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

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Unpacking the Gift

Preached on Philippians 2:5 Sunday:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus... (NIV translation)
and did my best to help people understand that the "attitude" is already in Christ, therefore it is already in Christians, by virtue of our Baptism (see Romans 6). So the task becomes to "have it out," to express it, to "cop an attitude" with other people, particularly in the midst of our life in the Church. Unfortunately, the pericope for that Sunday stopped at verse 11, and so it skipped one of my favorite passages, Philippians 2:12-13.

One reason it is one of my favorites is that it is very similar to my confirmation verse, Php. 1:6. Anyway, here it is, again in the NIV translation:
Philippians 2:13-14 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Some Lutherans are bugged by that phrase "work out your salvation," but there's nothing to be afraid of. The articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae ("article by which the church stands or falls")--the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith--is not violated. "Work out" is literally, to "put in force." The gift has been given, not worked for. But it wants application. Like a bicycle in a box, there is "some assembly required."

No, that's no good. The gift--the righteousness earned for me by Christ's sacrifice on the Cross--is all together. This bicycle is already assembled. It's got a pretty bow on it, standing there all shiny and perfect under the Christmas tree. It wants only to be ridden. Umff. I don't know how to ride a bike yet! So the "assembly required" is to install the only piece missing--my skinny little five-year-old butt in the seat--and learn how to make it go.

My own experience with learning to ride a bike was pretty traumatic. I refused to learn. My father gave up dealing with my panicky screams. So it sat there in the basement, but eventually I got on it and just pushed myself around the basement, feet safely on the floor, and eventually I got the feel for it and was able to coast a bit. When spring came, I took it outside, and coasted farther, and eventually learned to pedal.

But the gift of Christ is self-teaching. The Father Himself holds us up as we ride Christ, but it's still scary, and we still sometimes balk, and cry, and scream that we don't want to fall down. Fear and trembling accompany the repeated need for repentance, for forgiving and loving our enemies, for facing new challenges to our love and obedience. And once we learn the most basic skills (how to go, how to stop) there's still a lot to learn. Bike safety. Bike maintenance. Hand signals. Why gravel is dangerous. What to do with the bell, and the mirror.

Well, those are skills, but in the process we are learning other things: the joy of exploring. The freedom of wind in your face. The thrill of jumping a curb. Tricks. The fun of being in a bike parade. All the cool pretending you can do.

Like all analogies, this one has lots of shortcomings, so let's not quibble over those. The Christians in Philippi were being encouraged to put their faith into practice. They were already doing it. Keep it up, the Holy Spirit had Paul tell them. And don't forget that your desire to do so, and the power to do so, are because God Himself is working in you! The Christian life is simply "unpacking and applying" the life of Christ given to us when we "put on Christ" in faith.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Message Of Katrina

Discussion at World Magazine's Blog site in response to a Miami Herald columnist included this comment:
If there is a God who really is in control, we need to be asking ourselves what He is trying to say to us with this hurricane Katrina disaster. It appears that He doesn't seem to be too pleased with us.


That comment was in response to another commenter who wrote this:
If there is no God in charge of all this then we are truly hopeless.

If there is a God who is in control but doesn't care, we are hopeless.

If there is a good God who can't quite control these things and just sits up there wringing his hands, we are hopeless.

But there is a God in control.

And He is good. If you doubt his goodness, remember the cross of Christ. There we see his heart.

And we can trust his heart when we can't see his plan. So there is hope.

This is well said. My response:

People asked that question of Jesus, too. Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

So when we see something like the tsunami, or Katrina, we are not supposed to speculate about the guilt of the victims. We are supposed to look instead to our own unworthiness, and throw ourselves on God's mercy, and beg that He does not treat us in a similar fashion.

Christians have an additional responsibility: to do mercy; to pray and work for relief; and to pray for the Christians among the victims, that they will bear courageous and clear witness of God's heart even as they bear this cross that God has laid upon them.

Kyrie eleison.