Pastor’s Blog

Bible Study: Revelation Part 2

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Mental Health, Spirituality, and the Christian Faith

Mental Health is in the news these days. I know, some people struggle with the idea of speaking about subjective and psychological weaknesses. Some even think that it doesn’t have a place within Christianity. Nothing can be farther from the truth, however.

This attitude comes more from a spiritual weakness in which we use our Christianity as a mask to put forward an image of strength. And yet, St. Paul’s words are clear (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) that our strength is most clearly seen in our weakness. Theologically, Paul is pointing out that the strength we muster inside of ourselves based on our character or on cultural narratives is really an obstacle to our spiritual lives. Luther calls this phenomenon our ‘Old Adam’ where we try to salvage our own (self) image based on any number of factors – but always rooted in our broken and sinful self.

A quick read through Romans chapters 6-9 illustrates Paul’s insights into that dynamic – where our broken self tries its hardest to defend and protect it’s own interests – rather than letting go of them (letting them die with Christ in our Baptism) so that He (Jesus) can rebuild us from the inside out. After all, it is in Jesus that we find our ultimate fulfillment – it’s just that it is so hard for our self-built egos to let go.

I’m not suggesting here (in any way) that, when you struggle, that you shouldn’t reach out for help from mental health professionals. What I am getting at is that the Church has had a long tradition of wrestling through the inner movements of the soul in order to untangle the inner mess that we carry around within ourselves. And while, mental health professionals are slowly discovering these treasures and trying to adapt them for a ‘secular’ context – there is a wonderful richness that comes with reconnecting them to our ultimate anchor – Jesus Christ.

Yes, meditation (on Scripture) and prayer. These are fundamental ingredients within this movement of the Spiritual life. Participating in the Sacraments are important too – because it is there that Jesus actually snatches us up into the dying and rising that lies at the root of this ongoing process of spiritual warfare. But this is a dying and rising which is rooted in Christ – in His perfect death and resurrection – rather than in our own self-made solutions. Learning this is a process that takes time. It digs beneath the tangled web of our thoughts, feelings, and fantasies in order to open our hearts to rest in Jesus’ forgiveness and care.

It is far too easy for us to fall into the trap of settling for partial solutions – quick fix comforts – and yet, the Holy Spirit gently leads us and prompts us to go deeper – never to destroy us – but to lead us into a richer encounter with our Loving Saviour.

If you are struggling, talk to your pastor. He is there to be a support for you. And while, not every pastor has gone through the same things, they are all fellow-sojourners on this journey of learning to let go (of self) so that we can be lead by Jesus our Saviour (Matthew 16:24).

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There’s that P-Word: Predestination

I had a couple of people ask me about it after services this week. Our Epistle reading from Romans 8:28-39 made reference to being “predestined” for salvation – and that always causes questions to bubble up along the way.

Most of the time, we associate this biblical teaching with the ideas that were formulated by John Calvin (1509-1564) and furthered within the Reformed theological tradition. Calvin, who was trained as a lawyer, tried to wrap his mind around the question about why some people appear ‘saved’ and others do not. Building on St. Augustine’s writings as well as medieval discussions at the university level, he developed the opinion that God somehow ‘chooses’ people – some time before the creation of the world – to go to heaven – and others, to go to hell. He himself referred to this as “that horrible doctrine” which he kept shifting around within his theological writings trying to figure out how this all fits with the image of a gracious God. In the end, however, he laid the foundation for the ‘usual’ understanding of this term that most people here in North America glom onto when we stumble across it in Scripture.

As Lutherans, we don’t try to side-step the word as St. Paul uses it. And rather than being a terrifying concept that suggests that we just don’t know whether we are among the saved or not (as Calvin formulates it), if we follow the biblical teaching, it becomes a radically comforting teaching.

Within Calvin’s theological vision, Church is simply there to preach God’s will (Law) so that the elect (chosen) can praise God for it. But because you can never know whether you are truly part of the elect, you do your best to praise God in hopes that Jesus death and resurrection applies for you.

Scripturally, however, God wants all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and that Jesus’ death is indeed to cover the sins of all (the whole world – John 1:29). Calvin’s problem is that he tried to push this working of salvation away from the giving of the Gift in the Word and the Sacraments to some prior and hidden legislation (choice) of God beyond our reach of knowing on this side of eternity. That’s not how Paul writes about it though. We look to Ephesians chapter 1 to fill this out.

In Ephesians, Paul clearly states that we are chosen and predestined in and through Jesus Christ – as an action of grace (not Law) – which, as we round this out with the fullness of New Testament teaching, is presented and made available for you and me to grab a hold of in Holy Absolution, the waters of Baptism, and even in the Holy Supper of our Lord where Jesus comes to be present to us and for us to truly offer us Himself and the forgiveness of our sins. As a result, forgiveness and salvation are not a hidden reality – but rather – one that is manifest and revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Without Jesus, there is no salvation. Outside of Christ, we are left stuck and dead in our sins. There is no ‘middle ground’. But through Baptism, our lives are tucked away into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 6; Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2) so that through these means – Word, Absolution, Baptism, Lord’s Supper) we learn of and receive that ‘calling to faith’ that He makes available to all people – so that we participate in that Gift and choosing. This Gift is available to all – sadly, not everyone partakes of it.

Rather than being a secret decision that God has made before the foundation of the world, Paul teaches predestination as a reality that He puts on offer for each and every one of us – in and through the Sacraments and the life of the Church – as a work of God’s grace – forgiveness – that we can all partake of freely. And the fact that Paul suggests that this was God’s plan from the foundation of the world (Eph 1:3-10) is a Gospel statement that even before Creation, it was His plan to send Jesus in order to draw us into that deeper connection and fellowship with Him.

Rather than being a scary doctrine, as a result, predestination is a comforting word which reminds us that God is Love and has been since before the creation of the world. It was always His plan to draw us closer and closer to Himself – something we see on offer and given in Jesus Christ – not just for ‘some’ – but for all. This is why we rejoice in that calling – and this is why we continue to evangelize – so that more and more people might be drawn to Him through Baptism who is our Saviour – Jesus Christ our Lord.

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The Commemoration of Robert Barnes

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Bible Study: Revelation Part 1

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The Festival of St James the Elder, Apostle – Led by President Teuscher

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Bible Study: Creeds Part 8

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Bible Study: Creeds Part 7

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Bible Study: Creeds Part 6

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Bible Study: Creeds Part 5

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