Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Don't Just DO Something! STAND There!

NOTE: This article was prepared for the April 2010 Parish Newsletter of Concordia Lutheran Church of Sikeston, MO. One of the problems which has surfaced in modern Christendom (perhaps it has always been there and I have been blissfully unaware of it until recent years) is that we always feel that we in the church must be “doing something.” We are “builders” and are proud of it. For decades we have heard pastors remind us, from James 1:23, that we must be “doers” of the word of God. I know, of course, what James the brother of our Lord meant; but I also believe that we have not always presented James in the context of the rest of Holy Scripture, and a Lutheran pastor in particular MUST always present a proper mix of Law and Gospel to his hearers. On top of this, we are, by virtue of our sinful nature, people who believe that we must somehow “help God along” in His work of salvation. On top of this, we look at lagging numbers in terms of church attendance, church membership, youth at worship and active in the life of the church, young adults who seem in some large measure to be abandoning the modern church (I'm not quite sure this statement “paints” those young adults fairly), and we resolve that “by gum, we had better DO something!” So we begin all manner of frenzied activity. We resolve to “remake” the church. Some write books and put on seminars. Others purchase said books and attend said seminars. To and fro. Back and forth. Rising early and staying up late. Burning gasoline and electricity. Wringing our hands. Pointing the finger at those who caused it. I fear that we are only making things worse and worse. But, dear reader, do you not know that God (Psalm 46:10) says: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Amongst all of the church leaders who constantly tell us to “do something,” are there any who tell us to “be steadfast, immovable?” Does the Lord Christ want us to “be busy” by serving our neighbors? Of course! But, sometimes, ‘busyness’ keeps us from standing firm in the faith! Read on, please . . .

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ our Lord :

No, it does not seem like a familiar title at all. What we are accustomed to is the phrase: “Don’t just sit/stand there; do something!” Frankly, this more familiar title is much more to my personal liking. I like to think of myself as a man of action, a person of energy, one who is willing to do the hard work.

But I have deliberately rephrased the familiar so as to cause you, I hope and pray, to rethink how we too often think in (post-)modern Christendom.

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Remember “Busy Work?”

Ahh, what great disdain we in high school had for those terrible teachers who assigned us what we termed “busy work.” “Busy work,” by our high school definition was: work which we had to complete and which took up our time but which was so shallow as to not require any thinking whatsoever; it was work in which we merely went through the motions of learning without learning or reinforcing anything. “Busy work,” we thought, made the teacher look good because s/he was giving assignments and sometimes (but not always) grading those assignments. From our perspective as students, they took up our time and energy but produced no lasting results.

Please permit me here, as a teacher of adults and children (for so very much of what a pastor does includes teaching!) to defend proper homework assignments. Writing out memory work, for example, is an excellent exercise which reinforces things which we think that we have committed to memory. Most students do not want to do memory work because memory work, whether for children or adults, requires some effort (sometimes quite a bit of effort!) on our parts — and most of us are lazy and do not want to be forced to do anything! This is different from “busy work” which only amounts to doing things which give the appearance of work while not accomplishing anything (why does the filling out of government forms spring to my mind when I think of “busy work?” :) ).

I fear that there are too many things which we do in Christendom in our day which accomplish little except giving the appearance (usually to ourselves but sometimes to others) that we are doing lots when, in fact, we are doing little or nothing. This we do while ignoring things which we ought to be doing but which we imagine to be too much work or rather boring or just not “cool” enough. Sometimes we change things which we ought not to change. I’ll try to explain but I do not have a lot of space here . . . read on, please . . .

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Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Workshop”

That adage is most certainly true! It is the reason why parents sometimes impose curfews on their children (“What can I do after midnight that I couldn’t do before midnight?” Answer: “Nothing, but you are more likely to do the sinful, life-changing things, because there are less of the wholesome things to do before midnight.”).

Every parent knows that, when children are left in one another’s company without any supervision or direction, they will often end up fighting or bothering one another simply because they get bored. For that very reason, good parents and teachers will help their children structure their time with wholesome activities like playing running games outside, or drawing things inside, or putting together puzzles, etc.

“Idle hands” is also one of the reasons why we teach ourselves that a proper posture for prayer (it is NOT required by Scripture but it is an ancient practice) is to fold our hands and close our eyes: doing this, we keep ourselves from being distracted from our prayers whether when we awaken, at mealtime (before AND after), during our daily devotion, at bedtime, or at any other time.

We should stay busy. If you are bored at home and need something to do, for example, there are always some things which we need to have done here at the Church: floors can be scrubbed and buffed, shrubs can be trimmed, leaves can be raked, windows can be washed, stuff can be dusted, papers folded, neighborhoods can be visited (a great way to take a walk), etc. If, however, you are bored at home and tend to fill your time with internet sites which tempt your sinful flesh or with junk on TV which only fills your mind with sinful ideas, well, then, the adage is proven true: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and you should get busy with something edifying (easy for me to say, I know, and harder to do).

THIS IS IMPORTANT: When you get bored and start looking for stuff to do, be very careful that you do not start messing with the wrong stuff, including at church!

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The Case for “Just Standing There!”

Dear Concordians (and anyone else who reads this), please mark this well: the pastor who is forever cajoling you to “do something” is probably beginning to panic as he fears for the future. I know about that because I have sometimes thus cajoled folks in the past AND because I sometimes still do fear for the future of Christ’s Church (I am not supposed to be afraid but when I forget to look at Christ’s promises, my sinful flesh sometimes becomes very afraid).

When we who are “ministers of the Gospel” start telling the sheep whom we serve that they must do all kinds of things, we are guilty of skewing the Word and counsel of God. Look at these Bible passages which tell us to stand:

+ Remember when the Children of Israel were being brought out of Egypt? And Pharoah was sooo angry and pursued them? And they were at the Red Sea? And they got angry with Moses? And they were ready to go back to Egypt or just surrender? Remember how scared they were? Remember what Moses told them? “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." (Exodus 14:13-14)

+ In his great “Resurrection Chapter,” St. Paul reminds us of our “standing” because of the work of Christ: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:1-2)

+ At the end of that same great chapter, as the apostle comes to his grand conclusion, he tells us who live in the grace and power of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58)

+ In the parting words of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” (1 Cor. 16:13)

+ Gal. 5:1 - “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

+ Did you know that one of the reasons why God has established the office of the ministry (what I am!) is “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, . . .” (Eph. 4:14-15)

+ In the apostle’s great metaphor of how we Christians are dressed up in the armor of God, he speaks of what soldiers do: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, . . .” (Eph. 6:11-14)

+ Philippians 1:27, Philippians 4:1

+ Colossians 4:12

+ 1 Thessalonians 3:8

+ 2 Thessalonians 2:15

+ 1 Peter 5:12

The above list is by no means exhaustive on the subject. Sure, we actively serve in the Lord’s church, but more important (if one can say it that way) is that we stand firm!

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It’s Hard to Just “Stand There!”

No kidding! Just ask any soldier! Or, ask any Congress! When there’s no immediate danger, the “job” of a military is to “stand there.” “Standing there” is a deterrent to our enemies. A strong defense keeps them from attacking or, if they do attack, makes it less likely that they will do any lasting damage. I am not trying to make a big political point here, and I apologize if I am accidentally stepping on your toes politically, but everyone knows that the job of a military is to at least be there in front of our enemies (example: playground bullies do NOT pick on kids who are bigger or stronger than they are — guess why!). When we are not being attacked, it is easy for our military to become complacent even as it is easy for our congress to quit spending money on military readiness.

It should come as no surprise to you to be reminded that the Church on Earth is properly referred to by a couple of very descriptive names: “Kingdom of Grace” and “The Church Militant” (sadly, you do not often hear of the Church described in the latter way in our day and age because it is not popular to Christians these days that suffering might be a part of their life in Christ — but suffering is very much a part of your lives, dear Christians! — oops, I’m ahead of myself here).

The church on earth is often called the “Kingdom of Grace” because the Lord Christ rules over our hearts with His grace (He does NOT rule the Christian with His holy laws).

The Bride of Christ (the church) is also called “The Church Militant” because the Church is always at war on this side of heaven — our enemies are the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Amongst the enemies of our souls are false doctrine and false practice.

It truly is difficult to “stand fast” when people around us are ducking for cover or whenever people are taking the easiest ways “out” of problems. It is hard to “stand fast” when it seems to be very boring for a soldier to “man his foxhole,” but give thanks for those who do stand fast!

Similarly, when the enemies are attacking and others are deserting their posts, it is hard for a soldier to “stand fast,” but because he stands fast others are kept safe from the enemy! Try to picture your “standing fast” in that way.

Your pastor and other Christians who are learning to “stand fast” despite the trends and fads which come along throughout Christendom are protecting you from silly ideas and false notions which waste your time, money, and other resources (and which could destroy your soul).

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How do I Stand?

There are a couple of things which you “do” in order to stand fast! [1] Attend worship every single Sunday (and other times) for there the Lord comes to you and bolsters you for the hard times; He also uses your presence to give much needed encouragement to others (including your pastor). I know that many Christians no longer think that it is “cool” to go to every Sunday worship, but how can you be a Christian who does not worship? In Worship you are reminded over and over again of the baptism by which your merciful heavenly Father has brought you into His family of faith (what privilege!), you will repeatedly hear the Lord’s own absolution spoken to you to bolster you, and you will receive the Supper in which Christ Himself comes to strengthen and renew you! [2] Attend Bible Classes; sadly, this is quite a problem for our own congregation as for other churches — in Bible Classes we examine some of the trends which are coming along and give answers, from the Word of God, which will help you to be steadfast. We study the Word (obviously) so that, when false ideas come to us, we will be able to spot them as false and will be ready to answer them. [3] Daily devotions (read the daily devotions which I send out in my daily email or read the Portals of Prayer devotional, or both!).

This is needed in Christendom today, “Don’t just do something . . . stand there!” May God give you grace, dear Christian, to stand fast. In Christ, Pastor Wollenburg

Most of this article, along with our entire April newsletter, is available online at: http://lcmssermons.com/images/aut112/2010.april.newsletter.pdf