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What's Going On Here?

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Mon, Oct 1, 2007 

I read about the modern disquiet with national and world events and trends, just as I am sure most of you do.  Some of it is written from a secular perspective, and some of it comes from a self-professed Christian perspective.  I read writers from both perspectives who are not alarmed by what they see, and some who are.  The prescriptions for dealing with what we see happening around us range from adopting the position that the change we see is just the natural and logical progression of change in society which offers no real threat to us or our society, to the alarmed stance that things are going to those nether regions in the familiar hand-basket, and we are urged to take a variety of actions to respond.  It often appears that the approach one adopts to these concerns is more closely related to their personality type than their religion or lack of it.

I don't have the solution to our national or international crises, controversies, or the impending dangers we either see or are warned impend upon us.  I don't have the solutions, but I know the One who does.  Rarely does one read among the many commentators the realism which admits the dangers and crises around us coupled with anything like confidence in God to keep us and bring all things to a proper and blessed conclusion.  But, there it is.  I cannot speak authoritatively to the issue of a solution, but I can point out our proper approach to the terrors with which the world confronts us.  We need to act and think in faith.

Take note that I firmly believe that we have to take action.  I have my opinions on which actions would be beneficial in this or that situation, but I am not infallible in my perception or analysis of the troubles around us nor in my prescription for dealing with them, so I won't bore you with that.  We need to each decide what we need to do, and what we can do, and then act appropriately - and we can discuss the options at another time in another venue.  I can say with confidence, however, that we need to start with what we believe, and build our attitudes, our responses, and our actions on the basis of that which we confess and believe.

Our culture offers very few commentators, even among Christians, who take that stance because our culture and society have largely forsaken the very idea of absolute truth.  Many church bodies and most individual Christians in our society derive their sense of right and wrong, their sense of what is true or false, from the culture around them.  Truth is thought to be relative, that is, what is true for you may not be true for me, and what is true in one situation may not be true in another.  This philosophical position, that truth is relative and situational, is not Biblical or historically Christian.  It is the modern opinion of the world around us - the unbelieving world.

This adoption of the values and perspectives of the world in part accounts for the controversies in many denominations over abortion rights and the acceptance of homosexuality and the ordination of women.  Too many are not satisfied that the Scriptures address the basic issues.  Their sense is that because others hold differing opinions, that we must be open-minded enough to admit their values and opinions into the mix of our confession.  This broad-mindedness is, after all, the least we can do out of love for our fellow man.

Luther addressed this same attitude in his day.  His response was basically that in matters of doctrine, there is no room for love.  There is truth and there is error.  Doctrine is either in accord with what God has revealed, or it is utterly false.  Doctrine is between God and man, and it is absolute.  Love has its proper place between a person and his or her neighbor.  When we deal with our neighbor, and that means any other person, whether or not we are related to them, we are to deal with the neighbor in love.  When we deal with God's Word or God's truth - you know, doctrine - we must set patience and love and kindness and tolerance aside, and deal with doctrine as absolute.  If we don't we don't deal with God as absolute, and we deny Him and marginalize Him and relativize Him.

God is God.  I know, when you read that sentence you think, "Of course.  Why would anyone need to say something that obvious?" But God apparently needed to say it.  He said it to Moses: "I am who I am" .  That was His name which He gave Moses to give to the children of Israel when they asked who sent him.  His name tells us that He is absolute - that we cannot fashion God into what we want.  He expects - and demands - to be known as He is and as He has revealed Himself.  The full, formal name of God, of course, is the entire text of the Bible.  It is the revelation of who He is, and what He thinks and does, of which He wants us to be aware.

When we relativize His revelation and interpret His Word away, changing it into something we are more comfortable with, we deny Him by pretending that He is something that He is not, or that He approves of those things which He has clearly condemned, rejected, or forbidden.  Sound doctrine merely repeats what God Himself has revealed.

When we deal with one another - our neighbors - we are to exercise love.  We are to be humble with one another.  We are to be patient with one another.  We are to forgive one another just as we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ.  We can and ought to overlook the flaws and weaknesses we see in one another.  This does not mean that we overlook criminal behavior.  Our duty to obey the law of the land is grounded in the knowledge that earthly authority is God-given for our welfare.  But outside of our civic duty, we are to deal with one another with patience, humility, compassion, and love.

Note how the world gets that just backwards.  People in our society generally deal with behaviors they do not appreciate or endorse with impatience, violence, and condemnation but they deal with falsehood and doctrinal dishonesty with tolerance, patience, and even encouragement.  The cry for judgment against the neighbor, and the plea for love and forgiveness and patience in dealing with doctrinal aberration - where truth is denied or made personal, relative and situational - reflect clearly the hostility of the world against God, which is just as the Bible teaches it will be.

When we want to know how to deal with the threats and dangers we face in our world today, we can do no better than to search out what it is that we confess about God, about this world and life in it, and about ourselves.  Doctrine, which is to say, the truth, is our necessary starting point when we set about fashioning a response to life.  The dangers and fearful realities of our world are simply too much for us to deal with unless we have a firm foundation upon which to stand, and a clear idea of our resources with which we may do battle.

Do you think that statement is too much?  Look around you at the variety of people who make what appear to be irrational choices about the issues that confront us.  Some confront the issues of the day and find the dangers so great and the terror so overwhelming that they grasp hold of the unreasonable and sometimes consider it more viable than those things which make sense.  The result is extremism of the left and the right.  People cling to conspiracy theories to explain what they cannot face.  Terrible acts of terrorism in America now can be "reasonably" explained by blaming them on a conspiracy buried within elements of our government.  The radical fear and hate of the far-right and far-left blogs (of which we only hear a little in our media - thank heavens) is perceived in the face of the overwhelming pressure of reality as a safe haven in the minds of some.  People disavow our nation and promote its sworn enemies - while living among us and taking advantage of our nation's liberties and benefits - because they think that doing so provides a route to a swift reduction in their discomfort.  From the news it is obvious that social position, wealth and even celebrity are no insulation against these sorts of unreasonable responses to this fear.

Knowing the truth and living in its light will provide one the necessary foundation for facing the terrors of the modern world.  We don't need a false sense of bravado.  It will crumble in the face of reality at the moments we need it most.  We cannot make do with pure, artificially inspired emotion.  It is too thin to face reality head-on, and, like a drug, it demands more and more of something to keep it pumped up and on its "high".  Pure doctrinal reality is the only foundation that enables us to confront that which threatens to destroy us.

The Gospel is a large part of that reality.  It is the revelation of the love and good will of the Almighty God toward us.  When danger threatens us, the Gospel reminds us that we are not alone, cast to the winds of fate.  God is with us, and He loves us!  That doesn't mean that we will win every battle.  It doesn't even mean that we will find life to be a wonderful experience.  Pain will be pain, and we could even be put to death.  Every one of us will die one day in any case.  We don't stand upon the expectation of "success" or "winning".  We stand upon the expectation of salvation.  We trust God when He tells us that He is in control and that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

We are not called to make everything work, as much as we would like to do so.  We are called to faithfulness.  We are told that our sins are forgiven.  That means that whatever is happening is not a sign of rejection by God.  He is still with us when life becomes painful or difficult.  We are promised that even if we die, our spirits shall live with God for a time, and our bodies will be raised to new and eternal life one day.  We can afford to risk even death for the sake of clearly confessing Christ and salvation, and forgiveness.  It will not be the end, nor will it be a defeat for us.

Doctrine tells us of the power of God to preserve and protect us, and even to raise us to new life.  Doctrine informs us about the intimate care of God for us in the many circumstances of life.  Doctrine teaches us that God is aware of us and personally involved with us.  It tells us that if God wills, we can overcome a force far greater than our own, that we can make a world-shaking difference without even knowing that we are doing it, and that we can accomplish what everyone around us tells us is impossible.  The situations of life are the workshop of God and the battles we see are not the decisive ones.  Jesus already has the victory!  God has set our course, and He has a plan and an agenda.  It cannot fail, and so nothing we do as His faithful people is a waste.  This is the foundation which doctrine provides.

The truth is a reality.  It is just not a popular reality.  Facing the truth means admitting things about ourselves that we do not like to admit: that we are sinners, that we are not as capable as we hope to believe, and that there is a reality, an absolute reality, of which we are not fully conscious and before which we are monumentally powerless.  These are acutely uncomfortable thoughts.  They offend our egos.  They also cause even more fear.

That part of reality keeps most people away.  They want to believe that they have control, so that they can make themselves safe, somehow.  Some people also want the freedom to continue to be evil, and continue to take pleasure at the expense of others.  Or power, or wealth, or public approval.  They never allow themselves to face that ugly reality, and so they never find the reality of the love of God, of the forgiveness of sins, or of the promise of life and salvation which God pours out on us in Jesus Christ.

And, sadly, they never find the foundation upon which they can face the dangers of the world in which we live.  Some run from the dangers, some find insane solutions to them, and some simply pretend that they are not there, and that the danger isn't really dangerous at all.  We, who know the truth, can face the dangers squarely.  They are no less dangerous, but we have a secret - an open secret - of security, and victory already achieved.  So we can face the dangers and search for the temporary (that is, just for this time) solutions, and extend the hand of the Gospel to help those who will listen to find the solid foundation of Christ.  And we can find our security in Him, not in ourselves, or how the world looks to us at any given moment.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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