Are you a “hypenated-Christian”?

I might be a hypenated Christian. I serve under the Baptists today although I was trained and ordained in the Lutheran church. I originally came from the evangelical and pentecostal churches. Some might call me a Bapti-costal or a crypto-Lutheran, Bapto-Lutheran or Luther-costal, or whatever hyphenated Christian.

I meet many people who are no longer part of the church. Some are lapsed Catholics, and some are also lapsed evangelicals. Some are searching or are visiting different churches and do not consider themselves belonging to any single denomination even though they may have been baptized in that denomination.

Today’s church is in flux. Amongst evangelicals, many have moved from one denomination to another and have never given a thought to staying with one denomination forever. I have done my share of church hopping in my young adult years, especially during college years. Many of my friends were also in the same boat. It is much like how many move from one job to another these days. Church, life and work are not static but always changing.

Organized religion is feeling less organized these days and will continue in this direction for the foreseeable future. For whatever reasons, some people change churches. It might be theological, or spiritual, or because they had friends or family who attended a congregation. Some return to the church of their childhood where they attended Sunday school, youth group or confirmation.

My sense is that people are looking for real spirituality. They want something that is genuine. Denomination is not a big concern. They want something spiritual and yet has meaning for their lives.

Has this been the case for yourself? Do you also consider yourself a hyphenated-Christian?

Jesus’ resurrection and calling sinners to repentance

The early Christians had known that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant to call sinners to repentance. Below is a quote from Epistle of Barnabas, ch 5, written by one of the early Apostolic fathers of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries (source here, dating here).

The prophets, having obtained grace from Him, prophesied concerning Him. And He (since it behoved Him to appear in flesh), that He might abolish death, and reveal the resurrection from the dead, endured [what and as He did], in order that He might fulfill the promise made unto the fathers, and by preparing a new people for Himself, might show, while He dwelt on earth, that He, when He has raised mankind, will also judge them. Moreover, teaching Israel, and doing so great miracles and signs, He preached [the truth] to him, and greatly loved him. But when He chose His own apostles who where to preach His Gospel, [He did so from among those] who were sinners above all sin, that He might show He came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Remember, Christ’s resurrection, and even our repentance, is a work of God and never our work.

Why do we say, “He is Risen”?

Hallelujah! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

On Easter Sunday, we in Christ, will say together “He is risen!” Why do we do this each Easter morning?

The witnesses in scripture told the disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead.

Matthew 28:6-7 says, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Mark 16:6 says, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

Luke 24:6 says, “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.”

In Scripture, Jesus predicted His own resurrection. His followers did not understand what He was saying to them, but after He returned, they understood.

Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Mark 8:13 says, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Good Friday – when they crucified our Lord – INRI

If you ever watched a Jesus movie with his crucifixion and noticed a sign above his head says INRI (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum). This means Jesus Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Before his execution, Jesus was flogged, which was a customary practice intended to weaken a victim before crucifixion. Crucifixion was an especially painful method of execution and was perfected by the Romans as such. It was reserved for the worst criminals, and generally Roman citizens, women, and soldiers were exempt in most cases.

During his flogging, the soldiers tormented Jesus, crowning Him with thorns and ridicule. Jesus was forced to carry his own cross. Yes, his own cross! It was good that Cyrene help Jesus to carry it the rest of the way to Calvary. He was nailed between two thieves because his enemies felt he deserved a thief’s death.

In churches that observe Good Friday, the altar is stripped bare. Holy Communion is not taken. A fast may be done. It is a somber day.

With Catholics, there may also be a veneration of the cross to recognize the death of our Lord.

May the cross help all of us remember what Christ went through in his death. It was for us, for the atonement of our sins. May we be grateful for his death, but we will also arise with joy in his future resurrection.

Wishing those a blessed Holy Thursday

The central observance of Holy Thursday is the ritual reenactment of the Last Supper. The holy day falls on the Thursday before Easter and is part of Holy Week.  Jesus celebrated the dinner as a Passover feast. The Last Supper was the final meal Jesus shared with his Disciples in Jerusalem. During the meal, Jesus predicted his betrayal.

Some liturgical churches will do the washing of the feet because Jesus washed his disciples feet. There would also be the stripping and washing of the altar. 

Maundy Thursday’s emphasis on ritual washing also gave rise to the ancient tradition of spring cleaning. It’s interesting that this is related to the Jewish custom of ritually cleaning the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover. Everything was to be cleaned and polished in preparation for the Easter celebration.

Wishing those who observe Maundy Thursday / Holy Thursday a blessed readying for Easter.

Struggle of Religious Leaders and Original Sin

ravi zacharias
Rev. Ravi Zacharias, RZIM

In the past five to ten years, we’ve seen some explosions in the church world across many denominations: from Evangelical, Protestant to Catholic. For many it was a shock and a let down, especially for those who followed the teachings of these religious/spiritual leaders.

A recent evangelical, Ravi Zacharias, was a well-known Christian apologist. Other ministers in the past were Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart. There are hundreds of pastors and priests who have faced allegations of misconduct of some sort. All these Christian men have had great ministries and have led many people into a deeper understanding of faith and knowledge of Christ.

It is easy to label them as fake, but doing so does not make sense. They got into ministry for all the right reasons. Their calling of God was very real—as real as anyone else’s. Their faith and ministry are real and it would not be fair to dismiss their prior ministry accomplishments.

What is also real is their struggle with sex, money, power. Some might even struggle with all three. This struggle is common to all persons in vocational ministry and people in all stations in life–regardless of spiritual calling.

I recently read Martin Luther’s teaching on original sin. It describes who we are, not only human beings, but also as a redeemed Christian people. Luther taught, “our entire nature and person is sinful, that is, totally and thoroughly corrupted in God’s sight and contaminated by original sin, as with a spiritual leprosy” (SD I 6, 13) . As a result, we lack the original righteousness we had in the Garden of Eden.

‘Human nature’ is subject to the rule of the devil and ‘is abandoned to the devil’s power and imprisoned under his rule, which intoxicates and seduces many important and wise people in the world with horrible errors, heresies, and other blindness and drags people into all kinds of vice.’”

This quote leaves no one untouched. It points to all of us as human beings including those whom we count as important and wise. There is no sin we are incapable of committing as human beings. It drags us into all kinds of vice.

Yes, Christian people are simultaneously saints and sinners. We all are. Having accepted this as one of my theological beliefs, the moral failure of Christian leaders no longer surprises me, but nevertheless, it does sadden me. I pray that we may all remain faithful to our calling as servants and ministers of the gospel.

A common error we make in how we view our own human nature can be detrimental to one’s faith. Historically in the 16th century, errors were made by teachers of Pelagianism and Manichaeanism. Pelagians believed that after Adam’s fall in the garden, our human nature remained uncorrupted and our spiritual goodness and purity still remained intact. Manichaeans believed that sin was alien from the person committing the sin.

As human beings, we want to believe that humans are innate good and pure. As a result, we alienate ourselves from the sins we commit or even imagine in our minds. The more heinous the sin, the more we distance ourselves from this sinful human nature. How can this play out in our behavior? We try to show we are deadly critical of people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and pastors and priests who commit sins. We display our criticism to prove to others (and ourselves) that “I am nothing like these corrupt sinners.” This is a dangerous ground on which to stand. This is a judgmental and a self-righteous attitude. It is wrong and does not makes us less of a sinner.

We ought to approach God from a more humble starting point. As Christians we are simultaneously redeemed and yet sinful. It places a person in a safer place from which to see ourselves as human beings. Every person, Christian or unredeemed, have been impacted by sin–even from birth.

Martin Luther (1483–1546), Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, Kronach 1472–1553 Weimar), Oil on wood
Martin Luther

The temptation that ministers and common people have is to hold up our religious leaders as spotless examples of “good Christians.” It is an impossible expectation to fulfill one-hundred percent. Actually, the higher a spiritual standing one has in the church, the greater the expectation one has to be that “spotless Christian example.” This is especially true in evangelical and Catholic traditions that follow 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:8. It’s a bizarre expectation of anyone because we have not truly understood the gospel. The gospel is about forgiveness of sins–not about moral perfection, but yet, we make it about moral perfection.

The only expectation we can actually fulfill is to fall upon the grace of God and plead for his daily mercies. We need to see ourselves for who we really are–we are simultaneously saints and sinners. Luther stated, “scholastic theologians have taught pure error and blindness against this article [concerning sin]…

… 2. That the human being has a free will, either to do good and reject evil or to reject good and do evil.
3. That the human being is able, by using natural powers, to keep and carry out every command of God.
4. That human beings are able, using natural powers, to love God above all things and their neighbors as themselves…”

SA III I 5-7

These above are impossible because we are bound by original sin. By acknowledging that my free-will has been kept in bondage, I am now free to lean upon God’s grace each day. This has helped me remain humble and confess my weaknesses. Though I am weak, it is God who strengthens me each day.

And the good news is this. God has provided us a way out through a spiritual rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. Though we are fully justified by grace through faith alone, we are also sanctified through the washing of the word as we repent each day. In Christ Jesus name, we are healed from our spiritual disease and corruption. Praise the Lord.

Quotes from Luther found in:
Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

New Dead Sea Scroll fragments found

Recently discovered fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls have been found (article here). Last found was over fifty years. Some date back to the third century B.C. to the second century C.E. These were found just 40 miles south of Jerusalem.

Amongst this find was even a single large scroll that included all the minor prophets. The largest scroll was of the Greek Bible called the Septuagint. A fragment was from Jeremiah 8:17.

This is a very significant find because it was spur on more biblical research for many years. However, it will likely not cause any major changes to any of our modern translations. Nevertheless, scholars of textual criticism will still be interested in finding if any textual variants exists.

History of the Bible series

Concordia Lutheran Seminary (Edmonton) has recently hosted a series on the History of the Bible: From Manuscripts to Modern Translations, March 2-23. The speaker is Dr. Jeffrey Kloha, also Chief Curator at the Museum of the Bible, Washington, D.C. Thanks Concordia for putting this online.

Click links below for the nine parts:

Toilet paper alternatives

This whole Coronavirus outbreak is just depressing. The more I listen to the news, the more depressed I get. You’ve heard stores have been running out of toilet paper.

If you’re close to nature and know what plants to look for, you won’t be in the lurch if you know what to look for. If you’re doing a nature hike and you realize you ran out of toilet paper, there are alternatives people have used for thousands of years to do their clean up. Below are some of these.

Lamb’s Ear leaves

Mullein (Miner’s toilet paper)

Grape Leaves

Brassica plant-type leaves (cabbage, kale, collard, etc.)

Redbud tree leaves

Mallow (herb)

Borage (immature)

Thimble berry leaves

Lamb’s Ear
Mullein
Redbud tree leaves
Grape leaves

Pray for Italy

 

The number of deaths due to covid-19 in Italy has now surpassed that of China. Hard to believe. This is one of the earliest nations where the Christian church had its origins, including the nations in the Asia Minor region (modern-day Turkey). May we pray for Italy and all the people who live in this vibrant and beautiful country.

Lord our God, we pray for Italy and your people there. Bring them comfort and pour out your peace upon all your holy people. May you lavish your grace and healing upon this nation. As they call out to you, hear their prayers, O God.