Created on Sunday, 01 January 2017 15:15
Written by Aaron
I think I am experiencing a new phenomenon that could only happen in America after a holiday like Christmas. I am calling it P.W.S. (which stands for Package Withdrawal Syndrome). I think there should be a study done on this to see how serotonin levels in my brain are affected by what is happening to me, or more specifically, what I am currently feeling; I am experiencing withdrawals!
For weeks, I was receiving packages from Amazon, or some other online retailer, every day at my door with my name on it. Even though I had to pay for what was in these said packages, I started to feel like someone (me, namely) loved me. Now that Christmas is over, the package deliveries have stopped (or at least slowed considerably), and I find myself longingly looking for boxes on my front door step. I am starting to get kind of sad.
Withdrawal syndrome is real, even if no one has ever linked it to packages at your front door before. Withdrawal syndrome has also been called “discontinuation syndrome,” which I guess would actually make more sense for what I am going through. Typically, it only happens with reduction or discontinuation of certain types of medication, but can’t package delivery be a type of soothing balm for someone as insecure as me?
People experience withdrawals with all kinds of things: alcohol, antidepressants, nicotine, opioids, benzodiazepines…even cannabis! Even though I don’t have a degree in neuroscience, I am going to call P.W.S. a real thing (because we live in an internet culture and self-diagnosis is how most of us operate). Let me give you the symptoms and the correct course of treatment if you are experiencing P.W.S. and don’t know what to do next.
P.W.S. happens when a culture focuses too much on stuff, or things, to make themselves feel happy and fulfilled. P.W.S. has been closely linked to self-absorption, self-centeredness, or self-focus. When the thing that make one feel better is removed, he or she begins a slow spiral into depression, which may result in more packages being ordered from online retailers to self-medicate. This cycle can result in a lifestyle of accumulation of things that a person doesn’t need, but feels like they have to have; it can also result in massive debt.
The only cure? Killing the self.
When I say “killing the self,” I do not mean physical death, although if P.W.S. is not taken care of soon enough, it may eventually result in that outcome. Killing of self refers to what we worship and where our gaze lingers. In Matthew 16:24 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Jesus uses an implement of death to speak about following Him and living in the Kingdom of God.
Tim Keller says about this verse, “A better way to put it is the minute you believe in Jesus Christ you died on the cross with him.”
As followers of Jesus, every day we get up and remember we died to our old way of life, of looking for packages and things to bring us joy. In Jesus’ day if you happened to see someone walking with a cross, it wasn’t weird like it would be today; you would see that person and know it was the last thing they would ever do in their life—they were going to their death.
Jesus calls us to be a people who, in spite of trouble and hardship (sometimes as simple and confusing as package withdrawal), to look to the Cross in everything. It’s not focusing on our own death, but Jesus’
death and resurrection, that keeps our hearts and eyes on what matters most. Our own happiness and fulfillment was never meant to be what drove humanity; it was focus on, and worship of, the only one who is worthy of our devotion and praise.
That’s Jesus (not Amazon) in case you happened to be fuzzy on that last point.
Created on Sunday, 25 December 2016 10:20
Written by Element Christian Church
We wish you a very Merry Christmas!
Created on Sunday, 25 December 2016 00:00
Written by Aaron
Well, it is finally Christmas Day and there are no services at Element…whatever will you do? How about you read this blog, as well as the ones from the last two weeks, and go over the questions with your family? Over the last 2 ½ weeks, we have been looking at pieces of a sermon by Martin Luther written in 1521 and delivered on Christmas Day. (Obviously, he was holier than we are because he went to church on Christmas).
Luther has spoken of God shaking the world to bring peace, he has spoken about how we miss Jesus in the ordinary because our lives are so consumed with self, and today, we will go over where Luther begins to speak of grace in an unconventional way.
“Grace does not interfere with nature and her work, but rather improves and promotes it. Likewise Mary, without doubt, also nourished the child with milk from her breast and not with strange milk, or in a manner different from that which nature provided, as we sing: ubere de coelo pleno, from her breast being filled by heaven, without injury or impurity. I mention this that we may be grounded in the faith and know that Jesus was a natural man in every respect just as we, the only difference being in his relation to sin and grace, he being without a sinful nature…It is a great comfort to us that Jesus took upon himself our nature and flesh. Therefore we are not to take away from him or his mother anything that is not in conflict with grace, for the text clearly says that she brought him forth, and the angels said, unto you he is born.
How could God have shown his goodness in a more sublime manner than by humbling himself to partake of flesh and blood…But what happens in heaven concerning this birth? As much as it is despised on earth, so much and a thousand times more is it honored in heaven. If an angel from heaven came and praised you and your work, would you not regard it of greater value than all the praise and honor the world could give you, and for which you would be willing to bear the greatest humility and reproach? What exalted honor is that when all the angels in heaven cannot restrain themselves from breaking out in rejoicing, so that even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise God, sing and pour out their joy without measure? Were not all joy and honor realized at Bethlehem, yes, all joy and honor experienced by all the kings and nobles on earth, to be regarded as only dross and abomination, of which no one likes to think, when compared with the joy and glory here displayed?
Behold how very richly God honors those who are despised of men, and that very gladly. Here you see that his eyes look into the depths of humility, as is written, "He sitteth above the cherubim" and looketh into the depths. Nor could the angels find princes or valiant men to whom to communicate the good news; but only unlearned laymen, the most humble people upon earth. Could they not have addressed the high priests, who it was supposed knew so much concerning God and the angels? No, God chose poor shepherds, who, though they were of low esteem in the sight of men, were in heaven regarded as worthy of such great grace and honor.
See how utterly God overthrows that which is lofty! And yet we rage and rant for nothing but this empty honor, as we had no honor to seek in heaven; we continually step out of God's sight, so that he may not see us in the depths, into which he alone looks…He works in opposition to these temporal things, looks with favor upon that from which the world turns, teaches that from which it flees and takes up that which it discards.
And although we are not willing to tolerate such acts of God and do not want to receive blessing, honor and life in this way, yet it must remain so. God does not change his purpose, nor does he teach or act differently than he purposed. We must adapt ourselves to him, he will not adapt himself to us. Moreover, he who will not regard his word, nor the manner in which he works to bring comfort to men, has assuredly no good evidence of being saved. In what more lovely manner could he have shown his grace to the humble and despised of earth, than through this birth in poverty, over which the angels rejoice, and make it known to no one but to the poor shepherds?”
On Christmas Eve we talked about light, that Jesus came into the world to expose our darkness. One of the ways we live in darkness is by constantly thinking the rich, famous, or powerful have everything we could ever want or need. (I wonder if they got everything wanted today in terms of “stuff.”) We raise people higher in our own estimation and want what they have, but God comes in the form of Jesus and shows what really matters; it is not the high and lofty, it is the common and ordinary. We are a people who live in the common and ordinary places and that is where Jesus chose to make Himself known.
This Christmas day, ask your kids what would bring them the most joy: having God speak words of grace over them, or having their favorite movie star (or super hero) show up for dinner? Talk about how God’s grace reminds us that living in the ordinary is good, and that as we live for Him in ordinary places, His grace becomes more deeply known and understood.
Merry Christmas, Element.
Download PDF version of entire sermon
Created on Tuesday, 06 December 2016 14:27
Written by Aaron
Last week in our blog we looked at the historical division that resulted in different Bible translations being used by the Protestant and the Catholic Church. The schism between the two theological perspectives hit the fan (so to speak) when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door in 1517…the theses seem to wholly revolve around the words repentance and penance. Here are the first two:
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, "Repent ye, etc.," intended that the whole life of his believers on earth should be a constant penance.
And the word "penance" neither can, nor may, be understood as referring to the Sacrament of Penance, that is, to confession and atonement as exercised under the priest's ministry.
What does this mean and why does Luther say this? Let me show you two verses from two different Bible translations.
(English Standard Version) - From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
- From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand
- And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
- But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost
If you look at the words I underlined in the verses above, you see the difference, and it comes about because of a mistranslation of the Greek word “metanoeo.” Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (which the Catholic Church used since 1582 as the Douay Rheims version) translates this as “poenitentiam agite" ("do penance"). Metanoeoi doesn’t mean “do penance” though, it means to change one’s mind, have sorrow, and experience a true change of heart. Repentance is a work that God initiates within us that works its way out. Penance, on the other hand, is outward works to atone for our own sin. Mark Sohmer writes, “Repentance is of the heart. Penance is imposed by a Roman priest. Repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit. What God desires in the sinner is not a punishment of oneself for sins, but a change of heart, a real forsaking of sin, shown by a new life of obedience…in short, penance is a counterfeit repentance. It is the work of man on his body; true repentance is the work of God in the soul.”
This is where the rift widened during the Reformation—repentance and penance.
Part of the issue is the way Christians tend to latch on to pithy formulas for faith. During the Middle Ages, people liked grouping things in sevens (e.g., seven deadly sins, seven works of mercy, seven virtues, seven holy orders, seven liberal arts, etc.). The idea of seven “sacraments” emerged about 1000 years after Jesus, but was claimed to have been instituted by Jesus himself (because we love to blame Jesus for all of our stupid ideas, right?). These sacraments were: (1) Baptism, (2) Confirmation, (3) Eucharist, (4) Penance, (5) Extreme Unction, (6) Holy Orders, and (7) Holy Matrimony. The Reformers pointed out that the seven sacraments didn’t go back to Jesus. In response, the Catholic Church pointed to the Latin Vulgate passages to support their claims that Jesus instituted all seven. The Reformers said this “evidence” didn’t stand up to scrutiny because the Greek New Testament didn’t support Jerome’s mistranslation. The Council of Trent tried to shut the matter down again, however, by saying:
“If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema.” (7th sess. 3 March 1557).
This became too much for the Reformers, most importantly Luther, who believed that the Bible clearly taught salvation through faith alone. He pointed to Jesus’ real words when he said, “repent” and not “do penance.” We do not atone for our own sin; Jesus did so at the Cross. Too many Christians today live in the Catholic Church’s mindset from the 16th century, trying to “do penance”…too many churches who claim to believe in grace encourage this mindset as well. Human beings cannot atone for their own sin before God. If they could, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die and rise again; the Gospel would cease to be the “good news” it is and become useless news instead. The truth is that we can never pay for what separates us from God; this is why God does it Himself in the person of Jesus. We do not have to “do penance”; we get to live lives of hope and freedom because Jesus has set us free to love God.
To bring this whole thing to a close, it is important to be discerning regarding how Scripture is translated, interpreted, and lived out. Remember that Scripture is all about Jesus and His saving work in our lives. He has paid the price we could never pay once and for all, this is why our lives should be marked by gratitude and joy…it is why they should be marked by repentance and not penance.
Created on Tuesday, 29 November -0001 16:00
Written by Aaron
If most people know anything about the Reformation and church history, they think of Martin Luther, church doors, nails, grace versus works, indulgences, and a whole lot of fiery debates. Many today that look back on this movement think Protestants and Catholics were just splitting hairs on issues that today we could just live with. What most people miss is that there were, and I would say still are, some good reasons to vigorously disagree with poor theology.
The thing I would like to explore in this blog is the idea of penance versus repentance, but it is going to take us a long time to get there because I have to explain a lot
of stuff first. The Protestant Church, after the Reformation, started translating and releasing Bible versions that went back to the best copies of manuscripts available. Today our translations are very good and also refer to the best available manuscripts. The Catholic Church, after the Reformation, stood firm in their longstanding use of the Latin Vulgate (a translation of Jerome, an early church father). (Please understand that this is a very simplistic rendition of many debates and things you probably would get lost in and not care much about.)
People in our Gospel Class like to ask, “Why does the Catholic Bible have extra books?” The answer is that before the Reformation, the extra books (Apocrypha) were not considered to be within the canon of Scripture. (Again, many people would like to disagree on this point, but I think history can prove me correct in this.) Please note these extra books were not considered bad; Luther even said they were useful and referred to them, but he did say they were not on par with Scripture. After the Reformation, the extra books became a way to distinguish ‘their’ Bible from ‘the other’ Bible (again, a simplistic interpretation).
Today, the five most popular Catholic approved Bibles are: Douay Rheims, New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition, and the New Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition. Some of these are good translations, and the Catholic Church has made some strides forward as the Vatican has now called for translations from the original languages in Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spirit.
The Church has encouraged the use of more modern translations that utilize the best and earliest manuscripts, but—and this is why I write this as my “Part 1” of the blog—they still hold to an archaic translation of certain verses that skew the idea of grace.
For Luther, one of the largest issues he had was with the Catholic Church’s translation of Acts 2:38 and Matthew 4:17. We will explore this more in Part 2 of the blog. Luther noticed that the Catholic Church, in using Jerome’s translation, used the words “do penance” instead of the more proper “repentance.” I know, both of the words sound vaguely familiar to each other, but they are completely antithetical in terms of the Gospel (the Gospel being the good news that Jesus has come to restore and renew us through His own death and resurrection).Luther said that Jerome’s translation misled people into thinking that people must atone for their own sin when Jesus clearly died to pay that penalty before God, once and for all.
When the Reformation was in full swing, the Catholic Church shut down any conversation about the topic by saying in 1546, “If anyone shall not accept all these books in their entirety, with all their parts, as they are read in the Catholic Church and are contained in the ancient Latin Vulgate edition as sacred and canonical
…let him be anathema (meaning “let him be accursed, or excommunicated,” 4th
At that time, the Catholic Church also showed disdain for the original Hebrew and Greek translations when they came out with what is known as a polyglot
(meaning using several languages). This allowed the reader to compare the text in multiple languages side-by-side. There was Hebrew on one side, Greek on the other, and in the middle, Jerome’s Latin translation. The Catholic Church had this to say about the polyglot: “We have put the Latin translation of St. Jerome [the Vulgate] between these versions, as though between the synagogue and the Eastern Church, placing them on each side like the two thieves, with Jesus, that is the Roman or Latin Church, in the middle”
Century Complutensian Polyglot
Pretty far reaching comparison, huh? I know, it sounds like I am bashing on the Catholic Church, but that isn’t my intent…really. I want to give you the historical background for what next week’s blog will cover when we talk about one of the main schisms of the Reformation, and to help us realize that today we are no different in how we let our personal biases influence what we believe as truth. Maybe, at some future date, I’ll even show you some ways the Reformers did this, too.
For now, simply keep in mind that repentance is what Jesus calls us to—to repent of our self-righteousness and pride, to turn from ourselves and to Him. Matt 4:17 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”