Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Taste and see!

Taste and see - that is my thought of the day. We have had a taste of spring this last week and weekend. It was enough to get all our thoughts moving to this next, wondrous season of new life. The warm weather made us long to sit on our porch, to walk down the road, to dig up the earth for the garden, to go out and watch some baseball, to long for warmer days. Yes, it gave us a taste and now that we have had a taste, we want more! We don't want this cold weather (as if 40 degrees is cold!). We want it to remain in the 60's and 70's only to move into the nice summer weather. We want more!

I thought about that in two ways: 1) Isn't that the way that temptation and sin work? 2) That is the way that we should be with the Lord.

Temptation and sin give us just a little taste so that we want more. Pornography works that way. Start soft, with just a tease on a TV show or in a movie. Just enough to want more. Then it begins to build as more and more is needed to satisfy. Drugs and alcohol are the same way. Taste and see what it can do for you! It can make you feel so good. It is freeing! Sexual activity is that way for the young, unmarried person with a boyfriend/girlfriend or for the older, married person with a spouse and a girlfriend/boyfriend on the side. Taste and see how good it can be, how pleasurable, etc. And a little taste leads to wanting more.

Unfortunately, unlike our desire for spring, these kind of "taste and see" leads to destruction. Pornography destroys relationships. Drugs and alcohol destroy lives. Premarital sex destroys the sanctity of the sexual relationship in marriage (and leads to crisis pregnancy, STD, abortion and abuse). Extramarital sex destroys relationships and families. And in the end, they all lead to the same place - away from the Lord. Any sinful activity is wrong - even if it feels "right." Why? Because the Lord has told us that very thing. We may not like it. We may want to change it. But the fact remains - sin is sin, no matter how we want to package it. We might quell our conscience into accepting that it is all right (like society does with same sex relationships) but it is still wrong before the Lord. Nothing good comes from the sinful "taste and see" attitude.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. His love is wondrous. To have a taste of that love is fabulous. To know the grace that loves you despite your sinfulness and your rotten behavior is beyond explanation. To taste the love that is given in the Supper of our Lord, the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins - it is a feast fit for a king yet that is given to the beggar.

Why is is that we love the taste of sin and despise the taste of grace? Why do we love to have a feast of sinful behavior and activity and yet we want only a a morsel or less of the love of Christ? Why do we immerse ourselves into that which destroys and run in fear from that which saves? It is because we are sinful. It is easier to run from God than to be embraced by Him. It is easier to curse God than to praise Him.

It is only by the working of the Holy Spirit, working through Word and Sacrament, that this all changes. Once He has worked that change in our hearts, we suddenly taste His goodness, as for the 1st time, and we want more. We want more love, more grace, more comfort, more of His presence in our lives, more of Him each and every day.

Taste and see - what do you desire? Are you desiring the Lord and His goodness? Are you following Him and the life He has laid before you? If not, ask yourself why not? It isn't the Lord's fault. The fault - lies within you, your heart, your life. He desires you. May your heart and life be opened to Him!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day 2011

Friends, what is "love"? Today is the day of "love" and "lovers." But what exactly is the love that we celebrate? For most, it is the romantic movie that ends with the man finally coming to his senses, realizing that the only woman for him is the one that he has been fighting off or trying to avoid, proclaiming his love and then they join in the kiss of the century (again!). With a heart filled with longing, the woman turns to her husband and thinks (or says), "Why can't you be like him? Why can't you love me like that? Why can't we have that kind of love and relationship?"

For others, love is what happens when the flowers have been given, the candy eaten and the wine finished. Slipping off into the bedroom, the covers are turned down, the "sexy" lingerie is donned (only to be lost quickly) and the next 15 minutes to an hour is spent in love. In the throes of passion, love is proclaimed - a love that will change in the morning, or with the shift of emotions when the next time doesn't happen.

So what is love? Is it an action? Is it an emotion? Just what is it? I don't know if I can tell you exactly what it is - as far as a part of speech. But I can tell you what true love is - it is what God has for us. It is NOT what we have for God. The difference is God's love is agape - love with no boundaries or strings, while our love is very much set according to what we can receive from this God.

He loves us - not because we deserve it but because He wants to. We aren't worth loving. I don't care who you are or what you have done, you don't deserve God's love. You can profess your the depth of your love for God, you can sing praises till the cows come home and then sing some more, and your love is still colored by what you want from God. (You want Him to cure cancer, give world peace, take away poverty and at the same time, make it possible for the St. Louis Cardinals to waste millions of dollars signing a ballplayer that isn't worth that kind of money - no one is!) You love God because He gave His Son for you. You love God because He has forgiven your sins. You love God because He has given you a good job, lots of money, a good looking spouse that you can spend the night with, and a chance to go fishing when the ice finally goes away.

But you are dirty, rotten, no good, filthy, disgusting, over-whelming self-indulgent and increasingly stuffy. There is not an ounce of worth to MAKE God love you. Just the opposite is true. Nothing could MAKE God love you. He just does. Period. Plain, simple, deep, unending, complete and total love given by God, shown in all that He has done and continues to do for you. Look at the cross - LOVE! Look at the crown of thorns - LOVE! Look at the manger in the stable -LOVE! Where ever you look, whatever rock you turn over, there is God's love. Breath the air - LOVE! Eat the wonderful supper with your special sweetie tonight - LOVE (His not yours). LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!

God so loved the world...that means you and me. There is love. The way we love today is beautiful by human standards, but it is tempered with what can be gotten because of that expression of love. The better the flowers, the meal and the gift, the more kisses you receive. You want those kisses, so you do your best to make it possible.

Wait, why not just give to your loved one with no expectation of receiving anything at all. Give, and don't become upset if they don't say, "Thank you." Give, and don't worry if no one else know about it. Give and don't expect to get lucky later on. That is the love of God. He gives, knowing we will not always appreciate it or say, "Thank you." He gives without expecting to hear our praises.

All of these thoughts flow from 2 places. The first is 1 John 4:10, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (ESV) His love guides our love. His love is the basis of our love. His love is all encompassing. And the other place is 1 Corinthians 13, the great chapter of love. That talks of true love, based in His love not ours. We can never live up to any of that love in vss. 4-7. His love is completely shown in those verse.

Happy Valentine's Day. Enjoy the day. Enjoy the romance. Know that there is nothing wrong with romance - for God intends it to be that way. He wants us to be romantic with each other. Know that is the kind of love that it is. Don't pretend to be an all-loving, self-sacrificing person because you gave flowers. Let it be an expression of you romantic love for your loved one. Enjoy the passion that it inspires. Rejoice, for God wants that passion inspired.

And know that the love you are showing is but a shadow of what true love is all about. Let the love of Christ, fill you to overflowing so that you can love that special person in the way God intends you to love them. Now get out there, share that candy, smell the flowers, eat the meal and enjoy all that might come next!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Call to be "Nice"

I started last week talking about M.T.D - Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. On of the items that keeps coming up in the National Study of Youth and Religion is that the call of the Christian is to be "nice." We are to be nice. That is a good statement, for we are called to be nice to all people. The problem develops when the NSYR found that apart from "being nice," the average religious teen does not think that religion influences their decision, choice of friends or behaviors. It does not help them obey God, work toward a common good, compose an identity or belong to a distinctive community. Think about that - these are the things that religion does not do!

So what does religion do for a person? It helps you be "nice" and feel better about yourself. Religion can give comfort in the midst of turmoil and give support in making the decisions that teens have already made (giving them the "back-up" for their decisions).

In M.T.D., religion stays in the background of life.

Now before I go on, ask yourself, "Is this the way that I view religion"? Do I see religion as something that is on the edge of my life, not really the center of all that I am and do? do I really think that my religion influences what I do at work, in the office, at home, on the computer, with the family and out with friends? Do I really have a religion that leads me to act in a certain way at all times? Or have I pushed my religion into the background, using God as a supreme being that is there to help me out in times of trouble but in the end, is not really involved in my life?

Be honest. You don't have to answer to anyone but yourself. And, if this really is your view of religion, you don't even have to answer to God - for all he calls you to do is be nice, treat others fairly and not mess things up in your life. In the end, all "good" people go to heaven ("good" = not being a jerk, not messing things up too badly, not robbing, raping or murdering, but living a normal life that everyone else is living, being nice to others).

That, my friends, is the influence of M.T.D. in the lives of the Christian adult today. And if it is in the lives of the adults, why wouldn't it show up in the lives of the teens? After all, they are listening, watching and learning from us - at home with the parents, at school with the teachers and at church with the pastor and church members. We are actually modelling M.T.D. for our youth and they are learning from us, learning very well.

Before I go on and address the whole "call to be nice," I am going to let you chew on these thoughts for a little bit. I will be back in the next post and talk about what Christians are actually called to do in their lives.