Pastoral Formation 2

Last week I had the privilege of updating the convention attendees at TAALC East Region about our seminary, American Lutheran Theological Seminary (ALTS). My report included an updated status of the seminary, and especially the online program, Master of Theological Studies (MTS), as well as an update on the new database system that will support our continued growth. The other half of my report included some thoughts on Pastoral Formation, specifically related to online seminary. This is just a sketch of the topic; I am writing a more complete version for our theological journal.

When someone raises the issue of pastoral formation and seminary education, the focus always leans to the theological education. And rightly so, because a solid theological education is important for pastoral formation. In traditional terms we speak about four areas of theological education: exegetical, systematics, historical, and practical. Each area assists in providing the necessary tools, experience, and knowledge to effectively carry out pastoral duties in the congregation.

But other aspects influence Pastoral Formation. Here are four critical components in that formation: spiritual formation, character formation, catechetical formation, and Churchmanship formation.

1. Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation involves three realms: worship, Bible reading/study, and prayer. Luther wrote about spiritual formation for all Christians as: Oratio (prayer), Meditatio (read/study), and Tentatio (affliction). This is vital for spiritual formation and growth. I leave tentatio out of this discussion at this point, only because it affects all areas of pastoral formation.

Worship: What kind of worship experiences has a seminary student had? Does he live in a congregation that has only one form of Divine Service? Where and how does the student learn about the great traditions of divine service? What can be done to help him learn not only history but also to practice that? As part of our seminary training, we examine how to best form the pastor regarding worship and leading worship. For online seminary this is a particularly challenging area.

Bible Reading/Study: In Peter’s second letter he writes about end times and the Christian in the midst of waiting for Christ’s return. His last words express this point of spiritual formation:

…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18 NAS)

It might be a surprise to some, but pastors struggle with daily Bible reading and study. They study for preparing to preach a sermon or teach a Bible study. For some that is the extent of reading/studying. But the issue of spiritual formation is “How can someone grow spiritually without regular, consistent Bible reading and study?”

When I visit with seminarians and pastors I will ask what they are reading. Some respond with the latest theological books (which can be good). My concern, however, is what are they reading in the Bible. I then say, “If I ask you what you are reading in the Bible, you should ask me what I am reading.” So, for the record, my wife and I are reading through 1 Samuel, last night it was chapter 24. In my private reading I am reading through Genesis; last night I read chapters 28-30.

Bible reading and study are the means to grow in this knowledge. Yes, many theological books can help. But they can never replace Bible reading. To do so is to stunt the seminarian’s spiritual growth. When a student learns Greek and/or Hebrew then the desire is to also read the Bible in those languages. If we are not reading God’s Word daily, regularly, then we are short circuiting God’s desire for spiritual growth. Ultimately the seminarian/pastor will have little to nothing to offer his people in sermons and teachings.

Prayer: Prayer is speaking to God. It is the human response to God speaking to us in His Word. Prayer is individual and corporate. It is often easy to get used to leading prayer in the corporate worship setting. But it can also become mechanical. The right entry phrases, the right endings, the appropriate statements of petitions.Congregation2

When prayer is individual and privately with one or two other people, then the words may not come so easily. Instead prayer is the outpouring of a heart devastated by sin. Prayer reflects the struggle that we face in a sinful world. Prayer reveals our broken hearts, our desire for answers, our pleas for mercy. And many times it is joyful, but quiet contentment to praise God with hymns, songs, and spiritual songs. Prayer isn’t necessarily learned by a book, but by imitating a praying person. I have grown much in this area in the past four years because of a group of people who pray, pray, and pray. Philippians 4:6-7; Ephesians 5:18-20; 6:18-20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; and many other Scripture texts can be used to encourage and grow in prayer.

2. Character Formation

Most people are surprised to learn that there is only one talent/gift for a pastor: “he is apt to teach.” Everything else about the formation of a pastor has to do with character. And so little is written/spoken about this. We have a seminary class, Pastoral Theology and Life, in which we explore this whole concept of character formation.

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and cthe snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7 NAS)

This is a challenge, but also an encouragement to those whose who serve as pastors. It does not mean that pastors are perfect in all of these areas. But unless he wrestles through each of these, he is only examining his life to satisfy “what can I get by with?”spiritual-formation-character-building-300x225-300x225

Character formation affects all relationships: with God, with spouse, with children, with members, with neighbors, with outsiders. Notice how especially negatives in vv. 3-5 highlights the need for self-examination. For me, the one about “keeping his children under control with all dignity” became a four decade battle and challenge. I almost left the pastoral office three times because of that. I have known some who struggle with drugs or alcohol. In reality, every pastor fails in these areas whether in deeds or in the thoughts. As always, when we fail, we confess and seek forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9), but we also recognize that there may be further consequences.

One particular issue that affects the current state of the church is that the pastor is not to be “pugnacious, but gentle” or as one translation has it, “not a bully but gentle.” Unfortunately the internet provides a platform for bullies in the church. But even worse is a pastor who is a bully, whether on the internet or especially in his congregation in his dealings with people.

Paul provides the proper perspective on character formation, for everyone.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; (Galatians 5:22-23 NAS)

3. Catechetical Formation

Catechetical formation is not “how to teach the catechism.” It is much more comprehensive than that. Catechetical formation refers to the entire approach of the congregation in “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus, it includes catechism instruction, family devotions, family and church gatherings that reflect the life of grace and mercy, shaped by proper distinction and application of Law and Gospel.

How easy it is for the pastor to be distracted from this essential task. Meetings are important, but they do not direct the congregational life. Activities are important, but they can divert energy and interest away from learning the essential truths of the Christian faith.

Catechetical formation also involves a consistency throughout congregational life. Hymns, prayers, and readings done in worship form the basis for shut-in visits, hospital visits, family crises ministry. That is the faith confessed, and expressed, in worship is not about a la-la land, but of real life, lived in the trenches as well as on the mountains. Thus, catechetical formation provides the threads that unite and emphasizes the Christian life and growth. In our seminarian curriculum we have a course, Catechesis, in which we explore the dimensions of catechetical formation.

4. Churchmanship Formation

Of all the areas mentioned, Churchmanship formation is the least mentioned or even acknowledged as important. Yet, when Churchmanship is missing, everyone suffers. So what is Churchmanship?

In church life, life can be messy for the church and for pastors. Churchmanship calls pastors and lay leaders to stand up to do what is right, whether it is popular or not. Paul gives some guidelines here:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. (1 Timothy 5:17-22 NAS)

Note, then, that Churchmanship is not taking charge as if you are the only one who knows what to do. It means that sometimes when the system is broken, the pastor identifies areas that need fixing, but not going on a vendetta against someone. In cases of difficult discipline, the pastor is a churchman who takes the avenue that is appropriate and consistent with the sin involved.

Churchmanship may also involve leading the congregation, the area group, or the entire church body in a way that will be difficult, challenging, frustrating but ultimately good for the body. This means that a churchman will listen to advice, seek consensus if possible, and move with deliberate yet responsible steps to achieve the goal.

Sadly, over the past four decades in church service, I have seen many examples of poor Churchmanship. When I quoted Peter above, it was a continuation of a previous thought. Now look at it in context:

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:17-18 NAS)

But sometimes, silently I have observed Churchmanship demonstrated that was outstanding, but was seldom, if ever, recognized as Churchmanship. I have had the pleasure of knowing churchmen who upheld the highest integrity and concern for the church at large. One of my professors (now deceased) in seminary was not the flashiest, but I refer to him with the accolade: “a gentleman scholar.” My hope is that in the seminary, the other professors and I can follow that path.

Dr. Curtis Leins,  Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman
Dr. Curtis Leins, Presiding Pastor of TAALC. Churchman

Weeping to Joy

Guest post by Shan:

Today is Good Friday. It is on this day that I end up in tears. I think about my Savior who was spat upon, beaten and killed—willingly for my sake. I remember that He lived the perfect sinless life in my stead. I know that He died and rose again so that I may have eternal life with Him. I am so very grateful for it all, yet today I weep.weeping

I weep because I have the full realization that on this day, in all of my sinfulness, I am found standing with the crowd shouting, “Crucify Him!” How could I say that! I’m so ashamed that I would rather see my Lord suffer and die so that I could live. And yet…still I say the words, “Crucify Him!”

Pilate asked them, “What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Messiah?”
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
Then he said, “Why? What has He done wrong?”
But they kept shouting, “Crucify Him!” all the more. (Matthew 26:22-23 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is just how sinful I am; I place “self” before my God.

I admit that I am rebellious. My sin is always in front of me. I have sinned against you, especially you [LORD]. (Psalm 51:3-4 GW)

I am weeping because He chooses to die for me and my sins.

Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1-12 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is how much He loves me, a pathetic sinner.

This is a statement that can be trusted and deserves complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I am the foremost sinner. (1 Timothy 1:15 GW)

I am weeping because though I am not worthy, Christ declares me worthy and crowns me with His righteousness.

He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 HCSB)

There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8 HCSB)

I am weeping because that is how mighty and loving my God is!

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins. (1 John 4:10 GW)

Blessed is the person whose disobedience is forgiven and whose sin is pardoned. Blessed is the person whom the LORD no longer accuses of sin and who has no deceitful thoughts. (Psalm 32:1-2 GW)

I am weeping because my joy is complete in Jesus!

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Christians in Relationship 2

In the first post (Christians in Relationship 1) I presented an overview of Ephesians 4:17-32 as the heart of developing Christian relationships. This also forms the basis for marriage relationships. In other words, how do Paul’s words apply specifically to those who plan to marry or who are married and are struggling?

I use the following diagram as a starting point and work through the relationship from two perspectives.

Marriage01

On the left side is the worldly pattern of establishing and building a relationship; on the right is the Biblical perspective for doing so.

Left Side: Worldly Pattern

Dating: In a worldly approach to relationships the dating phase is physically oriented, most often focused on outward appearances. There is an attraction of some kind on the part of both people. In today’s world that often means the beginnings of a sexual relationship.

As many point out to me, sexual intercourse is the expectation very soon in a relationship. If that doesn’t happen, then questions arise about the other person, and most often about the person himself or herself. Performance becomes critical. In my work with couples the issue is not about the other person, but “How am I performing?” (with the fear of being compared to others).

Engagement: As the couple moves into the Engagement phase, then the focus is on mind, will, and emotions. Here the people begin to know each other in various situations. One learns what makes the other happy, angry, how they speak to and treat one another. During this phase, there can be some heated arguments, what I call “knock-down, drag out fights” (not physically but emotionally). The method of “resolving” the conflict is often by having passionate sex. This leads to the assumption that things will work out because “we have found how well we work through our problems.”

Marriage: In the marriage phase the focus is on the spiritual. Will we have a church wedding? Will the sanctuary be beautiful enough for lasting memories. The first 2-3 years seem idyllic. But then move five years into the future, and see what changes take place. At that point what happens when there is a “knock-down, drag out fight”? Now instead of sex being the soothing balm to reconcile, it becomes the weapon: “You think we are having sex after that? Not on your life!”

Sadly, the pattern that seemed so exciting, soothing, and satisfying now sets the pattern for frustration, anger, and separation. In my experience, such emotions and responses are the stepping stones to divorce.

In my work with married couples on that side of the diagram, they look at me with surprise. Why? Because they recognize the pattern they followed in their relationship. Many times I have heard them exclaim “How did you know?”

Marriage02

Right Side: Biblical Pattern

Then I follow the right side of the diagram and walk them through the same three phases. In this perspective Ephesians 4:17-32 plays the crucial role. The assumption on this perspective is that both people have a right relationship with God, knowing that they are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

At the very beginning, then, the relationship involves three, not two: man, woman, and Christ. The one person recognizes that the other person is perfectly holy, righteous in God’s sight because of Jesus Christ. They both recognize that they are also 100% saint and 100% sinner. Sin is not absent, but it is dealt with in a Biblical way:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 NAS)

and especially in the context of Ephesians:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph. 4:32 NAS)

Such an approach then is not demanding or expecting the other person to meet your needs. Rather, you help the other person find their spiritual and emotional needs/desires in Christ. This approach gives freedom to both and the best way to resolve problems.

Dating: The relationship develops on the basis of how to speak to one another, and about one another. Respect, appreciation, and concern for the other person comes first. Thus, according to Eph. 4:25-27 anger is not resolved by having sex, but speaking the truth in love. That means addressing both the anger and the underlying issue.

Of course, this approach requires listening to each other, not just to words, but emotions/background as well. The other key point about speaking and listening is how far do the boundaries of the argument extend. In other words, Paul writes:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,a but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Eph. 4:29 (NIV)

Thus the argument is not helped by bringing in family or friends. That only compounds the problems and leads to distancing rather resolution. If sin is involved then each person goes back to 1 John 1:8-9 and Ephesians 4:32.

Engagement: In this phase, the process of developing relationships is strengthened and tested. In other words, the proverbial “knock-down, drag out fight” is met head-on with confession and forgiveness (liturgically, absolution). Resolving is not achieved through someone winning, but through Christ and forgiveness. This frees up the couple to deal with the hard issues of mind, will, and emotions that can be debilitating.

Marriage: Now the relationship moves to the joining of husband and wife physically. In this approach, sex becomes a reflection of the love they have for each other based on their relationship to Christ. Now five years later when another major “knock-down, drag out fight”occurs, the resolution is confession and forgiveness. This, then, frees up sex to be not a “solution” but a demonstration of the solution of forgiveness and love in Christ.

So what?

About this time the couple (whether married or considering marriage) begins to despair. The usual question is: “What can be done, since we began on the left side, following the worldly model?”

Here is the astounding good news for them: No matter where they are on the left side of the diagram, confession and forgiveness bring about a new reality; they start over on the right side. Many pre-marital couples then commit themselves to not having sex again until marriage. A few will say “But we love each so much, how can we do this?” That question actually is “me-directed” not “you-directed.” So I ask, “How much do you love this other person?” The typical response is: “I love her/him so much!” Then I ask, “Do you love the person enough not to have sex?” Notice that moves the love from self-centered expression to other-centered.

Over the past 28 years I have seen couples moving to the divorce court who have come through this process, and the divorce court no longer becomes their solution. I continue to work with couples as they learn to develop a love based on confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. So also, with those contemplating marriage.

This approach takes time, because the world pattern and influence is invasive, persistent, and seductive. This means that not just the pastor but every Christian has to encourage, support, and teach the Biblical pattern. And if sin is involved, then we don’t hold it over someone’s head, but forgive, restore, and continue to help them grow in their relationship with Christ and one another.

filter out all distractions

Guest post today:

I grew up in the era of secretaries and I was blessed with many good ones. Early in my career there was Ann Marie who would take my meager dictations and with skill and polish turn them into a thing of beauty. At the end of my career it was Wendy, the master of the computer, who created an elaborate data base that quickly identified new trends in an ever changing environment, while I struggled to get a dial-up connection.

Somewhere in between those years came Judy. She was neither cutting edge nor even the fastest, but she had an incredible talent. Judy was able to filter out all distractions from employees’ angst to corporate demands; she would only hear and react to my voice.distractions-600x338

Now, many years later, in retirement as I remember these talented and generous women, who dedicated their work to make me look better; it is Judy’s skill that I find most amazing. It is her skill set that I wish to emulate. 

Can I close my eyes and ears to the distractions of the world and focus only on my Creator and Redeemer? As I approach Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, can I see only His finished plan, hear only His Word of Truth and walk only on His path? When the evil one throws obstacles in my way can my focus for my Lord be so strong that I only have Him and nothing else?

Holy Lord, great Trinity, let me hear and react only to Your Voice. Because You have finished everything, I have only to follow You.  Grant to me that focus, Lord; that my eyes, ears and actions are all for You. Because You are my everything.  Amen.

wine-sacrament

Real Ugliness—true Beauty
Focus

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Written by a friend who has shared a couple posts with me in recent months. This was her timely reflection about distractions today… Thank you.

The Liturgy of S(p)orts

Psalm 122:1 “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

What an interesting insight the psalmist gives to worship. He rejoices to go to Yahweh’s house! Is that true today? Perhaps some of us quietly admit that worship is less than thrilling, less than exciting. In fact, it might be a rare occasion when we could admit that we rejoiced about worshiping. An interesting parallel with basketball will help us better understand what happens in liturgy, and why we can join the Psalmist.

Worship Begins

For a basketball game people gather ready for the game. They (usually!) stand for the national anthem. So at worship we gather together standing for the opening hymn in worship.

At the basketball game, the players are introduced. So, too, in worship. One side in this game is: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit = God” and the other side is: “I, a poor, miserable sinner = us sinners.” At this point, God stops the game and declares, “You can’t play in My game. I am pure, holy, and righteous. You are sinners, deserving my full punishment.”

Then comes the surprise: God says, “I forgive you all your sins for the sake of My Son, the Star of the game.” With that, we are invited to play in God’s game with God’s rules, with God’s victory already assured!

This is critical in describing worship. Many claim to be “Christ-centered”; we would agree with that. But even more, we say that worship is “Christ-initiated.”

Worship Pattern

In a basketball game, one team grabs the ball and rushes down the court to score points. Then the other team grabs the ball and goes the other way. In worship, since it is God’s game, He grabs the ball first and rushes down the court to tell us of His love and forgiveness. We rush down the other way, scoring with our praise. We don’t shout “Yeah, God,” but we use appropriate terms such as “Praise the Lord!” or “Hallelujah.”

You keep track of who is active by watching the pastor. When he faces the congregation, God has the ball, speaking to the people. When the pastor faces the altar, the people have the ball speaking to God.monkimage

Worship “Rules”

As in a basketball game with four quarters, in worship we have four quarters. When the pastor says, “The Lord be with you,” that marks a quarter break.

First quarter: Invocation, confession/absolution, and praise.

Second quarter: Scripture readings, sermon, and creed.

Third quarter: Lord’s Supper.

Fourth quarter: final prayer and benediction/blessing.

Sin and Forgiveness

In a basketball game, each player can commit five fouls before leaving the game. But in worship, five times we hear the words “your sins are forgiven.” God doesn’t want anyone to foul out of the game! Notice the focus of each:

1) Confession/Absolution (general)

2) Scripture readings (how God achieved forgiveness)

3) Sermon (application)

4) Creed (joining the Church Catholic everywhere at all times)

5) Lord’s Supper (specifically “for you”).

The Star of Worship

When the basketball game is on the line, everyone stands in anticipation of victory. So, too, in worship, when the Gospel is read, we stand, because in effect, God says, “Right here, this is My Star, and this is how He won the game.”

Worship Ends

Years ago on Monday night football, Don Meredith had a way of signaling the essential end of the football game. He would sing, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over…” Many people think that the benediction/blessing at the end of the service is the same: “It’s over, finally.” But not so!

Unlike a basketball game in which the thrill of victory fades, in worship God declares that the victory celebrated during worship will continue with us during the week — daily. Therefore, we leave not looking for a let down, but having been built up by playing in God’s game according God’s rules winning with Him. In other words, the benediction declares that what God has done for us continues to be with us.

Guess what? Next week the game is repeated. Basketball fans do not complain that “we have to go to the game next week!” Nor as worshippers do we complain about worshipping next week. What an exciting event! Ultimately we look forward to the greatest day — when we will be with the LORD forever, rejoicing at the final victory won and celebrated permanently in heaven. Therefore, we join the psalmist and say, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go up to the house of the LORD.’ ”

AALC 2014

© 1989, 2010 Richard P. Shields

Christians in Relationships 1

This is a two part blog on Christians and Relationships. We will end up considering marriage as a special subset. In this blog our focus is the background to relationships among Christians. The second blog will focus on marriage and the relationship within marriage.Forgiveness1

Marriage: What comes to mind? The beauty of a wedding ceremony? The attacks on marriage in recent news? The factors within marriage that threaten marriage? Or something else?

Are our views on marriage influenced by the culture in which we live? Is marriage even viable in our culture? Listening to many, we might get the impression that marriage needs to be “expanded.” For some, “other arrangements” are equally viable.

Marriage can be a hot topic, even a painful topic for many. Even if your own marriage is solid, you are probably related to someone of friends of someone who is divorced on moving in that direction.

What is the Christian response to all this?

Many times Christians will point to Ephesians 5:22-33 or 1 Peter 3:1-7, as if such texts solve the problem. In Ephesians 5 Paul wrote about the relationship between husbands and wives, which reflects the relationship Jesus has with the Church. What kind of relationship do you have with Jesus? With your spouse? With family members who are married, divorced, separated?

Ephesians 4:17-32

As pastor I use a different starting point, namely Ephesians 4:17-32. Why? Because there Paul lays the foundation of all relationships (among Christians). The text in Ephesians 5 is one premier example of that but not the entirety of relationships.

Ephesians 4:17-24 (NAS)

17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

Notice that Paul identified that the new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5) has implications for the person. On the negative side many things are left behind.

“no longer living in futility,
darkened understanding,
excluded from the life of God,
hardness of heart
callous
given to sensuality
greed”

On the positive side, something new comes in place of all that:clothed-in-christ

“heard Jesus
taught in Him
lay aside old self
renewed in the spirit of your mind
put on new self
created in righteousness
and holiness of the truth.”

Thus, the change from the old person to this new person is not just a temporary fix of a situation. It is not a solution to “make it work” with this person. The change Paul described elsewhere is more dramatic: the old person being put to death, a new person brought to life.

Romans 6:4-6 (NAS)

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.… knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 4:25-32 (NAS)

Paul continues in Ephesians 4 to describe that change from death to life.

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, “speak truth each one of you with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and yet do not sin”; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Paul covers four items: speaking (25, 29), anger (26, 27), work (28), and forgiving (32). Each of these receives special mention because it is in the abuse or neglect of these that we run into problems.

Speaking the truth: Sadly, even in churches we fail to do so. We hedge our words, we want to criticize but not seem like we are. We want to “share the latest” but really want an excuse to gossip. If we can put someone down (just a little) then that seems to raise our estimate of our own worth. Rather as a new person in Christ, we speak the truth, and we do so in love, genuine God-implanted love. Speaking in such a way shows that this person is indeed a sister or brother in Christ.masthead530

Our speaking is not flavored with “spicy/racy” words, a practice all too common among some Christians and even pastors. Rather our words are meant for building up one another. Whoever listens to you will receive grace. In other words, if someone hears you speaking about a fellow Christian, what is the response that will be triggered? Rudeness, vulgarity, anger, sarcasm, bitterness, slander? If you address another Christian about a sin, i.e. Matthew 18:15-20, then that speaking is done in private, not where someone else may overhear.

Do we show love when we speak? Do we show respect? What will your children hear when you speak about your spouse? What about the person you’ve been witnessing to? How will he or she respond to what is heard? As Christians we speak words that encourage, uplift, support, and strengthen others.

Anger seems a way of life for people; some seem to claim that it is “just my nature.” No, that is part of the old nature, the anger that drives and festers and causes wounds. Rather, righteous anger, anger that reflects God’s kingdom is different. This is not a “offense-against-me” kind of anger that is selfish. Rather this righteous anger sees the world falling further into separation from God, the uplifting of sin and what happens to people and the devastation of sin. Thus, Paul can write that “be angry… but do not sin.” Yes, righteous anger, but never an excuse for sin in either unrighteous anger or righteous anger.

Work also shows the change from living dead to living alive. The repentant one will not only desire forgiveness but also what can be done to change the behavior. Thus, the one who had been stealing changes so that instead she or he can work and give to others, i.e. the reverse of stealing.

Forgiving—

Sometimes the hardest thing to do as a Christian is forgive. When someone sins against us, the effects are often greater than the sin. The wounds can be very deep and forgiveness may seem impossible.

Paul wrote this radical solution to sin: Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Read previous posts on forgiveness:

Forgiveness in the church

Liturgy — Response to Forgiveness

Liturgy — Brokenness, Forgiveness

God Has Amnesia

Liturgy—Confession and Absolution

Forgiveness for the Fallen

Sermon March 15, 2015

The Gospel reading and sermon text for today (Narrative Lectionary):

Sermon: Matthew 25:1-30

Text: HCSB

[Jesus said:] 1 “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 
10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were sensible. 
3 When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take olive oil with them. 4 But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps. 5 Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him.’

7 “Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 
8 But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

9 “The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

10 “When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived. Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

11 “Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’

13 “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

14 “For it is just like a man going on a journey. He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one—to each according to his own ability. Then he went on a journey. Immediately 16 the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more. 17 In the same way the man with two earned two more. 18 But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

22 “Then the man with two talents also approached. He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!’

24 “Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you. You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground. Look, you have what is yours.’

26 “But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave! If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, 27 then you should have deposited my money with the bankers. And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

28 “‘So take the talent from him and give it to the one who has 10 talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough. But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 30 And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”