Blurred Critique

In the world... Not OF it.

In the world… Not OF it.

Back in 2011, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, published a book called You Lost Me.  The book is a study on why young Christians are leaving the church and rethinking faith.  I just read again some of the criticisms that young Christians have against the church…one of them: “Christians are afraid of pop culture, especially its movies and music.”

“Many young Christians complain that they have been conditioned to fear ‘the world.’  The problem is that, as they explore ‘the world,’ they come to believe (rightly or wrongly) that the world is not nearly as hopeless or awful as they’ve been told.  They discover movies, music, and other art and media that sometimes describe the reality of human experience much better than the church does.” (You Lost Me, page 97)

No doubt, he’s right.  We Christians condition our children to fear the world and rethink our faith every time we see a new television show or a group has a new single on the radio.  Our tendency – at least at the level of the Kinnaman study – is to shut that whole area of the world off completely.  I think that’s missing what Jesus means when he says, “You are in the world, not of it.”  I try to read the Wall Street Journal each morning.  I get electronic subscriptions to Fast Company, MacWorld, and Cigar Aficionado.  I listen to AC/DC and Metallica… and KSHE (Saint Louis Real Rock Radio) is on my speed dial.  Our pastor opens up Bible study each Sunday morning by saying, “Anything you want to ask or talk about from the news or current events?”  I’m convinced that is the way to go.   Parents should be asking and talking to their children about current events and songs they hear on the radio.  It’s okay to watch a show together and to ask questions about your kids Facebook newsfeeds.

What really struck me about David’s statement is the as they explore the world they find it not so horrible thing.  Painting all of pop culture as horrible for our young people like a broad brush paints us into a corner.  It’s the act of engaging our young people with the culture that teaches them about the reason Christians are in the world.  Satan would have us run only in our own circles and never bump into another non-Christian so that when our children and young people do, they leave and never come back.  Let’s call a spade a spade and a club a club… but get out with our kids and talk.

Our kids are going to listen to music with their friends.  They are going to be at a mall at some point in their life.  The kids sitting with them at the football game may have “potty” mouths.  Instead of trying to paint our young people into a silo of Christian solitude, let’s help prepare them to have a defense for the hope the Holy Spirit has placed in their hearts.  Our kids have some serious and great questions.  They are very curious about the world around them.  They want to explore and try new things and they want the thrill of life.  The church (which includes parents and church workers and fellow pew sitters and Sunday School teachers) is there to guide them, teach them what the world is and why their in it.  We’re there to teach them why and then how.

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His Blood makes Christianity Messy

Flock_of_sheepA good and gracious shepherd, and it doesn’t matter what kind of sheep.  The Shepherd has come to tend his flock… and so it does matter what kind of flock!  Skinny, injured, weak sheep – even ones that have strayed – YES!  But the fat ones, the strong ones, they will just not do.  He’ll leave the 99 and search for the one, but all the hearty, righteous sheep… forget it, they will eat justice.  I guess there could be wolves in sheep’s clothing or at least mean, nasty, down and dirty sheep – sheep that sin, sheep full of doubt and lies, those are the sheep that have wondering, lustful eyes – the ones that aren’t so sure about this whole thing at all.

Is this Jesus a good Shepherd?  Am I one of his sheep?  Have I done enough?  Have I tried hard enough?  Can he really shepherd me?  Is his love enough for my sin?  And not just me – what about this flock??  Are we weak sheep?  Strong sheep?  Fat and strong sheep he will destroy.  He only comes for the lowly and weak.  Every sheep, even every little lamb, comes with doubt.  The devil only encourages it, cultivates it.  You are the ones that think this whole thing could just be a bit over rated!

Sheep in the world.  To say it is a bit easier than to live it, to do it, but you really have not understood.  You have not been in the world and not of it.  You have engaged in a tug of war with the world, with your surroundings, with doubt and fear, because the world is real and you live in it.  Your enemies (the devil, the world, the sinful nature) pull you along.  They pull at your desires and squeeze your emotions.  They promise you what you want.

Who is it that keeps at arms length the thick darkness and the day of clouds?  The evil temptation and the evil desires and pleasures of your heart?  WHO??  Not you – no not one of you!  You had thought maybe you were a strong sheep!  There is no temptation that has seized you that is not common to man.

The Good Shepherd did not come to save the righteous – but to lay down his life for you.  A person who is well has no need of a physician, but you, God perfects his glory in your weakness.  Everything out there is real.  Repeat: EVERYTHING OUT THERE IS REAL.  Satan would use it all to water your doubt and despair – just waiting for the crop to come to harvest.  You are stuck in the world with all its dark clouds, but Jesus seeks you out so that you are not “of the world” any longer.  Sorry to break it to you, but there isn’t a strong or fat sheep, not even a chubby lamb, reading this post.  Jesus is your shepherd (the shepherd of the weak and sinful) and on this day of clouds and the thick darkness of sin and trouble, Jesus has come in search of you.

So, to find you, he became a scronny and weak little lamb.  He laid down his life to pay the ransom for you.  The whole weight of the darkness and even every sin slaughtered him.  Like the lambs, so many lambs sacrificed before, Jesus was sacrificed.  But UNLIKE any other time before, this time God became part of his creation and not just a something of creation.  God became a man – the Man: the Son of Mary.  So Mary had a little Lamb and he had come to the world, entered in it, to die the cross of sacrifice and shame in order  that he would be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world – your sin.  IN order to be the Good Shepherd that crushes the wolf’s head and lays down his life for the flock – for the ONE, even for you.

He has sought you, brought you to the inn of his church, bound up your wounds, washed your sins away, strengthened your weaknesses and beckons you lie down in green pastures and beside still waters.

Even as the storms rage and spite out there, Jesus leads you, calls you by name, and calls you his own.  You know him: A good and gracious Shepherd… and it doesn’t matter who you are!  Jesus has come as your Good Shepherd.  The Lamb who died and now lives again has done a good work this day.  Your soul is restored and even now he blesses you, forgives your sins, and goes forth this day into the world with you.  The Good Shepherd isn’t a hired hand, and even now you know him for he has rescued you.

Everything Outside the Church

Love your Neighbor

Love your Neighbor

What exactly does it mean to be in the world and not of it?  Our kids, the youth, and the young adults of our churches are going to be rubbing shoulders with pagans, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and people of all other manners of religion known to man.  They are going to meet these people.  Some of these people are going to be their classmates and some of them are even going to be their friends.  Gasp!  They might even “fall in love” with someone who is not Christian and marry them.

Unfortunately, most young Christians are going to have a mixed opinion about what the Church thinks of them and their new friends.  All too often, everything outside of the Church is labeled and treated as untouchable.  Young people might feel like they can’t talk about their friends and the people they meet outside of Church with their family and congregation.  I’m afraid that’s because we don’t teach them about the world… we only want them to avoid it.  We label things Christian and un-Christian.  (e.g. We tell young people that they have to listen to certain kinds of music and that they can’t listen to other kinds… and that people that listen to those tunes are evil.  The problem, of course, is that the music doesn’t make anyone evil.)  Sin makes all of us evil.  Now, how do we talk to our young people about sin and the world?  How do we prepare them for meaningful conversations about the world and with the world?

We can’t ignore them.  And we can’t get overprotective about these things.  Jesus said that we would be right where we are: in the world.  He told us about our neighbors (the dreaded foreigners, tax collectors, and sinners).  He told us to love them… not to conform to the making of other gods, but to love them and to show them Jesus and his cross.

And so our charge is to get to know our young people and to talk to them about all sorts of the things they are going to find in the world.  It means reading and studying the Holy Bible with them.  It means teaching them how to pray and to talk to God.  It means telling them that they can bring their friends to church and that they can ask anything that is on their mind.  If we don’t know the answer… and I’ve said this before… then we need to find someone that can.  God wants us to know his Son and him crucified.  He knows that we are in the world and that the world is just outside our doors.  This Jesus came for the whole world… he loves them all… all the sinners and the foreigners and the homeless and the less fortunate and the ones that have tattoos and earrings.  He loves them all this way:  He died on the cross to take away all their sin.  He came and took on human flesh to have man in heaven and to keep your neighbor and your young people’s friends with him forever.

The Gospel is ours and it is the power of God for our children.  The promise is for the whole world.  Let’s get prepared and talk to our children about Jesus.

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.

Did God really say??

Think with me how to engage the young people in your parish/congregation.  What do you do specifically to reach out to the young people?  This is a guest post written by Deaconess Rose Adle.  Rose was the associate director of the deaconess program at Concordia Theological Seminary while I was studying there a few years ago.  She is married to Pastor Scott Adle and they have three children.  Her topic?  Young women in the church.  Her post specifically addresses order of creation and speaking to God’s people the Word God has given us to speak.  I’m sure you’ll love it.  Thanks, Rosie.

ENTER Deaconess Rose Adle

All of us are to be fed regularly on God’s Word and Sacraments. These precious gifts are as needed by males as they are by females, young and old alike. Here there is no distinction.

When it comes to providing unique encouragement and exhortation for young women, the Church says what God says.

Eve was created to be a helper suitable to Adam. This order of creation was significant then, and it’s no less important today.

When Satan tempted Eve, he appealed to her pride. Why be the helper when you can be the head? Why take instructions when you can give them?

“Did God actually say…?” Satan asked Eve. He invited her to teach him and to take charge. He invited her to spit out that rotten “helper” role and bite into something sweeter and juicier. Eve took the bait and took the bite. Women have done the same ever since.

Did God actually say that women should be in silent submission in the churches? Did God actually say that a wife is to submit to her husband? Did God actually say that the woman is the weaker vessel? Did God actually say that a woman should be adorned with a gentle and quiet spirit?

For the Church to encourage young women in their God-given identities, we must remind them that God did actually say these things. Satan tells us that God didn’t mean it quite like that. The world tells us that those things don’t apply anymore. Our sinful nature tells us that we are too special, too gifted, and too important to accept these roles prescribed in Scripture. We are tempted to think, talk, and act as though God did not actually say these things.

The Church, meanwhile, encourages women to rejoice in our identity according to the created order, rather than to reject, avoid, or craftily circumvent it. The Church teaches that the Lord ordered creation as He did out of His deep love for humanity. The creation of a woman was so excellent because it provided the world with a creature that was different – a suitable helper that was beautiful and beloved, who could delight in being provided for and protected, just as the Church is served by Christ, her Lord.

The qualities unique to women made us needed way back in Genesis, and these differences continue to demonstrate our value today. The church serves men and women well by teaching that manhood and womanhood are distinct and this is good. In knowing who we are as creatures and in living according to these distinctions, we praise the Creator for His work. Did God actually say that it was very good? He did!

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.