Pastor Mark’s Blog

THE MESSAGE OF THE CROSS WAS IN THE MISSION OF THE MANGER

January 23, 2019
 
     The mission of the manger was the cross of Christ.  Couched between the manger of our Lord’s coming and the tomb of His resurrection is the cross of His supreme sacrifice for the sins of humankind.  Without the cross, the manger becomes a quaint story of a baby called Jesus and His coming to bring “peace on earth goodwill to man.” In its secularized presentation of today, it is nothing more than a story about our aspirations for a better day joined by angels, shepherds and wise men around a creche.  Without the cross, the manger loses its ultimate message – He was born to bring hope, peace, love and joy through His death on the cross for sin. Without Christ’s death of the cross, peace is impossible – understood as peace with God and peace from God in our hearts and minds. The Scriptures are abundantly clear – He came to die in our place.  He came to redeem us from our sins. He was born in a manger to die on a cross.
 
     The cross is vain and tragic without the resurrection.  The absence of the resurrection is a declaration of a failed mission that began in the manger.  Our Lord’s life and message has no meaning and no import without a living Savior who accomplished victory over sin, death and the grave through His death on the cross.  We are left without hope if our Savior is still in the grave. Yet, the cross is the crux of our story as Christians. It is our most meaningful symbol to declare the story of redemption.  We wear it around our necks, we place it over our graves, we hang it in our churches and display it outside in our church lawns, we exalt it above our steeples, and we display it in our holy days of Christmas and Easter.  It is the apex of all that it means to be a Christian. We don’t worship the Cross, but worship the Messenger of God, the Son of God, Immanuel who died on the cross for us. The message began in a manger and culminated in an empty tomb.  But the message of cross is the centerpiece of our faith. The manger is not enough. The empty tomb is not enough. The cross gives meaning to the whole story.      
 
     Sadly, the message of the Cross in the mission of the manger is made void by secularized messages and images that would distract or weaken its message of redemption. They would keep it hidden in the manger for fear of political correctness (I Cor. 1:17).  It is “foolishness” to many, an embarrassment to some. But for me it is the “power of God” (I Cor. 1:18). It is the basis of the Christian faith, the good news that transcends rational explanations and offends sensibilities. But nevertheless, the Cross of Christ invites you to come beyond your skepticism and cynicism and receive the mission of the One who came in a manger and receive His message of salvation through His death and resurrection.  We were warned that this Cross would create enemies because its message opposes a lifestyle. Some would prefer, “Jesus is safer in the manger. Leave Him there. On the cross He condemns my sinfulness and the need of a Savior (Eph. 2:11-17; Phil. 3:18-21). In the manger I am warmed by the presence of God with us – Immanuel. But on the cross, I witness the Son of God who died for my sins (Jn. 3:16).” In this New Year remember that in the manger He came and will come again – we call it Christmas.  In the empty tomb He declares that He is alive forevermore, and because He lives, we can live if we believe – we call it Easter (though I like Resurrection Day better). But at the heart of it all is the Cross. It is the message of all our holy days as followers of Christ – “take up your cross and follow me.”

SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING

July 17, 2018

     Worship remains a matter of discussion and even contention in our day.  Considering the world’s problems of war, destitution, hunger and drought, and big challenges facing the church in the public square and society at large, it seems almost narcissistic to have to even discuss and debate how we worship the Lord God!  But it may well be that our obsession with worship styles and music are nothing more than an over emphasis on individualism and self-centeredness. And this hurts the church’s witness.  So, I really hate submitting another article on this subject, but a recent article in Christianity Today moves me to share once again what might be a realignment in our thinking from “my worship” to “our worship.”

     Jen Wilkin wrote this article, entitled The Sunday Gathering Is Not About You.  In it she notes that evangelicals correctly put an emphasis on our personal relationship with Christ.  But ironically, corporate worship came to reflect our individual experience.  Yet a post-Christian culture cries out for us to reclaim our once historic emphasis in our worship on us – a reminder that we are not alone in this world.  Corporate worship should emphasize the we, pushing back on the me that weakens our shared faith. People are lonely in this turbulent day, and the church should be one area where they can find community and comradeship.  

     Wilkins gives six emphasis that can get us back into a shared, corporate worship that promotes the we, which in turn will correct the abuses of worship, whether contemporary or traditional.  First, we need to re-evaluate our worship environments.  Stage lights and “stages” in general leave the congregation in darkness and “out there” creating anonymity from what is occurring up front.  We need to see each other and join together in worship.  We would benefit from a sense of shared sight and space that promote the we. Second, we need a sense of shared hearing. We use sound systems.  When the sound is too loud, individuals can feel isolated and anonymous.  When the sound is lower, we can hear each other in worship that encourages participation.  Also, if the music is too difficult to sing or has complicated melodies, worshippers become silent.  Worship music should be conducive to everyone’s ability.  Third, we should have shared touch to move us from me to us.  This goes back to the historic greeting in the early church – the “holy kiss.”  While we may not be comfortable with this, it can easily be translated into our greeting with eye contact, grasped hands or hugs.  Such remind us that we are with other living, breathing believers.  Fourth, we should have shared taste.  This is captured in the shared table of the Lord’s Supper, and the fellowship meals.  Nothing speaks of “communion” like sharing the Lord’s Supper or in fellowship meals.  Fifth – and this is one I have contemplated for we Baptist – and that is shared smell.  In the First Test Testament, the Tabernacle and Temple of God had much to say about the use of blended incense that was particular to their worship.  Most modern churches don’t use incense or scented candles, but might benefit from the shared smell of a fragrant worship through scented candles, especially during special worship times like Advent, Christmas, Easter, etc.  This shared memory through fragrance might actually be much like the smells we lovingly remember from our childhood days at home.  Sixth, there is shared words. To help move us from me to we, we should participate in the shared lyrics of songs, but also shared prayers (Like Lord’s Prayer), the creeds, and Scripture reading, all said in unison.  Some churches do this better than others, but all would benefit from a corporate involvement in the declarations of faith and petitions. 

     These are Jen Wilkin’s ideas for increasing the we in worship. Yes, salvation is a personal experience.  But this must never set aside the fact that when I come to the Lord in faith, I also enter the we of the family of God.  Only a shared faith can comfort and carry us through these troublesome times.  We are not alone!