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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another Funeral

The funeral of Senator Edward Kennedy was the third very public funeral this summer. I watched this morning with curiosity at first and then with growing thankfulness.

It is not that I have been a follower of Edward Kennedy or an admirer particularly. We differed seriously on politics, and I remember too well the scandals of his earlier life. No, what excited - and humbled me - was the depth of faith that was at the core of the service and which evidently Kennedy himself knew.

I was excited because on public television before millions of viewers the gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed. Now, I am a Protestant, and there were elements of the service that I found a little uncomfortable. But Jesus was exalted! Faith in Christ for forgiveness and redemption was proclaimed. God's mercy through the blood of Christ was extended.

When all is said and done, those are the things that matter.

I was also humbled. I am far too quick to judge and to judge on a very human level. Indeed, if I followed Jesus' instruction, I would not judge at all. I would leave that in the hands of the only one capable of judging - and of extending grace and mercy.

The scripture that Caroline Kennedy read from Romans 8 reminded me anew of that incredible and powerful mercy: "Who will bring any charge against those God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"

And I should judge? God forbid! Forgive me.

My prayer is that word of the gospel that many many heard may be endued with power by the Holy Spirit and many will be turned to repentance and faith.

I was also humbled by Edward Kennedy's merging faith with action. Understand, I am a Republican, or lean heavily that way. I have serious reservations about the general political philosophy of the Democrats. Yet should I not as a follower of Christ work for mercy toward the hurting and disenfranchised in this nation? Should I not pray for and work toward their peace? As the pastor said so well, that is the force of the Old Testament, not theoretical theology but practical theology that works its way out in mercy and compassion. And it is the force of Jesus' parable in the passage from Luke the pastor read: "If you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me."

I am convinced that Jesus was there speaking of his brethren as all those with whom he shared humanity.

I stand convicted. What will Jesus say of me? Have I done all I could in mercy and compassion to the least of these my brothers and sisters? I fear not.

This man of whom I have been inclined to be skeptical, whose sins and failures I remember more than his compassion, may well receive the greater praise from the only one whose praise matters, for he did work to relieve the hurt of this nation's poor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A New Reformation

I have been out of the pulpit and into the pews for eight years now. I have been through the purpose-driven-life phase in the church, following as it happened close behind the church-growth phase. I've been in churches where a neo-legalism has taken over. I have visited in churches where there is much enthusiasm but little spiritual depth. And I have met and become friends with good people, serious about their faith, and pastors who desire for their people to grow and for the mission of evangelism to proceed. But I have not been in one church where the full gospel has been consistently preached, or understood, or lived.

I pick up the old books from my shelves and wonder what happened to the Tozers, the Nees, the Taylors, the Murrays, and the Simpsons of a generation or two ago. When I browse the bookshelves of our Christian bookstore, I find a lot of self-help - couched in spiritual terms - and directions for spiritual formation (the current term for spiritual discipline) but little proclaiming of Christ.

Oh, there are plenty of words on the cross and salvation, and what I am saying here is not to belittle that. Life begins with Christ, with faith in his substitutionary death on the cross for us. But the gospel does not end there. It goes on to speak of our being joined with him in his death and being raised with him into new life. And it speaks, as the foundation of any spiritual good and progress toward true maturity, of Christ in us. It speaks of faith in these truths as the means, the only means, of achieving spiritual maturity or accomplishing any spiritual good in our ministries and churches. But where do we hear that any more.

Rather we see a dependence upon programs, both corporate and private. We see the use of worldly means to draw a crowd. We see the church run like a corporation and pastors as hard working CEOs. And we see, even in ourselves, a willingness to accept these external things as marks of success or spiritual progress. And sadly, even in ourselves, we see an unwillingness to turn loose of these things and to trust God to honor his word as it is fully proclaimed and lived. The poor results of this human efforts we deem to be superior to the "uncertainty" of God's power.

I stand convicted.

I listened last night to a message by one of the last of those old saints. His name is T. Austin-Sparks. You can catch him online at T. Austin-Sparks . Or listen to the message that pricked me anew at "A Livinbg Hope - Part 1". Maybe together we can begin to pray for what we Christians desperately need, a new reformation.