Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 14, Number 4
In this Issue:
The Rhythm of Worship
by Rev. Ralph Spears
The rhythms of the Church year are most interesting as they move through the gamut of human experience brought to their highest in thought and emotion by the teaching of the Word – in the Gospels. But now at the very beginning of that year, Advent, there is a thrilling perception of the Divine mystery in the prophecy of an Isaiah at once - looking back and forward in time – at that Word taking flesh and manifesting the deep meaning of recognition if we but listen.
Worship provides the clarity to sort out those random thoughts, emotions and experiences. It is most interesting that we can resist those things that we know are best for us– like a youngster refusing to eat his green vegetables, so even the more mature man can rebel at the discipline of worship. Without this Divine Order in our lives those thousands of impulses assaulting our minds from the media, and just our drive to work, can leave us confused and disoriented. Advertisements, rock rhythms, and sirens in a random mix can distract from the sounds of nature which in many ways are the foundations of our worship. Unlike some sects we don’t worship nature, we worship the Creator of all and the Redeemer who resonates through the entire world about us and penetrates those random impulses making sense of it all. Truly “in Him all things hold together” as Colossians says this “Image of the invisible God!”
‘This is Our Father’s world – Oh let us ne'r forget’ because “It is HE that has made us and not we ourselves” to paraphrase both a hymn and a Psalm. Worship is the grace that orients us to our beginnings and is the root of our faith. We are not self made nor is this world a random accident or mere coincidence of events. Quite the contrary! (Anyone who cannot see the phenomenal order and purpose of God’s creation about them has not even a good mind for science. Einstein did!)
Advent looks ahead through the eyes of those who saw clearly the Christ born by design into this broken world, to the serenade of angels, manifesting His glory in an Epiphany of realization that is ever disciplined to be in communion with the Father through all of the ragged tearing and jeering that the world can give with His eye ever upon service and fulfillment of that earthly calling. And this provides those rhythms that sort it all out so that we might hear His clear call through the clutter – something like a radio tuned to a clear channel through all of the other signals buzzing through the room.
Without it, we suffer mental dislocation and emotional dis-ease! Pills and diversions don’t really help. The holiday of the Christmas Season can be for such people dark and depressing, because it is none fulfilling! “He who has the SON has life – he who has not the SON has not life!” (Know Christ - know Peace! No Christ – no peace!”) Rather than over simplification – that is the simple truth. Ask anyone who has experienced it both ways – and they will attest to the truth of “Light that shines in the darkness”. So much so that “the darkness has not” and cannot - “overcome it!”
True worship is not difficult – but it is involved, it takes focus - but not great concentration, heightened awareness - but not great intelligence, a sense of solemnity - but with JOY, not austere seriousness! Worship involves the body, mind and soul unlike any other activity. The body is carefully set aside so that the mind might be quieted in awareness and interaction with the highest things of the soul. It is nearly impossible to teach worship because it is entirely within, inner directed - yet at the same time - upward to God.
Many studies including those sponsored by government funds have attested to the good effect that the practice of religion has on people. Rather than being “the opiate of the masses” as Karl Marx would have it, worship is the drug that brings longer life, a cure of hypertension and anxiety more so than the many drugs that try to accomplish the same thing. If Lily or Merck could develop a pill that would do the same as studies contend that worship does for us with the effects of prayer, it would top all of the best selling drugs combined! Marx’s Russia has all but dropped his philosophy and has returned to the practice of Christianity big time albeit quietly underground.
Moses realized, thanks be to God, that the Minimum Weekly Requirement for worship and reflection – was One Day ,the whole day, the Sabbath and that we should “worship Him in spirit and in truth” – this Spirit – God. It would take a few more centuries to sort out the aspects of The Almighty – The ineffable, into the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but it was all there nonetheless!
The world has moved slowly into such a material way of seeing things. It is so drawn into the struggle of politics – the concern of taxes, the matters of war and even the viciousness of road rage – that we forget that HOPE beckons us, FAITH sustains us and LOVE is the fabric of all life and its intent!
Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of taxes, chased into Egypt due to Herod’s version of road rage, He predicted that there would be wars and rumors of wars, and He was arrested and executed because of politics. All of that which was bad, brought so much that is good! And so it might be for us!
The rhythm of worship and prayer comes to us as the “means of Grace” – sustaining us in the real world through all of the trials and temptations of life through our identification with Christ the perfect life. This is saving grace, as any of us know who have walked His Way. Finally as we progress in our “walk” – we KNOW Him as “The Way, The Truth, and The Life” – The Rhythm of Life itself.
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Differing Spiritualities Compete for Souls
By Jeff Robinson
Historic Christianity’s chief competitor today is a popular brand of spirituality that rejects objective truth, is market-driven, therapeutic, and centered on the exaltation of self, theologian and author David Wells told attendees of the annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference.
Wells contrasted two competing approaches to spirituality—”spirituality from below” versus “spirituality from above.” The spirituality from above is that which is held by historic Christianity and views God as having spoken in Scripture, sees God as sovereign over His creation and sinful man separated from God, Wells said.
The “spirituality from below” seeks to commandeer God and use Him for the purposes of humans, Wells said, and it is this spirituality that is at the center of a postmodern understanding of Jesus Christ.
“We are awash with spiritualities of every conceivable kind,” Wells said. “In America, six out of ten people say that in life’s crises, they depend on the power within. They are thinking about the natural connection with the sacred. More than half say that the only truth is the truth of private experience, in contrast with the external truth in Scripture.
“That is why many say they are spiritual and not religious—religious, meaning accepting doctrines that someone else has determined, rules that someone else has devised or institutions such as church where expectations fall upon them. I believe that this spirituality which is emerging all throughout the West is the major competitor of Christianity.”
Wells is professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hampton, Mass., and the author of numerous books, including the 1993 work, No Place for Truth, or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology. His most recent book is Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. Wells was the keynote speaker at the conference, which addressed the topic, “God’s Truth Abideth Still: Confronting Postmodernism.”
This spirituality from below has arisen because humans are made in the image of God to worship God, yet they have lost categories such as sin and grace that help them understand life, Wells said. He cited figures to show the eclipse among Americans of any notion of sin: eight of ten do not believe in original sin as taught in Scripture—a denial shared by 50 percent of Christians—and only 17 percent define sin in relation to God.
“Inevitably, they are trivializing the notion of sin,” Wells said. “Yet sin has great gravity and seriousness, and to not understand sin is to misunderstand God, misunderstand ourselves and the world in which we live. The bottom line is that we have lost our categories of processing life. Thus we become spiritual on our own terms.”
Ironically, modern humans are among the wealthiest and most affluent people in history, they are awash in material goods and have a life expectancy nearly twice as long as 200 years ago, yet they remain utterly disenchanted with life, he said.
The harshness of life as seen in millions of broken homes and a hyper-mobile society lacks roots and has created in contemporary humans a restlessness and a desire to turn inward to find significance, Wells said. This empty search for self has led millions to seek answers on the psychiatrist’s couch, he said.
“We have never had so much, yet we have never had so little,” Wells said. “This is why the self movement has taken root in America. It is speaking in its own way to the pains and the wounds and the emptiness and the confusion that people really do feel.
“In this self-talk, all are processing reality through the self. When we are unhappy or bored or unappreciated, we seek techniques that will bring some control to how we are feeling. “Here is what it has come down to: We who have set out to find the self, if we have found the self at all, we have found that it is fragile, broken, unhappy, and unfulfilled. This self is not coping very well. These are real pains, and the answers that the self movement is giving are not real answers.”
Another attribute of this “spirituality from below” is that its adherents come to God on their own terms seeking to “buy” from God what they desire in much the same way as they shop for clothing and sporting goods at the local mall, he said.
Evangelicals are marching down this road in droves, Wells said, marketing Christ as a therapeutic product to meet all the self-centered “felt” needs of consumer-oriented Americans. This spirituality is nothing more than self-idolatry and is antithetical to historic Christianity, Wells said.
“In the mall, I am sovereign,” Wells said. “Before God, He is sovereign. In the mall, I buy things for my own use; before God, I am bought for His own service; in the mall, I don’t commit myself to the product I buy; before God, I commit myself, yield my sovereignty and repent of the ways in which I use my freedom as rebellion. This is becoming the most serious competitor to biblical Christianity.”
To combat this pagan spirituality, Wells urged evangelicals to be about the business of asserting boldly and firmly a “spirituality from above,” a spirituality which is centered in the gospel. This spirituality is utterly opposed to this “spirituality from below,” because it includes a sovereign God reaching down in love to redeem unlovely sinners.
Contrary to self-centered spirituality, the Bible clearly asserts that the human spirit has no sufficiency in itself, Wells said; humans are born dead in sin, facing the judgment of God and in need of rescue from outside themselves. It is this spirituality alone that will bring the freedom and rest that those in contemporary culture are so desperately seeking, he said.
“In the contemporary spiritualities, people talk because there is no one who has spoken,” Wells said. “In Christian spirituality, we listen because the living God has spoken to us in His Word and His Son. It is all about Christ to the exclusion of all contemporary spiritualities.
It is not about the sinner. God will not be had on the sinner’s terms. God is had only on His own terms, and that is through Christ and His grace. This is a glorious message of freedom, because now [in the gospel of grace] we finally have been released from all our striving which ended up empty.”
This article is reprinted with permission of Baptist Press via the volume 32, number 11 issue of Pulpit Helps.
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The Annual LMS Ministerial Meeting
The annual meeting of the LMS Ministerium will be held on Monday January 21, 2008. The meeting on Monday will be from about 9AM until about 3PM.
Arrangements have been made at the Best Western Crossroads Inn. We have been given a very favorable rate of $50 plus tax for a total of $57.50 per room per night! They have King or Queen beds, highspeed internet, refrigerator and microwave, and a very good breakfast in the morning. Wives are also welcome to attend (the hotel rate does not change).
Please make your own reservations as soon as possible and tell them that it is for the "LMS Conference" or "Lutheran Pastors meeting". Five rooms have been set aside on the first floor. Tell them if you want the room for one night or two (many of us arrive on Sunday and leave on Tuesday). The hotel is located at the interchange of IS 465 and US 40 (exit 46).
Best Western Crossroads
7610 Old Trails Road
Indianapolis IN 46219-6740
If you have never attended one of the Ministerium meetings, you are in for a treat. You will have the opportunity to meet the other pastors of our fellowship, to share our mutual concerns and opportunities, and to help plan for the next Annual Conference in June.
All Subscriptional and Associate pastors are expected to attend. If unable to attend, please contact the Ministerial secretary to request an excused absence. Applicant (Provisional) pastors are welcome and encouraged to attend also. Interviews can be scheduled by contacting Pastor Spears in advance of the meeting.
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“Joy to the World! The Lord is Come”
by Rev. John Erickson
It is the apostle Paul who in his letter to the Galatians, chapter four, draws our attention to an historical event from the days of Abraham that can add much to our understanding and appreciation of the gift that God gave to this earth on the first Christmas. He shares with us of the two sons born to Abraham, one born of his slave, Hagar, and the other to his wife, Sarah.
We remember that God called Abraham when he was seventy-five years old. In that call He promised that he would make of Abraham a great nation. But the years passed and nothing happened. In fact ten years passed. Seventy-five plus ten years... and nothing happened. He and his wife Sarah remained childless. He was to be the father of a great nation, but he had no heir. So, Abraham and Sarah decided they would have to do something about it. They decided Abraham should take their slave, Hagar, and have a child with her. That child would be his legal heir. That child would be the start of a great nation. They proceeded with their plan, and Ishmael was born. Abraham and Sarah convinced themselves that God needed their help - the addition of a human contribution - to fulfill the promise he had made to them.
However, the promise God had made was that He would raise up a great nation from Abraham and Sarah. And so what does He do? In order that there be no mistake that this was solely a result of His promise, He delays the birth of a son to Abraham and Sarah for an additional fourteen years! In Genesis 17:15-17 and Romans 4:17, we are told that God held off on the fulfillment of his promise until Abraham's "body was as good as dead," and "Sarah's womb was also dead."
Paul uses this historic event to make several points. For one thing, Ishmael will always be linked with human performance, whereas Isaac will forever be seen as the result of God’s promise. Ishmael pictures for us the end result of people trying to make things happen as a result of their own effort. On the other hand, in Isaac we see the superiority of trusting only in God's word. And, it is Isaac who will become the father of God’s chosen people.
Paul also wants us to see how Hagar and Sarah symbolize the two covenants. Thinking of the Galatian Church, Hagar and Ishmael are the Judaizers, enslaved to the law. Sarah and Isaac are the Christian Church which enjoys the freedom which comes when the gospel is received (see Gal. 4:26-27).
Religion has been defined as man's attempt at a relationship with God. With this understanding in mind, Christianity is not a religion. Religion begins with man. Christianity, on the other hand, starts with God. Christianity is the good news that God has, and continues, to reach out to man.
We are in the Advent Season and about to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child once again. That promise which God made with Abraham some 4000 years ago... pointed forward to the coming of that Child. That great nation which God was going to make out of Abraham was to be the nation through which the One who was promised centuries earlier to Adam and Eve in the Garden after the Fall, was to be born. That is why all the peoples on earth would be blest through Abraham (Gen. 12:3).
He - God made flesh - who was born in the manger in Bethlehem was the fulfillment of God’s promise. And he has made salvation possible for all. Abraham believed God - he believed God’s promise - he believed that the Savior and Redeemer of the world would one day be born in his line - he came to understand how that God would provide the Lamb for the sacrifice (Gen. 22:8) - and it was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3). No longer did Abraham have to think about what he needed “to do” to make possible, or to help to make possible, reconciliation with God. It would be done for him. God would provide. That was God’s promise.
That promise was fulfilled. He who was promised, was born. He, the sinless Son of God and Son of Man... fulfilled the demands of the Law for us, and then, he, the spotless Lamb of God, became the sacrifice for our sin. Taking the sin of all the world upon himself, he made atonement for us. As to his work of redemption, he, before he died said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But then... he was raised up from the dead on the third day... and he said, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19).
This is the new covenant to which Sarah and Isaac point. The promise is a free gift. Those who will receive that free gift are made members of God’s family. It is especially interesting to read in this regard what Paul writes in Romans 9:8. “It is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.” We are made children of God, Abraham’s children, members of the Christian church by belief in Christ Jesus... the same One to whom the promise given to Abraham pointed.
And... as it was for Abraham... so also for us.. it cannot be of works. We are brought to faith by the gospel which is made available to us in Word and Sacrament... and through that same Word and Sacrament we are kept, we are sustained in true faith, throughout our pilgrimage in this life.
This is the Christian faith, and there is freedom in this faith. There are no requirements here with regard to the keeping of any rules or regulations. No demands are made on those who are of the true church, all is given to them as a free gift. There is nothing the Christian can contribute to his or her salvation, for in Christ Jesus all that was necessary has been done.
What a difference it makes when we can in true faith (which is itself a gift - Rom. 10:17) come to understand that Christ, the Promised One, has done all that is necessary for our salvation. We don’t have to worry about whether we have done exactly the right thing... or if we have avoided certain things... or if we have done enough. We don’t have to have concern as to whether or not all the good we have done will somehow tip the balances in our favor. Christ did all that which was necessary for us... and he has clothed us in his perfect robe of righteousness, so that God, as he now looks upon us... that is what he sees! i.e., the perfect righteousness of his Son.
I recall hearing a woman who had converted from Catholicism to Judaism comment something to the effect, "I am much more confident about my hope for eternity in being able to know that I am doing this or that, than that I should rely on it as a gift from someone else."
Well, I could not disagree more. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). He is the way to the Father... the only way to the Father, and he offers what he has done for me and my salvation to me as a free gift. This Christmas I am so glad that I can know all this to be a fact. Knowing this to be true, knowing all this is mine, I am set free (John 8:32) from Satan, from sin, and from death, for time and for eternity.
Joy to the World!
the Lord is come.
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The LMS-USA is a Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, Congregational
expression of the universal (catholic) orthodox Church on earth. It is a
'Forum by Subscription.' As a 'Forum' the intent is that there will be an
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alike. The LMS-USA meets annually for a Theological Conference and this
publication, besides carrying news of the Ministerium and Synod, functions
also as a vehicle for this continuing dialogue.
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