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Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is known as the “Unofficial Start of Summer” as most Americans have the day off from work and school. It is common to grill meat outside and have friends and family over; in general, have a good time.


And there’s nothing wrong with this. I’ll be doing this with my family and we all look forward to it every year. We’ll be grilling pork steaks and potatoes, having cake decorated as an American Flag. I’ll probably play catch with my sons, definitely lounge around the backyard and enjoy the day.


But I will also share with my sons what Memorial Day is really for – the reason we have this day in our nation’s calendar.


It began as “Decoration Day” by freed negro slaves in 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina who created a Union Cemetery near the place for many Union prisoners of war had died and were buried in a mass grave. Out of gratitude – it is said – of the soldiers’ sacrifice for their freedom, they reinterred the bodies and decorated the graves with flowers.


The following year cities in the Northern United States began to hold what would become yearly observances of memorial and decoration of those who had died during the United States Civil War. After World War II, Decoration Day became more commonly known as Memorial Day and in the 1960’s it was officially designated as such.


Now in 2008, there are no survivors of the Civil War nor the Spanish-American War. There are no more than three surviving veterans of World War I. The veterans of World War II have reached their middle 80’s and older.


For World War I and all previous wars, they are truly second-hand history for us. World War II and more recent wars are still “memories.”


We must never forget what these men and women did to ensure our freedoms. I say we should also thank God for their sacrifice, especially those who gave their lives during the conflicts. And that is what Memorial Day is for.


Remembering is a biblical thing. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He celebrated remembrances such as Passover and Purim. In the “Law” as recorded in Deuteronomy, God instructed His people to remember what they have gone through to get where they are now and to pass on those memories to their children and their children’s children (Deuteronomy 6:7).


This is a basic tenant of our faith that we pass on what we believe about Jesus Christ, to teach and confess it to our children and others.


Memorial Day is a great opportunity to do both: to share a bit of the history of our country and to share our faith in Christ. I pray that you will do this and also have a blessed Memorial Day.


©2008 True Men Ministries.

We Learn By Doing

Can we learn about life simply by reading, watching TV or movies?

No. You actually have to live it first. While I believe that many of the lessons that God wants to teach us can be found in the stories we hear, that isn’t the only way that God wants us to learn.

It is important to also go out and live life.

The movie Blast from the Past is essentially about a 35 year old man who is raised in a bomb shelter and the only thing he knows of the world is what his parents have taught him, what he has read in books and magazines (up to the 1960’s) and TV shows from the 1950’s. He’s never seen the sky and has never met another human other than his mom and dad. When he emerges into the late 1990’s Los Angeles, hilarity ensues when he does fit in with real life because what he learned never was real life.

We learn by doing. Many people have expressed this concept – from Aristotle to Freud to Admiral James T. Kirk. But it is more than just a philosophical, psychological or fantastical concept. It is also a biblical concept.

"Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you." – St. Paul, recorded in Philippians 4:9 (emphasis added).
I’m a “movie” guy. I like to watch movies – all kinds of movies. That shows up in my preaching and teaching quite a bit.

But over the last couple of years, I’ve realized the importance of getting out of the house or the theater and actually living as God intended for me to live. I’ve hiked in Idaho, camped in the mountains and, this June, will be trying rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park (www.truemen.org/mountains). Taking what I have learned about God from books and movies I try to put into practice out in the wild as well as in the wilds of suburbia.

What have I learned that I could put into practice?

To take a leap of faith. God wants me to trust Him. He wants me to trust Him in everything. Like in rock climbing. Trusting in a person that I can see cannot possible hold me up because I outweigh him by about 200 pounds. I can see that he can’t possible take care of me, save me from falling. Yet it isn’t true. It may look true but it really isn’t. Kind of like the movies. I can lean back on the rope and know that I’m in safe hands despite what my eyes see.

There are other things that I’ve learned that I can put into practice, but I’ll save those thoughts for a future devotion.

In the mean time, now that you’re at the end of this email, close it and turn off the computer and step out and live life following God’s leading.

©2008 True Men Ministries.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On Fire - The Passion of the Spirit

It was on this day nearly 2000 years ago that the disciples of Jesus “took it to another level.” They had been called by Christ to “follow” him. They had listened to and learned from Jesus. Some of them had been witnesses to Jesus’ death. All of them had been witnesses to His resurrection. Then 50 days later, they reached the next level.

My brothers and sisters, it’s time! It’s time to take ourselves to the next level.

Jesus Christ has died and rose again. We are His witnesses in this time and place. He sends His Holy Spirit to us.

The Bible refers to the Holy Spirit as:

Wind

Breath

Fire

In John 7 Jesus adds another element – the Holy Spirit causes rivers of living water to flow out of us.

I think we can take this analogy to the beach.


Waves. Surfers “catch” waves. At least those who want to surf successfully do. The waves come no matter what. A successful surfer will “catch” the wave. The surfer will be “pushed along” by the wave, riding the board in front of the wave and moving along.

The unsuccessful surfers – those who are not ready or not paying attention – miss the wave. The wave goes over them, under them, passes them by.

Healthy churches – which we are, by the way – catch the wave of the Holy Spirit. They don’t let the wave wash over them and pass them by.

Healthy Christians – which make up healthy churches – do the same thing.

The Holy Spirit moves us along, to new places, but using the “same old,” changeless Word and Sacrament of Christ! The challenge is that we don’t do things just because “we’ve always done it that way.”

Look, there is nothing wrong with doing some things “the way we’ve always done them” – things like the Sacrament of the Altar, parts of worship, the Lord’s Prayer. The important things are to not apply that thinking to everything and to know why we are doing them.

We have a promise from Jesus that when we have caught the wave of the Holy Spirit that “streams of living water” will flow out of us.

That means that we will be “on fire” with passion for Christ and the mission of the Church – which is to reach, teach, and nurture a thirsty world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And we’ll know when that has happened. Things will be happening to us and through us. In Acts 2, the disciples began to speak in tongues. This can mean several different things – different human languages or a heavenly language of some kind. An important point here is that there is also a reference to this happening in the OT – in our lesson for today, Numbers 11. I want you to note that while it happened, it didn’t happen continually.

I think we can also identify rivers of living water in other things. Our faith in Christ through the Word of the Apostles (NT), the confessions of our church, our hymns, prayers, sermons, being a congregation that gathers together around Word and Sacrament.

But it is vitally important to note the “order” of such things. Jesus promises that this will happen in John 7, but something else must first take place – His death and resurrection. As one commentator put it (Lenski,The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, page 580)

“And that Spirit would make rivers of living water flow from the believers throughout the New Testament era. [Yet] no believer was ready or able to function as Jesus wanted him to function as long as he did not understand the sacrificial death of Jesus and his glorious resurrection.”

That’s the key. We have to understand and believe that Jesus Christ died for us and that He rose again from the dead. That isn’t the end of the mission, that’s the beginning.

So, I’m going to start a new series of messages this summer to help us understand how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is used by the Holy Spirit to take us to the next level. We’ll explore the “whys” of what we do – prayer, offering, the Lord’s Supper, missions, and the like.

Right now, I ask you to spend a few minutes in silent prayer, asking God to make you ready for this wave of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Authentic Faith

Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia was a Christian monarch who left a lasting legacy in that Northeast African nation. By the time he ascended to the throne – after years of delay due to espionage, civil war, kidnappings, imprisonment, and a jailbreak that would make a great Hollywood screenplay – he was on track to leave footprints that would stabilize the nation for generations to come.

During his reign:

Ethiopia’s first modern bank

First postal system

A nation wired for telephones

Paved roads for cars

Cities plumbed for modern efficiencies – whether they existed or not.

He lowered the crime rate by installing an electric chair. Not to be used as intended, mind you. The country had no power plants at the time to actually hook the thing up. Rather, he used the electric chair as his throne and it had the effect of discouraging crime!

Menelik was a successful ruler. We might call him “authentic.”

And he was a Christian. But his Christianity was not so authentic.

For the King’s Christian faith was not based in the Bible but rather in the pages of the Bible.

Menelik believed the Bible had the power to cure illnesses and therefore every time he felt sick he ate a few pages from God’s Word. After suffering a serious stroke, Menelick prescribed for himself a strict diet of 1st and 2nd Kings. He ate both books, page by page which led to internal complications resulting in his death. It was an authentic idea … but he should have stuck with Jell-O.

Authentic Christians – that’s what I’m after. I want to be real, just as Christ is real. And I think this is what Christ was praying for in John 17. Our text ends with the prayer that we all be one. One of spirit, heart, mind, and soul. Believing in Christ as our only savior.

This past week I heard of a lot two different kinds of churches, and of at least two different kinds of Christians.

But Christ wants us to be one. He tells us that He’s the only God. We’ve heard from Jesus that He’s the way, the truth, the life. If there is only one Christ, then it makes sense that there’s only one way to be a Christian, only one way to salvation.

How can we know what that way is? The answer is the Bible. Genesis to Revelation – in its original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts – are the inspired, inerrant Word of God. It is how we know of Christ. But unlike Menelik, we don’t need to literally eat the Word to receive its power. We do read, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God, but we do that by living the Word, doing what it says, not eating its pages.

As you do this, I think you will find that the Bible draws us together into One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church, it doesn’t fragment the people of God into white Christians, black Christians, Indonesian Christians, German Christians.

Recently in the Thursday morning True Men Study we looked at the part of the Book of Revelation where John sees the Church at the end of time. People from every nation, tribe, and language. This is authentic Christianity, this is the result of authentic faith.

A word about authentic faith. Authentic faith is to believe in Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem, lived a perfect life without sin, was punished and killed because of our sin, and rose from the dead. And the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the power to live the life that He calls us to live.

Living an authentic life is a desire that is deep inside all of us. We want our lives to have purpose, to count. At the end of our lives, we want it to have mattered that we were here, that we made a difference. That’s a desire that is deep down inside of us. Don’t worry if you don’t feel that desire quite like that, though. People like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Condoleezza Wright, these people didn’t do what they did because they had some overt sense of wanting to make history. I mean, they didn’t wake up one morning and say to themselves, “I will become father of my country because I want to live an authentic life.”

That isn’t usually how it works. Rather, a person that wants to live an authentic life tends to wake up each morning and face the day with prayer and giving glory to God, with words like, “I yours, Christ, do with me what you will. I will live this day to your glory, in the power of your resurrection.” Maybe not those exact words, but that spirit.

Being an authentic Christian means not “eating the pages.” That is, it means not being one in name only but making your Christian faith a part of your whole life – and this is key – for the glory of God and not the glory of yourself. Of all the news reports that I’ve seen in the last week – giving reverends a bad name – it seems to me that the problem is that what is being said has been about self and not about Christ. This is nothing new and won’t end with this current news cycle. As people we are inherently selfish. After all, the original sin was about “me” and “my feelings, wants, and desires.”

But an authentic Christian faith transforms. Menelik was transformed by eating his Bible – he grew constipated, nauseated, and finally died because of it. But when we are transformed by the Word of God living rather than eating its pages, we become new men and women. We become True Men and True Women – what God originally meant for us to be. It doesn’t happen overnight. George Washington didn’t become the father of our country immediately – he went through 20 years of character transforming as a junior officer in the British Army and then leader of the Virginia Regiment –a part of the British Army in the French and Indian War.

Abraham Lincoln didn’t just show up to be president in 1861. He went through hard character transformation which included many failures.

The keys to this character transformation that is part of Authentic Christianity, is that God’s Word has a prominent place in your life. Making it a part of your everyday living. Another key is that you don’t go through transformation alone.

The Christian Church – of which Redeemer congregation is a part of – is a family that helps implement the transformation. Word and Sacrament is what we sometimes call it. Being a part of a family of believers, reading and discussing God’s Word (in small groups), and partaking of the gifts of Christ in the sacraments – these are all part of authentic Christianity that leads to transformation

There will be set-backs. There will be disappointments. Transformation to an authentic faith and life means that some things have to be “torn down.” An authentic life and faith is an “extreme makeover” of our lives by the Law and Gospel of God. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is one of our favorite TV shows at our house. What’s the first thing they do after they send the family to Disneyland? They tear down the existing house!

There are times when in our quest for the authentic faith and life that it will seem like we’re taking two steps back for every one step forward (which doesn’t move you forward at all). Don’t be discouraged. This isn’t going to be easy. Life is hard. As Wesley says in The Princess Bride, “life is pain. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.” And that’s so true! The “Prosperity Gospel” is a lie – if only you believe enough God will give you everything you ever wanted. “Liberation Theology” leads down the wrong path, because it focus is on liberation from oppression and not liberation from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You will fail. That’s for sure. You’re going to make mistakes. But make sure your family is around you when you do make those mistakes. They can help turn you around, pick you up. And family, help those who fail around you, help pick them up, carry them home – what a great example of that we had in women’s college softball this past week.

That’s what our family is for. To help each other get back up after we fall and to encourage each other to carry out our mission to bring the gospel to the world.

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