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Showing posts from March, 2015

Confession

A critical step to experiencing the forgiveness of God is confessing our sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. And 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

The word for confession in Greek means "to say the same thing". Thus, when we confess our sin to the Lord we are agreeing with him when he tells us in Scripture that certain thoughts, words, or deeds are wrong.

Confession of sin can be a very freeing activity. The story is told of a twelve year old boy who had killed one of the family geese by throwing a stone and accidentally hitting the bird on the head. The boy buried the goose and hoped his parents would not know that one of their twenty-four birds was missing.

However, that evening the boy's sister called him aside and said, "I saw what you did. If you don't offer …

Trust & Receive

Today is the beginning of Holy Week, Palm Sunday. Today we remember Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. However, in less than a week, the same crowds that hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday were calling for his crucifixion. And it all leads up to that moment where Jesus prays from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Forgiveness is often like that. Often it is not something we seek, but simply something Jesus gives to us without our ever asking for it. We see this often in the Gospels in Jesus' various encounters with people.

But once we are aware of our need to be forgiven by God, there are steps we can take to receive this forgiveness. And the first step is faith, trust. We must simply trust Jesus to forgive us. In Acts 10:43 we read, "All the prophets testify about him [Jesus] that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."

Many people ask, "But how can Jesus forgive me for what I have done? M…

Forgiveness after Forgiveness

Can a Christian be forgiven of sin committed after he or she first comes to Christ? The answer may seem obvious to you and me. However, there was a time early on in the history of the Church when converts would put off baptism until they were on their death bed. Their thought was that they could not be forgiven after baptism. Thus, the concluded it is important to be baptized as late in life as possible. The argument could be made that the sacrament of reconciliation (involving confession and absolution) in the Catholic Church evolved in response to this trend in the Church. By the sacrament of reconciliation Christians were given an opportunity, after baptism, to be forgiven of sin.

I will make no comment on this sacrament within the Catholic Church. However, there is clear biblical support for the idea of Christians confessing sin, repenting of sin, and receiving forgiveness from God. The Lord's Prayer demands this. Jesus gave this prayer as a model for all disciples to follow. I…

The Foundation of Forgiveness

On what basis can God forgive our sin? According to the New Testament, God can do this only on the basis of the shed blood of his Son. We saw this earlier in our study of The Apostles' Creed when we talked about Jesus' crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Hebrews 9:22 makes this crystal clear: "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." Forgiveness is free to you and me, but it cost Jesus everything.

It is said that during the Middle Ages, sometimes a very wealthy man would hire someone to go into battle for him. Once the military obligation was made to the king by some commoner in behalf of a nobleman, that obligation was believed to be fulfilled.

However, on one occasion, a nobleman was taken to court after the man he hired to fight for him was killed in battle during the first day of his service. The prosecution stated that the nobleman had not really gone into battle. He had not in reality taken the death arrow. Therefore, according to the prosecution, th…

Binsey

Interior of Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, Binsey, Oxfordshire
As I have mentioned before on this blog, the minute village of Binsey, Oxfordshire, with its even more minuscule parish church of St. Margaret's, is one of my favorite places in the world. I am so glad I will get to visit there again. I will be going on a scouting trip in April and May to plan for a future C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland and England. 

I first learned of Binsey through reading Sheldon Vanauken's book, A Severe Mercy. I imagine that many people throughout the world have come to love Binsey because of that book, not the least of whom is Fr. Dwight Longenecker. He has written this lovely poem published in his book, A Sudden Certainty....

The Pilgrimage
St. Margaret's, Binsey, Oxford

You have to pass through
the distressing
part of this mostly golden 
town to get there. You
continue--pressing
past Jericho and on

through the desert
of crowded shops,
mean streets and gardens
filled with factory dirt
until the city …

The Hallelujah Line

The story is told of a man many years ago who used to disturb his Presbyterian preacher by shouting out "Hallelujah!" in the middle of every sermon. After a while, the preacher got rather tired of this so he came up with what he thought was an ingenious idea. He gave the hallelujah man an encyclopedia to read during the worship service. This kept the man quiet for many a Sunday until, during one sermon he once again let out a mighty "Hallelujah!" After the service, the minister asked for an explanation and the man, looking a bit sheepish, said, "Pastor, I could not help it. I was reading in the encyclopedia about the Pacific Ocean and its tremendous depth. I was thinking about this and remembered that the Bible says God has taken our sins and cast them into the depths of the sea. I just had to say "Hallelujah!"

Today we come to examine the hallelujah line of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." Over the next few d…

C. S. Lewis on The Communion of the Saints

Before we leave the topic of The Communion of the Saints and move on to the article of The Apostles' Creed dealing with the forgiveness of sins, I thought I would share what C. S. Lewis had to say on this topic in his final book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. He begins by commenting on devotions to the saints....
There is clearly a theological defence for it; if you can ask for the prayers of the living, why should you not ask for the prayers of the dead? There is clearly also a great danger. In some popular practice we see it leading off into an infinitely silly picture of Heaven as an earthly court where applicants will be wise to pull the right wires, discover the best "channels," and attach themselves to the most influential pressure groups. But I have nothing to do with all this. I am not thinking of adopting the practice myself; and who am I to judge the practices of others? I only hope there'll be no scheme for canonisations in the Church of England. C…

The Communion of Saints

The final description that The Apostles' Creed gives of the Church is that it is a communion of saints. The Church, very simply, is Christians in fellowship with the Lord and with one another.

Paul does not use the word "communion" in 1 Corinthians 1:2 but he does use the word "saints". He says that the Corinthians are called to be holy, or called to be saints, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours. There is a togetherness of the people of God, a common union among all the saints, by virtue of our relationship to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Furthermore, there are two aspects to this communion. We have fellowship with saints below and saint above. That is to say, when we become Christians, there is a mystical union, not only between each believer and every other believer on earth, but also with those believers who have already gone on to be with the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews says:
But you have come to …

What is the Church anyway?

In the Apostles' Creed we confess that we believe in "the holy catholic church". But what is the Church anyway?

According to the New Testament, the Church is a group of people called out by God. That is what the Greek word "ecclesia" means as it is used in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere.

The Church is the Church of God. It is a Church belonging to the Lord. In fact, we get our English word for "church" from another Greek word, "kuriake," which simply means "belonging to the Lord". If it is true that the Church belongs to the Lord then we need to be careful how we speak about her.

Notice also that the Church is one. We confess belief in the Church, not in churches. The Church is built on one foundation: Jesus Christ.

We also see in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere that the Church is not somewhere we go; rather it is something we are part of, something we, who are believers in Jesus, simply are. The Church is not a building, but a people. The Ch…

Do you believe in the Catholic Church?

A second thing we confess about the Church in the Apostles' Creed is that the Church is Catholic. Many Protestants change this word to "Christian" when they confess their faith using the Creed. They do this because they do not want to be associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The problem with this is that the words "Christian" and "Catholic" do not have the same meaning. "Catholic" means universal. When we confess our faith in the Catholic Church we are saying that we believe in the existence of one, universal Church throughout the world that consists of all believers in Jesus.

Notice that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians not only to the Church of God in Corinth, but also to "all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours." The Church is Catholic because it embraces Christians everywhere whether they be Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or whatever shade of Protestant.

Many people today say they believe i…

The Church--Holy?

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians to a group of people whom he had led to faith in Christ. He calls them "the ones having been sanctified in Christ Jesus." The Church--holy? How can this be? It seems like plenty of people have been hurt by the Church, hurt by Christians. It has been said that the Church is the only group that shoots their own wounded people. I can certainly understand that perspective. So how can the Church be called, in any real or meaningful sense, holy?

Obviously, the Church is not holy in the sense of already being perfect. To be holy actually means "to be set apart," in this case, to be set apart for God's purposes. The Church in this world is capable of grievous sin. One does not have to live very long, or read very far in 1 Corinthians, to see this. Paul was not writing to perfect people. He was writing to a group of people who had divisions among themselves, who were undisciplined, people bringing law-suits against one another, persons who were l…

Who loves the Church?

We live in a time when it may seem like the Church of Jesus Christ is not highly valued by many. In fact, we live in a time when the value of many institutions is held in question. Stuart Briscoe once wrote, "Some regard the church as an article of belief; some regard it as an obstacle to belief." Many people feel that they can have a good relationship with God without the Church. We have come a long way from the day when Cyprian of Carthage said, "He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother." 

Who loves the Church? If we are to honestly answer that question, we must admit that many people do not; some even hate the Church.

However, there is at least one person left who does love the Church. His name is Jesus. The Church, amazingly, was his idea. If the New Testament is correct, then the Church is Jesus' body and Jesus' bride. Jesus laid down his life for the Church and promised to build the Church. Keeping this in mind, we…

The Spirit in Us

The final thing we learn from Jesus about the Spirit in John 14:16-18 is this: though the world cannot accept the Spirit of truth, we who are believers in Jesus know the Spirit, for the Spirit lives with us and will be in us. Jesus says, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

Jesus promised his first disciples that he would not leave them alone on the earth to carry out his mission after his death and resurrection. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to help them. Indeed, Jesus did just that on Pentecost, approximately fifty days after uttering these words in John 14.

Jesus tells us that the one who comes alongside of us (the paraclete) is also the one who will be in us. I do not think Jesus was promising a fundamental change in the location of the Spirit in relation to his disciples, a movement from alongside to inside. I say this because the "alongside" relationship of the Holy Spirit not only took place during Jesus' earthly ministry but also l…

The Spirit of Truth

The fourth thing that Jesus tells us in John 14:16-18 is that the other counselor he gives to us is the Spirit of truth. But Jesus also warns us that the world cannot accept the Spirit of truth. In John 8:44-45, we read where Jesus said to the people who did not believe in him,
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe in me!The spirit of deceit is abroad in our world today. Stuart Briscoe tells the story of a young high school student who committed suicide....

His girlfriend, however, was contacted by some other girls in the school who were dabbling, just for the fun of it, they thought, with seances and Ouija boards. They said they could get in touch with her boyfriend's spirit. So she went along, and in this…

The Paraclete

Bayeaux Tapestry
A third thing we learn from Jesus in John 14:16-18 is that the Holy Spirit is "another counselor". The word in the Greek is paraclete. It literally means "someone called alongside". The word can refer to a lawyer or an assistant in a legal question, a person who provides encouragement, counsel, and strength. The word can also be translated as: helper, supporter, advocate, encourager, counselor, or comforter. Just as Jesus is our paraclete and pleads our case before our Father in heaven (Hebrews 7:25), so also the Holy Spirit is another paraclete who pleads God's case with us here on earth. Paul says in Romans 8:26, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."

When we think of the Holy Spirit as "Comforter" we may think of the Spirit as a warm blanket. But there is more to the Spirit than this. A…

The Spirit is a Person

A second thing we learn from Jesus' words in John 14:16-18 is that the Holy Spirit is a person. Many people have difficulty fully believing this.

There is the story of a woman who came up to a speaker at a Bible conference. The man had just finished delivering a series of messages on the Holy Spirit. The woman said to him, "Before your messages I never thought of it as a person." Obviously, that woman was still thinking of the Holy Spirit as impersonal, an "it".

Now, to be completely honest, I must admit that this passage we are looking at actually uses the neuter pronoun to refer to the Spirit. In the Greek, Jesus calls the Spirit "it". But what we English readers have to understand is that the Greek language has the gender of the pronoun agree with the gender of the noun as in French and some other languages. We do not have anything quite like it in English. Furthermore, even though this passage refers to the Holy Spirit as "it" there are ot…

The Holy Spirit is Divine

In John 14:16-18, Jesus tells us five things we need to know about the Holy Spirit that will help to put the music of the ages into our lives. First, this passage suggests that the Holy Spirit is divine.

Notice the close association in John between the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and the Spirit. The Son says he will ask the Father and that the Father will give us another Counselor or Helper to be with us forever: the Spirit of truth. This verse in John 14 encapsulates the ancient doctrine later taught by the Council of Nicaea that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Son asks the Father and the Father gives the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, Jesus tells us in this passage that the Holy Spirit is another counselor. The Greek word for "another" which is used here suggests that the Holy Spirit is another counselor just as Jesus is a counselor. In 1 John 2:1 we read, "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we…

I Believe in the Holy Spirit

Mark Twain was well known for his use of profanity. After many years of marriage his wife decided that she was going to help him quit. Thus, one morning, while she was helping her husband tie his tie she started using every profane word that she had heard her husband utter. She did this in hope that her husband would recognise how foul such language really was. When she finished, Twain, without missing a beat, said to his wife, "Dear, you got the words, but you ain't got the music!"

Sometimes I wonder: when it comes to Christianity, do we have the words without the music? What I mean is this: it is possible to believe all the right things, say all the right words, even act in a mostly Christian fashion, but have no vital relationship with God. In short, it is possible that there is no music in our lives, and perhaps there never has been.

The good news is: our lives do not have to remain song-less. There is one who can put the music of God back into our souls. The person wh…

Encourage One Another

"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

This is the final directive Paul gives in preparation for judgment day. In fact, this is a repeated admonition from the end of 1 Thessalonians 4. Paul must have known how much we need to be reminded that this is one of our main tasks; this is how we need to treat one another as Christians. Yet, how little this is in evidence in the Church today. Too often, the Church mirrors the same divisive culture war that is going on in our society at large at present. Everywhere one looks in the media one can see Christians tearing down one another, saying that the other faction, "they," are not Christians because they do not agree with "us" on this issue or that issue. Rather than building one another up, we in the Church today are all too effective at tearing one another down.

Perhaps the main reason we get caught in this trap is because we forget who the …

Put on the Armor of God

The ideas of spiritual alertness and self-control that we have explored over the last couple of days in 1 Thessalonians 5 apparently brought to Paul's mind the figure of a sentry armed and on guard. Paul in effect says, "As you stand on guard, watching for Christ's return, put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet." Paul uses similar imagery in Ephesians 6.

The breastplate of old was like today's bullet-proof vest. If we put on faith and love, they will form a bullet-proof vest protecting our hearts from all the attacks of the evil one as we watch for Christ's return in judgment. Faith involves trust in God and his promises; faith brings with it a confidence that our sins are forgiven. The faith Paul talks about is a trust in God's love for us.

Heaven knows, our love for God and others often runs cold. If our protection from the evil one and preparation to face judgment were dependent upon our love for God or for other pe…

Be Self-Controlled

"So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled." 1 Thessalonians 5:6

Paul tells us yet another step to prepare for the coming judgment is to be self-controlled. Some translate this word as "be sober". However, this does not mean that we are to be self-controlled only in reference to drinking alcohol. Paul is saying that we should be filled with spiritual and moral sobriety. Another word that has been used to describe this same quality is temperance.

Temperance is one of the cardinal virtues. C. S. Lewis writes about it in Mere Christianity....
Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened "Temperance," it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to…

Stay Alert!

"But let us be alert..." So says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5. This is another key step we need to take to prepare for judgment. We need to remain alert. A spiritually alert life involves prayer. Paul uses the same word translated "alert" in 1 Thessalonians 5 in another passage in Colossians 4:2 where he says: "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."

For a number of years I met with a Catholic priest for spiritual direction. Every time we met together, once per month, he would ask me about my prayer life. I would respond by telling him what I was doing with the few minutes per day I spent reading Scripture and consciously praying. After we met together a few times I suddenly realised that what my priest meant by "prayer life" and what I meant were two different things. When he said "prayer life" I thought of my "quiet time" or devotional practice. But what he meant by "prayer life" was my whole life. …