Friday, December 13, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

(Luke 2:10-11) But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid! for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (NRSV)

As we prepare for our Christmas concert "Adoration" this evening at 7:30PM I would like to extend my wishes that you have a Merry Christmas and a blessed and happy new year. I pray I can get to see you this season and give you this message in person.

The words of the angel "Do not be afraid", was the first step in the shepherds realizing the wonder of the good news proclaimed to them. It works the same for us in our own life today. The word of God still opens our hearts by first proclaiming the message that we need not be afraid. Once we can move beyond fear we can understand the true nature of things. Mary needed to hear these words before the angel announced her calling to bear the Messiah and Jesus often preceded his own messages of hope by first announcing that we need be afraid. Fear can often keep us from realizing the truth of things. Before God can restore, heal, and validate the human heart, God must remove the veil of fear. The story of Jesus the Christ that begins at Christmas reminds us of the ultimate hope we have in his resurrection so that we need not fear any situation but can be bold to deal with both our blessings and curses because the ultimate outcome is certain. The good news of Jesus means that we can always be courageous and embrace the truth. So I wish you all blessings and hope the Good News that we never need to be afraid will sink home into your heart this Christmas.

Would love to see you at our 10 AM worship this Sunday and the following events this Advent/Christmas season at Holy Cross:

 Tonight 7:30 PM Adoration Christmas Concert

December 24  Christmas Eve Schedule 
3:00 PM  Living Nativity
4:00 PM Family Christmas Service
7:00 PM Candlelight Communion Service

 Merry Christmas and keep the Faith,
 Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Humility is for Losers!

Unappreciated Humility 

A recent study by the most respected Christian church social science researcher George Barna asked practicing Christians what qualities do they think are essential for Christian leaders to have.(you can find the article here) I was surprised to find out that humility was only mentioned by 7 percent of the respondents.

You would think that the church whose head humiliated himself to the point of going to the cross for our sins would look upon humility more favorably and value it more highly as a quality for Christian leaders than we apparently do. But alas, it seems that no one values humility anymore. We value things like assertiveness, independence, strength, and power. It beguiles me how so many can miss the importance of this central quality of Christian leadership. To be sure integrity scored highly, but I do not know how one can have integrity without being humble. For younger people authenticity seems to be highly valued, but how can one be truly authentic if one is not humble first?

Humility Defined 

According to the survey, the definition of humility is a willingness to give credit to others. This makes its lack of respect by those who attend evangelical and mainline churches even more surprising. How can one be truly Christian leader if one does not give credit to God and others? Humility according to this definition is the central characteristic to help us live out the great commandment to love God with one's heart, soul and mind and to love one's neighbor as oneself.

Perhaps the decline being witnessed in Christian communities across the board has something to do with the lack of appreciation of the concept of humility. If one pays attention to the various contemporary media outlets, one will see whether one is liberal, or conservative, hip or intellectual, that self promotion is the current modus operandi of our culture. There is apparently no such thing as bad publicity. To give credit to others according to a common worldly understanding is to throw away a valuable resource. Why do it if I do not get the credit? Asks the world.

Biblical Humility

However by living this way and ignoring the contributions of God and others in our relentless search for credit, we damage the relationships necessary for us to live a life of peace and wholeness as God intended. The Biblical definition of humility has a different nuance than that we have seen so far. We can see the Biblical view of humility in Peter's words "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time." 1 Peter 5:6 (NRSV) To humble oneself is to allow God to work within you. If one does not live humbly one therefore does not live for or with God.

Perhaps when Christians ignore humility we are really just revealing our attitude of wanting to go it alone. In the end, if we go it alone all the time our lives will be less full than they could be. We see this wisdom written in Ecclesiastes " Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help." Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NRSV) Humility is essential to facilitate community and build relationships.

The Humble One 

This is the exact reason why God sent his Son Jesus in humble fashion; he wanted to create a community of people in relationship to him. God does not want us to go it alone. Paul wrote the Christians in Philippi "he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross." Philippians 2:8 (NRSV) I gave this posting a provocative title because this is how the world views the humble these days. However there is often truth in satire, Jesus himself reminded us that world will always view the humble as those who lose, but that when one loses that which is temporary one gains the eternal. "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." Matthew 16:25 (NRSV)

In the Bible sometimes losing is winning, especially when one is giving up that which keeps him or her removed from The Lord of Heaven and Earth. In the eyes of his Roman executioners the humble Jesus was a loser because he did not challenge their political dominance. Yet this same empire would itself be conquered by the followers of Jesus who used humility to defeat injustice and evil. To be humble is to appreciate life as it actually is. So consider the humble, you may just see the stuff of life in them.

Keep the Faith,

Pastor Knecht

Friday, June 28, 2013

What is your Misson?

Mission Matters 

Everyone has a mission in life. Every community has something it is called to do. We each have a purpose appointed to us by God as individuals, families, and churches. The word mission originally came from the Latin word to hurl, throw, or send. So in simple terms, the question of what is your mission is a rephrasing of the question of where is God sending you? (or maybe even where is God throwing you?) There is a basic pattern of God's activity that goes like this: God calls, God restores, God sends. While all three aspects are important, the sending is the culmination of one's faith process. It is in following one's mission that one finds one's true purpose in this life.

Sometimes we cling to our old selves and do not see the entire process through. While we may be thankful that we are called by God's grace into a new relationship with God and the world, some may not yet grasp the fact that we may need to follow where God is truly sending us to be the people we were created to be. Others may at times find healing in the arms of God but never trust him enough to follow where he leads. A truly holistic faith as presented multiple times in scripture will always have all the component aspects present. Perhaps the lack of vitality we experience in our individual and communal faith life is because we only focus on a particular part of our faith rather than the whole. So it is impossible to think about your faith in Jesus Christ without dealing with the question “what is my mission?”

Mission as Thanksgiving

 In order for mission to be truly authentic to ourselves and give glory to God it must be born of thankfulness. In Luke 10 where we see the nature of Christian mission explored in detail, we see Jesus attempting to engender this type of thinking in the disciples: For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”Luke 10:24 NRSV It is appreciation that helps us keep proper humility and guards against trumpeting ourselves rather than God. Without thankfulness mission can devolve into some self improvement or aggrandizement scheme where we check boxes and pump out our chests to justify ourselves rather than understanding it is God who restores and forgives us.

Active vs. Passive 

 Mission which flows from our gratitude toward God will always lead to an encounter with another person. The best mission is always a relational one. It is where stories of God’s power and love are shared and received with joy. No truly spiritual mission is an island, it always leads one into actions with others as part of a community. This means that a genuine Christian mission must be active mission. While donating to “missions” is a time honored way of supporting those who engage in the more intensive aspects of mission like spreading the gospel in a faraway land, working with those dealing with calamity or poverty, fighting hunger or disease, what I am advocating is something more hands on for each individual. I am encouraging us all that we find ways of helping others that lead to new relationships grounded in the Holy Spirit. A simple test of whether a mission is an active on or not are to ask questions like: did I hear a personal story from the person directly while doing it?

Mission as Hobby vs. Mission as a Life 

 As I write this is it “mission trip season”; groups from around the world will move out to where God is leading to help with concrete projects and build relationships. I have participated in such activities in my life and they have been life changing and transformative. I do however want you to consider something a bit more demanding, and that is to view mission more as a way of life than an activity to engage in for a specific period of time. The most important missions that God calls us to are those we work on day to day and week to week. If you have children, part of your mission is being a good parent. If you have a sense of your own salvation in Christ, part of your mission is to share that Good News with those around you. A large portion of what we are about as a community at Holy Cross is to help you find out where you can serve as God is calling you to.

Beginning on the first weekend of July, we will explore some of the different aspects of Christian mission by examining texts from the Gospel of Luke. It is my prayer that together we can discern how and where God is sending us. As we move into the fall, I am hoping that at least some of you will hear God’s call to help build community, pass on faith to our children, serve the struggling in our community through the ministries we provide. It is also my hope that this will be grace for you and that it will help lead you to a more joyous life of faith in relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Keep the Faith,

Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Truth about the Book of Revelation

The Last Book of the Bible

No book of the Bible has sparked more controversy than Revelation. No book of the Bible has had more inaccurate things said about it. No book of the Bible has used more by unscrupulous people to build narcissistic cults around themselves than Revelation. It has led to plenty of bad movies, and even more destructive theological schemes designed the scare the wits out of people. It is a book loved by many including the early church father Irenaeus, and many 19th and 20th century socialists who viewed chapter 18 as a statement against capitalism. It has been viewed with suspicion by others(Calvin) and disliked by still others.(Luther).

During the fourth century AD deliberations about which books of the Bible would be included in its final form, many argued for it's exclusion. They did for basically two reasons: 1. It was not written by an apostle. Contrary to the popular understanding the writer is not John the Apostle son of Zebedee. The text itself leads to this conclusion, as the author speaks of the apostles as being men other than himself in Rev. 18:20, 21:14. 2. It's theology seems inconsistent with much of the other writings of the New Testament especially Paul's letters.

It survived because in the end people realized it was a book that articulated the hope of the Gospel in profoundly beautiful way. The final chapters provide some of the most wondrous images of the entire Bible to give a holistic vision of the hope we will have at the end of days if we cling to Christ. Revelation mines the Hebrew Bible for much of its imagery with Daniel and Ezekiel being most prominent. It communicates the truth that there will be a final victory over all evil,  and that God will redeem his children. People will be at peace, and live in harmony with God, others and creation.

The Gift of the Book: Worship 

Revelation like Daniel and Ezekiel, was written during a time when the faithful experienced both internal and external threats. The key to understanding what these are is to pay attention to Chapters 2 and 3, where John of Patmos, outlines the situation for seven churches in what is today Turkey. The external threat was the big bad Roman Empire which destroyed Jewish temple in 70 AD.; The earliest supposed date for the book puts it during the reign of the Roman emperor Vespasian whose son Titus destroyed the Jewish Temple. Most put place it during the reign of his other son Domitian, who persecuted Christians and Jews to reassert the prominence of the Roman gods throughout the empire. The internal threats were twofold, accommodation with pagan culture and immorality.   John of Patmos wrote the book to give the answer for both these threats, worship.   The simple premise and point of the book of Revelation is this: To encourage the faithful to keep centered on the Jesus Christ as Lord through worship no matter what their circumstances. 

Worship is the key to understanding the whole book. It is used as both a commentary on the action unfolding in the book and as the central practice for the faithful to engage in. In Revelation 1:3 we read that blessed are those who keep what is in the prophesy of the book. This clearly alludes to a practice. The practice that is most prominent is worship.

If you are a church goer and are reading the book of Revelation for the first time in depth, you will notice that much of the language will be strikingly familiar. Many hymns and the traditional communion liturgy quote Revelation directly. This would probably warm John's heart because that is what he set out to do when he wrote down his vision to the seven churches. He wanted them to make the choice to worship the one true God even when the culture was doing everything in it's power to keep them from doing it. John calls this faithfulness "victory". If you read Revelation and ignore this you are missing the entire point of the book. All the end-time speculations and schemes (every one has been wrong so far!) mean nothing if one does not take the bold step to worship the God of Jesus Christ. Revelation like good worship, uses imagery to communicate to us on an emotional level the love and justice of God and the hope we have in the risen Jesus Christ.

This makes John of Patmos' book a most relevant one to our time. Today is not the 1950s' in New Jersey. There are no longer any advantages to people attending worship intrinsic to our culture. In fact, in a typical workplace these days, men in our area are more likely to confess to going to strip club than going to church. Church is seen by our culture as something to be ashamed of and kept in the dark. John of Patmos' message to worship boldly is a challenge to contemporary American Christians to keep the faith through worship. For it is only by staying close to Christ that we will have any hope.

Easter Season at Holy Cross 

As a theme for the Sundays following Easter at Holy Cross this spring we will be exploring the book of Revelation and what it can say to us about worshiping God in our culture and time. In addition to exploring the themes in worship during the sermon, I will be leading a close reading bible study on Friday evenings at 7PM beginning April 12.

May God bless you with the Joy of knowing the Risen Christ.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Whole Story

Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Luke 24:6-7

On Sunday we begin Holy Week;  it is the culmination of our Lenten season, which is a time to get back to the basics and origins of our faith.   In Holy Week we set aside the time to breathe in the whole story of the suffering death and resurrection of Jesus.   We take the time as a whole community to remember the story in its entirety together with Christians of all groups and denominations around the world.   We tell each other the story of life and salvation centered in the saving acts of Jesus.  What I am asking you to consider this Easter is to try to take in the whole story.   For each part of what we remember this week is vital to your relationship with the living Christ.   

The story begins with Palm Sunday,  it sends a clear message that Jesus is worthy of our praise on the one side, and that our praise will never be sufficient on the other.   We learn that sometimes our expectations of what we think God should be doing can get in the way of perceiving of what he is actually doing.  The people who spread their cloaks and palms expected a new political leader to come along and fix the worldly system to their liking.  When it becomes clear that that is not what Jesus is all about, they all turn on him.  

As we come to Thursday we see that there is a limit to all people's faithfulness.   The disciples can not stay awake in the garden,  Judas betrays,  Peter denies, the rest run away (one even losing his clothes according to Mark).  This tells us that our fallible human faith does not have the power to save, but that God's grace alone offers us the only chance at true salvation.   Without God's power to carry us through we can never be strong enough to make it.   We understand that God responds to human weakness by sending his grace.  

Jesus sends this exact signal on the night he is betrayed as he leaves us with the gift of his supper, the example of his washing the disciples feet, and the commandment that we love as he has loved.   It is also the night that he promises the gathered of the coming of the Holy Spirit to strengthen our faith with the love and comfort of God so that we can make it through all the adversity that life can at times bring.   We come to see that even in the darkest hour God can bring grace to bear on behalf of all his children even when they not proved worthy of it.  

Friday seems as if it is the darkest day.  Humanity rejects the one sent to save it.  Jesus is mocked and nailed to the cross so we humans can maintain the illusion of our own power.  The Romans want to show everyone who is boss to quash any future rebellion against their tyranny. The religious establishment will bear no challenges to its prestige in society.  The angry mob wants another freak show so it can laugh, mock and degrade to fill its lust for entertainment.  So Jesus must go, no matter that he is innocent.  If this is all there was, it would be a dark day indeed,  but at this precise moment we learn that God loves us so much that he is willing to enter into humanity completely, even at its darkest and most vulnerable.   He yells a quote from Psalm 22 " My God! Why have you forsaken me".  The temple curtain is torn in two and the gap between man and God is bridges fully in the person of Jesus.  So this day is good.  We learn we can become a new creation in Christ and move through death into life.  

Sunday is the Lord's day. The new creation is  complete.  The victory over sin, death and the devil is accomplished. Jesus is risen!  We are given the hope of life with God for eternity.  The story is at times too wonderful for those hurt by the world to dare to believe.  So Jesus' resurrection takes a little time before it sinks in the hearts and minds of the disciples.   It is why the angel says the quote at the top of this page.  It is also why Jesus takes the time to tell the whole story to the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.   The disciples then recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  They speak  also about how speak about how their hearts were burning as Jesus was bringing them the whole story of what was going on through God’s gift of the scriptures.

In order to give your life completely to Christ you must also try to grasp the whole story.   Sunday has meaning because what happened the previous Friday.   Friday was necessary because of what went on earlier in the last week of Jesus' life.   This is indeed the greatest story ever told, so don't settle for only a part of it.   Each aspect of the story of Jesus touches a different aspect of your life of faith, and we can grow in that faith when we take the time to concentrate on the different aspects and implications of the various parts of the story of Jesus' passion and resurrection.   It is not a collection of stories woven together, but the one true story begotten by the grace of God.  I pray that you find peace this season by taking it in and working through it.

May you all have a happy and blessed Holy Week and Easter

Keep the Faith
Pastor Knecht 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Time is Now for Holy Cross

(Colossians 3:16-17) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (NRSV)

I wish you a blessed and happy New Year.   

We will  begin the New Year of Worship at Holy Cross this weekend by celebrating the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus.  This is when we remember the visit of the wise-men from the East who brought Jesus gifts of gold,  frankincense, and myrrh.   The point of the story and the season is to come to grasp who Jesus really is.   The magi brought their precious gifts in recognition of Jesus’ lordship.  As Jesus emerges from being baptized by John, the voice of God calls from the heavens declaring that he is God’s Son .  This season in the church has been traditionally a “get to know you” time with Jesus.   We take the time to get reacquainted with Jesus who we will commit to more fully during the upcoming season of Lent.

Between now and the beginning of Lent, we will come to know God more richly and also examine how God is asking us to respond to His call today..   In these weeks, you will also hear of the good work Jesus is doing in our community,  the witness of the Holy Spirit’s power in the lives of our people,  how God is calling us to respond right now, and what you can do financially to aid our mission to the Gospel.  You will witness this in a variety of ways.  You will be hearing of the blessings God has provided during upcoming worship talks,  you will be invited to a fellowship evening in February to have some meaningful conversations about where our church should be going, and we will be asking people to commit to the growth of our church when we begin the Lenten season February 17.  

These are very exciting times for our community.  Our Saturday worship has been a life giving  opportunity for people who can not make Sunday morning to have a chance to spend time with the Lord.  Our outreach missions to the community of Springfield and beyond have never been stronger as we help provide tangible assistance for those Jesus is calling us to love.  We continue to provide a welcome place for families with children and our Nursery School has been blessed with four new students starting this week.   God’s message is clear, it is time to follow Him one step at time.   The time is now,  may we join in prayer that Holy Cross become the instrument.   

May God bless you this New Year as you walk closely with our Lord.  

Keep the Faith,

Pastor Knecht