Too “religious”

“Well, you guys are all into those religious rituals and stuff.”

Baptism and Holy Communion and liturgy and a church that looks Catholic.

” We aren’t into all that “religious ritual.”

OK…  here we go again.

Looks can be deceiving.

There can be a certain amount of ritual as the church goes about worshipping the Lord in Word and Sacrament. Things ought be done rightly and in good order.

But the focus is not on ritual.  The focus is on Jesus Christ and His promises.

The focus is on the non-religious. It is on what Jesus has done for us.  What  He is doing… for us.  And what He will yet do…for us. That is not being “religious” in the right understanding of the word. That is trusting in faith.

Religion comes from our end. It is what we do to try to attain holiness. It is our efforts to become more acceptable to God.  That is “religion” in it’s most bald sense.

The irony here is that many churches that pride themselves on not being “religious”, because they reject a more formal liturgical worship and an understanding of the true presence of Christ in the Sacraments, are actually MORE religious, even though in appearance they might look less religious.

They may worship in a warehouse with no altar and folding chairs set up, and the pastor may have shorts and a Hawaiian shirt on, and traditional Christian hymns are traded out for contemporary Christian rock music…but they are actually being more religious.

Not because of those things specifically, but because the Word is being internalized.

The external nature of the Word (God coming to us from outside of ourselves) is turned upside down, and now the whole enterprise revolves around ‘us’ and what we are doing to try and make this Word real, and meaningful in our own lives. Worship then, becomes a project of the self. Our emotions, our experience, our comittment and seriousness.  That IS RELIGION.

The external Word.    God comes TO US.       The direction is all important.

Many churches that have a more formal litugical worship can get it wrong also and confuse the direction of the promises.  Roman Catholicism is a good example of this misdirection. The direction in their Sacrament of the Altar is from us to God. (backwards)

This is why a right understanding of the Word and the Sacraments is so important. This is why a right understanding of the true nature of man’s will (bound to sin) is so important.

When we take over and place ourselves at the center, place the emphasis on our decision, our seriousness, our striving…things get turned upside down in a hurry and the gospel can just disappear. 

And what you can end up with then…is “religion”… no matter how high, or low your worship style is.

This Sunday’s Proclaimed Word at LCM

Our ways and the Lord’s ways are not the same (thanks be to God!).

Listen in a bit as Pastor Mark expounds on this reality.


Once again we get a glimpse into how God operates in this world.

He looks for the best candidate, the perfect candidate, the inerrant tool to get His will accomplished..right?


He specializes in attaching His perfect Word to far less than perfect implements.

All of you “perfect” pastors out there know exactly what I mean.

Charles Finney, Evangelicals, and Mormons

    By Tim, at ‘LDS and Evangelical Conversations’

A podcast I listen to about Christians solutions to poverty makes a big point on the tragedy of taking shortcutsThe implications of shortcuts were ringing in my ears as I listened to this Stand to Reason podcast about Charles Finney.

                       Direct link here.               Full episode here .

Charles Finney was a Presbyterian minister who was largely responsible for the Second Great Awakening, an American revival in the early 19th Century. He’s credited with inventing the modern day “altar call” and born-again experience.  What most people don’t know is that Finney was largely influenced by Pelagius, a 4th Century monk and heretic, who didn’t believe in vicarious atonement or original sin. Finney sought to gather people around Jesus as merely a moral figure and make the church a moral reform society.  Finney preached that “deeds not creeds” should be our focus to that end.

Probably the worst thing that came out of Finney’s revivals was the “get saved” mentality which sought out converts rather than disciples.  It was Finney’s philosophy to do and say whatever necessary to get people to make a decision at that moment.  Unfortunately that led to a rather shallow depth of faith for his converts.  As other revivals came through the area people were switching back and forth between denominations based on the powerful calls to action the revival preachers offered rather than a rich understanding of the tenets of their faith.

Because of the intense revivalist battles the area eventually earned the name the burned-over district“.  It also became known as the psychic highway.  It became a sort of  past time in the area to have intense spiritual experiences and to create new religions around those experiences.  Among those religions, Mormonism.

This podcast also has a great number of implications and insights into our recent discussion on liberal Christianity and “faithless” religion.


This was originally posted by Tim on the ‘LDS and Evangelical Conversations’ blog site.

Thank you, Tim!


Becoming more ‘Jesus-like’

(originally posted May 10th, 2008)

Some people love the religion game. They love to talk a real good game , but when it comes right down to it, they are just like the rest of us…incapable of being ‘Jesus-like for more than a minute or two…if that’s even possible.

How can this be? The Bible surely tells us in Jesus’ own words what He expects from us. And the Bible is replete with examples of Jesus’ own works. So there it is; a road map clearly drawn. Open and follow.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life”, the lawyer asked Jesus,  Jesus answered, “What does the law say?”( There it is…the first part of the Law/Gospel paradigm) The lawyer answered, “You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Je sus said to him, “You have answered rightly, do this and you shall live.”

You want to be more Jesus-like?  There it is. “Go and do, and you shall live.”

What does doing what Jesus said we need to do to live have to do with being more Jesus-like? Everything! Jesus was all about loving, and being faithful to the Father with everything He had , and loving everyone else as Himself. You want to be Jesus-like…then do that. That’s all. It’s not complicated. You don’t need 3 Spiritual advisors and a dozen different books to figure it out. You don’t need to pour over the scriptures looking for clues and hidden tidbits in obscure passages for the divine secrets that will reveal the formula. There is one formula. ” Go and do”.

We just love that, don’t we? Give me a list and let me go. I can start knockin’ ’em down and checkin’ ’em off. ‘I’m on my way! Better and better each day!’

“Well, God would never have told us to do something if we didn’t have the ability to do it!”

Pelagius said the same thing. He was a 4th century monk who denied the doctrine of original sin and said that we carry within ourselves the goodness required to do God’s Law.

Even though Pelagius’ teachings were branded by the early Church as heretical, they’re still alive and well today, living in the hearts and minds of many Christians, and as practical doctrine in many Christian churches.

‘A little bit of God and a little bit of me.’

“So what’s with all that ‘Sermon on the Mount’ language that Jesus used, giving us a list of to-do’s and to-don’ts?”

Jesus was re-presenting the Law of God, just as Moses had done earlier, but this time Jesus left us no wiggle room. He laid down the law and He laid it down hard. “If you even look at a woman in that way…” “Do not worry…” “If your right eye causes you to sin pluck it out” “Your righteousness must exceed  that of the scribes and Pharisees to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

“OK…that’s a pretty good starter list…let me get to work on it.”   What!   You can’t even begin to work on it. You are done…as I am done. The things on that list that Jesus used are not meant to spur you to improvement…they are meant to drive you to despair…to kill you off to your own religious project…to stop you from thinking that you’ve ever got a shot at becoming what the law demands. 

Nope. We still want to become more like God. We still think that we can muster up just enough goodness to make a difference.  “I want to become more Jesus-like if it kills me!”

In explaining the first article of the Apostle’s Creed in the small catechism, Luther writes that we “owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”

Of course we do! The law is still in place. But Luther was no fool. He realized that while what he said is true, we ought do those things, he also realized that we cannot do those things with the pure hearts and untainted motives that God requires of us.

So Luther, understanding our core problem, writes this in explaining the third article of the Apostle’s Creed,  “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy, and kept me in the true faith…”

There is the gospel side of the Law/Gospel paradigm.

The law always accuses, and the gospel always gives life; frees us of the accusation.

You want to be more Jesus-like? Then jump off the WWJD bandwagon and live in the freedom that He has won for you on the cross and in your baptism, and that He gives to you in the preached Word, and whenever the Sacrament of the Altar is offered.

Let God be God, and you be you. Isn’t that enough, anyway?

    – Steve Martin

Godly…or Human?



Which would God have us be?   

More Godly…or more human?

Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus

Nicodemus came to Jesus under cover of darkness to find out from Jesus just how all this ‘God stuff’ works.  And Jesus spells it all out… for Nicodemus…and for us.

   click here:  You-Must-Be-Born-Again

This sermon should raise the hackles on more than a few who sit in a pew.

 That’s ok… the truth often does that to the Old Adam and Old Eve.


This can really be tough for many people, and many people in the church.

Let ‘er rip.   Are you buying it?  

Or do you think Pastor Anderson is missing something in the Jesus, Nicodemus dialogue?

Institute of Lutheran Theology

Dr. James Nestingen

‘The Darkness’ by Howard Nowlan

A positive mind anticipates happiness, joy, health, and a successful outcome to every situation and action“. – Ramez Sasson

I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined,
stone cold dead as I stepped out of the womb“.  – Bob Dylan.

 Ever pondered what exactly gets you out of bed in the morning (assuming you are able to sleep at nights)?
The mind ‘games’ we usually have to play are pretty elaborate – presumptions that spin a fabric of social and personal ‘norms’ by which we can not only face but hopefully invest something into each fleeting moment called a day – granting the game some worth, so long as we do not probe or question too deeply.


The problems come, often, as we grow older. The mask of such illusion begins to slip as we become aware that the value of such a dance is flawed, and that so much of what is deemed ‘the norm’ is but a pretense – a device to keep us busy, distracted, from facing reality. The cracks are always there – the perpetual corruption in every aspect of life, whilst it may seek to change it’s spots, continues apace, and the reality of decay and death encroaches, however we seek to project the ‘I’m fine’ persona to ourselves and to others.
In an honest analysis, we quickly find ourselves in agreement with the sobering analysis of Solomon – all of life amounts to no more than a painful futility.

The broken record of ‘normal’ life leaves us there, stranded and abandoned in a world which has us reaching for something to dull the pain – a darkness too terrible to comprehend – fueled by the misnomer that there is no true remedy. In the modernal mind, there is no actual escape – no aid or answer to this tragedy. Life becomes little more than ‘dodging the bullet’ for however long this can be achieved, until the moment when death slams us against the darkness from which there is no return.

Jesus Christ entered the arena of this dreadful malady and extinguished its rule.
He seeks to confront each of us with a greater reality – that our lives are not meant to be marked by such pathetic tragedy, but with life that has enduring value.
His death and resurrection reveal that the pain and misery of the present darkness have sought to usurp our true purpose and connection to what we are and are meant to be.

The choice is stark – a world enshrouded in a darkness which holds and devours all, or one marked by ultimate freedom from pain and sorrow, because of the one who has made us free, even in the midst of this present trial, to taste of eternal life.

In our mad world, that truth conveys a goodness and mercy which allows our troubled days here to be savored with a richer meaning than any broken dream.

                                                                                              – Howard Nowlan


You guys and gals that don’t vist Howard’s blog are cheating yourself out of a very bold underline of the Word. 

Howard would never say that…but I’m saying it…because it’s true.

Thank you, Howard!