Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review of Pastor Matthew Harrison's "Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action"

I recently acquired a copy of and read through Pastor Matthew Harrison's "Christ Have Mercy: How to Put Your Faith in Action". It was an excellent read. I believe that the hypothesis of the book put forward is true. And this is it- that it is not fancy programs or church fads that will bring people to Christ, or "keep the Church alive" (because for some reason, people have this notion that if we don't do something, God is going to let His people be destroyed). No, it is mercy, and the showing forth of that mercy to others. It definitely made me think.

Rev. Harrison goes on to explain how this all happens. He explains first and foremost how mercy comes not from humans naturally, but instead flows from the Triune God. He then shows how this mercy was most strongly expressed- through the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And this is not merely referring to His birth (though that certainly is a part of it). It is talking about His full work- but it centers upon the cross. Because only when we know Christ and Him crucified do we know the love of God.

After this, he explains how this mercy is manifested to us and through us. It is given to us in Word and Sacrament. And it is manifested in our whole life- as the Church corporate, and as people living out our daily lives. He shows that the social gospel waters down the Gospel, while an extreme confessionalism can lead to one not giving aid at all. Pastor Harrison rightly declares that, while some of these things may have been well-intended, they are both wrong. One cannot give up doctrine for the sake of charity, but at the same time one cannot deny help to those in need for the sake of seemingly being "confessionally pure". The two go hand in hand- one flowing from the other. Works of mercy are fruit of the faith, and just as mercy is given to us by Almighty God, so we should show mercy to others.

Now, the name can be misleading. "Ho to Put Your Faith in Action" seems just like a how-to manual right? Wrong! In fact, this book isn't a how-to manual on holy living. What it is saying is that as the Body of Christ, we are to engage in these things not because they are better, but rather because it is the natural response to the overflow of God's love and mercy given to us. In fact, I would argue (and this is my personal opinion), that while the author urges us to do things as described in the book (helping out in the inner city, giving aid to children in Africa, etc.), he is pointing to something deeper, more personal. He is saying that in all believers' lives, we do good works not because we "have to", but because we "have to". I know, paradoxical and logic defying, isn't it? We don't do good works because we "have to" for the sake of our salvation, but because we "have to" for God's mercy transforms us, and the closer we come to being in the image of Christ, the more it will be natural for us to do good works. Classic Lutheran mind-boggling rhetoric!

Despite the obvious Lutheran overtone of the book, I'd say that it could be (and should be) read by all Christians, regardless of denominational affiliation. It is a wonderful book showing that mercy is a gift received by grace alone, though faith alone, in Christ alone. And that showing forth mercy isn't just a way of putting faith into action- it is faith in action. And we aren't the primary participants- it is Christ working through us, so that none may boast.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Living the Crucified Life

Originally posted on The Wittenberg Trail (

Note: Within this post might be ranting. It is quite possible I will go off on tangents. Please bear with me; I have wanted to get this out, and now I have the words to do it. Just read carefully, and I hope you get the message. I honestly feel this is something I have to shout out to people, for their sake as well as the Church's.

In the Name of the Most Holy Triune God. Amen +

These days you hear it all over churches. "Live the Victorious life!" Or perhaps, "living a power filled life". You get the idea. Because of Christ, we can now live victoriously! Unfortunately, those who proclaim this message have it all wrong. In fact, they are most likely doing more to harm those who hear it than good. Oh, how I weep!Has the Church gone so far off track? Have we really reduced the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that good news of reconciliation and forgiveness, to a message of prosperity? That all you have to do is "give your life to Jesus" or "commit yourself to God"(however many times it takes), and you'll have power, wealth, and just about anything you want?

Forgive me if this seems harsh, but that is a damnable lie! It comes not from the mouth of the Almighty, but from the pits of hell, whispered into man's ear by Satan, and driven by our sinful nature.How dare we distort God's precious message of hope into something that can be used for material gain. Something by which we get a profit. Does man not know that the profit he gets is forgiveness of sins, membership into the family of God, receiving the Holy Spirit, and being fed with the precious Body and Blood of Our Lord?
Truly, it is as St. Paul proclaimed:

"For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."- 2 Timothy 3-4

So, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and all else who might read this, let me proclaim to you something. This isn't just any proclamation, it comes straight from the mouth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, Himself.

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." - Matthew 16: 24

This is how Jesus commands His people to live. This is the kind of lifestyle we should not only seek, but desire, yearn for. Christ carried His own cross and on it all our sin; now, being freed in Christ, we too should give up ourselves for others. God is not a toy. He is not the gumball machine in a mall. You don't just "put in your faith" and great wonderful delicious treats. No, instead you share with your Master a cup full of bitter suffering. Yet why should you complain? For if you share in His shame, you also share in His glory!

That is the issue; it seems people want the glory of the Church Triumphant here on Earth. It doesn't work that way. Now, is that to say that the Lord doesn't bless people materially? No! He does; and when that happens, whomever it is given to should glorify the Lord by using it to serve others(without expecting God to reward you either). The Lord knows each of our needs; if He clothes the lilies of the valley, how much more shall He take care of you? Of course you can ask Him for anything. Just don't alway expect or assume the answers going to be "yes". He shall give you what you need and what He sees fit to bless you with; no matter what He gives you, praise His holy Name! For in His Son God has given you everything that is good; all else is but a loss, but He endures forever!

So next time when you here the term "Victorious life in Christ"(or something similar), think again of what it truly means to live the "victorious life". Whoever preaches the Gospel and administers the Sacraments rightly, they are living the victorious life. For those who are starving, yet still praise God and share all that they have with others and each other, thats the victorious life. For those whom are blessed with the crown of martrydom, that is victorious living. Whoever shows kindness, mercy, and compassion to another in thanks for what Christ has done for them, that is living the victorious life.Let us heed the words of St. James:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. - James 1:27

Give everything of yourself unto others, just as Christ did for you. That is a life that pleases Our Heavenly Father. That is "living the victorious life". That is living the Crucified life. Amen +

Oh Most Holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:Hear the cry of your servant. We have sinned in all that we do. We have not loved you with our whole being, nor have we treated one another as we would treat ourselves. We have diluted Your Most Precious and Holy Gospel into something for material gain. Oh, that we worship you invain! That we decieve ourselves and one another with this perverse and blaphemous way of thinking! Oh Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us poor sinners. Turn not away Your face, oh God. Instead, have mercy upon us; outstreach Your hand of grace to Your people. Forgive for shaming Your Name, and for not protecting the message of Your Holy Word. Holy Spirit, we pray Thee in the Name of Jesus, come down upon us. Sweep through us like a rushing wind, a cleansing fire. For we have taken Your house of prayer and turned it into a den robbers. Clear out the money-gatherers and those selling Your salvation; for it comes from You alone, O God, bought by the Blood of the Lamb. Lord, we can do nothing by our own strength; indeed, even if we could, this lie has spread like a great weed. Grant to us Your strength, O Lord, to defend the Truth. Reveal the sin that perverts the Gospel, and call us all into repentance. Hear this cry; let it rise as incense before Your Throne. This I pray in the Name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen +