Archive for the tag “Church”

The Church of Chicken Little

churchchickenlittleHere’s what will happen. Maybe you’ve already been through it. Or maybe you’re living it even as your eyes scan these words. I don’t know what will trigger it—I’m no prophet—but I do know, sooner or later, something will. The company you’ve poured your heart and soul into goes belly up. Your spouse slips off her wedding ring, puts it on the counter, and slams the door forever behind her. The details will vary. But in that moment, and in the days and weeks—maybe even years—that follow, you’re convinced that the sky is falling, and your life is basically over. Draw the curtains, turn out the lights, the party’s over.

I’ve been there. As have many of you. It hurts. It’s frightening.

And it’s highly deceiving.

Oh, yes, deceiving. Because as bad as it does get, as much pain as it does inflict upon you, it is not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not even close. It just feels that way. But if you’re not careful—as I was not careful—you’ll become so overwhelmed with all the bad stuff going on, you’ll spend so much time staring up at the sky that you’re convinced is about to fall, that you’ll forget you’ve still got work to do, people to take care of, vocations to fulfill. Your world has changed, to be sure, but it is not over.

The same applies to the church, perhaps even more so. On a recurring basis, Christians spot news headlines that signal yet one more moral collapse in society, the growing paganization of the cultures in which we live, the spread of antipathy toward the faith. It hits social media. Facebook becomes transformed into everything from an online pity-party to a preaching-party, lamenting or decrying all these wicked goings on. Twitter explodes with 140-or-less character doomsday-sounding predictions. And in pulpits across the land, pastors have plenty of fodder for their Sunday morning sermons.

But if we’re not careful, if we become so engrossed with the flood of divorce, the spread of gay marriage, the holocaust of abortion, the loss of religious freedom, and countless other very legitimate concerns, we’ll end up sounding more like the church of Chicken Little than the church of Jesus Christ. We’ll give the impression that our central message is not “Christ crucified” but “The sky is falling.” We’ll forget that we’ve still got people to take care of, vocations to fulfill, plenty of work to do.

And that work, that mission, is not to save our culture from moral collapse, nor to raise up law-abiding citizens, and especially not to spend all day, every day, whining and complaining about the loss of the good ole days. The mission of the church is to bring sinners into communion with the life-giving, sin-forgiving, salvation-imparting flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

Until the sky really does fall, that’s the work God has given the church to do. Let’s do it.

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

We All Show up Late for Church

The earliest the McKenzie family ever made it to church was during the closing stanza of the opening hymn. Every Sunday something delayed them. Little James would spit up his breakfast all over his church clothes as they strapped him in the car seat. Lindsey would hog the bathroom and delay Garrett’s shower. Tom and Cindy would hit snooze one too many times. By the time they piled in the car, broke the speed limit, and pushed open the sanctuary doors, they were anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes late. Every. Single. Sunday. Their current record was sneaking into a pew during the wrap-up section of the day’s homily. Try as they might, the McKenzies just couldn’t seem to make it to worship on time.

Mrs. Schmitz could verify these details. In fact, she kept mental records of the family’s arrival times. As they entered the sanctuary, she would pivot in their direction, glance at her watch, narrow her eyes, and shake her head. Punctuality was next to godliness on her personal sanctification scale. She considered herself a patient woman; this behavior, however, was stretching her patience to the breaking point. One Sunday, when the McKenzies had the audacity to show up in the middle of her favorite hymn, she’d had enough. She stormed home right after church and fired off this email to the pastor.

Pastor Robinson,

I have a grave concern about a family in our congregation. As you have doubtlessly noticed, the McKenzies are perpetually late for worship. I find it distracting, inconsiderate, and rude. I’m sure many others feel as I do. I would think that since Mr. McKenzie is an elder in the church, and Mrs. McKenzie is the secretary of the Ladies Guild, they would try to show a little more maturity and respect. Please address this situation. We can’t simply ignore the fact that a family in the congregation that is supposed to be a role model can’t even get to church on time.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Schmitz

After a couple of days, Pastor Robinson sent her this reply:

Dear Mrs. Schmitz,

Thank you for expressing your concern about the McKenzie family. Yes, I have noticed that they are not the most punctual of families. But as they (and others) walk into church after the service has begun, I remind myself of two things. First, I’m simply thankful that they have come to the Lord’s house to receive his gifts, whether they show up on time or not.

Second, I remember that not a single person in this congregation ever arrives before worship has begun. Yes, you, me, the McKenzies—we all show up late for church. Every. Single. Sunday. When we begin singing the opening hymn, our voices blend with those of angels in heaven, who have been belting out hymns long before we rolled out of bed that morning. When we pray, our petitions join those of the saints above, who were praying for the church on earth even while we slept through Saturday night. When we come up for the Lord’s Supper, we kneel around the unseen throne of God, amidst angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, who have been worshipping the Lamb long before we took our place in the pew on Sunday morning.

In short, Mrs. Schmitz, you too are late for church every Sunday, just like the McKenzies. But don’t let it worry you. We all are. Our little congregation is part of a much larger church—the body of Christ, both here on earth as well as in heaven. And that church worships 24/7, never ceasing in its adoration of Jesus our Savior. As we gather here in this place on Sunday morning, we enter an ongoing worship service. And as we exit this sanctuary, we leave a divine service which will never cease.

Again, thank you for your email. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, as we all show up late to join in the worship of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end.

Peace,

Pastor Robinson

Follow me on Twitter @birdchadlouis
Check out my podcast: 40 Minutes in the OT
You may also “like” my Facebook writings page

christ alone cover

What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who InfantPriestfrontcoverwelcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

A Guide for Christian Couples Who Are Planning a Pagan Wedding

ImageAfter the unusually bitter winter that most of our country suffered through, the first hints of spring are a most welcome sight. For students, these are signals that their summer break is right around the corner. For many families, these warmer months will bring a much needed vacation. And for countless couples in love, summer means one thing: they will soon hold hands, gaze into each other’s eyes, and say, before God and their witnesses, “I do.”

Chances are, most of these soon-to-be-wedded couples have been planning this big day for months, perhaps even years. Dresses and shoes, cakes and flowers, invitations and accommodations: detail after detail demands attention and decision-making. If the engaged couple happens to be of a religious nature, specifically Christian, in addition to the general planning required, they might also wonder just how churchly their celebration needs to be. To that end, I offer here some practical suggestions and guiding principles on how Christian couples can, consciously or not, plan a pagan wedding.

If vocal music is to be part of your ceremony, pay close attention to the lyrics. Make sure they express, as eloquently and emotionally as possible, that you are in love, desire one another, and are ready to commit to a lifetime of happiness in one another’s arms. Something like that anyway. Do not select songs that speak of God as the one creating marriage as a gift to humanity, hymns that reflect the marriage of Christ to his bride the church, or anything that praises Jesus as the one whose sacrifice of love on the cross provides the very love by which the love of husband and wife is sustained. In other words, keep your music as secular and worldly as possible.

There are numerous unity rituals that can be incorporated into the ceremony. Perhaps you and your fiancé, or even other members of your family, will pour multicolored sands into a single, unifying container. Or as a variation on this theme, you might use water or marbles of various colors, or stick with the tried-and-true unity candle. All of these drive home the same idea of unity. Whatever you choose will work, just make sure that any words accompanying these ceremonies say nothing of the fact that Christ is the one who is doing the unifying. Make it appear as if you and you alone are joining yourselves to one another, not that God the Father is making you one. Unity by human will and decision: that’s what you want to impress upon yourselves, family, and friends.

Be careful about your selection of a preacher or other officiate. There are pastors out there who still believe that marriage is a divine institution, that husbands and wives are icons of the marriage of Jesus and the church. Unless reined in, these clergy are liable to urge you to use explicitly Christian songs and a traditional Christian liturgy in your ceremony. And they may possibly dare even to preach the Gospel on your wedding day. It’s probably best to hire an interfaith preacher for the day, just to be safe. That way you’re guaranteed the service will offend no one, be he/she Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, or whatever. The last thing you need is a preacher trying to make sure your wedding is a Christian service, and to that end counseling you on what you need to do on your wedding day.

That brings up the final point I want to make concerning guiding principles. It is your wedding, no one else’s. This day, this ceremony, is all about the two of you. Every decision you make needs to be driven by that fact. This is not a day on which you should be thanking God the Father for the gift of marriage between a man and a woman. This is no time to have a Christian worship service, complete with dignity, reverence, and holiness. Your wedding day is all about you, not Jesus, not his cross, not his love, not his church, but the two of you, who are beginning this life journey together.

If that principle guides you as Christians in your wedding planning, then all the details will work themselves out. You are sure to come up with a ceremony that is thoroughly pagan in nature.

If you do, you are also sure to begin your wedded life together by divorcing Jesus from your marriage.

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