The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

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Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why "Grateful"?

Ryan over at The Wretched of The Earth said it so well, I just had to sit down and start this entry that I've been putting off so long.

He wrote,
The more I understand that I'm free, the more I do out of gratitude what I was supposed to in the first place.

Well said, brother! Now, my elaboration on my fixed assertion that "gratitude is the visible mark of the Christian."


When we really understand God's requirements, what we call "the Law," if we are honest, we have to cry out, "God, I can't do that! I can't stop being self-centered, to put You in first place! I can't love You with all my heart, and soul, and mind! I CAN'T DO THIS!"

He says, "I know. That's why I sent My Son to do it for you. It's all done. You can quit trying so hard."

This is the Gospel, the Good News. If His Holy Spirit has succeeded in getting me to believe it, to say "Cool! Awesome! Yayyy!" then I immediately say, "Thank You! How can I ever thank You? I certainly can't repay You, but is there something I can do?"

He answers, "Well, y'know those Ten Commandments that you can't keep? The ones that Jesus kept for you? Well, they still reflect My will. Work on those, in the strength of My Spirit, acting out the new nature of My Son that I've started growing in you. You can't fail, even if you fall on your face--you will, you know--because the blood of My Son continues to neutralize your guilt."

Fueled by this sense of gratitude, and out from under the pressure of trying to be good enough in my own strength--loved, cuddled, and comforted--I receive new strength to get up and serve the Lord with gladness. The joy of the Lord is my strength, as Nehemiah told his people when the Law made them weep. God's love is so unstinting... everything good that I do, I do from the position of gratitude. Any other motivation only produces dust and ashes.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Christian-Techie Dictionary: "Justified"

Justified: (adj.) Certified to be standards-compliant. Ex.: The central message of Christianity is that people are justified by grace, not by doing good deeds. Translation: The central message of Christianity is that people become certified standards-compliant by a unilateral favorable decision of God, offered to people with buggy programs, and not by people debugging their own code.

For Christians, the standards are found in the Ten Commandments, and further explained by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

How this works:

The human program has bugs. Jesus, as the Son of God, was fully human, but also fully God. He is the only human whose program actually follows the design Theory of Operation, which for humans, is to love God perfectly and obey God perfectly, and to love other humans too.

Jesus died on the cross deliberately; to hook into the self-perpetuating cycle of buggy code, in order to terminate the process. When he came back to life, the virus was gone, and the registry was clean.

By grace (a server-side transaction) God offers Jesus' standards-compliant code as a wrapper to our object, so that God is able to treat us as standards-compliant even though we continue to have buggy subroutines. This transaction seeks to install the necessary protocols ("faith") for the client to be able to receive, and run, Jesus' program.

As Lutheran Christians put it:
We are justified by grace, through faith.

The question of how a person becomes justified was the central issue of the historical Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Back to Roman Days

Re-reading Michael Green's Evangelism and the Early Church, I found a quote that illustrates some of what is happening in America in the last few years, as we wrestle with the role of religion in the sphere of public policy.

Romans distinguished between public, civic religion which connected you with a state (religio) and privately held belief (superstitio), which was most often practiced in enthusiast cults such as those of Mithras or Cybele.
Here is the quote:

Why, then, was it that the Romans turned against the Christians? Why did they not offer their customary religious toleration to the new faith? The answer lies in the distinction between religio and superstitio mentioned above. Christianity was not a religio. It could not be described as a link binding any particular nation to the gods. For Christianity was a faith which embraced men of all races and backgrounds, barbarian as well as civilized. It was a superstitio, a private belief, coming from none too savoury a quarter at that; it must be judged, like other superstitiones, on its merits.
The Roman attitude to private religious convictions, supertitiones, was once again entirely tolerant, so long as public decency and order were not outraged by the cult in question.

E.g., when the Christians refused to burn an offering to Caesar, they were viewed as being politically and socially unable to "go along to get along" with the status quo; hence the persecutions often included the charge of atheism, because they had no religio, and would not participate in the Roman one.

This sounds to me a lot like the current trend toward frowning on any degree of religious faith that leads to things that might upset civic peace. The way the words "fundamentalism" and "fanaticism" are bandied about in discussions of terrorist attacks and Christian political activism, seems to me to be heading in this direction.

Friday, July 15, 2005

A Meaty Book

Wow. Or should I say, "Ooops."

I finished breakfast and poured myself a cup of coffee and packed a corncob pipe, ready for my day-off ritual post-breakfast smoke on the porch, before it gets too hot out there. I needed something to read, so I grabbed Forde's On Being A Theologian Of The Cross, which has been sitting in my library untouched for over a year. I thought a bit of this would help fill the next half hour.


This is not light reading. I finished the introduction and went, "Wow." I can see that I will be reading this book slowly, like, a page a day. Just the introduction has given me so much to think about, and has spoken to so many issues that have been rolling around in my life in the last year, both personal and theoretical, that a page a day may be too fast.

First insight: The theology of glory is to theory as opinio legis is to practice. Just as the battle against opinio legis is never done for the Christian, the battle against the theology of glory must be fought again, and again, by every Christian who thinks about his faith.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Luther's Sacristy Prayer

O Lord God, dear Father in heaven, I am indeed, unworthy of the office and ministry in which I am to make known Thy glory and to nurture and to serve this congregation. But since Thou hast appointed me to be a pastor and teacher, and the people are in need of the teachings and the instructions, O be Thou my helper and let Thy holy angels attend me. Then if Thou are pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may also diligently perform it. O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, Thou Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, send Thy Holy Spirit that He may work with me, yea, that He may work in me to will and to do through Thy divine strength according to Thy good pleasure. - Amen.

(Haven't been able to trace the translator for this, or the location of the original German, but I like this translation better than some of the newer ones.)

Monday, July 11, 2005

"Bono" Fidei

Thanks to Ed Veith at WorldMag Blog, I found this blog with an excerpt of an interview with U-2's lead singer "Bono," wherein he confesses Christ in a pretty clear fashion (for an entertainer)!