‘I am Not Spiritual’ by William MacKinnon

I Am Not Spiritual
You who are spiritual….explain yourselves.
by William MacKinnon

I had an epiphany of sorts a few days ago while in my car. I was on the way to the hospital to see a church member who was sick. My revelation struck me so forcefully that I believe I said it out loud. “I’m not spiritual.” Then I proceeded to try to figure out what that meant.

I am a Christian. I am a follower of Christ and a believer in the bible. You might point out that to also say “I’m not spiritual” seems to be a contradiction. I agree. I’m somewhat bothered by it. You see there are so many things that seem to go with Christian spirituality that I’m missing that it is difficult to come to any other conclusion.

Let me preface things by saying that I believe I have a spirit, whatever that means. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the attitudes and feelings that should go along with being a Christian that I’m quite obviously deficient in. I’m going to list them here and articulate them as best I can. Perhaps some of you will relate to these. Perhaps you will conclude that a) I’m a horrible Christian, or b) I’m not a Christian at all.

Prayer is hard for me: It shouldn’t be, should it? It’s hard for me to discipline myself to do it, hard to focus on what I should pray for and hard to remember to do it as often as I think I should.

I don’t lose myself in worship: I should, shouldn’t I? I don’t. My mind wanders, I sometimes get sleepy. I’m aware of people coughing and babies crying. I pick up on mistakes I think the preacher makes and miss the point of the sermon. During the singing, often my main thought is “are we ever going to be allowed to sit?”

I’m embarrassed by public displays of piety: Isn’t that what it’s all about? I’m not just talking about FALSE piety, but sincere also. I don’t say things like “Praise the Lord” and cringe a little when other people say it around me. “Thank God” doesn’t bother me but anything stronger makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to pray in public. I don’t always pray before I eat.

I don’t like witness-wear: In fact, I’m more than a little ashamed of it. Does this mean Christ is ashamed of me? Shouldn’t I be loading up on Tommy Hellfighter tee shirts and Got Jesus? sweaters? Who am I to criticize the sincere efforts of others to share their faith?

I’m not humble: Don’t Christians have to be? This is a constant struggle with me. I teach two adult classes, and love to do so. But I also like to hear the sound of my own voice and almost always think I’m right. Doesn’t that disqualify me?

I’m not burdened: Not much anyway. Aren’t real Christians always burdened? For the lost, the poor, the sick, etc? I share my faith, and my resources, and I pray. But shouldn’t I be spending more time in holy anguish over these things?

I don’t read my bible every day: Shouldn’t I want to? I read it and have read it quite a bit, but I don’t make it every day. Am I in the minority here?

I sometimes have doubts: About God, my faith, etc. Other Christians don’t, do they? I’m not saying I’m wracked with doubts, but sometimes they are there. I’m not always 100% sure of my faith. Is anything less acceptable?

I don’t feel God: This is a big one. What’s wrong with me? I’m not even sure I know what that means. I’ve been happy, joyful, contemplative, serious, reverent, etc. It that God? What does God feel like? I believe in His presence because the bible assures me of His presence. Is that enough? I don’t have a lot of “experiences” that many other Christians seem to have. What do I do about that? When the worship leader or preacher stands up and says “if you can’t sense the Spirit after that song (or message), you’ve got something wrong with you!”, I’m the one who shrinks back in his seat amid all the amens and head bobbing.

I’m sure I could come up with more, but I think you get the idea. Pretty bad eh? So what is the solution? Spend more time with God? Well, I believe God is with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so squeezing more time in there is going to be tricky. Read my bible more often? Several years ago I spent weeks reading my bible for hours a day, every day. While tremendously beneficial in many ways, it didn’t really address the things listed above. Pray more? See #1 listed above.

Or perhaps the easiest conclusion for you to reach is that I need to really get saved, and “all these things will be added unto me.” Don’t think I haven’t thought of it. There’s a snag however. I really am saved, that is, if the bible really is true. Trust me, I’ve been through the “are you sure that you’re sure” wringer. I’ve had preachers from all over the country make me doubt my salvation. And believe me; some of them are very good at what they do.

But I keep coming back to the same question. Is the bible true? I hope it is, because I’m placing my trust in what it says, and not how I feel. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I have confessed Him with my mouth. I believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead. Should I trust the bible; or an experience (or lack thereof)?

So let’s take the “he’s not really a Christian” option off the table for a moment. Where does that leave me? Well, there’s still the “he’s just a lousy Christian” alternative. While that may be true, I don’t think it serves our purpose for this discussion.

Is it possible; just possible, that I (and others) might be wrong about what it means to be spiritual? Could it be that daily bible reading, public piety, long prayers and religious clothing aren’t a true measure of spirituality? I recall that the Pharisees had all these things and that Jesus wasn’t impressed with them.

Let’s take a step back and start with the word itself. The word “spiritual” as used in the New Testament is the Greek word pneumatikos, and the lexical definition is: one who is filled with and governed by the Spirit of God. Well, like most lexical definitions, that’s not terribly helpful, but if we can look at the word in its context, perhaps we’ll get a feel for the true meaning. The New Testament actually only uses the word a few times as a personal descriptor, so we don’t have to do an exhaustive study. In fact, 1st Corinthians contains the greatest number of references. In Chapter 2:14,15, Paul uses the word Spiritual as a contrast to Natural, i.e.: Christian versus non-Christian, so that’s not much help. In Chapter 3 he uses it as a contrast to Carnal or babes in Christ. The remainder of the references carry the same general meaning as the verses in Chapter 3: mature. To be spiritual as a Christian is to be mature in your faith. Not a babe. Not a novice. Not carried about with every wind of doctrine and new idea that comes out. To be mature is to have a measure of wisdom. To be mature (spiritual) is to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit in a recognizable way. And guess what? None of the above (or rather, their converse) appear in the list of Spiritual fruits in Galatians 5:22. A person may exhibit any or all of the characteristics I listed above, and still have a measure of maturity. A person may exhibit the opposite of any or all of the qualities listed above and still not be spiritual.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not patting myself on the back because I’ve concluded the things above don’t matter. Far from it. Prayer, scripture reading, humility, etc are all good things! (Except witness-wear. Sorry) I haven’t concluded that I really am spiritual. Just that the things I listed aren’t true indicators. I haven’t decided to stop striving. Just to change my focus.

So where does that leave me? Do I fit the biblical definition of Spirituality? I don’t know. I’d prefer to leave that judgment to someone else. I may not be humble but I’m smart enough to know that I should try to be. Back to square one? No, not really. You see, I can look back, and see where God has brought me from. I may not sense the Spirit, but I can see the fruit of His presence. I may not feel led, but I can see where I have been led. I may be growing slowly but I know I’m growing. So I’ll keep on. What else can I do? Maybe these other things will come to me in time. Maybe they won’t. I don’t really care all that much. I have faith, and He is faithful. I am satisfied with that.

                                                       – William MacKinnon

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Are you spiritual?

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Would you allow this in your church?

       (you’ll get the idea after a couple of minutes – if that long)

I have it on good authority (Elephant’s Child) that this wedding was held in an ELCA (Lutheran) church.

It does not suprise me one bit.  There are many culturally consumed ELCA pastors and congregations.  There are also many confessional, faithful, Christ centered ELCA pastors and congregations.

A wedding such as that would never take place in our ELCA church, as long as Pastor Mark is there. There will also never be any dancing poodles and plate spinners and sword swallowers at any funerals at Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar CA as long as Pastor Mark is there.

“Oh, they are just having fun and expressing themselves”.

“What’s wrong with that?”

Hat Tips to ‘Elephant’s Child’, to Frank Gillespie at ‘Putting out the Fire’ and to Darius at ‘Echoes in Eternity’

“You must eat my body and drink my blood”

“You must eat my body and drink my blood or you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)The Ultimate Gift: Communion (Walford's Advent Cross, as backdrop), Jan 2009 by johnwalford

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OK.  Jesus said it.  He says “truly, truly…” before he says it.

Do you really think it is quite as serious as that? Or are we making too much of this command?

The Terribleness of Death

I spoke to my brother the other day on the phone. He seemed a bit down and I asked him how he was. He told me that the sister of his son’s friend had just died that day of cancer. She was 16 years old.

I did not know this girl, or her family. But after I hung up the phone, I thought about it. I thought about her and her family. I thought about my brother and his family. 

I thought of how terrible it is to have a life snuffed out  in the blossom of youth, a whole life ahead of her and all of the joys and sorrows that would have gone along with that life.

 I thought of the terrible, unfair nature of life and how it rips the guts out of people. I thought about the finality of it all. I thought about how this girl’s family will cope with the loss of their baby. To me, 16 is still a baby.

I couldn’t imagine how terrible it must be for them.  But I know that it is.

I have another friend, that I met through blogging, who lost her son not all that long ago in a wreck on an icy road. I can see her tears and pain in the words that she wrote and that she still writes today. She is a strong woman of faith. But the pain is there. Of course it is. Time will ease it, sometimes. But it will never go away. Not in this lifetime.

Another friend just lost her sister in-law (age 26) a few days ago in an off road vehicle accident that almost killed her brother as well. In the blink of an eye a mother of two little ones, a wife, daughter, and sister, is gone. 

Death is not a “passing”.  It is death.  It is the end of being. It is final. There is not an automatic segway into some etherial Shangri-la. When you die, you are dead. You no longer ‘are’. I emphasize this fact because of all the “spitituality” that is floating around out there in our biblically illiterate society. We fear death, so we make it palatable. We turn it into something that we can handle.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I can’t handle it.

Death is not something that I can soften, or paint with cheery colors, or laugh off with fatalism.

Death is our certain outcome and there is a date on the calender with our name in the square. This life passes us by like a snap of the fingers and our day will be here.

I went to a funeral of a co-worker several years ago and the minister doing the funeral service said that he didn’t know why we had to die. I looked around casually to see if anyone was as astounded by that remark as I was. If anyone was, I couldn’t tell.  “The wages of sin is death.” I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible somewhere (more than once).

Because of the first Adam and his rebellion, we too have that rebellious nature. We too, want to ‘do it ourselves’…call the shots…put ourselves first…ignore God’s law. We don’t love God and our neighbors as ourselves.  We just don’t want to. 

God promised Adam that “on the day that you sin (eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) you surely will die.”

That was the day that we stopped trusting in God. We are all complicit. There is not a one of us who desires to listen to God and to obey…otherwise we would.

But God loves us anyway. He made us… we are His creation. He does not desire that our sin and our resulting death have the last word. He wants us to live forever with Him!

So He did something about it. He sent the second Adam, Jesus Christ…”just as sin entered the world through one man, so does one man’s act of righteousness lead to aquittal and life for all people.” (Romans 5:18 paraphrased)

Jesus had to die, too. But His death on that bloody cross was for us. To save us from eternal condemnation and eternal death and eternal seperation from God.

By faith, God makes us righteous and grants us salvation. He does this in our baptisms, where He gives us the forgiveness of our sins, and the Holy Spirit. He does this for us in His preached Word, and in His Holy Supper. He wants us to have life forever, the way He originally intended that we have it. So He gives it to us again through faith, because of Jesus Christ.

God has given you life to begin with, and He surely can give it to you again when you need it again. His favorite thing to do is to pull people up from the bottom of graves.

He loves you. He forgives you ALL your sins. He has promised to make you His child in baptism and by faith. All so that the terribleness of death can no longer follow us into His Kingdom.

Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death, and the devil…FOR YOU!

 

That, my friend, is the Good News.  Amen.

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Do you believe it?  If you do…then you’ve got it!

But don’t take that Word of promise for granted.  There are other words out there also, that would rip you away from that belief and bring eternal death back into your future.

Find a church where the promises of God are read and preached, and where His Sacraments are offered freely in accordance with those promises.

Do you think you’re going to hear this stuff at the mall, or the Dodger game?

You need to be kept in faith. There is a long race to be run, you know.

‘The Law Cannot Make Us Willing’ by Terry Hahm

Born in the shadow of a law-dominated Roman Catholic church, Luther’s theology recovered the priority of the Gospel and then emphasized a proper distinction Terry Hahmbetween Law and Gospel. And yet, the heirs of Luther (and all Christianity for that matter) continues to struggle with the lawful use of the Law. To say that the issue was settled by Luther (or the Lutheran confessions) overstates the case.

First, Luther’s views did not necessarily hold sway over Calvin and the other reformers – so modern evangelicalism has evolved a different view of the Law than Lutheranism. Beyond that, Lutheran theologians themselves have continued to struggle with how the Law fits into the life of the Christian. And this struggle spills over into the pastor’s way of preaching the Law and how the individual Christian responds to such preaching.

The debate within Lutheranism revolves around the so-called three uses of the Law commonly called the mirror, the curb and the guide. For Lutherans at least, the first two uses are never at issue. The third causes all the mischief.

The essence of the controversy was brought home to me when I recently went back to my little brown catechism, the version I used in confirmation classes fifty years ago. There I found the three uses, just as I had remembered them:

1. As a mirror it shows us our sin and the need of a Savior.

2. As a curb it checks to some extent the coarse outbreak of sin, thereby helping to preserve order in this sinful world.

3. As a rule it guides us in the true fear, love, and trust in God, that we willingly do according to His commandments.
– Luther’s Catechism (1956), Explanation p. 90-91

Immediately I noticed parenthesis inserted around the last clause of use #3. (that we willingly do according to His commandments.) and hand-written in the margin was the sentence: “Law cannot make us willing.”

The handwriting was not mine however. I recognized as it as my father’s. And it was written in ink! (a sin of the first order). What was up with that? Had my dad at some point taken my catechism and made his own editorial comments in it?

I flipped through the rest of the catechism. There were no other entries anywhere. This was the only one.

Then I looked at the inside front cover, where I saw my father’s name – Edgar D. Hahm. This was not my catechism after all.

Sometime between 1956 (when this catechism was published) and his death in 1991, my father felt compelled to blog this single sentence (in ink) in his own copy of Luther’s Small Catechism.

He obviously had his own concerns about the misuse of the Law.

I wish I could talk to him about this now.

                                                                     – Terry Hahm

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Can the Law make us willing to do what the Law demands?

“No Justice, No Peace”

That is a line used by a U.S. Congresswoman after the Rodney King trial.

The ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya uses the same line, now.

It is used as a threat to get what you want. If you don’t give us X,Y, or Z then we will riot, destroy property, burn things, and maybe kill or mame a few of you.

But what people often miss is the fact that in this world, there is no perfect justice. A good job of it is done for the most part, but things are run by people and with people come problems. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes when you get particularly corrupt people in places of power, you may have very little justice. And believe it or not, we all play a role in this. We all have things that we will not give up for the sake of the other. We are all pretty much concerned with ourselves first and foremost.

“In this world, there is no rest, no peace, and no victory”.  That is just the truth of it.

Does that mean that we don’t do all we can to achieve rest, peace, and victory for ourselves and our neighbors?  Of course we do what we can within moral, ethical, and legal bounds to achieve justice. And within the bounds of our own sinfullness.

But things quite often don’t work out the way we want them to. There are many disappointments in life. Some by our doing, and some are foisted upon us by others. That is just the way it is. This is what happens to sinners in a fallen world, inhabited by other sinners. There is no escaping it short of the grave, and then sadly for many there will be no escaping there either.

But that is not the end of the story for people of faith. Those with faith in Christ Jesus are promised rest, they are promised peace, and they are promised victory. He will bring these things to fullfillment for us and for the world on that last Day, or our last day.

In case you haven’t noticed, things are not getting better in the world (aside from the creature comforts that technology offers) but instead things are in a state of decay. This world, like our own lives, is slowly coming to an end.

But in Christ Jesus, all things are made new. He heals the sick and makes the blind see again. He comforts the grieving. He brings rest to the weary. He is perfect peace, perfect rest, and perfect victory. In Him perfect justice shall be evermore. He has promised this to us, and He never goes back on His promises

So, whatever it is that has got you down, whatever injustices or disappointments you may have in life, whatever illness you might have, whatever forces that are there that may drive you to despair once on awhile (or often), know that He has overcome them all. He has come all the way down to us to lead a perfect life and hang on a cross in our place. He has showed us in, Himself, what it means to be truly human in a fallen world. We won’t go that far, but He has…for us and our salvation.

He loves you. He died for you. He forgives you all your sin.

In Him you have rest, peace and victory…no matter what the world, yourself, or the devil may throw at you.

Remember that He has baptized you. Remember that He comes to you in His preached Word, and when a friend speaks of Him. Remember that He comes to you in the bread and the wine. 

In a little while our suffering will be over and we will live with Him forever and it will be more wonderful than we could ever imagine!

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I could have used the ‘have you ever told a lie’ …what does that make you, question. Or the’ have you ever taken a paperclip from work’…what does that make you, question.  That proves it, you’re an awful sinner, but Jesus forgives sinners and if you place your trust in Him, He will forgive you, too.

I could have said that (a bit differently maybe)…but I wanted to expose us to the Law in another way. In a way that really hits home for many. A way that we can all relate to.

Both methods of conveying God’s law and gospel are true. But I think one method might be a more effective way to speak to those we want Jesus to grab a hold of. Especially in this day and age where Christianity is made a mockery of.

What do you think?

1. Are you ready?

2. “Ready for what?”

3. “Ready for the Lord’s return!”

4. “Yes I am.”

5. “You don’t look like you are ready…your life is a mess!  You’d better clean up your act before the Lord returns or you just might not make it!”

6.  “____________________ “

( how would you fill in the response for line #6?)