Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pre-Lent Thoughts

It's that time of year again - Lent. 40 days of repentance and spiritual reflection. It is a time when we focus, not on ourselves, but on the Lord and what He has done for us. He is the sinless Son of God who came into the world to be our Savior. He took upon Himself our sins. He placed Himself under the Law in our stead. He suffered. He sweat. He carried. He died. All for us. Lent is about our Lord did and not about what we do.

I guess that is the change that I have seen in the past years. Lent has become more about what we do and while we do this, we talk about what our Lord did. But it seems that Lent has become that expression of Christian piety that was at one time seen as foreign to Lutheranism and was to be done away with. Perhaps I am a product of the church in which I was raised and that influences me today as a pastor in that same church.

Some of the things that have become "popular" in the Lutheran Church that were not part of the church piety in years gone by. The first is the "giving up" something for Lent. It has become fashionable to do such a thing. More than that, it has become fashionable to wear that on your sleeve and let everyone know that you are giving up something. We strive for bigger and better things to give up. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think that there is a thing wrong with giving something up for Lent. I just am appalled by the show that is made of it. Like the Pharisees in Jesus day, we give up soda, chocolate, candy or something else and then tell the world on the street corner. Our Lord tells us to do these things in private, not letting "the right hand know what the left hand is doing," for your Father in heaven knows what you are doing. The people around you don't need to know. It becomes a show of piety rather than an act of faith.

Then there is the imposition of ashes. It has become fashionable among the "faithful" of the Missouri Synod to do the imposition of ashes. To wear the ashes marks a person as a faithful Lutheran. Yet at the same time, we read the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday which tells us, "When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face that your fasting may be not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret." (Matthew 6:17 ESV) Through the years, our marks of piety have become more for show and less about serving the Lord. My parents and grandparents would be appalled by Lutherans walking around with ashes on their foreheads. That was seen as the extreme acts of piety that was for show. As a pastor, I do not do the imposition of ashes. Perhaps I am robbing my members of this faithful action but I can't bring myself to do it. It seems so self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Look at me, I have my ashes, I am faithful. Instead we should be saying, "Look at Christ. He suffered. He died. He is faithful."

I remember back when I entered the pastoral ministry, all the things that are popular today among our conservative elements of the LC-MS, we the things that the liberal elements were doing. I guess we have baptized them confessional and made them a part of true Lutheran piety

My point today? My point is this. Whatever you do, do it for the Lord. When you give up something, don't make a show of it. Do it as a way of focusing your attention on what the Lord has done and not on what you are doing. If you receive ashes tomorrow, wash them off before you leave the church. Why? So that you are not calling attention to yourself and your actions but instead calling attention to your Lord and what He has done and continues to do for you.

.Lent is not about you! It is not about your actions. Lent is about your Lord and His actions. He is the Savior. He is the One who carries the Law. He is the focus of the season. Don't forget that as you get caught up with the acts of piety that are spreading through out our church body.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

In the Shape of a Heart

Valentine's Day - the day of so much expectation and pressure. The husband is expected to remember to buy the flowers, get the candy and get off work in time to take his wife out to dinner. The wife is expected to look like a model, be as sensuous as the most sensuous woman in the world and still make sure the house is clean and the kids are bathed. The boyfriend or girlfriend is expected to put their best foot forward and make the evening the most romantic thing since Romeo courted Juliette. That is a lot of pressure for an ordinary husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend. Many a man has failed to reach that level of romance. Many a woman has failed to reach that level of romance.

I have to admit that I have fallen prey to the "Valentine's myth." Don't Google that term. I just thought of it. The Valentine's myth is that you can create romance for one brief evening and in that evening you will attain the highest level of sexual desire and pleasure. The moment you buy into that myth, you will be sadly disappointed. The reason? There is no way to live up to the hype that is put forward by society. All the Valentine's myth does is cause disappointment, frustration and hard feelings.

Now don't get me wrong. I am a romantic who enjoys time spent with my wife. In my eyes, she is that supper model who is the most lovely person that there ever was or ever will be. Why do I feel that way? Because I love her. I love her as she is not as society expects me to love her or as society expects her to be. I love her as Christ loves me.

That is the message that is given to us in Ephesians 5. The love of a husband and wife is a sacred love, created by God in their hearts, melded together by God in the gift of marriage and sustained by God as they move and live together in Him. There, in God's Word, in the heart of God Himself, we see the true meaning of Valentine's Day. Love - as you are loved by God.

There can be candy. There can be the dinner (though the dinner I ma giving to Penny is the wonderful dinner at the Southern Illinois District Convention - woohoo!?).  There can be sexy clothing. All of those things are great and can add a dimension into the husband/wife relationship. But if that is all there is in the relationship, it will fall short. The love that is present in the heart and life, prior to Valentine's Day is the love that will make the day the most wonderful day possible. Love begins the day over a cup of coffee with a discussion of what is taking place that day. It is goes through the day when you are at the office, in the classroom, on the road or at home. And that love touches the heart in a special way as the day draws to a close. That is Valentine's love - based in Christ, reflected each day, blessed by the Spirit working within.

Gentlemen, don't forget the candy, flowers and card. Ladies, don't forget to be appreciative. Enjoy Valentine's Day. Celebrate your love. Rejoice in that person God has given to you. I know I will. I love my wife with all my heart. She is a beautiful woman, a fantastic wife, a great mother and my closest friend. As God intended, she completes me. The two have become one.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

We have things messed up.

Really? That is all I can say about the latest hype about the movie "Fifty Shades of Grey." Really? This movie is being touted as a romantic movie as it comes out on Valentine's Day. I just can't imagine taking my wife to see that movie. Then again, I can't imagine spending the time reading the books either. I can remember when a movie based around the loose sexual activities would have been considered pornography. But this one is widely accepted (at least the books have been) and is being pushed on every network and by many social groups. 

And all I can say is, really? It only goes to show how low the morals of our society have dropped. We no longer hold fast to the teaching of our Lord that the sexual relationship is meant for a man and a woman who are married. Society, and many Christians are included in this, has accepted that sex outside of marriage is not only OK, but is to be expected and is the highest kind of love that can be shown. 

Really? When did the Lord's will change? When did He decide to change what He told to Adam and Eve? When did He decide that the 6th commandment no longer means to live a sexually pure life in word and deed? To go with that, when did He decide that marriage was no longer a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman?

He didn't. He still holds fast to what He has told us in His Word. It is us, sinful men and women, who have decided not to listen to Him or to follow His will. We have decided that we know better than the Lord when it comes to how we should live our lives. And we have made a mess of things. Sex before marriage. Living together. Sexual unfaithfulness in marriage. Divorce. Same sex marriage. All of these are wrong before the Lord and yet we have somehow convinced ourselves that they are all right and acceptable. 

We are wrong. We all need to repent of such sinful thoughts and actions. We need to pray to the Lord for guidance in changing our sinful lives. I would hope that the movie "Fifty Shades..." will bomb at the box office. Unfortunately I do not see that happening. I pray that as a nation we would see the error of our ways but I do not see that happening either. 

Lord, forgive us. Lead us. Help us to see the sinfulness of our ways. Turn us from our sins back to You. Bring us back to Your ways.