May Almighty God Bring You To Engage With The Word!
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AS A PEOPLE called to do ministry in the world, we of the Church often need to stop and take stock of who we are. Therefore we need ask in this New Year what it is that we want, and where we should be headed for the upcoming days. As human beings we live and spin wheels, motivated together with others in this world. Thus as Christians we need to consider the past, be wary of the Adversary and at least make prayerful plans for the future.
You see, the New Year celebrations are many in today’s society. Our holiday season was marked with some two dozen and more religious celebrations coming from competing expressions. Where are we of the Christian church to be in this midst of present revelry? Our answer demands serious attention. This is true for yesterday, and for tomorrow’s way… even in the simplest of matters.
For example, many in our leadership were asked subtly whether we should we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays” to a salesman or casual encounter as we bought a new car, took advantage of year-end prices, or plied upcoming tax advantages for the New Year. Or as we shopped for loved ones or ourselves in the post holiday feed, for TVs, game systems, clothing, jewelry, furniture, cars and more… we needed to make certain of both our financial directions and our Christian expression. As a recent TV interview revealed, many persons celebrated the holiday time having no comprehension of why there even is a holiday season. Many people are religiously uneducated and confused! We need to be centered in our Christian expression, for on the local, national and world stage we compete for primacy with other faiths.
Many ask, “Are we Christians progressing or regressing in society? Is this a post-Christian world? Do we even care about our witness in the public square?” I offer to you that we need to take an appraisal of just who we are. We need to consider where we Christians want to go in the coming year. I ask you to make this comparison for the sake of our future. It’s much like appraising your old car to see if it does the task for which it was designed. Or should we look at taking another ride?
In my own over-the-shoulder exam, I found a rather troublesome engine knock coming from the Christian church working in the modern world. For twelve months past, we’ve looked like an ecclesial junkyard. Strewn behind us like cast away brake parts are issues that have allowed the church to act like a wheezing economy car. We've carried fewer passengers and had difficulty stopping in a straight line. I echo now the Advent cry of John the Baptist that’s been ringing in my mind. He told us to smooth the bumps in the road. He warned us to make way for the Lord… to “make his paths straight!”
Our recent history and John’s loud scriptural shout tells me that we in the church have much work to do. We need some foundational body work, and to ask for a divine welding that will hold eternal parts together. We cannot just apply the slop of errant theology puttied on like a synthetic plastic automotive body filler placed on top of a flexible bumper.
You see, those wheeling faithfully behind church steering can too easily describe our troubles... for it has been a continued time of conflict. There was not only public conflict with competing religious expressions, but amid Christianity itself there was much strife between the old traditionalists and the new progressives. For example, within the last decades, old and steady Christian mainline denominations looked for new ways to advertise… because passengers became fewer on their old church buses. Some chose to take the low road. They answered unsavory directions from sexual hotties who sat high on the seat in an ecclesial, but satanic red convertible. They joined forces with them in desperation, to not only rip out the ancient upholstery, but in the name of being accommodating of sinful persons… they sacrificed the needful words of our Lord concerning life modification. These have even lately torn out such solid driver’s seat safety belts as Baptism which should occur before a believer’s right participation in the Holy Supper!
Consequently, beneath the guise of letting down barriers to strangers and being accepting of all lifestyles and persons, these now change our music and worship experiences. Worship progressives spout that this practice is surely something that God would endorse. However, I fear that we have only opened the rear fire escape door on the Christian bus, in order to welcome many secularly-confused persons that will bail on the first corner.
Yes, some newbies have jumped ecstatically into our hallowed aisles. However, sin has now become relative. While some sins are thankfully not yet allowed; others are ignored. Issues are argumentatively side-stepped by theologians who pander and sell books customizing our old set of wheels into something more marketable. Deviance is allowed in the name of tolerance and growth, just to take up a bounteous collections, fill the ecclesial tank, and keep the old bus rolling.
In reaction, much like a person who rides as navigator in a hot Boss Mustang and has lost the instructions on a cross-country road rally... many churches quickly became divided about which road to take. Subsequently, many sick communities just sat parked… idling in place.
They cringed, keeping their heads low behind the wheel so not to be seen, hoping to be passed by. And passed by they were. These have hid gospel road signs, or painted them over by promoting socially acceptable ministries. Some have even removed the word “evangelical”, ceasing to reach out with the saving gospel message. Then they wonder why faithful worship attendance has decreased.
Noted however, is that others took the higher road last year. These became like VWs crawling up a hill-climb with half the buggy’s engine cylinders wheezing. Many churches like my own, though similarly named to the classic denominations, have divided ways as new protest factions formed. Thus still breaking up like strict supporters of either hot rods or classic cars, many Christians snootily raise bloodied noses at tarnished denominational rat rods caught in the ecumenical split. I myself fell victim to these potholes. The only year-end local ministerial expressions I attended recently was a holiday dinner given by a grateful funeral home director. But I fear that even at that event my wife twisted the ecclesial wrench. She made our drinking of a favorite Lutheran holiday schnapps a moot scandal.
The Christian church has indeed become much like a hot rod running through town with open exhaust pipes. We make angry noises ushering in this New Year, that shall drive persons far away from the restful sanctuaries that we call church. Seeing this decline, we blame feckless or thin leadership. My own branch of splintered Lutheranism now pleads for greater power to the upper levels of hierarchy, trying to ease the ecclesial load on our Bishop during growth as my former denomination falters. We’ve pointed to clergy, to church councils and families... citing their past faint control as the cause. Pastors blame laypersons or hierarchy and they in turn blame pastors. We look for scapegoats. This affects families! Parents failing to get their children into church point to public schools as high school sports practice interferes with Christian catechism. Some of these controversial topics and their relevance are discussed from a Biblical aspect in a book entitled...
As more rubber from the past Black Friday consumerism now coats evil pavements beneath white and slippery snow, we may see that fewer relevant roads lead to the worship of God. We lament that too many youth now learn to drive into the world but have not been taught steering in the way of discipleship. We moan that these young people think that the characters portrayed in video games will quench our world’s impending combustion. They may believe that those on-screen illusions will dampen the heat of their personal troubles. As they cling to their cell phones, digital tablets and computer screen as adulthood approaches… many family ties unravel and our modern society crumbles. They turn off TV’s Christian evangelists, claiming each as a waste of viewing time.
Thus it is that as this New Year begins. I sit depressed… for many in the church take radically different roads, each dragging us to the soggy bottom of a mud run as we bounce on speed bumps of our own manufacturing. Raging divorce statistics, rampant abortions funded by government or church denominations, gay marriage, and the acceptance of transsexual pastors… all show us the continued way downward. Amid this turmoil, the advance of rising Muslim birth statistics and those who have become flaming liberal progressives… attempt to make we orthodox Christians ride in a religiously-blended world car. A detailed written portrait of this hideous track exists in a book that sounds our near death knell in the word... and offers a possible avenue of travel for some. See...
Amid this dreaded portrait of our recent year’s Christian church history, and the empty seats in our chariot to the heavenly realm… I ask what should we do.... those who noticed paint flaking from the Trinitarian clear-coat taken into this New Year? I ask you.., “How can we welcome the New Year's people to know Christ?”
Though it seems to be nonsense to many, I answer this last question by declaring both to you and my own congregation, “Yes, this New Year... make plans by the grace of God!” I believe that in our needing direction for modern churches, we yet retain hope to steer a straight line. We need to consider the road ahead as empowered by the Holy Spirit!
First, we need to pray, study scripture… and remember that Jesus did not give us his guiding Spirit just so that we might park in an empty church lot. We need to run full tilt and attempt this hill climb and risk taking near-suicidal runs down the religious drag strip. We need to run straight to the cross between the observer’s stands filled with violent extremists, progressives and atheists. We are called to faithfully continue in being a clarion and boisterous ministry.
Certainly know that we are called to steer into the future faithfully using the driving instructions given for the Church. We are meant to take off fancy driving gloves and grasp the scriptures tightly with both bare hands. Even if the Word of God is contested by detractors and misinterpretations, we need to read carefully and determine what is the right and traditionally orthodox way forward. Using this proper knowledge, we then shall receive a spiritual green flag to go full throttle into the New Year.
Remember! Whether we worship in large congregations or tiny house churches, we’ve been washed by the waters of Holy Baptism. Let us be reminded that we are the one true, holy and apostolic Church. By the power of the Holy Spirit we have been anointed by the oil of salvation and sent out into the world. We have been instructed to go, preach, teach, and baptize others in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. While doing so, we are joyfully called to remember that Jesus said. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Let us consider how we are called to make "God Space" for others with whom we interact on a daily basis. For your consideration and reading I refer you to engage in evangelical conversations as described. I suggest reading...
You see, at this time of the year we are reminded that God’s sacrificial love given to us through Christ should guide us. Take heart that the Creator of all things known and unknown, working from the lightest hydrogen molecules of fuel that powers most vehicles... has through Christ also woven all things into a universe that we’ve only begun to explore. And the splendor of grace is that He amid this wonder came to this place… to be with us.
Think of it! In a world affected by sin, demons and present spiritual darkness, God gave us eternal Light in the knowledge that we are loved… in spite of our sin and separation. Jesus, the child born in Bethlehem long ago, is the Christ sent by God… the living Savior of all who believe. In faith spoken to you this day, therefore, I say to you as I have said in prior years… “Look up, your salvation is drawing near.”
In the Spirit of invitation, I invite you to participate in our weekly Bible Study.