If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive,because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (ESV)
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It's Easily Done
Tuesday of Pentecost 9
12 August 2014
The church on earth very easily gets off track in its preaching and teaching. Her members can take their eyes off Christ, focusing on things that are important in their own sphere, but not as important as preaching Christ Himself as the Savior of the world. For example, congregations concerned about their financial stability can focus on fund-raising efforts so aggressively that they become legalistic and demanding about member offerings. This will obscure the glory of Christ and the power of His cross. Congregations can become focused on community hunger relief while failing to be concerned about the spiritual hunger that all persons need to have satisfied through the preaching of the gospel and the food distribution at the Lord's Table.
Congregations can seek to respond to some of the crying and desperate first article needs that arise among the people of the parish, such as offering instruction in child-rearing tactics (desperately needed!), work ethics, or money management. As important as these things are, they are only peripheral to the Lord's work of the second article of the Creed. I heard a political advertisement where the candidate touted her Christianity by saying that she and her husband were raising foster children. As important as that may be for those children and our community, such things are not evidence of Christian faith or belief in Christ as the Substitute for sinners, nor is foster parenting a uniquely Christian action. Yet, if we begin to focus on such things, Christ Himself will get squeezed out.
These first article emphases have become necessary because parenting is a lost art. Parents and community are to teach trustworthiness, consistency, sympathy, and sacrifice to the children in their care. Mother and father are no longer doing these basic socialization tasks in many of the homes of our community. Such responsibilities fall on schools and churches, abdicated as they are by parents. This is what I call the church as "mom." The box churches, like Lakewood in Houston, have entirely taken up this function, filling an enormous gap in many people's socialization. Joel Osteen is basically a slightly more religious Oprah: "Be upbeat. Work hard. Love your neighbor. Be a good husband and father." Good advice, but not yet specifically Christian preaching.
Ultimately, of course, the problems of the first article demand a deeper grounding in the person and work of Christ as the Savior of the world. Abandonment of Christ in favor of culture will end up destroying both Christ and culture, as we feel in our bones is happening now. Thus the church and all her children must continue to focus on the need to preach Christ in the church. The church as "mom" must remain secondary and never be indulged at the cost of losing Christ. Above all, our preachers must bring us Christ, that we might never forget Him, because it's easily done.
"Paul always has Christ on his lips and cannot forget Him (Gal 4:7). For he foresaw that in the world, even among those who professed to be Christians, nothing would be less well known than Christ and His gospel. Therefore he continually inculcates Him and presents Him to our view. Everywhere he speaks about grace, righteousness, the promise, sonship, and the inheritance, he always makes a practice of adding 'in Christ' or 'through Christ,' at the same time looking askance at the law, as though saying: 'We do not obtain these things through the law and its works, much less through our own abilities or the works of human tradition, but through Christ alone.'"
Lectures on Galatians, 4.7
Lord Christ, Your name is the only name that brings salvation. Keep Your church focused upon preaching what saves and free it from the distractions that would keep it from sharing Your name in all the world. Amen.
For Noreen Linke, that the Lord would grant her healing and that He would give strength
to all who are ministering to her needs
For all teens and young people, that they might not be distracted from the Christ by the confusions and pleasures of this life
For all who are preparing to return to school, that teachers would be refreshed to teach and students delighted to learn
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014