I Love The Law! Oh yes, I do…

…I love the Law! Oh, how ’bout you?

But the Law doesn’t save. And you don’t have to go far to find this Law that doesn’t save. The “self-help” sections of bookstores are full of laws. “Do this” or “don’t do that.” 10 principles for a better life, seven habits of highly effective people. Put a number to it and you are in the realm of the Law.

It’s great that Steven Covey has found seven habits of highly effective people. Don’t get me wrong. But in our day and age, it’s as easy to dismiss seven habits, twelve steps, or ten principles with a simple, “I’m glad it works for you, but don’t shove that down my throat.”

Still, our inclination is to turn to the Law if there’s anything we want to change in our lives. We may ridicule the idea of following twelve steps, but we will look for whatever formula actually works for us. And in so doing we chase again after the Law.

This is why so many Christians today will not allow Holy Baptism to be what the Scriptures actually say it is. Baptism has now become “our thing that we do,” and by such a definition, Baptism is now something of the Law. This is why many churches won’t baptize infants. Baptism for them is something people do and infants can’t do this because they are infants.

But the Scriptures tell us that Baptism is how God forgives sins (Acts 2:38). Baptism “now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). It is not “my thing that I do for God” (Law), but rather God’s gift that He gives to me (Gospel).

Still, to have a sinful nature–which we all have–is to prefer thinking in Law-based ways. We transform Baptism into our thing, rather than let it be God’s thing. Luther had to rescue the Lord’s Supper from a Roman understanding that the mass was something people did, rather than a gift denoted by Christ’s own words, “for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (A gift! Gift equals Gospel).

In what seems like a brazen ignorance of God’s Word, we prefer redefining God’s gifts into our wonderful things we do for God. We reject God’s gifts and redefine them as if they were our offerings.

Why? Because we love the Law; oh yes, we do.

Christ fulfilled the Law. Luther was fond of saying, “Moses is dead.” But Christ is risen! He comes and gives His gifts personally to us every Lord’s Day. Time spent at St. John’s on Sunday morning is not about you and your praising and worshiping. While we do all that, we do it because time spent here is time spent in Christ’s presence receiving His gifts.

You can love the Law if you like. But if we want to see each other in eternity, then I must love you enough to encourage you to receive Christ’s gifts, weekly. That’s the Gospel. It’s God’s gift.

I love the Lord; Oh yes, I do…

How about you?

A New Year’s Values

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I am one who puts myself through a very strong filter for self-evaluation. I’m only half-joking when I say that no one’s critique of me rises to the level of my own self-critique. It’s probably more true than anyone realizes.

It’s good to be your own worst critic. Dan Collins, in his book Good To Great, did a study of the CEOs of companies that went from Good To Great over the 15 years of his research and he noticed that none of those CEOs were narcissists. They went to work every day as if they were still interviewing for the position. They were always seeking to become better and that doesn’t happen without a significant amount of self-critique. It seems to me that this is an excellent way to live and to work.

So every year my practice has been to isolate nouns/adjectives which will serve as this year’s “core values,” the things that will keep me working hard in 2014. Here are they are.

Family–working through stressful situations (of which there were not a few this past year) nearly always means my family takes it on the chin. With tears, I can only confess my sins of neglect, lack of attentiveness, lack of concern and care for all my loved ones. I owe them so much and I am hoping that all of this past year’s hard work pays dividends for them, the number one dividend being time with them.

Transparency–The ministry can never be totally transparent. Many situations in the not-perfect church (see the previous post) involve behavior that simply cannot be broadcasted for the sake of reputations. Nevertheless, I have always striven to be as open and as honest as I can be with the information I can share, information which doesn’t hurt reputations in any way. Ask me what I think. I’ll tell you. I mean no offense. I just want you to know the truth. What you see is what you get.

Creativity–This is a holdover from last year’s values. I ended up not always having the time to flex my creative juices, but I got a lot of stored up “stuff” right now which could lead to a burst of creativity this year. I’m actually thinking of going to the piano and writing something, perhaps a psalm setting, and getting back into my muse. I hope to write more this year too. What good’s a blog you haven’t been contributing to?

Witness–Sounds strange, doesn’t it? It’s one thing to go up and preach a sermon to the crowd. It’s quite another to witness one-on-one. I have blown many opportunities to do so over the years. I’m working toward becoming someone who is as transparent about his faith as can possibly be. The world wants us Christians to treat the gift of faith like “bedroom politics,” something for behind closed doors. I’m not satisfied with that in my own life. Time to testify to the hope that is in my by grace.

So what are YOUR core values?

Postmodern Mythbusters: The Perfect Church

One of the great myths of our age is the myth that there is some perfect Christian congregation out there. In our postmodern, “I determine my truth by what I like”-sort of mindset, “church-hopping” has become a high art for some Christians. The problem is, hop once and get ready to hop again…and again…and again…and again.

This hopping is predicated on the notion of the “perfect church.” My wife told me that recently she saw some sort of comment on the Internet that read like this. “If you think you’ve joined the perfect church, just remember that it’s no longer perfect now that you’ve joined it.” And therein lies the real problem. Those who bounce from church to church thinking each new church is the perfect one, the one that fits their tastes, miss the point that the church is defined by Christ, not by anyone’s tastes or preferences. The Church is made up of sinner/saints. Of course, she’s not perfect and you’re not going to make her any more perfect. Christ defines the Church! Christ says the Church gathers around His Word and gifts. It is, in 1 John 5, the place where the blood, the water, and the Spirit testify. These three point to specifics that have little or nothing to do with the worship style, the architecture, the comfort of the seats, or the pastor’s hair.

These three have to do with the Gospel. The Gospel–the forgiveness of sins through Spirit, water, and blood–define the Church. Where the Word is preached from Scripture texts in the Law and Gospel by which we clearly interpret the Scriptures, there is the ChurchWhere all God’s children of every age are baptized in the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit, there is the Church. Where God’s people receive His forgiveness in the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christthere is the Church.

Sadly, this forces us to acknowledge something. Where sermons are preached about God’s plan for you with little or no connection to a Biblical text (aka many extremely large churches which feed on today’s societal shallowness), there is not the Church. Where babies have “dedication rites” rather than Baptisms, (completely ignoring the Bible’s teaching on Baptism), there is not the Church. Where the Lord’s Supper is an occasional extra or never offered at all, despite Christ’s command to “keep on doing this…,” there is not the Church.

Sadly, what I just described is for many “the perfect church.” Too bad! It’s only Christ’s free gifts people are rejecting when they think this way.

A warning: You may be saying to yourself, “I don’t go to a church like that, so I must be getting this right.” Sadly many faithful churches still need to concentrate on their ministries and the overall health of their ministries and fail to do so. It does behoove the true Church in the 21st century to redouble their efforts in bringing Christ to our world today. There may be no perfect church, but that doesn’t excuse us from seeking excellence in preaching Christ to the nations.

The Bible is very clear that the Church in this world will always bear the marks of sin. In his instruction to husbands to love their wives in eph. 5, Paul’s rationale preaches this imperfection loud and clear. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Christ loves the Church in order to remove her wrinkles.

The Church is not perfect, and yet in Christ, she is made perfect. But only in Christ. Any other worldly categories that most church hoppers use to judge churches just don’t measure up and are not a factor. This should cause us to rethink just what it is we are looking for in a church.

What should we look for in a congregation?

1. Law-Gospel Sermons from Biblical texts. As opposed to law-based sermons on self-improvement with only loose connections to the Bible. God has MORE than a plan for you. He’s already carried it out in Christ.

2. “All nations” are baptized because it is God’s gift, not man’s confession. Baptism is regularly reversed in many churches into a human act, and not the gift as it is taught in Matt. 28, Acts 2, and 1 Peter 3.

3. The Lord’s Supper is served regularly and frequently. Christ doesn’t forgive our sins and give us the ticket to eternal life just anywhere. He locates His gifts in water, Word and bread and wine which are His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. This is Biblical as the day is long. Unfortunately, many churches don’t recognize it. (And the growing idea of an “Internet Church” will never be able to virtually replicate it).

4. The members of the congregation mutually support one another in Christian living and giving. This is where many otherwise faithful churches have gone wrong. As society has grown to see everything, including faith, as personal and private, church members have grown less supportive of one another in living this Christian life we were baptized into. We need each other, perhaps not as much as we need Christ, but we do need each other. Many churches whose teaching is more or less faithful have still lost members to this problem. If we don’t love one another, we do not deserve to bring in new members. ‘Nuff said.

5. The congregation actively reaches out into its community and beyond. Doctrinal faithfulness without missional zeal is probably the definition of the term “dead orthodoxy.” But be careful! A fixation on numbers can be idolatry. The church with integrity is the church which reaches out without concern to make so many new members by the end of each year. God will bless! We just work it out in Christ as “equal-opportunity providers” of the love of Christ.

And there are so many more things I could add! No congregation is perfect. It’s time we got that into our heads! But the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes saints of sinners, making perfect what can be so horribly flawed.

What would you add as Biblical characteristics of a faithful church made perfect only in Christ?