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Archive for September, 2012

I Surrender…?

Maybe you’ve read the list of hymn titles that have circulated on the Internet suggesting that they should reflect what we really mean when we sing. Some of them are funny, some are thought-provoking, and a few are downright convicting.

As we sang “I Surrender All” last Sunday at church, I was convicted of my own sin and lack of surrender to the Lord. The first verse of Judson Van DeVenter’s hymn reads:

All to Jesus I surrender/All to Him I freely give/I will ever love and trust Him/In His presence daily live.

The refrain reads:

I surrender all/I surrender all/All to Thee, my blessed Savior/I surrender all.

Do I really surrender all to Jesus? All of my desires? All of my plans? All of my past, present, and future? All of my possessions? All of my money? All of my time? I’m afraid that quite often, what I mean when I sing “I Surrender All” is actually “I Surrender Some.” I don’t want it to be that way, and as the Holy Spirit shapes and forms me into the image of Christ it won’t be. Come, Lord Jesus!

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This morning, I had the privilege of preaching on Genesis 12:1-9 (God calling Abraham to forsake everything and follow Him). Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: True faith hears, obeys, and worships God.

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Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)

Chris Donato, in the July 2008 issue of Tabletalk, illustrated this passage by referring to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran pastor in Germany during the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. He was especially concerned with the church not understanding the cost of following Jesus. Donato writes,

Hitler’s Germany posed a threat to the world and a challenge to the Christian church. History sadly records how badly the established church in Germany did in facing the challenge. After the Reformation, Bonhoeffer argued, the church again cheapened the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, and this has seriously weakened her witness: “The price we are having to pay today in the shape of the collapse of the organized church is the only inevitable consequence of our policy of making grace available to all at too low a cost. We gave away the Word and sacraments wholesale, we baptized, confirmed, and absolved a whole nation without condition. Our humanitarian sentiment made us give that which was holy to the scornful and unbelieving…But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard.” Thus the collective consciousness of the country went on with business as usual, baking their bread, selling their goods, with a prison camp like Flossenburg just a few miles out of town.

It was in the Flossenburg concentration camp, incidentally, that Bonhoeffer met his untimely death in April 1945, just as the American forces were approaching. The account is true gruesome to describe here. Suffice it to say that it was slow and painful. Thus Bonhoeffer understood well the difference between what he called costly grace and cheap grace: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” Or, to put it even more clearly it is to hear the Gospel preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” If the Gospel made no such demands for discipleship, then Bonhoeffer could and should have happily joined the ranks of the organized church in Germany. And we too can happily join the church in America at those precise points where it baptizes the injustices of its culture (like abortion, for instance).

Nazi Germany, however, is an easy target. Wading through the subtleties of idolatry and calling them out in America is another matter. Where do we begin? How do we avoid both extremes of baptizing anti-Christian or withdrawing to the point of quiet inaction. The cost of discipleship in these United States doesn’t seem all that costly. Or have we missed what it means to be a disciple?

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Sermon in a Sentence

I was privileged to preach on Genesis 11:10-32 this morning (a genealogy from Shem to Abram). Here is a summary of my sermon in one sentence: God’s grace and plan can be seen throughout the ages.

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