Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A call to police Chaplains

Police dept. chaplains care about the souls of those in their charge; of course they do.  Yet we citizens have for some time been reading over and over again of atrocities committed against our fellow citizens by police SWAT teams and other forms of militarized police activity.  I'm sure there's a place for SWAT teams; we may be glad for them when they are needed.  But they are being used for all kinds of situations that do not need that kind of invasive force and could be handled differently.  Such situations have been handled differently before; they can be handled that way again. 

This is a great opportunity for police chaplains to take the lead in an important issue for our country.  Will we continue to degenerate into a state where its citizens will be regularly traumatized with barbaric and unjust cruelty by those we are supposed to be looking to for protection?  But more to the point, should we as clergy not be concerned for the souls of these men who are being trained to behave in such a fashion?  Should we stand by while these people are encouraged to commit wholly unreasonable and inhumane acts against unarmed men, women, children, and the aged?  What kind of molding of character is gong on here?  Is this the kingdom of Christ in the souls of these men?  Is this the keeping of the Golden Rule?  Is this works that will stand before the Judge at the Resurrection?

The SWAT team training in this country, and whatever else goes with it, needs reform, not only for victims of injustice, but for the sake of the trainees themselves and their eternal welfare.  They are being trained to be barbarians, not civilized protectors of the peace.  

Lord have mercy and help all those with any sphere of influence that affects this issue - especially our Chaplains - to begin to push against this trend in our police forces.  God bless and keep our police from evil - including forces that are detrimental to their own eternal welfare.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My sermon from the St. Luke's men's conference this past weekend

The apostle Paul, missionary to the pagans, had high hopes of one day being able to share the good news of Jesus and salvation in his name in the very center of the Roman Empire. He decided to forward to the believers in Rome a summary of his gospel, which was a good idea for several reasons. For example, what if he didn't make it? He would have at least been able to give them the core of what he had hoped to tell them face-to-face. Thankfully, this summary of Paul's gospel has been preserved for us and this morning we have read from its 6th chapter.

Chapter 6 is part of the section of Paul's letter, chapters 5-8, which contain absolutely critical information for a full experience of the Christian life this side of heaven. Roughly, one could say that chapter 5 deals with our justification - how we are made right with God, ch. 6, our sanctification - or how to live a righteous life, ch. 7, our relationship to God's law, and chapter 8, our relationship to the Holy Spirit. Now we need to understand it all to have a fully formed Christian life, but I cannot preach on all 4 chapters in 15 or 20 minutes! I've decided to jump into chapter 6 because it is the next step beyond our understanding and receiving the free gift of justification.

We who are of the Reformed churches understand justification by faith and by faith alone. We all esteem Martin Luther and his work to bring this doctrine to clarity in the Church. But how do we live out this faith that justifies us; this faith that has a living quality to it that produces a particular kind of life? This is where chapter 6 of Romans comes to play. And one of the ways I like to explain chapter 6 is to set it immediately within the context of our everyday life by asking the question: "Now that I am right with God, how do I not fall into temptation to sin? How do I live out this faith I have as a gift from God; this faith that unites me to the very life of Christ Himself. How can I have victory over my temptations?"

Paul's answer can be summarized simply in these words: "What has happened to Christ, has happened to me." Now lets unpack this.

According to Paul in these verses in ch. 6, what happened to Christ? In verse 10, Paul says he died unto sin. What does that mean? When Jesus hung on the cross, all our sins were laid on him. They were credited to his moral account before God so that, when he died, the penalty for all of our sin would be paid for. That is how God is able to forgive us for our sins: they were paid for by the death of Jesus. But Paul is adding something else here. When Jesus died on the cross, he not only died for our sins, he died unto our sins, that is, he died in his relationship to them. While hanging on the cross, he had a relationship to our sins: they were his. Once he died, that relationship was over; Jesus was dead unto all sin. He would never again have anything to do with our sins; that old relationship on the cross was gone; it was done for.

What happened to Jesus next? Paul says in verse 4: "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father," and then in verses 9 and 10, he says, "Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God." What happened to Jesus? He died to our sins and then he was raised to live a new life unto God and he lives that life unto God today.

How does what happened to Christ apply to me? How does it enter into my experience? I learn in ch. 5 how it affects my justification; how does it affect my sanctification? Paul tells us in ch. 6 by bringing in the subject of our baptism. We know that our baptism is the official occasion when we are recognized as being joined with Christ and His Body. Whether our baptism actually was the occasion of our being united with Christ - or being born again, to put it that way - it is still our badge of union with Christ. But we are not joined with Christ merely in his legal position before God so that we may be justified. We are joined with Christ so that the power and virtue of his historic death and resurrection might be a living reality in our present lives.

If I pay all my power bills, I'm in right relationship with the power company and that's a good thing. But for what reason? Just so I can feel good about being right with the power company and have good credit? I want good credit, but I want more than that. I want to be right with the power company, so that, when I flip a switch, I can have all that power in the power grid flowing through my house and lighting it all up. Now that's the kind of thing Paul is talking about here in chapter 6. Being right with God, we also now have the

Let's think about it some more, so we can be sure we understand this, because it's a challenge to our imagination. What happened to Christ has happened to us and in our union with him in baptism those things that happened to him enter our experience. But how? We weren't there in history when it happened. But God was treating us as if we were there. As far as God was concerned, when Jesus died to our sin on the cross, we were there with him, dying to our sin. When he walked out of the tomb 3 days later, we walked out of his tomb with him to live a new life. Paul says in verses 3 and 4: "Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death, that (here's the reason why we are joined with Christ) like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of God, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

Jesus died and rose two thousand years ago. But when we are united to him by our new birth, our regeneration, our re-creation - those things which baptism stands for - the power of that death and resurrection become a living reality in us; as if God is doing spiritual surgery on us. He changes us. He deals a death blow to that old nature of ours inherited from Adam, and he gives us a new self - a self that is one with the very resurrected life of Jesus. We are not the people we used to be. As Paul says in verse 6: "Knowing this, that our old man - the old self that we were in Adam - is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed (or rendered inoperative) that henceforth we should not serve sin." What has happened to Jesus has happened to us that we may no longer be slaves to sin and therefore no longer have to fall to temptation.

Now as our Pentecostal brethren are wont to say, this is shouting ground! You do not have to serve sin any more! What happened to Jesus has happened to you. Your old relationship to sin is dead and gone; you are not who you used to be; born in Adam. You now are born anew in Christ and a new creature. You are free from sin and you have living in you the power of the resurrected Christ; indeed the resurrected Christ himself makes his home in your heart by the Holy Spirit. And you don't have to be afraid of the wages of sin in your life anymore; you can be free of it, because you are free of it. Praise the Lord! What a wonderful Saviour! He has not only saved us from the penalty of our sins, he has saved us from the power of sin over us. Thank God for his wonderful Gift.

So lets go back to our question: "How can I have victory over temptation?" The answer is based on what we learn here in ch. 6, vs. 1-10 and, if you will, Paul next gives us 3 steps to deal with temptation in verses 11-14. First of all, you have to believe that these things we have been talking about are true. The first step in the face of temptation is to take a believing stand. Paul says in verse 11: "Likewise, reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord." You simply believe that all we have said at this point is true; you say to yourself, "I don't have to do this anymore! I am dead to sin and alive to God, because what has happened to Christ has happened to me, and I'm not going to give into that temptation anymore." You take a believing stand.

The second thing Paul tells us to do is to refuse the sin you are tempted with, to say "No" to it. He says in verse 12: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof." Paul is putting it on you, because you are now free in Christ to resist, and so you can do it. So, you refuse to go that way; you refuse to do that thing; you refuse to continue in that old habit, because you are dead to it in Christ.

And the third and last step is to get busy doing what is right. Paul continues in verses 13 and 14: "Neither yield you your members as instrument of unrighteousness unto sin, but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you." Turn from the negative and get on with the positive, and you can, because the power of a new life lived for God is yours.

Now this process, - this response to temptation - can break down at any of the three steps. You can forget about what has happened to you through your union to Christ, and so you don't bank on it in step one. You can also fail to really believe that these things about you are true, and step forth into your future with the Lord by faith in step three. But I find step 2 to be the one that is the most difficult.

Paul says you have to not let sin have its way in you; you have to say "No" to the thing. Here's my point: the whole process breaks down in step 2 unless you really mean it. You have to really mean it when you say no. Our problem is that we tend to not mean it because we love our sins. We like the pleasure they bring to us. We like the way it feels when we put someone down. We like the way it feels when we get back at someone or when we get our way regardless of what it means to others. And we do not want to give up that pleasure.

Friends, this is where we enter into the truth of our union with Jesus on his cross. Jesus took up his cross and died to our sins; we must take up our cross and die to our sins as well. We must allow the death dealing work of the cross to kill our sins, and so we must be willing to live without their pleasure. This is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 5, that passage parallel with this one in its truth, when he says "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and its desires," and only then can we walk in the Spirit, as Paul says in Galatians, which is the same thing as living out the resurrection life of Christ in Romans 6. We must fast from the pleasures of our sins if we are to be rid of their destructive influence in our lives. We must follow Christ in dying to sin and its pleasure, as he says in Mark 8: "If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." That is the only way to having victory over our temptations.

We should be happy enough to lose the pleasures we have in our sins in light of all that Jesus has done for us, but he has a whole world of blessings for us that are beyond our comprehension to motivate us. If we wonder, "What will I do if I can't have that pleasure any more," then look to the pleasures that the Lord offers us. We could go all over Scripture to find them, but we could simply look again at that parallel passage in Galatians where Paul explains that the alternative to all the miseries that our old, sinful nature brings us, are the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. My goodness! What a universe of happiness can be found in those qualities! And they are ours, if we are willing to give up the temporary, miserable, and decaying pleasures of sin, which ultimately lead to death itself.

Perhaps we should dig a little deeper and ask: why do we want to have victory over temptation? Is it because we are afraid of losing a good reputation if we are found out that we have done this or that? How poor. How sick. How beneath our calling as the children of God! Jesus fasted from all the pleasures of heaven and went to the cross in hope that one day he might share with us that very same joy that he now sets before us.

Let's give up the straw and dust that sin offers us and enjoy the beef and beer of a righteous life! What has happened to Jesus has happened to you! What is going to happen to Jesus is going to happen to you! You are going to share his glory and joy forever! And in the meantime you can begin to taste the glory of that new life you will have on the Resurrection Day by the power of the risen Christ in your heart, if you will reckon yourself to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God, say no to the pleasures of sin for a short season in this life, and get on with the business of walking that narrow road - that road of love and joy and righteousness - to the glory that is to come. Amen.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sermon on Romans 6 - this weekend

I'm preaching from Romans 6 at the St. Luke's Anglican conference for the Morning Prayer service this Saturday.  I'll post the sermon here next week.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Message for Trinity Sunday, 2013

Trinity Sunday, 2013
Romans 5, Beckmann

The news in our country over the last couple of months or so has been very rough.  We were not yet over the Newtown school shooting when we hear of the bombing in Boston - and children being killed and dismembered - and then we had the Benghazi hearings and learned what really happened this past 9/11 and how much the WH has tried to cover up for political reasons - which is simply horrible - and most recently, as the scandals continue to flow like a torrent out of the Federal Administration, I could say, our whole country was hit by a tornado in Oklahoma, and again our minds picture children dead in a school.  It's just all so horrible.  And in the face of it all, the hearts of people everywhere cry out to God - Why?  Why did these things happen?  Couldn't you have stopped this, God?  Couldn't you have done something to keep the shooter from getting to the school, the bombs from working, and the tornado from blowing?  

And what is so sad is that so many people have turned away from the answers provided by God for us in times likes these in the Trinitarian Christian faith.  Why do I emphasize the trinitarian nature of the Christian faith?  It's not just because it's Trinity Sunday.  It is, for one thing, to distinguish our faith from other faiths that may call themselves Christian, but do not believe in the trinitarian understanding of God.  But most importantly, it is to point us to an understanding of the universe that directly relates to the problem of suffering we have in this world.  

Those of you who are familiar with the life of C. S. Lewis will know how tortured he was as a young, nine-year-old boy with the death of his beloved mother.  This experience, along with others that went along with it, directly lead to his atheism.  When he was but 18, when writing to his friend Arthur Greeves, he considered himself an agnostic about anything that existed beyond this world or of life after death.  He speaks of the Christian God as a bogey that wants to torture him forever if he should fail to come up to his impossible moral ideals - a spirit "more cruel and barbarous than any man". Such Christian ideas had "always considerably lessened" his happiness. (12 Oct., 18 Oct.)

However, much later in his life, in the 1940's, when he was composing his broadcast talks for the BBC, as a Christian, when he confronted the problem of suffering in this world, he took a much more different approach.  Somehow, he had become reconciled to the God who would allow suffering in this world.  He could now say with the old saint Job, who - you will remember - lost all his children in a great wind storm like the children were lost in Oklahoma this past week - The Lord giveth, The Lord taketh, blessed be the name of The Lord.  How could Lewis be reconciled to such a religion?  It is because he had come to the conviction - to use his own words, that "atheism is too simple."  (MC, ,p. 40).  

You see, he recognized that, when he was a child and lost his mother, his understanding of God was too simple.  At the time, he reasoned thus: If God is all powerful, and if God answers prayer; when I prayed that He would heal my mother and he didn't do it, then he was being cruel to me.  Therefore God is not good - why should I want to have anything to do with him?  This is where a very simple view of God will get you.  This happens to lots of people.  

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, when we remember all those who have gone to war for the sake of our country.  Recently, I was listening to a man on the internet who was assigned to the grave digging detail in the US Army in WWII.  As a result, he had to go pick up the bodies of our dead boys and have them buried.  This meant he saw the horrors of what war can do to the bodies of young men that no one should ever have to see.  And in that experience, he decided that he would turn away from his faith in God.  He, like Lewis, just could not conceive of a God who could be good, someone that he would want to know and worship, who could allow such horror to occur in this world.  To this day he refused to believe in God.  

Lewis, however, changed his mind, and he was able to do so ultimately because of the trinitarian nature of the Christian faith.  Why do I say this?  Because, when you search for what is the ultimate reality behind all we experience of this universe - when you seek out the very core of all existence - when you want to know what God is like - you are hit with the baffling fact that God is essentially one and three at the same time.  In other words, in all your thinking about life and the universe, your very starting off point is a truth - a reality - a fact - that is incomprehensible and mysterious.  You immediately start out with something that is not simple.  Right off the bat, as Lewis puts it, reality is not simple.  And this surely means that there are going to be answers to questions we are going to have - such as why such terrible things have happened in our country - that are not going to be simple to answer.  Yet!  If you really do want an answer, you are going to have to accept this.  It's the way things really are.

But why do we believe that God is one and three at the same time?  It is primarily because of what we read in the New Testament.  We believe that the Scriptures reliably tell us things that are true about God, and we find that the authors of the New Testment are very comfortable portraying a God who is one and yet also He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We find this, for example, in our New Testament reading in the service this morning from Romans 5.  

Let us take just about 5 minutes to look at this passage more closely.  Paul writes: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ."  Stop there.  In the previous chapters, Paul has proved for us that the Old Testament teaches us that God has been able to give a righteous standing to sinners like you and me and yet remain just and fair himself.  How?  By not sweeping our sins under the rug, but by perfectly punishing them in His own Son on the cross of Calvary.  And then God took the righteousness of His son, which is infinite and perfect, and put it on our account.  And all this he does for us freely, and it works for us, it becomes something true about our lives, when we receive this gift by faith.  We become a people who are justified before God by faith, through the sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus.  But note the implication here:  There is something going on between God and Jesus.  Jesus makes peace between God and us.  This justifying work brings peace between us and God.  As Paul goes on to say later, our sin made us God's enemies and God is angry with the wicked every day.  But Jesus' work for us has brought an end to that warfare and we, who have received this reconciling work by faith, are now at peace.  

Now here's the point.  No one can satisfy the penalty of the sins of all humanity for every age unless he is both truly a man but also more than a man.  And no one can reconcile God with man unless he Himself has the very infinite and eternal qualities as God Himself.  This is why Jesus is called here, "Lord."  He acts as the divine Son in coordination with God, His Father, for our salvation.  This is the trinity in action.  

Then look at the last verse.  See where it speaks of God's love.  It says that God's love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit  who has been given us.  How can a being perfectly convey the infinite and eternal qualities of God in our hearts unless He Himself is also divine?  Indeed, the Holy Spirit, poured into our hearts by God so that we may know His love, is able to do this because He himself is the God of love.  Again, here we have the trinity in action.

It is passages like this that teach us that, though there is one God, something else weird to us is going on.  God is not simple.  He's complex.  There are Three recognizable beings working together when God works, because God is both one and three.  Christianity, at its very heart - even in our most minimal creed, the Apostles Creed - is a view of the God of this universe that is profoundly not simple. 

And so it is, as Christians, we recognize the very thing that Job recognized when his children died in a storm that God could have prevented.  Life is not simple; reality is complex.  And that means that, even though God allows suffering, this world is complex enough that that does not mean he himself is cruel.  He can still be good.  And Job believed this.  As far as we know - and he may have known more than we realize - he did not have the revelation of the trinity that we have, but Job did have the right idea about God - that His thoughts and ways are not simple; they are complex.  Job understood that, though he may seem evil if we take the simple approach to answering the question of why bad things happen, nevertheless, he is still a good God.  That is why he refused to curse God, like Lewis did when he was young or as other people have done who have tried to answer the question of suffering in this world in too simple a fashion.  He instead accepted the mystery that is God, and said, "yeah, though he slay me, yet will I trust him."  

Indeed, as Paul tells us, we as believers - and believers only; the world does not have the same hope we have - we may rejoice in our sufferings.  How does this work?  Paul tells us.  There is a trinity of steps in a process that God takes us through to bring us to a hope in Him that leads to joy, even in suffering.  Look at verses 3 & 4:

Paul says that our suffering produces endurance; or patience.  How is that?  God gives you His presence and grace in the midst of suffering; He does things for you while you are going through things that tend to despair, and as a result, you find that you are enduring them - even though imperfectly.  

You remember the man in the Gospels whose daughter was dying and he went to Jesus and asked him to heal her.  Jesus said she would be well if he could believe.  The father cried out, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."  He felt that his faith was not what it should be; just like you and I feel that - a lot, probably.  Yet he did have faith, though it was weak.  That is all Jesus asked for.  His daughter was healed.  And that is all our Father asks of us when we are suffering.  We do better if our faith is strong, but if it is weak, we still believe and He gets us through it; he gives us patience, even though our faith comes and goes.  

And this endurance, leads, as it says in the ESV, to character, but the better word is experience.  

As you go through these sufferings and find God's grace, you realize what God can do to bear you through times of pain and you grow in your conviction that this is what God does do.  You start to learn from your experiences that you can expect him to do what he does.  
And this experience of God's grace leads to hope.  You become settled - basically not perfectly - you get in stride with God, as it were.  You have an expectation of Him.  He comes through; one way or another.
And this hope does not disappoint; it's a hope He has worked in your heart by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us that we not be discouraged or despair, because He helps us to know that, even though we suffer like this, God still loves us.

Friends, God not only justifies His people, He makes us a people of hope; hope in the midst of suffering.  He makes us a people who can even rejoice in the bad times, because we know that God is going to work all things together for good for those who love Him, because He has loved and He does love, and He will love us forever.  

As the news in this country continues to be disappointing, and as you go through your own daily struggles, do not despair, and do not give into the doubts that overly simple ideas of God bring.  Remember that your God is God - and though we cannot understand everything about Him because He is complex, yet He does all things well - even when we do not understand what we are going through either.  He wants to lead you into a life of settled hope, and even joy.  He who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, he will make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.  Hope in Him: His love will not fail us.  Amen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Heavenly Minds and Earthly Good

My title refers to that common saying, "He is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good."  It can be turned around to, "Only the heavenly minded are of earthly good" - rightly understood, of course.

Yesterday, I posted a link to an Ascension Day sermon by Bishop Wright.  What he has to say is quite good.  However, in the second paragraph, when he says the collect for Ascension, and the whole vision of the Christian faith that he thinks the collect encourages, is "profoundly unbiblical," I think his concern that we believers be of "earthly good" misleads him.  The collect mirrors Paul's words in Colossians iii:  

1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

I think what the bishop did was read the collect through the lens of his good sensitivity for a Christian faith that recognizes the earthly implications of the message of the Kingdom and temporarily - I'm sure - forgot that the Scriptures do speak of heavenly mindedness in the same kind of language as the collect.  From what I know of the bishop, he would agree that a heavenly mindedness - properly understood and practiced - is necessary for the earthly  good of the work of the Kingdom of Christ.  It is because our hearts and minds so love our ascended Lord and the kingdom he has already begun that we want to live out the life of that kingdom now, where we already are - with all its earthly implications - and not give into the idea that the life of the kingdom is only for the age to come.

We have here a lesson for us all: beware how we read.