Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting De-Baptized?

Here's a report about atheists using a hair dryer to get "de-baptized."

Certainly, it's meant to be provocative more than performative, as atheists no more believe in a God who works through Baptism than they believe in that God (even if they disagree on the existence of a deity, they do have in common with many Christian denominations a common belief in the inability of God to work through Baptism).

Unfortunately, that's not how Baptism works. Once baptized, always baptized. Jesus describes Baptism as being "born again" to Nicodemus. So, just like the only way to undo your first birth is to die, so the only way to undo your re-birth is--mm-hm--to die.

But don't worry atheists, even if you can't undo with a hairdryer what God has done with His Word, the benefits of Baptism are only received by faith. If you reject the faith God delivers through His Word (yes, babies, even the Word in Baptism; you don't have to reach an age of accountability to get your ears to work), your Baptism is of no salutary effect. So, turn off the hairdryer; it's a waste of electricity.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hope Cares: A Network of Mercy

I sent this email to members of Hope last week abot a new opportunity for doing works of mercy here at Hope.

Members of Hope,

I'm excited. Time and time again, when people have had need, you have responded mercifully, showing Christ's love and compassion as you were able. Last year, when a lady and her family fell on hard times, you responded with a door offering that collected a few hundred dollars for her. When earlier this year, a family lost their house and all their posesssions in a fire, you responded with donations totallyng around $350. When a mother with four kids, two of whom are disabled, needed a huge amount of help to avoid having her power shut off, you came up with over $500 toward her $800 bill and with help form a couple other sources, we got her power turned back on. That's fantastic. It really is. And it's what the Church is meant to do: show Christ's mercy.

As people hear about how the members of Hope have helped people in this community, word has spread. I regularly get calls from people needing assistance of every kind. Someone gave me $200 a couple weeks ago that he received for doing work which he thought was volunteer work. We've used that money to help find lodging for a lady getting out of an abusive situation and to help two others struggling to pay power bills. The word is getting out. You are earning a reputation around town: These are people who care, people who will help. Awesome.

At the council meeting last night, we discussed making this a regular opportunity for those interested. I'm tentatively calling this network of mercy Hope Cares. Here's how it will work. Anyone who would like to be part of this network can tell me whether they'd like to be contacted via phone or email. Then, whenever anyone comes to me with a need, I'll have them fill out a little paperwork, and I'll pass that need along to the network. If you are willing to help in any situation and have the ability, simply give me your contribution (cash or check made out to Hope is fine). I'll then get a check from the church made out to the collector (utility, landlord, etc.) and deliver it to the person in need.

If you don't want to be a part of this network, this is the last email you'll get from me asking you to opt in, so you don't need to worry. If you would like to be a part of the network, though, even if you cannot help each time there's need, simply reply and let me know whether email or phone is the best way to reach you (or both).

Thanks for your generous outpouring of mercy when there have been needs, and I look forward to what God can do through you in the future.


And, readers of this blog, if you're in the Jerseyville area and would like to participate, let me know via email.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Idol of Choice

Contraception affords people the ability to choose against children, against God-given fertility. This pro-choice mentality is the same that drives those who are pro-abortion, even if the pro-choice, pro-contraception crowd stops short of choosing to kill pre-born babies.

I was struck by the sheer bankruptcy of this thinking while hearing people recently describe themselves as “accidents,” “whoopses,” and “mistakes.” While the conversation was largely in jest, as no one of these participants in the conversation probably sees himself as still a “whoops” in the eyes of his parents, and even unintended children can be loved by their parents, it nevertheless belies the pervasiveness of this kind of thinking.

We want to be our own gods. We want the authority to choose how many children we will have. And when a child is born against our planning and desires, when we have to face the reality that there is another God who controls fertility and who gives children as gifts, we call our children “mistakes” to avoid relinquishing control of our own lives to Him who is the Author of Life.

I’m thinking about all this as my wife and I yesterday marked the 7th anniversary of being joined together by God in marriage. Anniversaries are always bittersweet for us as the age of our marriage and the age of our children remind us of our real mistakes, of our years of choosing against God’s gift of children.

No child is ever a mistake or an accident. Every child is always a gift. That such a conversation can happen among Christians, even Christians who rejoice in God’s gift of children, whether such gifts are in concert with our plans or not, exposes the shallowness of our thinking and the pervasiveness of our culture’s anti-child, pro-self mentality even in the church. Yuck.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Skipping Church and Cheating on your Spouse

It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I think Christians should be in church not just every Sunday but every time the opportunity is available. The only good excuse for missing a Divine Service is that you are physically incapable of getting there—if you are sick or homebound (in which case, I will bring the Divine Service to you).

That’s not just what I think. It’s what God thinks, too. The Third Commandment calls you not to despise preaching and God’s Word but to hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. But that’s not the only commandment that tells you to receive the gifts God offers in the Divine Service as often as you can. There’s the First Commandment, too. You shall have no other gods. We should fear, love, and trust in God alone.

Whatever could keep you from church is a false god. Work and the desire for money, recreation, vacationing, camping, resting, sleeping in, time with family or friends, laziness, anger at the pastor or other parishioners, selfishness, shopping, and more are all false gods when they keep you from being in God’s house—where He comes to deliver His gifts—during any Divine Service.

“How often must I be in church?” is the wrong question. It’s akin to asking how often you must have dinner with your family or make love to your wife. Every time the opportunity is there is the answer. Faith never says “no” to God’s gifts.

Skipping church is like having an affair. It’s never permissible. Ask your wife if it’s ok if you spend an occasional night in someone else’s bed. Ask your husband if you can be a good wife by making sure that at least 51% of your sex is with him. Being in church “most of the time” is the same. That’s not my crass illustration. It’s God’s. Want to know what he thinks of breaking the First Commandment? Grab a Bible and read Ezekiel 16, preferably in a translation like the ESV or the KJV to get a good sense of the verb in Hebrew God chose to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness in chasing after false gods. God calls pursuing false gods whoring.

The truth is our sinful selves know no other way than to wander from God, to commit spiritual adultery against Him with false gods. If it were up to us to quit “playing the whore,” we would be hopeless. But it’s not up to us.

Every day you wake up, be thankful you’re not the prophet Hosea. God called many of the prophets to prophesy both in words and in actions, and Hosea was called to be a living example of God’s mercy. The Lord called Hosea to take a wife who would be unfaithful: “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom”(Hosea 1:2). So he did. And then God called Hosea to restore his adulterous wife to himself, to forgive her: “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods” (3:1). God redeems His bride, buys her back from her sins, restores her to Himself, forgives her and makes her pure.

Though God through the prophet Jeremiah at the beginning of the book of Jeremiah called Israel a whore, by chapter 31, a chapter of pure Gospel, God calls Israel “virgin Israel.” You don’t need a sex-ed class to know that once virginity is lost, it can’t be regained. And a prostitute is the polar opposite of a virgin. And yet, all things, even the salvation of sinners, are possible with God. His forgiveness makes our adulterous hearts virgin and sin-free again.

Christ presents His Bride to Himself pure, spotless, dressed in white (Ephesians 5, Revelation 19). She wears His righteousness. She is pure and holy as her Groom is pure and holy. He takes her sin away.

The solution to chasing after false gods is to be found again by Jesus. The gifts He gives in the Divine Service are still here for you. They make you spotless and pure, virgin and sin-free, part of the holy Bride of Christ. Don’t ask how often you must receive them; ask how often you may.