Lent, Part 2

Last week I wrote an article on the topic of Lent. Here is part of my conclusion:

The church calendar is not a restaurant menu. That is, there are not a la carte items. You can’t pick and choose your favorites and leave the others out. You can’t have Easter without Lent. You can’t have Christmas without Advent. Like the five points of Calvinism, they all go together. In the church you eat what you have been served — all of it.

When I wrote that, I had in my sights the inconsistency of those who like to pick and choose from the church calendar that which suits their fancy. To me, at least, it’s not consistent to take the parts of the calendar one likes – usually Easter and Christmas – and reject the other parts; and it just … Read More »

Lent

You probably noticed the bulletins changed colors again. That is not an attempt to be stylish or even to mix things up. Rather, it reflects the changing of the church calendar. Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the day when millions of Christians attended church and were reminded of their mortality — the dust that marks their foreheads reminding them that they, too, are dust and that it will be to dust that they will return (Gen. 3:19). More importantly, though, Ash Wednesday is the first day of the 40-day season called Lent. Actually, it’s really not 40 days but 46. Don’t believe me? Go to the calendar and count. Begin with Ash Wednesday and end with the day before Easter. It’s 46. Why all this talk about 40 days then? Go back to the calendar and count the Sundays of … Read More »

Flesh v. Spirit

Throughout this section the Apostle has been talking a lot about a concept he tries to capture with the word “flesh.”

Romans 7:5 – For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
Romans 7:14 – For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
Romans 7:18 – For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in  my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
Romans 7:25 – Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Reference … Read More »

Preparing for Worship

Last Saturday I participated in the ordination service for Scott McDermand and then on Sunday I attended the church he pastors and was able to participate in the first worship service led by Pastor McDermand. The pew I was sitting in was almost completely full and I was right in the middle. To my right was Scott’s sister and then his dad and then his wife. To my left was a family I had dinner with on Friday. To my immediate left was the daughter, in her twenties, and next to her was her boyfriend. She and her boyfriend trickled in late, just after the first hymn. But it was her posture during worship that got my attention. Every time we were seated she was hunched over on her boyfriend, head on his shoulder. She was obviously tired. I don’t … Read More »

The Baptism of Our Lord

This Sunday millions of Christians around the world will feast again. Last week it was for Epiphany—the celebration of the gospel going to the nations symbolized in the coming of the wise men from Asia and the Middle East. This week it’s the celebration of the baptism of our Lord. It’s analogous to Epiphany, just much bigger. In Epiphany Jesus is revealed to a handful of people from outside Israel—traditionally three. At this baptism Jesus is revealed to the entire world. A voice from heaven announces to the entire world Jesus’ messianic vocation.

Additionally, Jesus’ baptism is testimony of what God is up to in his Son. Jesus’ baptism calls us back to the beginnings of the Bible – to the waters where the three persons of the Trinity were at work in the creation of the world. Likewise, at Jesus’ … Read More »

Advent is Advent

Living in a post-Christian world means that often our cultural calendars are in conflict with the church calendar. One such example of this happens every year after Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving most Americans begin to celebrate Christmas or the Christmas season as it is often called. You hear familiar carols in the mall, sales and advertising are in full swing, and gatherings of friends and families and co-workers abound. Then December 26 comes and all the decorations and Christmas talk are put away until next year. This is how we generally celebrate Christmas in our culture.

This is not how the church celebrates Christmas. Christmas on the church calendar begins December 25 and runs for 12 days after that. Think here, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…” Now you know where the 12 Days of Christmas … Read More »

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! This is the first Sunday in Advent, which is regarded by Western Christianity as the beginning of the liturgical year. Sometimes Christians mistakenly think of Advent as being synonymous with the birth of Christ or with Christmas. But it really isn’t. In fact, Advent’s primary focus is on what we usually call the second coming of Christ. It’s for this reason that you will find the lectionary readings of the church focusing on this topic, this year.

I like what Laurence Stookey says about this, “What may seem to be an anomaly is a very important theological point: The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.” (Christ’s Time for the Church, 121)

This is important because beginning at the end equips us to make sense of the rest of Jesus’ life and … Read More »

The Eucharist

Even for Paul there was mystery in the Christian faith, especially when it came to the work of Christ on behalf of his church. Speaking in the context of marriage he would say, this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32). The preface to his summary of the rudimentary facts of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension reads like this: Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness (1 Tim. 3:16). Christianity is not in opposition to a healthy and vigorous life of the mind; nor is it in opposition to mystery. It is opposed to stupidity and ignorance on the one hand and to rationalism on the other. When we come to the topic of the Eucharist we come to a topic of great mystery. Perhaps this is … Read More »

Justification, Part 2

You’ve heard it said before — especially those of you who cut your theological teeth on the Scofield Reference Bible — that in the New Testament God saves sinners by grace but in the Old Testament salvation is by works. Ironically, there is some truth to that. Just keep reading for a line or two more. Before the fall in the garden God related to Adam by way of a covenant of works.

To him was given the promise of eternal life as the reward for perfect obedience to the laws and commands of God. In this way God’s law was given for the justification of the righteous. God’s law can either justify or condemn. This, of course, is the problem after the fall. None are righteous, not even one and therefore God’s Law only condemns. When it speaks, we do … Read More »

Justification

With the Reformation fresh in our minds I thought it would be good for us to consider a crucial element of the Reformation, namely the doctrine of justification. We will use Buchanan’s The Doctrine of Justification as our guide if you would like to follow/read along.

In the Word, sacraments, and prayer, we are brought back to the source of our life…

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WSC 33). Speaking of this, Buchanan noted that this is “surprising, startling, and affecting us strangely, as if it were almost too good to be true (p. 2).

So important was this that Martin Luther described it as articulus stantis vel cadentis — the article of faith … Read More »