Monthly Archives: April 2017

Letter 49: “Do This In Memory of Bruce Barton”

 

The message this Sunday, as it often is, was about identity.  We ended by reciting a lengthy list of attributes that should describe us, each starting with the proclamation, “I am….”  Each “I am” had a Bible verse attached, and it was somehow linked, in some way, to something God had done, but it was all about me.

 

After the first few “I am’s” I fell silent.  I couldn’t join in.  God does not always want our ease, or our power.  Actually, much of the Christian tradition is about learning to suborn our will to His, to accept what He wants, and not infrequently, that involves suffering.  Milton went blind, William Cowper went mad, and the martyrs went home.  Being uniquely loved by God doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of this.

 

We seem much too obsessed with our identity, and too little with God’s.  It’s a fine distinction I know, but much of our preaching and teaching sounds like sanctified self-help, with a concordance attached.  We miss the point of Ephesians 2:5-11.  Christ was so sure of His identity that He didn’t think about it at all.  He was about His Father’s business, and so should we.

 

Such messages look Christian, feel Christian, but somehow fall short.  There is quite a history to such messages in this country.

 

In 1925, Bruce Barton, a son of the manse, wrote The Man Nobody Knows, the best-selling non-fiction book in America of that decade.  Barton was very clear about why he wrote the book.  He took issue with the image of Jesus presented to him in Sunday School and from the pulpit.  As Barton told it, Jesus was a man’s man.  He was a winner, and by following Him, we could become winners too.

 

This marked a subtle shift.  Yes, the Gospel was about serving God and helping others, but as a component of self-fulfillment.  The Gospel becomes just another miracle cure.  One that just happens to be 50% more effective, and without a nasty aftertaste.  Who wouldn’t want that?

 

All of this begs a question, what is the purpose of our lives?  The Bible is rich in words of comfort and assurance, because we need them.  It is also filled with admonitions to self-denial and sacrifice.  We are told to take up our Cross and follow Him who did see equality with God as something to be clutched like a miser, but was willing to die.

 

A gnawing disconnect gripped me, especially after we received Communion.  It didn’t feel quite right.  When confronted with the reality of Jesus, John the Baptist told his followers, “He must become greater; I must become less.”  John 3:30.

 

May it be so, O Lord, may it be so.

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Filed under Christianity, false gospel, preaching, Self Help

Letter 48: Faith for My Fathers

 

It’s finally starting to look like Spring in these parts, after a fairly strange Winter.  In a few weeks my parents will be coming North for the last time.  My father has dementia, and while he can still make decisions, they have agreed that they need to be near family to help out and keep an eye on them.  I’m glad I won’t have to make sudden unplanned trips to Florida as my father did with his mother, but I wish their return were under better circumstances.

 

It’s hard to know how to pray exactly about this.  My father has stated very clearly that he doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  I suspect that as a child of the Depression, this thought was firmly impressed upon him.  I see standing watch for a few hours to spell my mother as an act of love, not a burden, but I can see his point of view.  He’s already a “burden,” and he hates it, but there’s nothing any of us can do. 

 

He can’t be left alone for long periods of time as he may forget to turn something off, or leave something valuable about.  But he can tell you all about his childhood dog, and how she loved to play.  He can tell me that the sun is shining, and that he had a doctor’s appointment that day.  But he can’t locate financial statements to complete his taxes.

 

He’s become sadder as a result.  The world looks more grim and depressing, and I can hear it in his voice.  No more opportunities, worse, no sense of hope.  My heart aches.

So, how do you pray?  That he is healed of dementia?  I haven’t heard of that happening to anyone, and to some extent, it seems to be part of the process of aging.  The days of a man are three-score and ten, and then only with much trouble.  Do I pray that the progress halts or at least slows?  Yes.  Dignity and comfort, and strength, too.  I seem to pray a lot for strength for various people these days.

O MERCIFUL God, and heavenly Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men; Look with pity, we beseech thee, upon the sorrows of thy servant for whom our prayers are offered. Remember him, O Lord, in mercy; endue his soul with patience; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; lift up thy countenance upon him, and give him peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

uncertainty

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Filed under Aging, Uncategorized