“The true way to get rid of the boniness of your sermon is not by leaving out the skeleton but by clothing it with flesh. True liberty in writing comes by law, and the more thoroughly the outlines of your work are laid out, the more freely your sermon will flow, like an unwasted stream between its well-built banks.” -Phillips Brooks
Happy, or, maybe sad, Ash Wednesday! Here is a good article over at Mere Orthodoxy on why you should keep eating sausages during Lent. Maybe you should buy an extra sausage since they’re always better with a friend. And here’s another article over there consisting mainly of quotes from wise people who reject common pitfalls that come with observing Lent.
I have no doubt that Lent can be observed wisely and helpfully by the kind of people who recognize the wisdom and cautions in the above articles. Jesus went to Jerusalem to conquer death, so this is cause for celebration and a wonderful reminder to take up our crosses. This is why Lent provokes discussion, because it makes us ask the question: What does it mean to take up our crosses? That is a huge question, but here I only want to briefly address the topic of fasting which is central to the way Lent is typically observed. Continue reading
There is nothing we have that isn’t a gift, but God’s greatest gift is the one that enables us to see this truth—the giver behind the gifts. G.K. Chesterton got at this when he said, “We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?”
All day long we stand beneath a cascading waterfall of God’s grace, his unmerited gifts to us: life, health, friends and family, food and sunshine and rain and the pleasures we meet in immeasurable ways. Our duty is to receive all of these and then look at the source, the spring that it all flows from, and simply say thank you.
The prophet Jeremiah says the human heart is the epitome of deceit and desperately wicked–“who can know it?”, he asks rhetorically. And so we take the most obvious gifts and obscure their source. Jesus confronted the people that did this with the Bible in his day in John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” Instead of meeting God through the book, they bowed down and worshipped the book. It’s like being given a fork to eat with but deciding instead to stick it in your eye.
God gives the us Bible, the liturgy, the Lord’s Supper, the sermon, forgiveness, one another, all of these things, so that we would enjoys the gifts and through them see and thank the Giver.
“You can kill us, but you cannot harm us.”
–Justin Martyr to Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius
We don’t know very much for certain about Valentine (Latin Valentinus) other than it seems his death was on February 14. His name comes from the Latin valens which means strong. Pope Gelasius established a feast in his name in AD 496 but admitted lacking details about his life. There may be more than one martyr named Valentine but similar accounts of their lives lead us to think they refer to one man.
One account reports that Valentine served as a priest in Rome and was condemned by Emperor Claudius II who had forbidden marriage in order to strengthen his military. Valentine performed marriages anyway, was taken prisoner, and though initially liked by Claudius was eventually beaten with clubs and stones and beheaded around 270 after sharing the gospel with the Emperor. Other stories have him refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods, effectively praying for healing for his jailer’s blind daughter, and leaving a note signed “Your Valentine” for her on the day of his execution. Continue reading
The Hesychasts were a group of mystic monks that originated in the 14th century at Mt. Athos in Greece. They took on a practice that while laughable is an all too common approach to spirituality and assurance. They discovered that by holding their breath and staring at their bellybuttons, they could receive revelation from God, or rather what they thought was revelation. This is where the phrase navel-gazing comes from. Just stare at yourself, focus on your sins, or your virtues for that matter, and do this in a meditative frame of mind and God will surely show Himself to you.
The Bible teaches us the almost the exact opposite of this. If we want to understand ourselves and experience our Maker, we have to look away from ourselves: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus”, we’re told (Heb. 12:1-2). To understand ourselves, James says to look at the perfect law of liberty and then do what it says (1:25)—and it doesn’t direct us to our bellybuttons, but rather to do justice, show mercy, walk humbly, to love our God with everything we have and our neighbors as ourselves.
I said almost the exact opposite because Scripture does tell us to know ourselves. Paul says to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). It’s good to see if God has converted you—do you believe in his Son’s death and resurrection for your sins? Do you have godly sorrow that leads to repentance? God wants us to call on his name for salvation, and once we’ve done so He wants assure our hearts. But we’re not assured by constantly looking to our hearts much less our navels. C.S. Lewis noted if you ever met a humble man, you wouldn’t notice him being humble. You’d notice his interest in you, asking questions, taking care. God frees us from ourselves—all of our cares, concerns, burdens and sins–and calls us to look to Him and be overwhelmed by His grace and love. There we find everything.
Imagine people preparing days in advance for a worship service. Throughout the week, last Sunday’s meeting is hashed out in every detail, all analyzed and understood, enjoyed and reflected upon. It builds to the next one. What will happen? What will we sing and pray? What will the preacher say about the text?
The roads can be crammed on the way to church so people plan: when they will leave, where they will park—no one wants to sit in the nosebleeds. They pay attention to how they dress because they’re meeting the king of the universe—it’s not about dressing for yourself as a selfish individual, but for God and his people, all cheering for him. Some guys have their shirts off and chests painted with their favorite psalms.
The event begins with much anticipation, people on their feet, heads clear, throats ready to shout amen and sing. If only we were as excited about our god as America is about the Super Bowl! We’d be having a lot more fun and be a lot more blessed.
The Super Bowl is as close to religiously and culturally united our culture gets. Continue reading
“Of all men, we hope most of death; yet nothing will reconcile us to–well, its unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it. Because our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.” –C.S. Lewis God in the Dock
“No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got. You may frame the syllabus as you please. But when you have planned and reported ad nauseam, if we are sceptical we shall teach only scepticism to our pupils, if fools only folly, if vulgar only vulgarity, if saints sanctity, if heroes heroism. Education is only the most fully conscious of the channels whereby each generation influences the next. It is not a closed system. Nothing which was not in the in the teachers can flow from them into the pupils. We shall all admit that man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek to his form: but it is equally certain that a man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion, cannot teach hope or fortitude.”
C.S. Lewis, from “On the Transmission of Christianity” in God in the Dock
January 19th marks the 30th anniversary of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, which President Reagan designated on January 22, 1984, 11 years after Roe v. Wade overturned laws in every state opposing abortion. Since Roe v Wade, 41 years ago, we’ve had over 54 million abortions, the entire population of the Great Lakes region, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New York, and the province of Ontario, over 17 percent of the current U.S. population.
This is the single most important issue of our generation. If a church in the segregated south didn’t insist that the image of God given to mankind of every race ensures equal rights, what would God say to that church?If a church in Rwanda in 1994 didn’t take a stand against the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus, what good would that church be? And in our day if a church doesn’t oppose the infanticide that happens in doctors’ offices for tens of millions of dollars of profit off those in desperate circumstances, that church has lost its saltiness. Our shepherds are cowards and the sheep are devoured. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6).
Opposing abortion isn’t the only issue of our day, but it is the most important, our calling to stand up for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Like any enormous injustice, the ways of repentance are many. It begins with fathers having the heavenly Father’s heart, sacrificing themselves for their wives and children, rather than using women and allowing their children to be sacrificed for them. It includes men and women repenting of murder for convenience. It includes the church repenting of her cowardice for not addressing this issue, and failing to disciple its own. Idols always call for blood. So does the true God. We are cleansed by the blood of Christ, and his grace is greater than our sin, including the sin of murder. This is our great strength and hope, the only way of deliverance.