Unforgiven

“So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us” (Explanation to the Fifth Petition, Small Catechism)..

Have you ever been unforgiven? Has it happened to you that you knew you had wronged someone, you went to them and apologized, and were not forgiven?

I’ve learned over the years that unforgiveness can often sound like forgiveness. “That’s OK. I accept your apology” sounds a lot better than it actually is. I’ve learned that many will accept an apology for as long as it is convenient and then they will find a new allegation or just go back to judging.

The biggest problem with unforgiveness is the fact that it is easy. It is way too easy. Do you want the easy way out? Just don’t forgive. Forgiveness is not some pie-in-the-sky, easy-peasy, thing. Those who judge Christianity as preaching an easy doctrine of forgiveness just simply do not get it. God’s forgiveness of you came at a price greater than all the gold in Fort Knox. Christ’s “holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death” [Small Catechism, Explanation to the 2nd Article]. Try to put a dollar figure on that cost. It can’t be done.

Bonhoeffer’s greatest theological contribution: the language of “cheap grace”

But even if someone wanted to continue to judge Christians as having a doctrine of easy forgiveness, just try forgiving someone who has sinned against you. It is the hardest thing in the world to do. When Christians pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” it would seem they probably don’t really think about the depth of this petition. How many Sundays do we pray this in the Divine Service while still nursing our petty, pride-filled grudges against someone? It’s easy to say the petition. It’s even easier to fail it’s high standard. Like I wrote above, unforgiveness is the easiest business in the world.

Over the years, I’ve pastored many a person who was nursing such a grudge. Occasionally they are even nursing it against me, either for something I actually did or for nothing at all. Regardless of whomever it is they won’t forgive, I always notice the same thing:

This failure to forgive has made them absolutely miserable. They are grumpy, angry, selfish, and hopeless. Every time. It never fails.

This hopelessness proves the deadly seriousness which Christ demonstrates in His teaching. When He taught the Lord’s Prayer in Matt. 6, He wheeled back around to the Fifth Petition as if to say, “You heard me right! I DID say that you should forgive others.” 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Serious! To leave someone else unforgiven is to be unforgiven by God. The ticket to heaven, forgiveness, is gone missing.

Jesus repeats the same teaching in Matt. 18:15ff. when He sums up the Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant with the words, 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” [The unmerciful servant was thrown in jail (hell) by the King for not forgiving the small debt of another servant].

No wonder such grumpy types are so miserable! They wind up wallowing in a mud puddle of their own making. All because they would not forgive. Do I need to point out how sad this is?

It makes you rethink the whole business of forgiving those who sin against you. A couple of important points are beneficial to make here.

  1. Peace with God brings peace with your brother/sister. No forgiveness. No peace. Know forgiveness. Know peace.
  2. The person you won’t forgive is still a person for whom Jesus died. If He died for your sins, then forgiveness is the business of seeing others through the prism of the crucifix of Christ. Forgiving others is only tough because we make it so (sinful pride). If Christ loves them, so should we.
  3. In forgiveness, we do not forget sins. We learn to leave them behind and view the other person differently, without all the anger and hatred that make our lives so miserable.

In Lent, we talk about spiritual disciplines. One such discipline is reconciliation. Go! Forgive the person who has sinned against you. Especially if they have already apologized. If you said, “I accept your apology,” go and apologize to them and say it rightly:

I forgive you.

And if I have ever sinned against you, I hope you will do the same for me that we BOTH might have peace and all the other fruits of the Spirit.

Sincerely,

Prairiepastor

Pretending To Be Someone We’re Not

As a child, I had a vivid imagination. I had started collecting comic books at a pretty young age while I was riding with my dad on his beer delivery route. Tuesdays were Koshkonong days, days he delivered to the establishments all around Lake Koshkonong near Fort Atkinson. That day always ended up at the same place, Copps Department Store in Fort. Outside the liquor department was a rotating display of comic books and sometimes I would beg my Dad to buy me one. (Well, every week in the summers I did, not that I got one every week).

One of the first comic books I got was a Bicentennial origin issue of Captain America and Falcon. I wore that comic book out and used to imagine what it must be like to be Captain America.

As I got older, I got into sports and became a good first baseman (probably not great). My hero was Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers, underrated but a great player, golden glove and a very good hitter as well. One of the best trades in Milwaukee Brewers history was George Scott for Cecil Cooper. I always wanted to be him for a time. Playing First Base, I would get down low like Cecil did with a big stretch (which could cut off a few feet from any throw). Problem was that our shortstop had an inaccurate cannon of an arm and I couldn’t train him to throw strikes at my low glove. But part of my rep at First was for still making the catches on his wild throws. (Well, MOST of the time…).

My baseball hero.

Later I wanted to be a great sax player like my hero, Michael Brecker, or a great rock guitarist like my heroes Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. For much of my youth I was busy fantasizing what it would be like to be someone else.

Michael Brecker–the greatest sax player ever IMHO

It’s a natural tendency in youth to dream about being famous…or being the greatest at something. As I got older, I found out that many famous people are not happy and that fame is the reason why. Fame is a classic example of the old cliche, “Be careful what you wish/pray for. You just might get it.” When he died, George Harrison was remembered in an obituary for being “the grumpy Beatle.” The author noted that he was famous and not happy about it.

I think it’s a natural tendency for anyone conceived and born into sin (all of us) to think we are better at many things than we really are. It certainly is a natural tendency for us to seek attention and, even worse, put our own worries, strengths, opinions, etc. above anyone or anything else. All sin is a breaking of the First Commandment, You shall have no other gods. The greatest idol of them all is the idol of self, the false god we see every time we stare into the mirror.

When it comes to spiritual disciplines like meditation, study of the Word, prayer, good works and the like, we should NEVER tell others or God that we are good at them. We simply are not spiritual superheroes and, thanks to our sin, never will be. The mythological “prayer warrior” of so much evangelical talk is simply not to be found. Books at the Christian book store on prayer are often written from the perspective of an author who thinks he or she is good at prayer. Maybe once they were not, but they got better and now they are passing on their expertise to you, the hapless reader.

The rite of Individual Confession and Absolution in our hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, has a moment where the person confessing says, “my worship and prayers have faltered.” What this means is that the rite ASSUMES this worship-and-prayer-faltering to be true. Using the full force of the Law, the rite doesn’t let you pretend to be someone you are not. Indeed, the only way to stand before Christ the Judge and the pastor confessor is as the sinner you are. You have failed at prayer. Your worship is half-hearted. Your attention to God’s Word is often divided and unfocused. Bad habits in church attendance become harder and harder to reform. And forgiving the other person who has offended you? Let’s not get started.

You are not a spiritual superhero. Neither am I. You are not a “prayer warrior.” Neither am I. The season of Lent reminds us that, if you and I were these things, Jesus would not have needed to die for us. We would not be offering Christ’s gifts of forgiveness and life every Sunday if these false assertions were somehow true. Galatians 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose [ESV]. When we think we’re someone we are not, we often don’t realize the way we “nullify the grace of God.” As Luther liked to put it, “Christ dwells in sinners.” The implication is that He does not dwell in anyone who denies their sin by assuming their righteousness (self-righteousness).

One of the great blessings of forgiveness is contentment. I never became Captain America. I never became Cecil Cooper. I never became Michael Brecker…or Eric Clapton. In God’s grace, I am Dan Torkelson, a husband, a father, a pastor, a sinner redeemed by the blood of Christ. I can be happy with that.

Is there anything better? Is there anything better than to be the person God has made of you? This Lent, be sinners and Christ will dwell richly in you. In His forgiveness, He sets you free to be the people He has called you to be.

Sincerely in Christ,

Prairiepastor

The Idol Of Current Events

“But Pastor, aren’t we supposed to stay up on the news?”

You can imagine what I had told this poor woman just before she said this. I had told her to turn the news off. Her husband, standing right there, said “Thank you” when I said that.

But behind her question was, I believe, a fairly commonly-held belief. I think it goes something like this. You can’t be a good citizen if you are not up on current events.

I would like to challenge that idea. To some extent, I agree with the premise in theory. I would suggest that most people are not really up on current events, no matter how much they have the 24/7 networks on. But that is another post for another day…actually I’ve written on it many times. I don’t need to belabor it.

I would more specifically like to challenge the idea that it is responsible to be up on current events, especially when the news is stressing us out like never before. I would also like to challenge this idea based on history. Before “instant news” it was not possible for people to be as up on current events as we are today. Were their lives impoverished for it? It doesn’t look like it to me. Were they bad citizens for not having the technology to know about the latest Covid death in Kansas City? (I’m in Wisconsin).

You see, being “up on current events” in our context could just be a cover for being addicted to screens. One idol feeds another idol…

Indeed, American education did not always stress current events. The “pop current events” quizzes of my youth–which I was good at–were a relatively new trend in education at the time. In the early to mid 1970s, public education largely dropped Civics classes, which were about our government and how it is organized and had a direct connection to good citizenship. The emphasis on current events rose largely in the civics void. My generation was taught that good citizens were up on current events.

Again, in theory I don’t disagree, but without a good education in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, do Americans today have a well-developed enough filter to really understand current events? Last summer, I watched 20 somethings defile the Lincoln Memorial in the name of “anti-racism.” What I (and many) saw was kids who were poorly educated, even with their college degrees. The Declaration probably never saw a greater champion than Lincoln in assuring that the nation saw “all men [as] created equal;” the Constitution’s concern for freedom equally so. The sheer ignorance of these actions belies the poverty of their educations. The mob was never known for careful critical thinking.

But the same ignorance that moves anxiety-to-anger in the mobs is often seen in those who cannot seem to turn off the news as well. I admit. I surely have been guilty of this. I have not always practiced what I preach. When my mother was in the nursing home before she died, I would hear how worked up she was over the news…which was constantly on in her little room. I told her to shut the TV off and go down to the library down the hall and check out some books. Interestingly, she did! And it made all the difference.

You see, I think what’s actually happening is that “being up on current events” has become a cover for our collective addiction to screens. I can justify staring blankly into my dumb phone if I am reading the news and not, say, watching pornography or playing games, or just looking at silly memes. After all, isn’t it important that we stay up on current events?

I make no apologies for telling my mother (and the woman from my congregation in the quote at the outset) to turn off the TV and the news. One, I am not confident in any of what is called news reporting today. I cannot say that I am up on current events simply by listening to the networks. Two, I probably can make the argument that the person who is not tuned in to current events may be a better citizen than the one who is. Three. if all the news does is ratchet up anxiety, it’s not even healthy for us to be so tuned in.

It’s Lent, so my advice is to go on a news fast. I have quite literally been on one for almost two months, with rare exceptions. Life’s a lot better. Turn it off. Hear God’s Word and meditate on it. The good works that follow will make you a better citizen than anything else I can think of.

And don’t believe them when they tell you that you need to be up on current events. I’m not sure I even know what that means anymore.

Sincerely,

Prairiepastor

YOU Need Lent!

A very concerned member here at St. John was conversing with me on the phone a couple of days after we tightened Covid protocols in mid-November. I know this person and her family to be what I occasionally refer to as “freedom fighters.” They have been concerned about the loss of freedoms due to the advent of Covid and the events of last year’s “summer of anger.” These are thoughts and concerns I generally share as the Christian Church depends on freedom of speech–the First Amendment–to proclaim the better message of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ without impediment. I am cautious, however, not to turn Constitutional freedoms into an idol. Yes. They can become an idol, a false god.

She expressed a particular concern that did not hide the intent possibly to quit coming to church or, at the very least, disrespect the new protocols. The particular concern was a concern about judgmental-ism. Would she and her family be judged negatively by the congregation?

It’s a good question, even if some of what she was saying to me struck me as a willingness to forego Christ’s gifts for a time, which is not faithful at all. There the Lord’s judgment is her bigger problem. Still, as it has played out in most Christian congregations including St. John, this judgmental-ism cuts both ways. While this woman was afraid of pro-maskers disrespecting her positions, most of my anti-masking contingent has been equally judgmental of the pro-maskers (fearful, “germophobes,” etc). She was right to be concerned about vain and unnecessary judgment coming back to her. My suspicion is that she probably had not countenanced the judgmental-ism of her own positions. I love her in Christ and this love “always rejoices in the truth” [1 Cor. 13:6], difficult though the truth often is.

As the whole world has staked out hardened positions on practically every subject under the sun–fueled by the utter failure of a news media to report facts without bias and politicians who use this bias to further their own agendas–this judgmental-ism is on steroids. You see it in the hideous practice of “cancel culture,” (an absolutely shameless violation of the 8th Commandment). You see it in the arguments re masking and vaccines and politics and, if you listen carefully enough, you hear it sometimes in the pure befuddlement many people express as they simply cannot understand how the world “out there” has gone so crazy. Even if I can relate to these sentiments as a sinner, I have to say as a pastor that none of it is righteous. As I stated last night in our Ash Wednesday service, you will not be saved for all your right-ness or even all your concern despite not being sure what is right..

YOU, dear reader, need Lent. No matter where you are on any of the stupidly binary spectra of issues out there, YOU… need… Lent. YOU need to return to the Lord. YOU need the Christ whose sacrifice for YOUR sins is the main theme of this Lenten season. YOU need to take your eyes off the news, off the people you don’t agree with, off the ones you refuse to forgive, off the difficulties of this life, etc. etc. etc.

Instead, as the Gradual for Lent states so powerfully, Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2). YOU need Lent because YOU need Christ. You don’t need anything else.

I joked last night in the sermon that I was eager for Lent to begin this year, indeed I would have had it begin 40 days ago. Personally, I suspect Lent did begin for me shortly after Christmas. I have turned off the news. I am daily meditating on the Scriptures again. I am focusing hard on my prayer life. And in my spare time I am listening to audiobooks on history and classics of literature.

Not that I am so much better a person than anyone else. I only share this to tell you that I feel so much better than I did after Christmas. Yes. I had Covid around then, even as I was physically doing fine. Nevertheless, after the silly season of our national life from summer through Christmas, I was in a spiritual hole. All of it had worn me out. At an emotional and spiritual level, I was struggling. I too am a sinner who needs Lent.

So I deleted all of my news apps (3 in total), turned off nearly all of my phone notifications, picked up John Kleinig’s marvelous, Grace Upon Grace and reviewed what he writes about meditation (ch.2) and prayer (ch.3). I set out on a journey, a journey that looks a lot like Lent, only it was for about 40 days prior to the actual Lent.

Now Lent is here and I am very glad for it. I will be happy to stay in these disciplines and be refreshed by them. We often forget that the word Lent means “Spring.” Lent often suffers from a negative reputation by those who do not properly understand it. Lent is a little spring. It is a time of personal reflection and renewal. It is a time where Christ does His thing, renewing our daily lives in repentance and forgiveness. Whether your Lent began yesterday or it began when mine did back in January, all of this wonderful stuff is the daily life of the genuine Christian. The genuine Christian is not better than others just because they are Christians. They are sinners who have gone to the Font, gone to the Altar, heard the Word, tasted God’s grace, and have been renewed by Him. In Lent, we don’t renew ourselves. In Lent, Christ renews us.

I remain so very weak in these disciplines. Part of my renewed prayer is that God may strengthen me in them. He has…and He offers the same strength to you. One of the reasons I know YOU need Lent is because I need Lent. The disciplines of Lent are always going to be what we need the most.

God grant that you have a genuine Lent and that it be just the beginning of every day of the rest of your lives being a day of renewal and refreshment until this old earth passes away and we stand together in the new heavens and the new earth.

Sincerely,

Prairiepastor

Digging In The Dirt

Love covers a multitude of sins. - Post by meohmy on BoldomaticSome call it “Call Out Culture.” Some call it “Cancel Culture.” Whatever one may call it, our modern culture seems to enjoy digging up, listening to, and wallowing in, the dirt of people’s lives. Most of our modern news cycle is nothing more than that. Dirt, (or sometimes not really dirt), dug up, spun, reported, and analyzed for a public that loves to hear it.

A lot of today’s dirt has actually proven not to be dirt, but rather righteousness, or at least some “nothingburger,” spun and broadcasted in the most negative and sinister ways so as to look like dirt. Examine it under the microscope, however,…

Nevertheless, there will be real dirt too. But the advantage of being a Bible-believing Christian is that we already knew this. Or at least we should have.

If we believe at all in the Bible’s teaching of original sin, then why are we at all surprised to find out there is dirt? This may sound a little cynical, but I truly don’t think this is very far off the Bible’s teaching on the matter. The Bible teaches there is sin. There is dirt. A reminder that when we hear some? Well…DUH!

Maybe we’re too prone to idealize certain people, suggesting there couldn’t possibly be any dirt there. We talk a lot about “good people,” (a favorite compliment of our current president no less). Does the Bible say this? That there is a “good person” (in the conversational sense)? Well, humans are the crown of God’s creation and part of its goodness to be sure. BUT, humans are also sinful and fallen. How disappointing it is when someone we think is a “good person” shows us their sinful side. SCANDAL!

Anger & ContemptChristians should know better than to be so scandalized as we often are by sin. When we are, WE become the scandal, the stumbling block, to our own faith and the faith of others. When we get all offended by someone’s behavior, it’s the scandal of it that often causes us not to deal with our brother directly but start talking about it to others, getting others on our side, magnifying sin and trying to increase our innocence. Yes, We Christians do this and the world would be right not to be terribly convinced of Christianity for it.

In our world today, if you sinned 20 years ago, 20 days ago, 20 minutes ago, you can’t be who you are today, this hour, this minute. And if we Christians buy into that thinking, well, we may as well give up. The Lord may have removed sins as far as the east is from the west from us (Ps. 103:12), but we often think we don’t have to from the other person. The other person needs to suffer for what they have done.

But what if YOU are that other person? Then you would wonder why you aren’t forgiven. The dirt is yours. Christ cleans it up in the forgiveness of sins, but if the other person will not, we suffer for it anyway. Maybe it’s a matter of what goes around comes around.

If you will not forgive your brother, your heavenly Father won’t forgive you. (Matt. 6).

If we Christians practice what we preach, then we will forgive. If we practice what we preach, we will bring concerns about someone to that person and not broadcast it to everybody but. If we practice what we preach, we will seek to have peace with all our brothers and sisters. Why does the Church look so sickly these days? Here you have the answer. Too much dirt, not enough forgiveness.

Surprised by the dirt in your life and in others? Don’t be! Repent! Seek God’s grace for yourselves. Extend it for others. We have a better message. When we live it, we show the world a better Way.

Sincerely,

Prairiepastor

You Can Always Pray

Major Cruise Ports to Close as Dorian to Become a HurricaneHurricane Dorian is still moving up the Florida coast some 135 miles off of it…deciding if it wants to be a problem or not.

So I will pray that it goes out and plays with the fish, rather than with the people of Florida and parts of Georgia.

Yes. I will pray. I will pray as I did for the victims of Sandy Hook, the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh and San Diegp, the recent shootings.

I will pray because “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b).

I learned this lesson in a way I did not expect. My senior year in HS, we had several classmates die. When one, whom I always liked, died in a car accident, I went and talked to my wind ensemble director. I told him how troubled I was over the death. (My father had died in a car accident some 15 months earlier). I wanted to do something to help the family. My teacher, (not a Lutheran, but DEFINITELY a Christian), said I could always pray for them. The reasoning was: When you think you can’t do anything to help someone, you can always still pray for them.

And this in a public school!

That lesson is both correct and one that has always stayed with me. Those who knock Christians for praying for those suffering in those awful news stories because, well, it seems like we can’t do a whole lot more, are probably not doing nearly as much as the Christian who prays.

And so I pray. For those in the wake of Dorian, for those in Odessa, for those still suffering over the recent shootings, I pray. Please don’t hear this as me glorifying myself. I feel it’s the best thing I can do. Everything that’s out of my control, well, I can still pray for it.

All I ask is that you pray with me. And don’t let other tell you it’s a waste of time. The Bible says otherwise.

Please pray for all these things.

Be Careful What You Shout For

https://i0.wp.com/bringapen.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Be-Careful-What-You-Pray-For.jpg?resize=800%2C521The old saying, in its least religious form, was “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” Among Christians you hear it said this way: “Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.”

But in our increasingly polarized situation, the new adage might be: “Be careful what you shout for, you just might convince others never to give it to you.” Or, indeed, to take it away from you.

The past few days have been breathtaking in their importance for the abortion debate. Tough new laws restricting abortion in Georgia, Alabama, Missouri. (The WI State Assembly also passed one this week, although our new governor has pledged to veto it). All of this after what had to be, arguably, the worst media month in the history of the pro-choice movement. As positions polarize and as the anti-lifers continue to dig in their heels, the behavior and the opinions have gotten down right scandalous. A PAAlyssa Milano’s Sex Strike to Protest Wave of Anti ... state politician doxxing teenage girls and harassing older women who were praying for the end of abortion outside a PP Clinic in Philadelphia, Hollywood stars calling for “sex strikes” against their own sympathetic boyfriends on the grounds of protecting women’s rights, and the list goes on…

I’ve never been a big fan of shouting a position. Protest may indeed be a human right under the 1st Amendment, but that doesn’t mean it’s always effective. I suspect a factor in whether or not protest is successful is the volume with which it is carried out. Shouting loudly might work once, maybe even twice, but when it’s all you know how to do, don’t be surprised when you yourself become a victim of the “Chicken Little Effect.”

The “volume” I mean here is not restricted to taking it to 11 on the amplifier. Volume is whatever it takes to get someone’s attention. Here is where my old adage comes into play. Be careful what you shout for. Your shouting may indeed be making up a lot of minds. Your extremism, though, is not making those minds up the way you want them to be made.

I don’t think it coincidental that after such loud and extreme behavior so many states took the actions they did. I’ll admit it. If I was an AL legislator (or governor), the doxxing of those girls in Philly would have put my efforts into hyperdrive. Call it the political version of Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Or as Gabby Johnson famously put it in “Blazing Saddles,” “Ain’t no hornswagglin’ cricker cracker…” You get the idea.

Or, as it is in parenting a child, you don’t give the loudest child what they want and thus reward their volume. If newer, more restrictive, abortion laws look more and more sane by the day, it’s only because the media is giving all the time to the shouters. The shouters and their media cohorts are doing a FANTASTIC job of making the case for us.

TherListen to The Vanishing American Adult - Audiobook ...e’s much to be said for why children need to be trained not to shout, run off at the mouth, or seek attention through inappropriate behavior. It seems like almost an entire generation has not learned the lesson. That does not mean that we are any more likely to continue to give them what they want just because they know how to scream. “Chicken Little” applies to all people regardless of their generation and upbringing.

Maybe after we send them to their rooms, we can put the whole thing to bed. Wouldn’t that be grand? What would we say about all that shouting then?

PrairiePastor

Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust: Why Lutherans Receive Ashes on Ash Wednesday

Not all things “catholic” are “Catholic.”

Life Through Lutheran Lenses

Many non-Lutherans wonder why their Lutheran friends or family members wear ashes on their forehead at the beginning of Lent. Are they showing off? Are they trying to stand out? Is it some weird secret church ritual? What does it mean? Should I get them too?

There are three reasons why Lutherans go to church to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday. First, the ashes remind people of their sinfulness. Second, the ashes remind people of their mortality. Third, the ashes remind people that they have been redeemed. Let’s unpack this a bit.

Since ancient times, God’s people have used ashes as a sign of humble repentance (e.g. Jonah 3:5-9; Job 42:6; Daniel 9:3: Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13). This tradition was carried on by the early church and remains an important tradition today. When one willingly goes up to a pastor and receives ashes on his/her forehead, they are admitting that…

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#THEBETTERMESSAGE      Coming in Lent!

Heb. 6  Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.

In a world full of seemingly as many opinions, philosophies, religions, social constructs, and overall “positions” as there are people, one thing is making itself more clear to me by the day:

We Christians have the better message.

Let me state that again. We Christians have THE better message.

If that is true, you may wonder, why not just call it “the best message?” I’ll give a two-part answer to that. The word “best” seems to close off all discussion of the other options out there. It invites us simply not to consider them. The word “better” keeps all the other failed ideas out there in the discussion better so that we can see why the Bible’s message is THE better one. We should want to engage all other failed ideas out there if we believe ours is better.

The other part of my answer to the question, though, is that the word “better” is the term of preference for the preacher in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews is not a letter; it is a sermon. It is a sermon about Christ. But the goal of the sermon is to help his Jewish Christian hearers to understand that in Jesus, they have the better message, the one better than all others. The word “better” appears no less than 14 times in the book of Hebrews (an average of slightly more than once a chapter). Peter, in his two epistles, uses the term in a similar manner twice as well. The early church made it their point to preach the Gospel as better than all other options.

At present, I am working with the Board of Elders and the PPC to craft a vision for the next few years here at St. John’s around the theme: #thebettermessage. I even created this hashtag on Twitter a couple of years ago. Now the idea is, however, to make it the focusing principle of the work we do here. We have been given this better message. Now what are we going to do with it?

We will start casting this vision in Lent. The theme of our midweek series is #thebettermessage. We will be exploring the powerful way the Preacher to the Hebrews comforts his hearers with this better message and gives them strength to demonstrate to others that they have a better outlook and worldview and that the world can have this better message too!

I hope you will join us on Wednesday evenings this Lent. There’s Good News, the better message, for you! Don’t miss this opportunity to have your faith strengthened in the better message!

Sincerely, Pastor T.