The Face of Christ

face of ChristIn the May 2017 issue of Living Lutheran, the cover included 16 images of the face of Christ from different artists. Editor Jennifer Younker noted, “When I look at the cover I’m amazed that, even though all the images are very different, I instantly recognize them as the face of Christ. Although each individual visual is influenced by its regional, ethnic and cultural lenses, the cover evokes the freedom and salvation we receive from Jesus Christ and shows that Christ’s love transcends all perceived physical differences” (Editor’s Note, Living Lutheran, May 2017, p. 4).

This cover and these comments got me to thinking about how I personally envision the face of Christ. For me, I picture a warm, loving, kind face smiling back at me with a look that says everything will be fine because he loves me.

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Functional Atheism

functional atheistFunctional atheism is a term that is being used in theological circles that refers to the practice of those who profess to believe in Christ, but behave as if he does not exist.

One problem with this practice, of course, is that it does not acknowledge the very real impact that Christ has on our everyday lives.

The other problem is that it perpetuates the falsehood that we are in control of our lives and we can do what we want apart from Christ and our beliefs.

I am reminded of the verse,

Not to us, LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. —Psalm 115:1

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Speaking Out

MosesIn the May 2017 issue of Living Lutheran, President of Bread for the World David Beckmann talked about the role of the Church in combating hunger.

In the article he noted, “God did not send Moses to Pharaoh to take up a collection of canned goods, but rather to insist that he let the slaves go free” (Living Lutheran, May 2017, p. 12).

I found that interesting and motivating. Sometimes we as the Church are called to stand up for the rights of the hungry, the thirsty, the downtrodden. We must do what we can to get to the root of the problem and not just put a Band-Aid on it.

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Making the Secular Sacred

mowingIn the Church in the time of Martin Luther, there was a stark division between the sacred and the secular. Only the priest could do the “holy” things. The laity went about their tasks disconnected from any tie to their faith.

But Martin Luther brought the sacred and the secular back together. He pointed out that the tasks of the laity were just a holy as the tasks of the priests and reintroduced the concept of the priesthood of all believers.

Luther wrote:

…the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ on whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone. (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church).

Dr. Erik Hermann in his “Reformation Reverberations: The Lasting Impact of Martin Luther’s Reforms” presentation at Concordia Seminary-St. Louis, referred to this the sacralization of the secular.

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Small Churches

small churchAccording to a study done by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), of the 3.6 million baptized members of that church body, half worship in congregations with an average attendance of 150 or less. And out of the ELCA’s 9.393 congregations, 82 percent have an average worship attendance of 150 or less (Lammi, Kurt, “Would They Notice?” Living Lutheran, p. 33). The conclusion? The denomination is mostly made up of small congregations (p. 33).

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Freedom

freedomAs we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this year, it is important for us to remember some of the key statements of Martin Luther. One of those statements is on the concept of freedom. Luther said in his most famous treatise On the Freedom of the Christian, in 1520: “The Christian individual is a completely free lord of all, subject to none. The Christian individual is a completely dutiful servant of all, subject to all.“

These two statements may seem to contradict one another, but, in fact, they encapsulate the complete picture of what we as Christians call freedom.

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Fill in the Blanks

cartonI saw this fill-in-the-blank activity on the back of a carton of berry punch, and it got me to thinking about the people in my life who have had an impact on me. My teachers, my pastors, my co-workers, my friends, my neighbors, my family have all influenced me enormously. But I do not express to them my appreciation as often as I should.

I like how the letter on this carton provides a framework with blanks to fill in. That gets the ball rolling for me. How would you fill in the blanks for people who have helped you through life and your life of faith? How would you describe what they are to you? How would explain what they have enabled you to be? How would you express how they make you feel?

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Adiaphora

carpetingI have lately been contemplating the concept of adiaphora. Not only because it is fun to say, but because many of the things we spend a lot of our time thinking about in the Church oftentimes fall into the category of adiaphora.

In general for Christians, adiaphora means “matters not regarded as essential to faith, but nevertheless permissible or allowed in the church.”

Things like discussions of the floor covering in the sanctuary or the color of the paint on the walls of the fellowship hall, for example, are not essential to faith, but do constitute a large part of our time sometimes. Adiaphora.

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Victim and Victor

victorSt. Augustine famously said of Jesus on the cross: “Victor quia victima!” which means “victor because victim.” On the cross, Jesus turns the ancient thinking of battle on its head. Usually in war, the defeated is the victim and the executioner is the victor. But as the victim on the cross, Jesus became the victor over the enemies of sin, death and the devil. St. Paul points out this amazing reversal:

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” —1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Then in Hebrews 2:14-15, St. Paul describes the divine combination of Christ’s being victim and victor this way:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

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Encouragement

BarnabasJoseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. —Acts 4:36-37

Throughout the Book of Acts, we read about a disciple of Christ named Barnabas, which means “son of encouragement.” His name indicates the kind of impact he had on those in the early church and those he witnessed to on his many missionary trips with the apostle Paul.

Here are some examples of what Barnabas said and did in his travels:

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. —Acts 11:22 

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. —Acts 11:25-26

This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. —Acts 11:30 Continue reading →