Category Archives: Christian Living

Need Your Help to Answer a Question: What is the “Love of Christ?”

This post was originally written June 7, 2011.  In light of the LCMS debate taken public (intentionally or not) over unionism and syncretism, that well worn phrase “All You Need is Love” has cropped up again:  “Share the Love of Christ,”  “You’re not being very loving Confessionals!”  “They will know we are Christian by our Love.”  I think it is time again to pose the question — this time it is directed squarely at those throwing this phrase around so cavalierly and loosely on the issue of syncretistic worship — What is this “Love of Christ” of which you speak?  Here is the rest of the post occasioned on the hearing of a sermon preached at the wedding of that famous royal couple across the pond:

Driving home from Louisville, Kentucky this past weekend, I was listening to a Sermon Review over at Issues, Etc.  It was the sermon given by Bishop Chartres on the occasion of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton last month.  As I was driving on I-65 south in Bowling Green Kentucky, a couple of things that struck me in the sermon.  In particular they can be found in the following excerpts:

The spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this: the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

                                                                                             *********
As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive. We need mutual forgiveness in order to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads on to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can receive and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.

Reading between the lines, one can make out the shadow of the Trinity in this sermon — God so loving this world that He sent His only Son into it…  to be our example….  the Holy Spirit being made alive by the power of the love in our relationships with one another, with marriage being the most powerful of these relationships — like two magnets being drawn together creating a magnetic field.  Christ is mentioned in this sermon, but we do not need Him.  Instead, we move into our relationships toward others in love — using as our template the love Christ modeled for us.   Read the rest of this entry

Is Jesus calling you?

For those of you who read the Jesus calling devotionals, I have a question for you: Did you realize that Sarah Young the author receives messages from God through a “practice of waiting on God to receive and record his messages?” In essence Ms. Young waits and listens for the voice of God, writes down what she hears Him say, and passes the message along to all of her reading audience as messages that she received personally from Jesus or God. That is the description given to Jesus calling, the blockbuster series by Sarah Young, in the latest catalog for Christianbook.com.

Now Jesus calling is being marketed to children and teenagers. Maybe we ought to look at this phenomenon with a little more discernment.

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Luther on How to Break and Keep The 10 Commandments — Help for TableTalkRadio.org Fans

Those of you who follow the boys over at Table Talk Radio ought to be familiar with one of their most interesting segments, the 10 Commandments in the news.  For those of you who are initiated with the provocateurs of Lutheran doctrine and hilarity, Table Talk Radio is the first of its kind:  a Lutheran game show.  Revs. Bryan Wolfmueller and Evan Goeglein teach Lutheran doctrine through relevant, fun, and always interesting games.  There is Table Talk Jeopardy, Which Ladder, Bumper Sticker Theology, Facebook Status Theology, the ultra popular and spot on Praise Song Cruncher, the Iron Preacher, and many, many, many more.

One of the staples of the show is a game called 10 Commandments in the news.  In it, the Revs. select a news story, Read the rest of this entry

Modern Youth Ministry a ’50-Year Failed Experiment,’ Say Pastors, Christian News

There is a panic in some parts of the church over the mass exodus of young people.  20s and 30s are one of the hottest demographics, and niche market churches are targeting them to bring them back into the flock.  Sparing no expense and pulling out all the stops, church plants are springing in every color, shape, form and fashion designed to lure this demographic back into to the kingdom.  It has spawned a whole new epoch of churches — house churches, biker churches, churches targeting only men.  But maybe the kids have good reason for leaving.  Maybe youth ministry as it has been conceived, marketed, packaged, and sold to churches, youth ministers, and DCE’s over the last half century has actually failed them.  That is what a new documentary suggests, according to the Christian Post:

A group of pastors and former youth ministry leaders suggest that today’s youth ministries should be disbanded, calling the common practice of separating congregations by age for worship and Bible study “unbiblical.”

The church leaders state their case in the documentary film, “Divided: Is Age-Segregated Ministry Multiplying or Dividing the Church?”

The film is produced by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches in association with LeClerc Brothers Motion Pictures. The producers released the documentary earlier this month online, and have made it available for free until Sept. 15.

Before we pursue every new fad or experimental church method or model, before we throw more programs and gimmicks at our young people, maybe we need to take a long hard look at why they are leaving the church. Read the rest of this entry

Jesus: The Power of God, the Weakness of God; The Wisdom of God and the Foolishness of God

God in His infinite Wisdom leaves the real work of salvation, conversion, and otherwise leading people to Christ to the Holy Spirit who brings people to Christ so that He can mark them, raise them, and present them to the Father.  He exercises all power and authority in the church for it is He who possesses it (Matt. 28:16-20), not I and not you.  If it were up to me and me alone to be responsible for the conversion of another person, for leading another person out of the wilderness and into the promised land, I would most certainly leave people in the wilderness.  Moses did.  He did not lead Israel across the Jordan, and he is most certainly greater than I.  No, it was and is Christ our Lord and Savior who led His children into the promised land and still leads His children out of the wilderness.  My work falls short, is never completed.  Yet Jesus is the original author of my faith, and finisher of it both in belief and deed.  Thanks be to God that it is so, that He continues His mission, the work that the Father sent Him into this world to do!  Because Jesus was, is, and continues to be active in this world, we can ask, rhetorically with Luther, “Who can ever thank God enough for His mercy?”

May you ever cherish and treasure this thought. Christ is made a servant of sin, yea, a bearer of sin, and the lowliest and most despised person. He destroys all sin by Himself and says: “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the monks stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me.

Such benefactions of God might well provoke us to love and to laud God and to celebrate this service in song and sermon and speech. It should also induce us to die willingly and to remain cheerful in all suffering. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my  servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin, yes, with the sin and the death of the entire world! He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God. And who would not gladly die for Christ’s sake? The Son of Man performs the basest and filthiest work. He does not don some beggar’s torn garment or old trousers, nor does He wash us as a mother washes a child; but He bears our sin, death, and hell, our misery of body and soul. Whenever the devil declares: “You are a sinner!” Christ interposes: “I will reverse the order; I will be a sinner, and you are to go scotfree.” Who can thank our God enough for this mercy?”

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 1:29). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1999).

Absolutely Stunning Restoration of Orthodox Church in Russia

English: Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Mosc...

Image via Wikipedia

The Orthodox really know how to dress up a church. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow is a tribute to persevering in the faith and how God preserves His church throughout time. This cathedral was recently restored to the 360 degree beauty you see in the panoramic photos at the website linked here:  http://www.360pano.eu/xxc/     Thanks to Pr. Peters’ for the post at Pastoral Meanderings for posting this one.

Absolutely Stunning! Gotta see. . .

HT to Saint Austin Review:the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. It’s a spectacular presentation that moves in a 360 degree perspective around this holy space, in full color.The original cathedral was blown up by the Bolsheviks. Stalin planned to erect the world’s tallest building on the site, and a statue of Lenin was supposed to perch on the top of it. But difficulties with water seepage and other problems prevented the monstrosity from ever being completed.

What is Faith?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

I ran across this gem in Sunday’s readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer from Concordia Publishing House.  It is a quote from Martin Luther’s Introduction to the Book of Romans.  Here Luther describes in as beautiful and as straightforward a manner what FAITH is.  We tend to think of faith simply as belief or intellectual assent to divine truth.  It is often described as something within us that is part of our nature, something we inherently possess.  And yet that could not be farther from the truth of the matter.

Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow—although they can hear and say much about faith—they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, “I believe”; they take this then to be a true faith. But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1[:12–13]. Read the rest of this entry

Reflections on the Proclamation of the Gospel and the Reformation

The Reformation of the Church, ignited in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of the Theses on Indulgences, is and always has been about the proclamation of the pure Gospel as set forth in sacred Scripture.  The “Treasury of Daily Prayer,” from Concordia Publishing House had as part of the readings for today a paragraph from Martin Luther’s sermon on John 1:29 – Behold the Lamb of God.  The pure Gospel, as Lutherans and orthodox Christendom proclaims it – we have strayed from time to time from this proclamation – is and always has been Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.  It is not an intellectual concept that can be grasped by man with his own faculties.  Instead it is something that can only be received by faith, for faith, through faith.  For Christ draws us into His story of the cross.  His story becomes our story.  His life, our life.  His death, our death.  His resurrection, ours too.  His freedom, our freedom.  For if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.  It is our eternal hope, and a promise to which must cling.  It is Christ Himself.

I give thanks to God for the faithful who have gone before us to pave the way for the freedom we have in Christ.  He gives His saints the courage to stand before kings and princes, in the face of great persecution to bear witness to the hope we have in Christ.  I give thanks to God that He used Martin Luther “to hatch the egg that Erasmus laid,” and I pray that you do too.  If you have not read any of Luther’s sermons, you should.  Do not form your opinions of Lutherans on any crass opinions you have heard about Luther’s physical infirmities, or other fantastic insights into his psyche.  Instead, read what he has to say for he points to Christ.

In the Sermon on John 1:29, Luther reflects on John’s proclamation of the Christ who approached the river Jordan to be baptized:  “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  Here Luther gives the Gospel, the pure Gospel proclamation of Christ:

May you ever cherish and treasure this thought. Christ is made a servant of sin, yea, a bearer of sin, and the lowliest and most despised person. He destroys all sin by Himself and says: “I came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). There is no greater bondage than that of sin; and there is no greater service than that displayed by the Son of God, who becomes the servant of all, no matter how poor, wretched, or despised they may be, and bears their sins. It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent. But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred thousand times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital? And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us, the more He cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon His own back. All the holiness of the monks stinks in comparison with this service of Christ, the fact that the beloved Lamb, the great Man, yes, the Son of the Exalted Majesty, descends from heaven to serve me.

Such benefactions of God might well provoke us to love and to laud God and to celebrate this service in song and sermon and speech. It should also induce us to die willingly and to remain cheerful in all suffering. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin, yes, with the sin and the death of the entire world! He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.” No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God. And who would not gladly die for Christ’s sake? The Son of Man performs the basest and filthiest work. He does not don some beggar’s torn garment or old trousers, nor does He wash us as a mother washes a child; but He bears our sin, death, and hell, our misery of body and soul. Whenever the devil declares: “You are a sinner!” Christ interposes: “I will reverse the order; I will be a sinner, and you are to go scotfree.” Who can thank our God enough for this mercy?

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Jn 1:29). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1999).

The Widow’s Mite: Reflections on Faith and the Christian Life

Mark 12:41-44

When we hear this story, we think about giving. We look and focus on the gift that the woman gave, for Jesus holds her up praises the gift that she gives. He tells His disciples that the gifts given by many of the rich people He has observed does not compare with the widow’s gift despite how much they gave.  For the rich gave out of their abundance, or from the excess of what they had – they did not need what they gave and could spare some of their wealth – while the widow gave out of her poverty and really could not afford to give what she did put into the offering box. So Jesus is telling us to give until it hurts…. Right?  At least that’s the way we like to see it. We like to see the story as being about us. But is the focus of the story our giving and our stewardship? Is this story about me and what I do? What is it the Jesus sees in this woman that causes him to turn to his disciples and make her an example for them?

If we go back and look at the center of this chapter in this series of teachings by Jesus in the temple, we see that at the very center in Mark 12:28-34, Jesus tells us of the greatest commandment of all: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. To it he adds a second commandment:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  I know that I cannot begin to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind.  I fail at it a thousand times a day.  To love God does not mean that I have to do things for Him.  It does not mean I have to give money to this cause, to the church, and feel guilty when I do not.  It does not mean I have to be involved in this or that program in the church, or worship Him by singing praises or watching worship leaders and praise bands do that for me.  Jesus said that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for a friend.  This is what Jesus did for us, obeying the Will of the Father who sent Him into the world to die.  And eternal life is this:  that we know the Father, the only true God, and Jesus the Christ, whom the Father sent into this world.  John 17:3. To love God is, through the Spirit, to hear His Christ, take up the cross prepared for us, and take Jesus to our neighbor.  To love God is to serve our neighbor.  What enables me to do this?  To have the kind of love that lays down one’s own life for another, that sets one’s own desires, interests, and selfishness aside for the good of another person is a rare quality.  Yet we are not left without guidance. And Jesus’ story of the widow and her gift provides the answer.

You see, what Jesus holds up in this widow and sets before us is her faith not the gift she gave to the church. Rather it is the gift that she has been given. This woman had faith, faith that trusted solely and god to provide for her all good things. Jesus describes her as poor. The Greek word in the text, ptoches, is a descriptive word, that means crouches, cowers, bent over low, poor and beggarly. So this woman was not simply poor in wealth as her gift suggests, but she also was stooped over with age, and weighed down by a lifetime of worry and work. Moreover, as a widow, she was an outcast in society, much like a leper. The fact that she is a widow of some age and also destitute tells us that her husband did not have any brothers or extended family members who would redeem her and carry on his name. And so the name of the widow’s husband would likely perish from the earth. This woman was insignificant in Jewish society. And so too, comparatively speaking, was the gift that she deposited in the offering box.

Two small coins made of copper were deposited by this widow.  Together they made a penny.  And yet the total monetary value was 1/64th of one whole denarius.  One denarius was the wage earned for a day’s labor. The leaders of the day, the rich people, deposited great sums of money in comparison. They made public shows of it.  Jesus tells how the scribes walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces, and the Temple was just such a marketplace until a day or two before when Jesus cleared the moneychangers from the Temple.  It was a place to be seen, to be known.  Giving to the Temple treasury, fulfilling the Mosaic obligations   The wealth of the leaders and rich people says something about them and their station in life. They feel important, and want to be known and loved by others. Their wealth enables them to do this, and preserve their status.  Their lips and mouths gave honor to God, but their hearts were far from them.  Yet this honor was only based on a commandment of men.

In contrast to the pomp and circumstances of the somebody’s in Jerusalem of that day, Jesus holds up this poor, beggarly woman who, in spite of her earthly poverty, comes to the Temple of the Lord’s house bearing a gift, money to be put into the treasury and into this service of the Kingdom. From her station in life, the widow gave of herself. It is a sacrificial giving made possible only by faith. Faith that trusts completely and solely in the work of her Creator to provide everything that needed to sustain her body and life. Jesus holds this faith over and against that of the Pharisees and the wealthy leaders of Israel at that time. Jesus, when He entered Jerusalem a couple of days before, noticed a fig tree that had no fruit.  When He entered the heart of Jerusalem, the dwelling place of the Most High God, He found no fruit among the leaders of Israel, the stewards of God’s vineyard.  Jesus excoriates the Pharisees the Sadducees, and the scribes in the parable of the tenant. These leaders of his people are put in charge of caring for his flock, nurturing this vineyard. And yet instead of doing so, they sought to take possession of it for themselves and take ownership of the Kingdom from God. They did so by setting themselves, their traditions, their understanding of God’s Word over and against the Owner Himself. When they run up against the Son of the living God, when they are confronted by the Christ they meet their end. For they are given over to blindness, a lack of understanding, and God hardens their hearts. When they run headlong into the Christ who is the cornerstone they meet their death. John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament Prophets. When Herod killed him his head was cut off and given to his stepdaughter. This marked the end of the Law.  The Law was cut off and brought to its end. So too are all those who follow the Law, who hold it up in honor and esteem over and above the gracious gift of God of life and salvation in His Son. Those who seek to do the Law in order to justify themselves meet their end.

So what does this mean for us today?  Does the story of the widow’s mite have application to our stewardship and giving? For if the point of the story is not GIVING but LIVING in faith, how can it inform our stewardship?

The widow’s gift was made possible by the gift of faith she had been given. From her station in life she live faithfully, trusting solely in the Lord to provide her with everything that she needed. Just as the lilies of the field do not worry about what they will wear, and the sparrows do not worry about what they will eat, so too should we not worry about what we will give, how we can give, or from where it will come. For God will provide us the means to give what is necessary to do the work required for his Kingdom. He will provide the means to enable us to serve where we are in this world and in this life. This does not mean that there is nothing for us to do, that we do not have to act responsibly with what we are given.  Just as the Pharisees and Scribes were the stewards of the children of Israel, so too are we stewards of one another in this world.  We are called to care for one another, encourage one another, hold one another accountable, and serve one another in love. Living our lives in faith, clinging to Christ and His precious Word we learn to lay aside our own lives and put others ahead of ourselves.  We see, with the eyes of faith, how what we have been given, what we possess in this earthly life can be of benefit to our neighbor.  And so we employ the resources we have been given in service to our neighbor.  Our specific roles in life too determine who are neighbor is.  If you are a mother or father, your neighbor is your spouse and your children.  Where you work, your neighbor is your co-worker, supervisor, boss.  When you are driving down the road, your neighbors are the other drivers on the road and pedestrians walking along the road.  When you provide food for your family, maintain the car for your wife, help your friend with her homework, take out the garbage – you are giving of yourself to your neighbor.  When you belong to a church, your neighbors are the other members of your congregation and those served by the ministries supported by the congregation.  They are your Pastor and other church workers called to serve in the ministry of that congregation.

So we live in faith trusting in God. Whether one is called to preach, or to teach, to do missionary work, to be a mother, a father, firefighter, factory worker, farmer, or whatever it may be – wherever God places us, He provides what you need to serve your neighbor. It is not about what I must do to give to God – He will take even the smallest most insignificant gift and make it prosper. That is His work. For us it is to live in faith, to serve our neighbor. Whether you participate by living a life of faith or not, God will make His Kingdom grow and prosper. His pure word will go forward in spite of our hesitation, resistance or indifference.  Like Jonah we often wait, resist, we run away, we do not live the life of faith because we have the answer. We know better. God’s Will will be done in spite of you and in spite of me. For the work that we do in Christ is not our own work. It is an accomplished work of Jesus Christ, it is God working through us. Yet we forget that it is not about you and me. It is not about what we do. It is not about how much we give. What matters is our faith in Christ trusting solely in Him who has brought us into His Kingdom. God provides the means to serve in his Kingdom and for us to live a life of faith.

 

Be “Authentically Christian”

The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

Paul McCain over at Cyberbrethren posted Pope Benedict’s remarks at The Augustinian Cloister where Martin Luther became and served as an Augustinian monk.  The Pope has a keen eye for Lutheran Theology, and, as some of the comments to McCain’s post suggests, BXVI knows our theology better than a lot of Lutherans out there.  Benedict observes that Christianity as we know it is changing dramatically.  Despite the fallenness of this world, the sin and depravity, even among Christians the primary question is no longer “How do I receive the grace of God?”  And yet, as it was for Luther, this question needs to be the question of our time:

The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Christocentric means Christ centered.  Martin Luther, and orthodox Lutherans that follow his example, preach the cross — Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our justification and the redemption of the world.  It is clinging to the cross and, as Paul teaches, seeking to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.  It is living your life in the shadow of death under the cross with the present reality of serving in the kingdom of God and His Christ as a son or daughter, bought with that life giving blood.  Being Christ centered means not abandoning the cross so as not to offend so-called seekers or visitors.  It means not hiding who you are so as not to turn people away.  For if we do, we abandon the very source of the Grace of God and the life giving power of the blood of our Savior.  And yet every ounce of our being as Christians should be dedicated to knowing Christ and Him crucified so that He can live and accomplish His saving work through us as His hands and feet in this fallen world.  Jesus will accomplish His work with or without me, and in spite of me and any obstacle I throw in the way.

Pope Benedict observes that Christ and His cause is the source of what we have in common as Christians.  He is the beginning and end of our faith and heritage.  This common witness to Christ is what has enabled Christians across denominational lines to make ecumenical progress toward unity.  Sadly, however, the impetus to water down Christianity, to remove the moorings of Christian denominations from the Body of Christ as grounded in time and space of this reality in which we live, the willingness to compromise doctrine in order to achieve so-called unity risks any ecumenical progress accomplished to date:

The geography of Christianity has changed dramatically in recent times, and is in the process of changing further. Faced with a new form of Christianity, which is spreading with overpowering missionary dynamism, sometimes in frightening ways, the mainstream Christian denominations often seem at a loss. This is a form of Christianity with little institutional depth, little rationality and even less dogmatic content, and with little stability. This worldwide phenomenon poses a question to us all: what is this new form of Christianity saying to us, for better and for worse? In any event, it raises afresh the question about what has enduring validity and what can or must be changed – the question of our fundamental faith choice.

The second challenge to worldwide Christianity of which I wish to speak is more profound and in our country more controversial: the secularized context of the world in which we Christians today have to live and bear witness to our faith. God is increasingly being driven out of our society, and the history of revelation that Scripture recounts to us seems locked into an ever more remote past. Are we to yield to the pressure of secularization, and become modern by watering down the faith? Naturally faith today has to be thought out afresh, and above all lived afresh, so that it is suited to the present day. Yet it is not by watering the faith down, but by living it today in its fullness that we achieve this. This is a key ecumenical task. Moreover, we should help one another to develop a deeper and more lively faith. It is not strategy that saves us and saves Christianity, but faith – thought out and lived afresh; through such faith, Christ enters this world of ours, and with him, the living God. As the martyrs of the Nazi era brought us together and prompted the first great ecumenical opening, so today, faith that is lived from deep within amid a secularized world is the most powerful ecumenical force that brings us together, guiding us towards unity in the one Lord.

The task for Christians in any age of this world, as Benedict points out, is always to bring the person and work of Christ into our present reality.  Christ is a reality who is present and active in this world.  He is not merely an idea from a book.  Nor is He simply a historical fact or a mythical figure.  No person, idea, or thing has made such an enduring impression on this world and its inhabitants — ever!  God in the flesh made manifest for us to restore this fallen world and fallen humanity to a right relationship with Him — the Triune God.  Christ entered this world to bring truth and certainty to man, to bring light to the darkness brought on by our doubt and sin.   And yet we deny Christ when we say that to be a Christian is to know nothing, that all each of us has are questions, questions that lead us each, individually, to seek and find our own way.  Claiming to be wise, we become fools.  Even in the church.  Benedict’s point here seems to be that the roots of faith must be laid deep, nourished and fed so that we live it out to its fullest.  Put another way, we are so deeply rooted and steeped in the faith handed down through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles, that it makes us who we are called to be — carriers of Christ in this world.  Lights shining in the darkness, pointing to the cross.

So what is the Question of our time?  Are we concerned with what God’s position is toward us individually?  Or are we more concerned with standing before Him on our own two feet to experience something?  Is the question of our time here and now how can we make Christianity be “authentic” or “relevant” in the culture of today?  Or is the question, “What does Christ mean to take up your cross and follow me?”  What does it mean to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified?  Who is Jesus?  My buddy?  My friend?  My coach?    In our zeal for being relevant, do we sacrifice the reality of who Christ is and what He did in the past and accomplishes now in the present through His disciples?  I think it is a call to be “authentically Christian” or  really be a Christian — be who Christ called you and me to be.