Friday, January 19, 2018

The Case for Sin

Sometimes the answer to our questions is just staring us in the face and we are unable to see it.  I think this is the case today in our society, church, culture and even personal relationships.  We are neglecting a central part of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the idea that we need to be forgiven in order to be free to live as God intended. 

What is distressing to me as one who has dedicated a life to the mission of the Gospel is how few Christians talk about sin anymore.   Some Christians teach a lot about being born again, but I am not hearing that one needs to come to grips with his or her sin first.  Other Christians teach a lot about inclusion, but I don't see much introspection about how our own sinfulness may be what  is dividing our communities.  Lot's of people are going to mega churches and following TV preachers to "find their best life now" or to get a "special blessing" and will sign up for seminars, buy books, and contribute money without doing the one thing that is actually necessary to actually turn their life around.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalms 32:5 (NRSV) 

Perhaps most distressingly, many of the right wingers and left wingers who are manning the barricades of the culture wars to right the wrongs of society are utterly blind to the fact that it is most often our own sin which obstructs us from building a more blessed and beloved community.  It is not the sins of those whom we dislike that we need to deal with first, it is the sins committed by ourselves.

Don't get me wrong people believe in sin, it just that we like to look for it in others, not ourselves.  This is the ultimate spiritual struggle and we are called to enter the fray.   For until we experience forgiveness we will not be free and we will not be healed.  Our created purpose is to be people at peace with God and the world and that can not occur until we are relieved of the burden of sin which weighs so closely.

The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot understand the true power of the Gospel unless we start to grasp what Christ has freed us from.  Lutherans traditionally have always talked about the big three, sin, death and the devil.  Notice which one is first.  Sin leads to death and it leads us to open the door to evil in our lives.  Confession and forgiveness is basically preventive medicine to help us be whole. 

This leads us to be forgiving of others, because when we begin to understand that we are not perfect we can better appreciate that our neighbors, co-workers, classmates and family members are not perfect either.   Two key outreach actions of the church in wider society are dependent on a healthy appreciation of our own sinfulness, evangelism and advocacy for the marginalized.  In order to effectively reach out in both ways we have to appreciate our own  history of sin, forgiveness, and new life, as well as our dependence on God to guide us when we do not know the way.

What we can never do is engage this process of confession and forgiveness with an attitude of complacency that we have somehow finished the job.  The world is still waiting for redemption as are we.  So we must daily go once more into the breach, confess our sin, and need for God's help and to hear the word of promise that we are forgiven through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I understand our reluctance to talk about sin openly; it is certainly easier in the short run to avoid seeing that negative aspects of our lives.  Some  churches today don't really want to make people feel guilty by pointing out that its members are not perfect, so they avoid the topic.   However, the Word is clear While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. Psalms 32:3 (NRSV)

Guilt doesn't come from talking about sin; it comes from unresolved sin.   The church that refuses to talk about sin is doomed experience it in soul crushing ways.  When I fist figured out that God loved me even though I have done things that I should not have, I felt peace.   I would never have experienced true peace for even a brief second if I had not talked to God about the truth of who I am.   So I am making the case that we talk about sin, most importantly our own, so we can know the power of Christ who has forgiven us.  So give me that old-time religion where sinners are forgiven and loved by a gracious God.

Be blessed

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Bible Challenge

I challenge you to read the Bible in 2018. Not parts of the Bible, the whole thing. “We must learn to know the Scriptures once again… as our fathers knew them. We must not grudge the time and work it takes. We must know the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

To be a Christian is to be a person of the Word of God. We were called into a relationship with God through the Word. As we say in the Lutheran Church, it is the source and norm of our faith. It is the place we go to find out about how we should deal with the central issues of life. Contemporary culture may not hold the Bible in high esteem, but that is to its detriment; it need not be ours. We have the gifts of God given to us through the Word, we must not throw them away, or relegate them to dust covered bookshelves in the spare bedrooms of our lives. Our life and our salvation is the most precious gift we have, therefore the Word should have pride of place.

Yes, the Whole Enchilada!

While every person of faith has parts of the Bible they like better than others, it is important to read the whole story so that we may know the strengths and weaknesses of our faith. We can at times place ourselves in a spiritual feedback loop, which constantly confirms long held beliefs without question or introspection. This happens often with devotionals that only use individual verses, or churches that only follow a lectionary with narrow range of the wider body of Scripture. Focusing on pieces of Scripture to the exclusion of the whole story of salvation can stunt the growth of a faith life or leave one ill equipped when life brings new challenges. Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and it is intended to be used as such (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)

Christians are People of the Book

To be a Christian is to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We cannot do that without the reading of Scripture. “Consecutive reading of biblical books forces everyone… to put (oneself)… where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of (people).” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together) In other words, God’s story becomes our story, and yes vice versa our lives become part of God’s story too. Regular Bible reading changes who we are and that can be a blessing to others and even the entire world.

As one who reads history often I can tell you that so many of the blessings that we have today were inspired by those who steeped their entire lives in the biblical story. From things such as the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, to the freedom of individual conscience, the story of God’s salvation inspired those who fought for these things. “The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451) I challenge you to be a Bible person (not a thumper) one who lets God’s story breathe through their life. As you will read in the Gospels, Jesus lived in exactly this way; just look at how many times he quotes the Hebrew Scriptures.

How to Start

If you have not read the Bible regularly before, I encourage you to begin by reading 1-2 chapters continuously of the New Testament daily beginning with Mathew’s Gospel and ending with Revelation. By doing this, you will complete the New Testament in well under a year. As Christians, we read the rest of the Bible through the eyes of Christ, so this is the best place to start.

If you have some experience with the Bible, perhaps a chapter of the Old Testament read continuously, with a Psalm, and when you finished them, a chapter from Proverbs, followed by a chapter of the New Testament. You will not finish the Bible in a year, but will have read the majority of it.

To complete the Bible in a year you can google a plan, there are many available, or you might read 5-6 chapters of Scripture a day. It is important not to get bogged down when you get to those sections of Scripture that can seem monotonous, such as descriptions of the temple furnishings, genealogies, or obscure parts of the Torah. It is important therefore to have a mix of Old Testament and New Testament readings. It is also OK to skim these parts, as long as you aware of what you are leaving out. The goal is the familiarity with the big story of the Bible. I hope that this can be blessing for you in 2018 and you too can let the story of God breathe through your life.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht