Stewardship of the Body

I had a blast on Monday morning, visiting with Andy Bates and Kevin Reisick about health, the body, and our faith in Christ.  (Crazy aside: Kevin and his wife are Certified Athletic Trainers [ATC], which is what I studied at Concordia University Chicago – AKA Concordia River Forest.  I worked as an ATC during my first years at seminary.   Kevin owns a fitness center in East Alton.  He and his family attend the church/school that my wife is teaching at…AND that was not planned.  Kevin and I didn’t know we were going to be on the air together.)   If you missed our conversation on KFUO’s Faith N Family, here is the audio link to the archive.  Thanks for your hard work and dedication, Andy.

Enjoy!

Andy references an article I wrote way back in 2004.  Maintaining a Healthy Body was written for the Youth E-Source as a resource to youth leaders and church workers.  Here is the text of that post:

Back in college, when someone asked me what I was studying, I was proud to say, “Exercise science and pre-seminary studies.” Though this response made people a bit cross-eyed, the two disciplines were very closely related in my view.  Christ and the forgiveness He won for us on the cross was the most important thing in my life, hands down. Yet the fact remained that our God is an involved God, a “with us” God, from the very beginning: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).  The human body, both the mind and the flesh and blood, is a finite machine constructed like no other, and God Himself did all the knitting! So it made sense to me then, and it makes sense to me now, that the body cannot really be split from the spirit. God’s gifts that we receive in His Word and Sacraments (proclaimed from the pulpit and distributed from His fonts and altars) affect our bodies as well as our souls.  Christ lifts our spirits and gives life to the lifeless through the gifts of His body and blood.

Following along this logic, many people may try to tell you that to be a youth worker (or any church worker) you must be fit, you have to be in shape and you need to frequent your neighborhood gym regularly.  “Must, have to, and need” sound like such harsh words.  Why would someone say such a thing?  St. Paul says in Romans 3:28, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  Those sound like law words, so they must be wrong!

Actually, those law words are partly right. You don’t “must, have to, need” to be fit and in shape to work with the youth, but it does help. As I said earlier, the human body, both mind and the flesh and blood, is a machine.  The human mind works so intricately with the flesh and blood that the work of either is affected by the health of the other.  A healthy body makes your mind work better and a healthy, well-rested mind makes your body work better.  That makes teaching and leading easier on you, but that isn’t the whole story.

A youth leader doesn’t have to look like a fitness magazine cover model to be an effective leader.  However, youth leaders who take strides to care for their bodies and for their minds make better role models for the youth they lead.  The youth see their leaders taking care of themselves.  They see that their leaders care for the gifts that God has given to His stewards.  Healthy, well-rested leaders who have the ability to hold meaningful discussions and take these strides are respected and admired by their youth.  It isn’t the washboard stomach that gets them; it is the concern and love you have for all of God’s creation, starting with your own person and naturally extending it toward them.

How do you start?  It is always a good idea to first make a visit to your physician for a health and wellness check and to receive the okay to participate in physical fitness and exercise.  Your doctor should be able to give you some ideas for fitness that are specific to you. Good health begins with proper rest and a good diet.  Good rest starts with a good night’s sleep. Other ideas that are easy and not too time consuming include an evening walk, jog or bike ride. Get moving! You’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel.

Ultimately, God, the one who did all the knitting of our bodies, will by His Word proclaimed through your work as leaders in the church continue to offer forgiveness and life in Christ our Lord!

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Defensive Evangelism

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.  Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who reveal your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. -1 Peter 3:13-17

The National Survey of Youth and Religion (NSYR) was completed a few years back by a team led by a gentleman named Christian Smith.  Most striking to me of all the preliminary data that was collected is concerning our youth’s response when they are challenged in their faith.  Smith et al found that most American religious teenagers did not have a sufficient faith vocabulary to engage in a theological/faith conversation when confronted by their peers or by strangers.  In other words, when a teenager is questioned about their faith, most often they can’t answer and retreat.  How many times must a teen, a child, a young adult, or for that matter any Christian, be caught dumb founded when asked questions about Jesus and their faith?  How many times must Satan insert doubt and despair in the life of a Christian because there is no defense for anyone that asks about the hope that is there?

I labeled this post “Defensive Evangelism” to bring out the other definition of the word, “defensive,” which is to explain, be prepared, to have the fact base to engage in a learned discussion about a certain topic.  We sometimes call this apologetics.  Saint Peter wants us to be able to talk about our faith.  He wants us to have the tools to engage the world when the world comes to us with questions or when the world attacks us for our faith.  The apostle wants you to be able to talk and defend your faith – not with swords and guns, but with the very Word of God that has been planted in your heart by the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, your heart!  We have a problem with our hearts.  They only breed sin and division, lacking love and faith.  We need someone from outside of us to redeem us… we need the Holy Spirit to clean house (“Create in me a clean heart, O God! Psalm 51:10), remove our troublesome heart and give us a Jesus heart.  And that is what the Holy Spirit has done.  When I say, “Jesus heart,” I mean a heart of faith that has its foundation and its life in Jesus and his cross.  And so, the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts and keeps us in the true faith by those good gifts.

Too often, under the banner of Gospel freedom (more on Gospel freedom in a later post), we decide that we don’t need to read our Bibles, sing our hymns, or study the faith.  Martin Luther was no stranger to this problem.  To make the faith something that could be taught to little children and old men alike, he wrote his catechism.  To put the words, the vocabulary, of the faith back into our hearts and upon our lips, he wrote the Small Catechism for the fathers to teach it to their FAMILY at home.  He didn’t write it to be looked through in the 8th grade and then set aside, but rather to be a life long companion of the Christian.

The devil is aware that your heart doesn’t want to keep these words and that your old Adam wants to ditch them and run… He knows this and he attacks in the subtle, behinds the scenes ways that he hopes we won’t notice.  Your persecution isn’t with violence (just yet), it is with doubt.  The devil always slips his age old question into each Christian’s heart, “Did God really say??”  The answer is yes.  Yes, God did say that you were his own by the blood of Christ; that all of your sins, no matter how big or bad or horrible, are covered by Jesus death on the cross!  Yes, Jesus has washed you in your baptism – combining his death to you and giving you his life in the resurrection.

God wants no doubt.  He wants you to know his will and his truth.  He calls us again by his Holy Spirit… back to the altar, back to the Word of God, back to the church.

Back to those teenagers in the NSYR… what about their faith vocabulary?  Where do they get it?  They get it from the Bible and the catechism and the hymnal, they get it from weekly and regular Divine Service… but most importantly, they get it from other Christians.  They get a faith vocabulary as we teach them the faith.  We as the body of Christ are to build up one another in the faith and that means talking to our youth and young adults about the hard questions.  It means if we don’t know the answers, finding someone who does and not shrugging it all off.  It means engaging in the Living Word of God.  Let us build one another up in faith and good works.  Let’s encourage our youth and bring the Word of God into their midst.

Seeing the Empty Sack in our Sorrow

“Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack!”  That was the theme of President Matthew Harrison’s sermon to the 25,000 youth and youth leaders gathered for the 2013 National Youth Gathering in San Antonio, Texas last month.  (In a nutshell: We come to church with an empty sack and throughout the Divine Service, God fills it – with Holy Absolution, with the declaration of his Word, and with the Holy Sacrament… only for us to leave church and use it up, give it away… all the way down to the bottom.  So when we come to church again, we have an empty sack.  Dear God, I’ve got an empty sack.  You have promised to fill it, fill it now.)

The empty sack that we come to church with – empty and expecting to be filled by our loving and merciful God – isn’t something that we knit together in our depravity.  Yet it is in our depravity and the depth of our sorrow that Jesus has given us that sack.  The question of our day isn’t about whether a loving God would let us suffer, but that we have a God that suffered who loves us and came to us in our depravity and washed us in the blood he shed while being sacrificed for our evil.  God, this Jesus, came from heaven down into our very existence to suffer for us and with us.

From the depth of your sorrow and your hurt Jesus knows your pain and listens to your cry.  The view from our eyes can get blurry through the tears, but God has sent forth preachers to let you know that you have a God that has put a sack in your hand.  It will not tear or rip like paper or plastic; it is yours in your baptism and God promises to fill it up.  He keeps putting his good grace and mercy in it.  He knows your pain.  He has suffered your tears.  Jesus wept in love for you.  He has died to pay your debt.  He lives and reigns to bring you life.

Dear ones, God loves you – this way: he sends Jesus to you.  This Jesus takes your sin from you.  He wants it, he takes it, he has it.  In its place he gives his forgiveness, life, and salvation.  He is the one that has taken the eternal sting out of death.  He knows that you are victorious with him.  He knows that you need a savior and he is the one for you.  The only one to save you and to carry you to his eternal peace is Jesus.  Take your empty sack to his throne.  Speak to him all your sorrows.  He wants to hear your voice.  Even through all the tears, you have a God that gives ear to your prayers.  Even in pain and sorrow you have have a God that thinks on you.  Even in the face of death and certain earthly destruction, you have a God – this Jesus – that loves you and intercedes for you and prepares a place for you at his side.  You are loved.  You are his.

Life Together

…1 Peter 2:1-6.  1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation-3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Isn’t it an oxymoron?  How can a stone be living?  In itself a stone is without life. It even is the mark of death…a slab of rock to record your epitaph.  And without the Lord Jesus, it is the very thing we are.  Without God, we’re lifeless.  We cannot do anything that is good and we have no fear, no trust, no love for God or his Word.  We despise the Lord Jesus and everything that he speaks.  And so it is that beating within our chest is a heart of stone – a cold rock… to defy, to lie, to deceive, to slander, to hurt and to hinder.

It’s a heart that seeks out an independent road, a path of our own, our own way to salvation.  It’s a heart that ignores the needs of others and exults self.  When the man and the woman ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and their eyes were opened… the first thing they did was cover themselves and hide from God.  In their shame and vice they drew themselves away from God and away from each other. We no longer are born with true love of God—instead we have a true desire to sin and to run from God.  We despise Him and end up alone in the midst of the valley of death with the weeds and thistles of life growing up around us.

As a pastor I’ve heard it said that I should change our Lutheran Worship, change our church body’s stance on closed communion, and that I shouldn’t talk about Jesus and his blood so much… and the reason?  Each individual has a personal relationship with God that is hindered by this teaching and preaching.  This message doesn’t allow for individual stones to be polished and laid in settings of gold or sliver.  It doesn’t let the person have their way with Jesus and his message.  The church should let each person have that individual “God” experience and the pastors have to just learn how to butt out.  That, of course, would make worship more meaningful and moving…

The problem is our Lord Jesus doesn’t fit that mold.  He isn’t a stone to polished and cut the right way so that He glistens and sparkles in the light.  Our Lord Jesus is a cornerstone.  His work is never to stand alone, but to draw all men to Himself.  He makes us like Himself, little Christs, little lights for the world.  Not stones that refract the light, but stones that produce light… not stones that stand alone, but stones that find their strength when they are built up in Him, the chosen and precious cornerstone of Zion.

King David called this world the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  Satan would have it a darkness with a chilling breeze.  He would have our sin be our crutch and our hearts beat to a tune that’s different from God. But there came a man, sent from God, a man that is God, chosen and precious in all of heaven.  True man, born of a peasant girl named Mary and also true God begotten of the Father from all eternity.  This one has come to bring light to the valley and the warmth of life to you.

All this He does through His Word.  That your heart of stone would be ripped from you and a living, beating, heart of flesh take its place and your sins removed from your white knuckled clutches, He drowns you in the waters of Baptism.  And baptized you become a living stone.  A brick, to be placed and used in the building of His spiritual house.  It’s as a living stone that you have a life together with the many members of the church and with Jesus Christ Himself.

He means for it to be a life together.  The Greek word koinwni÷a is often translated as fellowship or communion.  Our life as Christians is made whole as Jesus makes us members of this fellowship — but not just that!  That He continues to sustain us and carry us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with that fellowship.  When Adam and Eve hid themselves—God went and found them.  He didn’t need to…but He did.  He confronted their sin, but covered their shame with garments made of skin.  In God’s proclamation of the Gospel to Adam — He gave absolution.

In the same way He finds us, sends His Holy Spirit to call us with His Gospel and gathers us unto Himself.  He creates in us a clean heart and restores the joy of His Salvation to us in the partaking of the body and blood of the Cornerstone Himself.  In the eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood we are given a right spirit again.  It’s in this beating heart of God that we are forgiven, given new life, and are emboldened in a life together of being little Christs, full of mercy with a mouth opened by God to Witness the praises and the promises of Jesus.

Check out Pastor Scott Murray’s radio program, Dying to Live on Pirate Christian Radio.  He and I will discuss Life Together in March.