Thursday, December 30, 2010

What makes a Lutheran all-wet?

Welcome to another installment of "What Makes a Lutheran?"! Last post we discussed how the central point of the Lutheran faith is Christ and Him crucified on the Cross. Therefore, Lutherans are “Cross-eyed.” We continue these next two posts to discuss a central aspect of our theology, which separates us from other churches, especially many of your big, non-denominational churches, "What do Lutherans believe about the sacraments?"

When I entered college I had a friend who told me, “You crazy Lutherans believe that salvation only comes through baptism.” I struggled after hearing this because I thought, wait a second, isn’t it just Jesus alone? I remembered hearing the words from the hymnal in the Baptismal rite, “Baptism now saves you” from I Peter 3:21, but was Peter wrong in his words? The problem I had was that I was asking the wrong question. Of course, we are saved solely by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our sins. If anyone says there is salvation somewhere else, they are not Christians. However, when we look at Christ's sacrifice on the cross, a question does arise, "How do I know He died for me?" This is a question I am sure that we all have asked at one point or another. We know that Christ died for the whole world, but then we read in Ephesians 1:4-5, we hear of how God chose some people to be saved. Though St. Paul is using these verses to comfort the Ephesians, we read them and worry that we might not be part of those who are chosen to be in heaven. Though it is intended to comfort us, this doctrine of predestination often frightens us. We then ask ourselves, "How do I know I am chosen to be in heaven?

How do we know that we are among the elect? We know because God told us so in our baptisms! In Romans 6:4, Paul tells us we are buried with Christ in baptism and raised to a new life! In I Peter 3:21 the Apostle tells us that baptism now saves us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Baptism, God shows you that Christ died for you because there he kills your old, sinful self with Christ on the cross and raises you from the dead to a new life with Him! In the waters of baptism, God gives Christ to you! Through the miracle of water and the Word, you are given faith in Jesus Christ. You don't have to try and figure out if you are among those who are saved any longer, God has come to you in a physical way through the water and the Word and made you His Child!

He brought faith when you were baptized, and He brings Christ every time you confess your sins and receive forgiveness. Every time you confess your sins, you once again become all wet in forgiveness, which is why us crazy Lutheran LOVE to become ALL WET in the waters of Holy Baptism.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What makes a Lutheran Cross Eyed?

During my years of college, I remember going to a number of Christian gatherings that brought many people from different denominations together for Bible Study and singing Christian songs. While going to these gatherings, I noticed many differences with people from other churches from what I had learned and believed as a Lutheran. Many people talked, acted, and worshipped in a different way. And one time, a person approached me and asked, “What really is the difference of you Lutherans with the rest of us?” My response was not real strong, because in all reality, I had no idea. It was not until I entered Seminary that I was able to learn what makes us as Lutherans distinct from other denominations and also some concerns we have with what other churches believe.

For the next six posts, I will be posting , “What makes a Lutheran?” What we teach and preach as Lutherans will be different than other churches and will come from a distinctively Lutheran point of view. It is important for us to learn what it means to be Lutheran because there are churches in our community that are teaching things that we could argue are contrary to the Word of God. And as we are all searching for the truth, it is vital that we search His Word for the truth that He has given.

In this article we are going to talk about what makes a Lutheran "cross-eyed." Of course, I am not talking about something that is going to make us stare at our noses all the time. No, I am talking about what it is that keeps our eyes always focused on the cross. Our whole theology, our whole make-up, our whole existence as Lutherans is cross-eyed.

Many people these days claim that there are many ways of knowing God. They say that we can know God by experiencing him in nature, in the trees or in the mountains, or in their home watching a football game (then the question comes is God a Viking or Packer fan?). Others claim that you can only know God through some sort of religious experience, feeling, or being able to speak in unique languages.

Not so with Lutherans. We say that there is only one place to really truly know and experience God, and that is in the cross of Jesus Christ. We cannot truly know God unless we know him revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of our Messiah. The entire Bible, from the creation of the earth to the prophecies of the end times, point to the cross. If we claim to know God apart from his life, death, and resurrection for us then we do not know the true living God. For without the cross, we have no life, no forgiveness, no salvation, no hope, and no Messiah Lutheran Church.

For us Lutherans, this is the main thrust of all ministry. If we gather as a congregation and do not proclaim the message of the cross of Christ on Sunday morning, we may as well stay home. If the ministries we do on a weekly basis do not emphasize the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we are no different than a YMCA. And if we do not live our lives cross-eyed in everything, we lose what it means to be a Church.

So let us live out our lives cross-eyed, focused on Christ on the cross, and celebrating that we as Lutherans focus our lives on a God who has given us all things!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The book of Acts-Jesus and mercy, Jesus and mercy

I have read the book of Acts quite often throughout my years of seminary and now over four years in ministry. In this reading I have often tried to make the book of Acts a "guide" to how to do church. Many times trying to make a blueprint of what the church should look like today. Although one can do this is very simplistic ways, this past reading pointed me to two VERY simple realities of Acts and in all reality the whole Bible: Jesus and mercy, Jesus and mercy, Jesus and mercy.

Throughout the beginning of Acts it is a continual movement with the apostles, disciples, and believers of proclaiming Christ and then serving with His mercy. At Pentecost they proclaim Christ in different languages, people are baptized, and then they start to have everything in common. Then after Peter and John proclaim Christ to the council, the believers with even more boldness worship and serve one another. In chapter six the disciples realize they need to proclaim Christ even more, but in order to serve in mercy the appoint Stephen and the others to serve. And continually from Philip to Simon to the Eunuch it is a continuous movement of Jesus and mercy.

What does this mean? The church should do two things above everything: Jesus and mercy. Proclaim Christ and keep on doing it until the resurrection. From that proclamation serve each other, the community, and the world and then continue until the resurrection. Pretty simple huh? Lord have mercy.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Santa Claus in the Christian home?

One major controversy each year that I hear and experience during the Christmas season centers on one person which is seen more during this time of year than anyone else in history: Santa Claus.

From the moment the Macy's day parade ends to Christmas Eve Night we are inundated by the jolly old fellow dressed in red and plastered on every commercial, Christmas movie, and at the center of every mall. The question arises for every Christian or at least should, "How much Santa should we have in our house this season?" For the non-Christian, I think it is a no-brainer, make Santa the center of the season because there is nothing stopping you nor requiring you to check your intentions.

So what is a Christian to do? Take your kids to Santa in the mall, leave out cookies, put a present under the tree from him, and make it look like the sleigh has gone through your yard? Or should we totally get rid of the tradition, tell your kids from a young age their is no Santa, and just center on Jesus the whole season?

Our family (sinners that we are) do not at all recognize Santa in anything that we do. I do not bring that up to make ourselves sound better than anyone else, I simply highlight it to show that life can go on without Santa. However, I do not promote anyone denying Santa in their homes and then going down the streets trying to tell others that the NEED to do the same in their homes. But is this the only option for a Christian family?

I would argue that each Christian home needs to check themselves in the following way: 1) If you do celebrate Santa, how often are we bringing him up compared to Jesus? Are we giving Jesus the Christmas Eve worship service that we go too and then Santa gets all of December and every other moment? Jesus has to be the magic, mystery, and celebration of Christmas. If he isn't, then we have other issues in our faith journey. 2) If you choose not to celebrate Santa, how are you making sure it doesn't sound like you are better than everyone else and being another Pharisee?

The main focus is this: Jesus reigns above any man in a red suite. If one is a confessing Christian, this has to be the center of all that teach in the home. May the Lord guide each of us to make Christ the center this season and repent for all of our motivations away from Him.
Lord have mercy.