‘The Endless Round of Resolutions’

 

   Stock Photo of a new year date agenda by ifeelstock

 

 

 

 ‘The Endless Round of Resolutions’

By Pastor Mark Anderson  

Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, CA

 

With the new year comes the time for resolutions. As we look back over the year that was, most of us can identify aspects of our lives that could use some improvement or adjustment, at the very least. What strikes me about this annual exercise is that it never ends.  Still, making New Years’ resolutions can at least give one a sense of hope, if nothing else.  I would like to hope, as each year rolls around, that some prospect exists for a remediation of life; lose weight, be more efficient in use of time, “smell the roses” a bit more often, and so forth. There is something going on here that cuts deeply into the reality of life in God’s world, life lived under the demands of God’s law.

Theologian Gerhard Forde once wrote,

For it is the supernatural pretension of law, its
unbreakable absoluteness that makes it
unbearable and drives man in his endless quest
to be rid of it.”

The simple reason we never seem to arrive at the fulfillment of our lives (thus, the return to annual resolutions) is because the expectations of fulfillment are always one step ahead of us. The law is always ahead of us.  Again, Forde writes;

Law does two things to us, come
what may. It sets limits to sinful and destructive
behavior, usually by some sort of persuasion or
coercion -ultimately by death itself; and it accuses of
sin. That is simply what it does. We have no choice in
the matter.”

Under these circumstances, our failure to keep the demands of our resolutions (read, ‘repentance’) must lead us to either laugh or cry. The law offers no compassion.

So, you see, the apparently innocuous annual new year’s resolution is actually a window into the reality of the human condition before God. We are bound to law in all it’s forms and it’s absolute demands. And all of them are summed up in the greatest of all commandments;

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”

How about that for a New Year’s resolution!

If the law is always ahead of us with it’s endless demands, Christ Jesus is even further ahead with His cross and forgiveness. This is what the Bible means when it declares, “Christ is the end of the law.”
We cannot bring and end to the law.  Only Christ is the end of the law for faith.

If the endless failures of your life’s resolutions are getting to you, they are supposed to!… in order that you might see your need for Jesus, who brings an end to the law, it’s demands and accusations.

So, as 2012 begins, make all the resolutions you want! (Personally, I’m going for weight loss.)  Just remember that your life is already fulfilled in Jesus.  

Without Him we have nothing. With Him we have it all!

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                                 Grace to you,

                                                   Pastor Mark                                                    

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Thank you, Pastor Mark.

And thanks to flickr and ifeelstock (calender), and also michaelrparker (scale).

 

 

 

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‘The Easter Paradigm’

Professor James Nestingen, in commenting on the Lord’s Prayer, once wrote, “In teaching them to pray, Jesus did not teach His disciples to transcend themselves but to ask.” And asking, of course, is something we humans are not very good at. Why? Because asking is a form of dying, a recognition of our limitations, an admission of need and a direct threat to our most dearly beloved, self-reliance.

 

When Jesus spoke of the life of faith He said things like this; “If anyone would find their life in this world, they must lose it.” He spoke of denying self and taking up the cross. Dying must come before life can begin. When St. Paul wrote to the Romans he brought them back to baptism in order to make clear the dynamic of the Christian life; “Do you not know”, he wrote, “that all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?” The sinner, sickened by sin, is beyond remedy. The patient must die.

 

The Easter paradigm of the Christian life is not an invitation to transcend upward to ever higher heights of spirituality and success. This may be good humanism but it is lousy Christianity, what Martin Luther called the Theology of Glory. Jesus was not raised from the dead in order to prop up our projects, however we define them. He was raised, as the New Testament proclaims, “for our justification” (to establish sinners in a right relationship with God). It is for this reason that we can say with Paul, “It is no loner I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

 

Easter is not the occasion for a lot of empty religious barking about new life. Our lives and the world are not progressing they are coming to an end. The life we do live is a life of faith – not faith in what we have done or believed, but faith in Christ Jesus on whose cross my sinful self has met it’s end, and out of whose empty tomb reverberates the promise of eternity.

                       Grace to you,

                                       Pastor Mark

“We Have Met the Enemy…”

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“…many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them,… for He Himself knew what was in man.”
                        John 2:24
  
 
 Now that much of the western world has cast off the moorings of the Christian faith with it’s perceived superstitions and oppressions, one keeps waiting for the flowering of the enlightened post-Christian world; a world where the generosity of reason and the promises of science usher in a utopia of justice, peace, tolerance and inclusivity. Don’t hold your breath.
In a sermon delivered to his congregation in Stuttgart, Germany, just a couple of weeks prior to the end of World war II, the eminent pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke wrote, “In these fearful, fateful weeks many people appear to have become alienated from their faith in God; they begin to ask how he can “permit” such things to happen. It would be better, however, if they were alienated from
their faith in men. It would be better if they were disabused of their fanciful faith in progress and stopped talking so emotionally and sentimentally about the “nobility of man.”
These are hard words, as are the words from John’s gospel. Hard they may be but they are the truth.
 
The myriad problems of the world can be traced to the corruption of the human heart. That’s the bottom line. The world is perpetually prone to injustice because we are unjust. It is prone to dishonesty because we are dishonest.
 
Twenty centuries ago God made an appearance here in the flesh and blood of Jesus. He healed the sick and spoke words of life in the midst of death. People seemed to be duly impressed but Jesus was not buying it. The text above from the Gospel of John is about as clear an assessment as you will find in the entire Bible of God’s evaluation of the “essential goodness” of man. Jesus would not entrust the future of His mission to the likes of us – no way, no how.
Look at what we did to Him.
 
This offends us, of course. It may offend you. We cling to our rosy self-assessments, blaming others and God for the myriad plights of the world, because to do otherwise would be to face not the evils that are in the world but the evils that are in me, and their serious implications, dire consequences and a judgment too terrible to contemplate.
 
You see, no matter how positively we spin our own self-assessments, God thinks otherwise. The Bible proclaims to us that God has placed His curse upon sin. “The soul that sins shall die”, “The wages of sin is death.” There is no future in man.
Therefore, no one one can appreciate the meaning of Jesus apart from the meaning of sin; not sin in the abstract but my sin and your sin. If Christ is to be our Savior, we must know from what we must be saved: our own sickness unto death. On the cross God showed His love for sinners by dying for us.
 
I did not make an assessment of Jesus and decide He was worth believing in. Jesus has freed me as a gift by His sheer grace and mercy.
 
 
 Luther said it well in the Small Catechism:
“At great cost He has saved and redeemed
me, a lost and condemned creature. He has
freed me not with silver of gold, but with His
holy and precious blood and His innocent
sufferings and death. All this he has done that
I might be His own…”.

 

This freedom won by Christ is the assurance of the Christian. It is an assurance not found in life insurance policies, investment portfolios or a mindless confidence in the perfectibility of man. The assurance of salvation and a real future comes through the forgiveness of sins that is God’s gift to us in Christ.
 Christ alone is my assurance because I am a sinner, and I
 pray He is yours also.
                                                                   – Pastor Mark Anderson
 
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.. 

In Bondage to Self-Definition (aka, ‘sin’)

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By Pastor Mark Anderson

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Who am I?  This most basic of questions demands a response and Full of Hot Air by Josh Sommersevery human being makes one. Humans answer this question largely by determining their own identity: I am who I choose to be. Yet our insistence on taking life into our own hands is easily distorted and becomes defining of what the Scriptures call ‘sin’ – that willful insistence on resolving every issue down to what I want.

The culture says that we are bundles of largely unrealized wonderfulness only inhibited by the myriad injustices foisted on us by others (who are, apparently, not so wonderful).

The Bible reveals God’s assessment of the human to us. The defining word regarding what it means to be human does not rightly derive from us but the One who created us…from God. And God says we are willful sinners, deserving of His wrath, in need of repentance and forgiveness. Small wonder humans flee from this God of wrath for all they are worth, preferring to “re-imagine” God in kinder, gentler forms.

If, however, there is no need to talk about the wrath of God, then there is not much need to talk about the sin that incurs the wrath. But this avoidance is no answer to the real problem of sin and all it’s consequences.

Christianity is incoherent without the idea of sin. There can be no good news of the Gospel without first understanding the bad news of sin. The mission of Jesus makes no sense if we remove such concepts from out thinking.

Jesus made it clear that the reason he came to earth was to save sinners. For example, as he said in all three Synoptic Gospels: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. Take away the doctrine of sin and we take away the doctrine of the Incarnation. Indeed, we take away the entire message of the New Testament.

Because we are born in the darkness of sin, we assume our blindness to be life in the light. But Christ has come to give us the new birth that we might walk in the “true light”, Christ Himself. When we persist in our self-defining intransigence, we remain in our sins. When Christ opens our eyes by His amazing grace, we see ourselves as God sees us…as sinners in need of His mericful love and forgiveness.

 

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It seems to me that there is a great problem with many Christians, and in so many churches that have long ago passed the problem of sin ( when they accepted Jesus), and have moved on to other, more important things.

I think that our sinfulness needs to be front and center, all the time, otherwise forgiveness (the gospel) just…goes away, and the religious life of ‘doing’ takes over.

What do you think?

 

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. Thanks to Josh Sommers and Flickr for the artwork

 

 

 

 

‘The Redemptive Pretensions of Culture’

By Pastor Mark Anderson  Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, CA

       Dr. George Forell, one of the most distinguished  Lutheran theologians of the last century, once wrote; “The culture is the enemy of the gospel. This adversary relationship seems to be a permanent aspect of this complex engagement (between the Church and the culture).”

Rank and file Christians across the United States increasingly voice their dismay at the apparent increase in hostility on the part of the culture with respect to the church. Dr. Forell’s observation serves to remind us that this is nothing new. It is reflected in Jesus’ conflict with the religious establishment of his time. As the Church grew, Roman society cared little for the theologies of the ancient Christians. Instead, they saw them as subversive to an orderly society in their refusal to pay homage to the emperor. This tension between the church and the culture it inhabits has been a regular feature of the church’s life since the beginning. And this should come as no suprise. The culture, any culture, is always at odds with the things of God and especially the gospel of Jesus Christ.   Why?

Primarily because all cultures have redemptive pretensions that originate within themselves. Redemption or salvation within the American context, for example, is promised through self-sufficiency and hard work. Other cultures define salvation in their own terms. This idolatrous aspect of human nature confronts the church in every society, and the church must learn to stand against it.

For us, redemption will not be realized within the framework of history. It is this confession that looks forward in hope even as it arouses the animosity, even hatred of the world. The Romans heard this confession and called the Christians “haters of life”.

We do not hate life, of course. But neither do we worship the creation, believing that our future lies here. As we work to fulfill our creaturely obligations in this life and within our various cultures, we await that unifying commonwealth of the Kingdom – the new heaven and the new earth – which God will bring in His own time.

                     – Pastor Mark Anderson

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Does our desire to mirror the culture come at the expense of the our eschatological view of the God’s plan and the nature of redemption, and do we endanger the gospel itself in our desire to be more relevant?

 

 

The Color of Your Church and Thrasymachus

The Pastor’s Perspective  by Pastor Mark Anderson   Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, CA

Regular readers of the Pastor’s Perspective will know that I do
not make a habit of allowing my remarks to be driven by cultural trends, issues, and fads.  There is, after all, nothing redemptive or especially edifying about the culture.  We do not need what the culture offers.  The culture does need what the Church proclaims: the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.  One current story, however, has gotten my attention; the story of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

 ‘Justice is simply the advantage of the stronger’, so said the Greek Thrasymachus.  Those in power (pick your color) inevitably believe themselves to be standing on the high ground of justice.  Any rational assessment of the world will bring you to this conclusion.  This also applies to leaders in religious organizations who cloak themselves in the mantle of ‘prophetic ministry’.  The fact that the liberal theological tradition claims this mantle, both in black and white churches, does not justify their skewed view of the Christian faith.

In this regard let me state that I believe it to be inherently un-Christian to advance any church’s identity primarily on ethnic, racial or political grounds.  When churches do this they betray the truly inclusive message of the cross and sell the birthright for a cheap porridge of narrow, bigoted religion, however righteous they percieve their cause to be.  They also fail to see themselves as full-fledged partners in the huiman fellowship of sin, as much in need of forgiveness as the neighbor they excoriate.

So, if you want to build a religious institution around justice grievances and hammer away at this group or that, go ahead.  But please, do not sully the work of the Savior by calling yourself a church who claims to speak in the name of the One who willingly gave up His life for sinners.  The God I know takes no pleasure in pastors or congregations, white, black, green or purple, who take delight in pointing out the speck in the brother’s eye while ignoring the log in their own.  The God I know takes no pleasure in churches that allow topical issues and justice grievances to supplant the glorious Gospel of His Son’s bloody cross and glorious resurrection.

So, to Rev. Wright and ANYONE else who claims to speak for God in Christ, here is some advice:

The next time you have an opportunity to stand in front of a congregation of sinners (any color will do), tell them their sin is forgiven for Jesus’ sake,  for that is our message when all is said and done.  And then lead them in this (probably infuriating) variation on an old song:

            ‘ Jesus loves the little bigots, all the bigots of the world,

             red and yellow black and white they are precious in His sight.

             Jesus loves the little bigots of the world.

 

  If you can’t sing this and mean it,  you have not heard the Gospel.

                             Grace to you,

                                       Pastor Mark Anderson

 What say you about Rev. Wright’s preaching on the topic of race?

                                   

‘The False gospels of Accommodation’

    The following article is by  Pastor Mark Anderson,                                                               Lutheran Church of the Master  Corona del Mar, CA

    The religion of accommodation is everywhere today, and it shows. Seeker-friendly churches allow those who couldn’t care less about the church to define the church, jettisoning everything that resembles historic Christian worship in favor of the latest pop fad. Many mainline pulpits have become nothing more than stumps from which the latest political cause is trumpeted as the folks in the pews are admonished to care, and care deeply about the myriad plights of the world, as if that were the essential business of the Church. The religion of accommodation proclaims the false gospels of slick marketing, false optimism, uplifting self-help techniques, and a fussy do-goodism. It has no need for Christ, His cross, and His costly forgiveness.

    God’s message of judgement and mercy to this pride-soaked world is not meant to make us feel good about ourselves, meet our percieved needs, or prop up our ideas of what we value as crucially important. God’s message – the entire scope of the biblical revelation – condemns the way we have broken His immutable law while at the same time announcing God’s decision to forgive us. And God forgives not because of us, or in spite of us, but because He chooses to forgive us out of His sheer goodness and mercy. “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith and this is not of your own doing. It is the gift of God – not because of works -lest anyone should boast.(Ephesians 2:8-9) The task of announcing God’s Word to this world must reflect an unflinching resolve to proclaim both the judgement of God’s law on each and all of us ( we have nothing to offer God towards our salvation) even as we proclaim the bloody cross and the glorious ressurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ as God’s merciful, compassionate response to our sin and rebellion (we are saved by God’s grace through faith alone for Christ’s sake).

     The following quote from Gerhard Forde says it well;

   ” Christ is the end of the law to everyone who has faith. Christ is the only end. There is no other. That is the reason the treatment of the law can and must be so uncompromising. For where the law is watered down or jettisoned we come under the most diabolical illusion of all – that there is no longer any need for Christ. We must not take that road. What the church has to offer in all matters, is not accommodation, but absolution and a new life. That is the greatest service to the neighbor we can do. True, many today may find this to be of small comfort. But that may be only because they fail to realize how desperate the battle is.”

                                                                                       - Pastor Mark Anderson

  Do you think that getting people in the door should be a consideration with respect to the types of worship practices that a church engages in?

                                                        - Steve M.

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