the Gospel. If he continues to be imprisoned or even killed, let his faithful witness reach the saved and lost alike and turn them to Christ.

I pray that his tormentors would either be converted themselves, curbed from carrying out their plans for evil, or crushed by Your wrath.

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why Darwin Cried But We Rejoice

In 1839 Emma Darwin wrote a heartfelt letter to her husband Charles. In this letter she warned Charles about the limits of reason and the importance of not giving up on revelation. Darwin, the father of the idea of evolution, was very touched. At the bottom of the letter he wrote: "When I am dead, know that many times I have kissed and cried over this."

Darwin's comment shows that he was involved in much more than science as he was studying the natural world. There is no question that for many people, Darwin included, the idea of evolution draws away from God and away from the Bible. Emma actually said that "there is danger in giving up on revelation."

A cursory dismissal of the Bible and a blind allegiance to the ever changing opinions of scientists can be a very dangerous thing. If we deny the first miracle of God, why would we believe any other miracle of God? At the very least, people ought to consider suspending judgment on an idea that still remains controversial.

On the other hand, recognizing the hand of the Creator in creation draws us closer to God. The creation flows from the love of God and is a constant reminder of His power and majesty. For more on this see my sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011. I would also recommend the new book by Joel Heck titled "In the Beginning, God."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Many Are Schooled, But Few Are Educated

The following excerpts have been taken from a retirement speech delivered by Glenbrook North High School (Illinois) social studies teacher, James McPherrin, who has retired after 33 years of teaching. These excerpts were published by the Illinois Family Institute.

St. Thomas More, the intrepid 16th century chancellor to King Henry VIII of England, once said, "When statesmen forsake their own private consciences for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos." Now, I would suggest that the very same quotation might be tailored so as to apply directly to teachers. It would read, "When teachers forsake their own private consciences for the sake of their public school duties, they lead their students by a short route to chaos."

Thomas More was among the sterling individuals in the western intellectual tradition who understood well the necessary relationship between the natural law and the human law, and that circumstances often challenge us to acknowledge the rational demands the former places upon the latter. More, as we know, would later sacrifice his very life in defense of that compelling idea. In essence, dear colleagues, please consider that our cardinal duty as instructors of the young is to shepherd them in their journey towards truth.

Whether it be European History, English Lit, Calc, Phys Ed, or Music, our task is to foster in students a love for and desire to acknowledge what is true. If such a premise does not inspire our efforts, then I'm afraid they might well be for naught. Make it your purpose to ignite the element of intellectual longing that exists in all young people; that desire to know, that desire to bring order out of chaos. Give them that education to which the English writer, G.K. Chesterton, alluded, when he said, "Many are schooled, but few are educated." There is a difference, and it would behoove us all to acknowledge it openly.

Furthermore, I would encourage you not to align yourselves with those forces within our noble field who would seek to rid the discussion of divine things from the intellectual discourse in our classrooms. This is an unfortunate act that flies in the face of a teacher's visceral commitment to the free exchange of ideas. Steel yourselves against the notion that such discourse violates the separation of church and state. It doesn't. A reflection of ethical ambivalence more than anything else, such an argument is a specious one, and those of us who purport to cherish freedom of expression, ought to find it intellectually repugnant. Students are naturally inclined to ask metaphysical questions. To do so is in complete keeping with their nature as young, sentient, beings. It is how they are wired, and to stifle such instincts, or, to attempt to coach them away, does them a grave disservice.

Once they understand the idea of truth and that things can be known--surprise, surprise--they naturally gravitate toward a desire to know in what truth has its origin. The logical consequences of such thinking may unsettle some of us. However, trepidation of that sort is the lamentable result of lost cultural moorings. To attenuate such discussions is to attenuate the very growth of our students' scholarly faculties. It's as plain as that! We were meant to contemplate higher things--most obviously within our English and history classrooms. Thomas Aquinas understood this as far back as the 1200s and explained quite clearly our human commission, when he said, if you'll permit me, "Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do."

May we have the courage to let our students' minds move freely and joyfully toward those things for which they were made; and if such pursuits lead them to apprehend that force through whom we live and move and have our being, then so must it be. We should view any attempt to stifle such dialogues as nothing less than an attack upon reason itself. A final quotation from the luminous G.K. Chesterton: "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it (Everlasting Man, 1925).

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is the Bible Mythological?

In 1974 Bill Kaysing wrote a book titled “We Never Went to the Moon.” You might be surprised to know that he was able to get a few people to believe his theory. The thing Kaysing had going for him was the fact that the moon landings were incredible accomplishments. Plus there were really no “outside” witnesses. The more incredible, the more amazing something is, the easier it is to say it was just a hoax. Something like that has happened to the most amazing, incredible event of all time - the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The Apostle Peter addressed this in his second letter as he remembered the Transfiguration of Jesus:

2 Peter 1:16-19 For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Many people today try to tell us that the life of Jesus was a myth fabricated by the church to get people to believe in the new religion of Christianity. They love to compare the story of Jesus to a myth like that of the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris. A careful comparison of myths will show, however, that the Scriptural accounts are much different. Consider these three things:

Style: You must compare the actual texts of the Gospels with the texts of these ancient myths. One thing you will discover is that it is often difficult to get decent texts of these myths. When you do get a hold of them, you will notice tremendous differences. Myths are romantic, esoteric, fanciful and anonymous. The Gospels are direct, eye-witness accounts by men who lived in real history. The facts they report are amazing and hard to believe. But the fact is this: They are reported as facts not “just so stories.”

Intent: Secondly, look carefully at the intent of the myths. Human myths always focus on the natural world and the world men. They may be stories to explain the seasons or stories to explain why the king’s son should succeed the king when he dies. The god’s of the myths are nothing like the God of the Bible. Aside from having super powers, they think and act like humans. But the myths created by men never have anything to do with righteousness, the forgiveness of sins or the reuniting of man to God.

No Connection to History: Thirdly, note that myths have no connection to real history. It used to bother me that the Bible was so full of what I thought were insignificant details. I wondered why God didn’t just give us the “doctrine” without all the minor historical details: genealogies, names of rulers, cities, distances from this place to that place, etc. Now I know why God included these things. They show that all this is factual. Six days before the Transfiguration Jesus and His disciples were at Caesarea Philippi. This was an ancient Roman town at the base of Mt. Hermon, the highest mountain in the region. I could take you to Google Maps right now and show you this area. It is located near Highway 99 in the Golan Heights. Myths do not give these kinds of details.

For more on this topic, take a look at my sermon for Transfiguration, 2011.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Shepherd's Prayer

The true shepherd of Christ must always look to Christ for wisdom and strength. He cannot expect that from the flock he is called to lead. He endures their weakness. He absorbs their complaints. He watches their growth or decline carefully and turns to the Lord to ask, "Am I expecting too much or too little? How shall I lead them? How shall I bring them from Goshen to Gilgal?"

"You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73.24-26).

Kyrie eleison!

Picture by Brother Steve Erspamer who designed our stained glass windows at Good Shepherd.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What to Do with Atlas Shrugged?

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged has been an incredibly influential book since its publication more than fifty years ago. Rand raises a vigorous argument for the economic justice of capitalism and a blistering, withering rebuke of socialism. With the first installment of the movie version coming out recently, it will be interesting to see what impact Rand's ideas make on our culture.

Most Americans, trained in a liberally biased education system, often do not know conservative arguments on key issues such as evolution/creation, deism/atheism, or socialism/capitalism. This is what bothers me. People whose education has been so constrained by one-sided arguments might get very excited as they discover Ayn Rand for the first time.

Her criticism of socialism will be empowered by a "prophet effect." I don't see how anyone can read Atlas Shrugged and not see her predictions coming true today. Price controls, elimination of competition, onerous regulations, and cronyism have the same devastating effect on the economy that we see today and that we have seen in all centralized economies. Above all Rand condemns socialism's resistance to ingenuity, invention, and improvement. Socialism does not move the culture forward but backward.

So then, what's so wrong with Rand? I will start with her reply to William F. Buckley when she first met him, "You are much too intelligent to believe in God." Rand was an atheist, and a mean one at that. There was no room in her world view for compassion or mercy. These Christian virtues are evil as far as Rand is concerned.

One of the really weird things about her book is that there are no children, no handicapped, no aged, no sick people in Rand's economy. There is no family. There are only intelligent, aggressive, hard-working people contending with lazy, dishonest, and foolish people. But the word "economy" comes from the Greek word for "household." Any argument for economic justice has to begin with a real economy. This is where Rand's ideas break down.

I would agree with much of Rand's criticism of socialism. But her solution to enthrone selfishness as king of the economy and the guiding principle of life is not any better. Pure selfishness will inevitably be just as destructive as socialism.

Jesus said, "To whom much has been given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12.48); and Paul urged "... you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is better to give than to receive'" (Acts 20.35). These words were spoken to the church and not to governments. How we apply the principle of mercy in public government is an important debate. Some would see the need for more, others less. Some would say that is the realm of the private sector only. But Rand sees no need for mercy at all.

What to do with Atlas Shrugged? Read it for a good critique of the lazy, stifling, self-destructive nature of socialism. But avoid the enthronement of selfishness and the sinful nature. There is a better approach to life and to economic justice.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Luther on Sex "IN" Marriage

I am working on my notes for Adult Bible class this Sunday based on 1 Corinthians chapter seven. The first verse includes this statement: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman."

Centuries ago St. Jerome attacked a Catholic monk named Jovinian, who had the audacity to say that married people and celibate people have an equal standing before God. Jerome argued that if Paul said, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman," then "It is bad to touch one." (1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators p. 104, by Judith L. Kovacs). This led to an ugly teaching and tradition in the church that sex was bad even in marriage. This teaching and practice reigned supreme for a millenia until Martin Luther came along.

Did Paul actually say "It is good for a man not to touch a woman"? We also have to read the sentence that comes before it: "Now concerning things which you wrote to me..." With this introduction it is clear that Paul is addressing a statement put to him by the Corinthians. Paul does find some merit in the statement as long as two important conditions are met. First, those who choose not to marry must have the spiritual gift for celibacy. Luther pointed out that it was a sin to challenge our God-given nature for sexual relations and marriage. Secondly, any sexual abstinence within marriage needs to be temporary and agreeable to both spouses.

Luther had some VERY strong words about this latter condition. Refusing conjugal rights is a serious problem. I agree completely with Luther. I said this early in my ministry, and I have never backed away from it: There is way too much sex outside of marriage in the form of movies, magazines, jokes, internet, prostitution etc., and way too little in marriage where it belongs. Luther also urged moderation in marital sexual relations. Like Paul, Luther taught Christians to avoid unnatural restraint as well as selfish, carnal lust.

I look forward to the discussion we will have on this Sunday. May God support all Christian marriages and families and by His grace lead us faithfully in the blessed estate.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Staying Awake in the Afternoon!

Do you ever have trouble staying alert and focused in the afternoon? I sure do.

My old remedy was to drink a diet coke, but that never seemed to do any good. Here two things that really work for me.

1. Get up and do some exercises for a few minutes every hour or so. I march in place lifting my knees as high as I can or run up and down the stairs in our building a couple of times.

2. I'm not a big coffee drinker, but I've read that this works for either tea or coffee drinkers. Drink a little grapefruit juice with your tea (or I guess with your coffee, yuck!). Apparently there are some chemicals in grapefruit juice that inhibit the body's metabolism of caffeine. The caffeine circulates longer and has a greater impact.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Satan deceives. Satan uses. Satan destroys.
(Friendships, Marriages, Families, Churches, Life itself...)

God in Christ forgives. Heals. Strengthens. Makes wise. Leads. Improves. Renews.

"Son of Man... Prophesy over these bones... Lazarus, Come forth!"

Etching by Barry Moser - The Holy Bible

Thursday, February 24, 2011

There Are Times...

There are times when I do feel like "Christian" in Bunyan's classic, The Pilgrim's Progress:

"Then Apollyon espying his opportunity began to gather up close to Christian and wrestling with him gave him a dreadful fall, and with that Christian's Sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, "I am sure of thee now," and with that he had almost pressed him to death so that Christian began to despair of life, but as God would have it while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his Sword and caught it saying, "Rejoice not against me O mine Enemy, when I fall I shall arise," and with that gave him a deadly thrust which made him give back as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again saying, "Nay, in all these things we are more than Conquerors through him that loved us." And with that Apollyon spread forth his Dragon's wings, and sped him away that Christian for a season saw him no more."

"... I am sure of thee now... Nay, in all these things we are more than Conquerors through him that loved us."

Prayer: "Father, keep us nimble with Your Word, the Sword of the Spirit, and in Christ Deliver us from evil." Amen.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Admitting Mistakes is the First Step for Improving

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are scouring the copious notes of Dr. Harvey Cushing, who practiced neurosurgery from 1896-1912. He kept detailed notes of his mistakes such as operating on the wrong side of the brain or dropping surgical instruments into a wound. One of the hardest things for any human being to do is to admit to our mistakes and failures. Yet, this is the key to our improvement.

God's word teaches us the same thing:

Proverbs 28:13 He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be honest and to acknowledge my sins. Remind me and reassure me of Your forgiveness in Jesus. Help me to avoid the same mistakes and to improve in all that I think, say and do. Amen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Worship: Chocolate or Vanilla?

I was involved in what people today call "Contemporary Worship" long before it was known by that name. In high school (1970s) our youth group asked the pastor if we could have a "Folk Service." He asked us what would be involved in such a service. All we could think of was playing songs on guitars. (Obviously we had no business planning a worship service.) He then asked, "Do you think it might be good to have a few Scripture readings?" "Oh yeah," we said. "How about the Apostles' Creed, a sermon, and prayers?" "That would be great." Little by little he had us back to the basic worship service!

As a campus pastor in the 1980s I came into a ministry that had been using contemporary worship. As a guitarist and singer, I looked forward to the freedom this gave me to explore different worship styles. However I found it increasingly difficult to find music that wasn't repetitive or would fit well with the themes of the Church Year. I also found myself spending a lot of time trying to develop these services, valuable time that could have been used going out to meet students.

For the last twenty years I've been serving in a church that uses very traditional worship.

I used to accept the idea that worship styles didn't really matter, but I've definitely had a change of heart about that. This isn't a chocolate or vanilla question. There are some major differences between the two styles of worship as they have developed to this point. Here are five that I find quite important:

1. Both contemporary and traditional worship can be emotional. But I believe that emotions take a primary role in contemporary worship. The music tends to focus on the mood of the worshiper more than the mind. Sounds are primary; texts are secondary.

2. Traditional worship tends to be more theological than therapeutic. Contemporary worship reverses those. Traditional worship focuses primarily on the person and work of Christ and then the new life. Contemporary worship tends to focus on the new life.

3. I will grant that contemporary worship may be more relevant to the unbeliever. After all I wouldn't expect an unchurched person to have any clue what "Here I lay my Ebenezer" means as it is sung in "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." But if our central worship service reaches low to be relevant, how does the church lift its members to relate more deeply to Christ?

4. Contemporary worship tends to be a much more passive experience for the worshiper. We tend to sit back and watch the show. This is certainly something our culture encourages. Traditional worship engages the worshiper in responsive readings, prayers and songs, creedal affirmations, standing, sitting, and kneeling. In this way traditional worship is counter-cultural.

5. Traditional worship is aimed to serve people of all ages. Yes, even little children often enjoy traditional worship, whereas the more contemporary the more likely the children will be dismissed. Contemporary worship loves to divide up into groups (Boomers, Busters, Mosaics, etc.) Traditional worship loves to unify the octogenarians as well as the eight day olds.

For these reasons (and more that I don't have time to go into) I am convinced that traditional worship should have and will always have a central role in the life of the church.

This doesn't mean that we can't have "lighter" or "age-oriented" worship experiences. As long as we fix some of the issues involved in #s 1 & 2 above, I think there can be a place for these in the life of the church. But their place must always be secondary and supportive of the main worship of the church. They should be designed to lead the worshiper toward the central worship experience of the church and not away from it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Prayer for Spiritual Healing

In at least four places the New Testament teaches us about the inner struggle between the soul and the sinful flesh. Paul calls it a war in Galatians five. In Romans seven he describes the agony Christians experience when "the good that I will to do I do not do..." Peter warns us of the "fleshly lusts that war against the soul." James also reminds us that "the Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously..."

Above all of this there are spiritual attacks that come from outside of us either through evil spirits or through those under the control of those same spirits. It is inevitable that the Christian will suffer spiritual wounds, either self-inflicted or otherwise.

From time to time I feel great spiritual pain over things I have said or haven't said; things I've done or haven't done. The pain just doesn't go away. The word "Satan" means "accuser," and that is exactly what he does. He makes me feel the pain of deep spiritual wounds. Sometimes it seems to me that my soul has been bitten, and there is a venom that lingers on and on. I am just sick, spiritually sick.

God knows this, and in His love He not only explains what is happening, He also heals these wounds to the soul. Isaiah foretold that Jesus would bring healing through "his stripes." Malachi, the last Hebrew prophet, also said of Jesus, "The Sun of righteousness will arise with healing in His wings." Both Jesus and His apostles healed people who were "tormented by unclean spirits."

This is when a Christian begins to understand all those past teachers in the church who kept talking about how sweet the Gospel is. At first we believe it because it is true. But eventually we realize it as we experience the pain of the sinful flesh and of evil spirits. We know how true these words are: "There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul."

So I pray:

Dear God, Holy and Gracious God,

I am so sorry that I acted foolishly. I opened a door and let temptation in. I wasn't paying attention. I drifted into that no-man's-land where nothing good can come. Forgive me for Jesus' sake. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

I know You still love me. I know that You are still patient with me. I know I don't deserve it. I believe that You forgive me. I believe that for Christ's suffering and death You take away my sin. I appreciate that in my baptism, in all the promises of Your word, and in body and blood of Christ... for the forgiveness of sin.

Dear God, for Jesus' sake, please heal me and help me. Help me learn from my mistakes. Help me grow through this adversity. Make me wiser for the future.

In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.