Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wheat and Weeds thoughts

Last Sunday the sermon was on the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. I mentioned that there were further thoughts that I had on this parable. So here they are.

We often look at Jesus' response on not pulling up the weeds for fear of hurting the wheat as a guide for our lives in the church. We think that he is telling us that we are to leave well enough alone and let the Lord handle the separating of those who are wheat and those who are weeds. The problem with this thought is that it will cripple the church as it attempts to proclaim the full message of Christ. We must proclaim both Law and Gospel. To avoid proclaiming the Law because it might "pull up" the wrong person in causing them pain (thinking they are weeds) while they are really God's child (wheat). Even a  person who is "wheat" must hear the Law, since they still face the temptation and challenges of sin. Their heart is still sinful, desiring to do that which is not pleasing to the Lord. To not proclaim Law, pointing out their sin for fear of pulling up the wheat with the weeds is a misuse of this parable.

We are to proclaim the Word to all - Christian and non-Christian. We are not to judge the faith of a person (which is what we want to do. This person is a true Christian because...that person is not a true Christian because...) We are to avoid that type of judgment. This takes us into the realm of the Visible and Invisible Church. Do you remember what these are?

The Visible Church is made up of all those who say that they are a Christian. The Visible Church is made of true believers and hypocrites (in the true sense of the word and not in the sense that we often use when we want to find fault with either the church or the people in it). The hypocrite is the person who is a part of the church but not truly believing in Christ as their Savior.

The Invisible Church is made up of only true believers. There are no hypocrites in the Invisible Church. Can you tell the difference between the two? No you cannot. The only One who is able to make the distinction is God Himself. He alone can say who is a believer and who is not a believer. That is why at the end of the Parable of the Wheat, it is the Lord who sends the angels as reapers to do His will by separating the wheat from the weeds. You and I do not do it. We are not to do it here on earth nor will we do it at the end of time. That is not our position or call in life. Jesus warns us against doing such a thing.

But we cannot misuse this parable to open the kingdom of heaven to everyone, despite what their life is like. (Sounds like I am contradicting myself, but stay with me.) If I claim faith in Christ, but live my life completely without Christ, then I better look at my profession again. God is not fooled. We can fool one another, and even ourselves, but God knows our hearts. Remember that Jesus knew what was in the heart of the Pharisees who came to trap Him, even though they used kind words.

So does that mean that as a pastor I should do the funeral of anyone when I am asked? No it doesn't. The first question to ask is still, "Did the person believe in Christ?" The answer to that is critical. Did they believe? If they professed faith in Christ, who am I to say they didn't go to heaven?  If they did not profess faith in Christ, how can I preach them into heaven?

The struggle that we have is when it comes to living the life of faith. We like to look at the actions of a person and say, "He is a weed!" or "He is wheat!" That isn't how the judgment is made. Yes, as a Christian, we should bear the fruit of the Spirit not the fruit of sin (see Galatians 5) and yet, at the same time, there is no perfect Christian. I would like to say that I follow the Lord all the time, that I bear the fruit of the Spirit day in and day out, but I don't. I can't. Why? I am still struggling with sin, with myself. Everyone does.

I was asked at a recent funeral if the person really was saved. The answer that I gave is this: He proclaimed that he still trusted in the Lord as His Savior. His life might not have reflected that at all times, but it isn't his actions and deeds that saved him. It was Christ's actions and deeds upon the cross that made the difference for the person who we laid to rest. It isn't different for any one of us. You might have lived a life that was filled with the wonders of the fruit of the Spirit, and you are stilled saved only by Christ's sacrifice upon the cross, not by your deeds.

So the wheat grows in Christ. The weeds are a part of this world as well. They grow together. It isn't for us to try to distinguish between the two. Instead we continue to proclaim Jesus Christ and Him crucified for the salvation of all mankind. We are not the ones who decide who is wheat and who is weeds. Christ does that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A day at Six Flags

Yesterday, Monday, July 18th, we went to Six Flags. It was hot. Maybe that was an understatement. it was extremely hot. Penny and I spent the day floating on the Lazy River or whatever it is called at Six Flags. it was a great day. We had 19 people go from St. Paul's - 15 youth and 4 adults. Thanks to Jim Walls, Pam Brannon and Penny Schuessler for going as our adults. It was great to have them there.

The crowds were small. I think it must have been because of it being a Monday, when the crowds are down. And it was also because of the heat. Many people stayed away because it was so hot. To that end, the lines really weren't that long. That is so nice because I have been at Six Flags when it has taken over an hour to get on a single ride - especially when it was so hot. Yesterday it took only 5 minutes to get on Thunder River. Really! Only 5 minutes. I can remember when an hour was a short wait on a day like yesterday when it was so hot. So we really did pick a great day to go to Six Flags.

What are my thoughts on going to Six Flags? It was a good time. What made it a good time? The time that we spent with the youth. It was great to get to know some of the youth. It gave us time to spend with them in order to know what they like and don't like. Time spent with the young people is time well spent. It is something that I need to do more of. It opens my mind to what St. Paul's could begin to do to reach out to the youth - at school, outside of school, with the young and old youth. I don't think that we at church do enough to reach out with the message of the Gospel, not because the youth are the future of the church but because the youth need the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. The focus of the church is to be sharing the message of the Gospel in such a way that it touches the hearts and lives of all people - young and old, male and female, etc.

So now, I look to see what we will do. bear with me. We will be doing more in the months to come. Pray for St. Paul's as it moves forward in the Gospel - making it the heart and center of everything we do.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's Hot Outside

Thinking about the heat brings to mind two things: Law and Gospel. "What?" you ask, "You think of Law and Gospel when you are in the heat? Are you nuts?" Well, maybe I am nuts but that isn't part of the equation. But I do see both of these great teachings of the Bible at work in our daily lives.

LAW: It is hot outside. But not as hot as it will be in hell. To live apart from Christ, to not believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, means that you will be condemned to hell. If you think that 101 degrees with a heat index even higher is hot, you ain't seen nothin' yet. We are told that hell is the place where the fire never goes out, and thirst is never quenched. When you take that long cool drink of water on this hot day, think about the fact that without faith in Christ, you will spend eternity in hell where you will never know the pleasure of such a cool drink. That is the Law at its strongest. Heat here - nothing compared to the heat of hell. Suffering when you walk outside, nothing compared to the suffering that will take place for an eternity in hell, for you will spend eternity without the pleasure of being God's presence ever again. Hot here - hotter there. Law speaking to you in the heat.

GOSPEL: Air Conditioning. When you walk into the AC after being in the heat, and you say, "AH!" think of the Gospel. When that coolness washes over you and refreshes you after being over heated by the walk from the car to work, from work to the car, from the car into the home, from sitting on the porch, sitting at the ballgame, etc., think about the refreshing freshness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The message of life washes over the soul that is lost in sin and brings relief in the form of forgiveness earned by Christ on the cross. As you sit comfortably in that air conditioned house or car, think of how wondrous it is to sit comfortably in the arms of your Lord who has given Himself for you. You are given the refreshing Gospel day after day. Walk in your house, turn on the AC, stand and be cooled down, and say one word, "Grace!"

Summer heat - Law and Gospel.

Summer time

You might be wondering why I haven't written lately. The reason - summer time. I know that summer is a time for less things to be taking place which means that I should have more time to sit and blog. But the reality is that I haven't made time to sit and put my thoughts down. Instead, I have decided to sit on the front porch and enjoy doing my devotions, reading the Word and reading various books. I could easily sit at the computer and write but I prefer to sit outside and read.

Suggestions for reading? I have several books I am reading now, all of which I am enjoying. I am reading "The Language of God" by Fancis S. Collins. It is as the cover states, "A scientist presents evidence for belief." While there are parts of the book I don't agree with (such as the age of the universe and the world), there are other parts that are amazing. I have learned about DNA, the Genome Project and a whole host of scientific things that I would never have dreamed that I would be reading about. It is a very good read and presents creation in a very positive light.

I am also reading "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" by Eric Metaxas. I have been one that has read a lot of different things on Bonhoeffer, having my interest in this Lutheran pastor begun when A.A.L brought out a video on the life of Bonhoeffer back in the 90's. Since then, I have spent countless hours reading the works of this highly influential Lutheran pastor from the '30s and '40s. While I have enjoyed this volume, I think that the author attributes far too much insight to Bonhoeffer. He was very insightful but I am not sure that he was as much of a "prophet" as the author makes him out to be. It is a good, long read which will give many insights into the working of the German Christian Church and the Confessing Church during the rise of Hitler to power and into the war itself.

The other book I am reading is by Francine Rivers. This one is actually made up of 5 shorter stories. it is called "Sons of Encouragement." Currently I am on the book called "Priest." It is about Aaron, Moses' brother. She does a fine job following the Bible in writing this novel about the life of a man who was a great support to Moses. You might enjoy this one.

So that is what I am doing at this time. After Rachael and Brandon's wedding, which was a great time, VBS started and then we moved on to the days of summer. We have taken Matt to ISU in Normal and to SIU-C in Carbondale. He is interested in finishing at SWIC and moving on to get his bachelors. Next week we go to Six Flags with the Junior High, a new venture for us here at St. Paul's as we begin a ministry to our Junior High Students. The last week of the month Penny and I take the Texas Eagle (Amtrak train) to San Antonio, TX for a few days. We enjoy the nice, relaxing travel of the train. I am so looking forward to that trip. And then, it will be almost time to start school.

There are many things I am still wanting to accomplish this summer. Will it happen? Who knows. But it is fun living these days of hot, sunny weather (though at the moment, it is hot, sticky and cloudy. Is it supposed to rain?). I will be talking to you again later. Hopefully, regularly. LOL