Why Liturgy is Important

My Lutheran church practices a liturgical worship service. This does not mean we do the same thing the same way every Sunday; rather, this relates to our format. The Divine Liturgy follows the pattern and basic elements of God’s service, many of which have been observed for over 1,000 years. Many Christian denominations do not observe a liturgical service like ours, and that of course is their prerogative, but I personally believe our liturgy serves an important function in my walk with my God.

Our liturgy strongly emphasizes our roots and connection with Christian history and worship practice. We are assured we will experience a complete worship service each Sunday, a service which includes biblical teaching, praise, and prayer. Through our liturgy, we are certain to experience the main Christian doctrinal theme of forgiveness of our sins through a belief in Jesus Christ as we focus on his birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension in each worship service. Our liturgy refers to certain  readings, hymns, biblical verses, and prayers specific for each Sunday of our church calendar year.

In post-Christian America, organized religion, represented by our various church denominations, is mocked by unbelievers, of course, and we expect them to do that; but many who claim to be Christians share this opinion with them and claim it’s not necessary to affiliate with a church for them to continue to adhere to Christian beliefs. It seems as though they would rather be affiliated with unorganized religion and call it good. They wonder why it’s necessary for a religion to be organized to be relevant in their life?

A pastor of mine once related a story about his conversation with such a person who claimed to be a follower of Christ but detested organized religion and instead  worshiped in his own way on his Sunday hike in the mountains. My pastor answered him by saying, “yes, God is worthy of our worship, and you can worship him in this way, but do you?” Only when we are organized can we be most effective in our worship.

Of course, when religion is organized to serve man and not God it deserves our condemnation; and, of course, we all know the organized church in history has been guilty of this transgression, and there are some church organizations today that seem more about the business of religion than in spreading the gospel in truth and spirit; but the baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater.

As always, we are to go to God’s Word to guide us. The Bible addresses the fundamentals in worship; it tells us we are to worship God by gathering together in worship; this gathering is what God’s true church is, an organization of believers. My pastor’s point was that only the church can really effectively serve to motivate a person to get out of themselves and spend just one hour a week focusing strictly on worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Of course church attendance alone does not indicate a person possesses a true, saving faith. Another pastor of mine told me that while we can’t assume everyone who attends church on a consistent basis necessarily has a true, saving faith, we can assume that a person who possesses a true, saving faith would be motivated to attend church on a consistent basis. The same God who has enabled us to have a faith that guarantees our salvation also tells us in his Word to worship him in truth and in spirit. Through our worship, our great God is glorified, and his glorification is our main purpose in the life he gave to us.

So then, I go to church each Sunday, come rain or shine, because I desire to personally connect with our triune God, learn more of his Word, receive his means of grace through observing the sacrament of holy communion, sing songs of praise to him, pray to him to bless me, my family, my friends in need, and my nation and fellowship with my fellow believers. During and after that one hour a week, I feel refreshed in the spirit knowing I have done what is expected of me as a true believer in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  That’s what true church worship is all about.

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The Big Questions

We humans are naturally curious, and most sane people have wondered about the answers to what theologians call the big questions. Is there a God? Does he care about us? What is my purpose in life? What can we know? What is the truth? Is there life after death? Christians know that the answers to these questions are in God’s Word, the Holy Bible. Unbelievers tell us they aren’t interested in pursuing answers to questions that can’t be answered. Existentialist Albert Camus once said, “I don’t aim so high.” He’s really telling us he doesn’t want to aim that high.

We are all made in God’s image, and we have an inborn sense that suggests to us there is something else out there; something that caused us to be and, for us to exist, this something has to be more powerful than we are.

We know there are transcendental things like truth, goodness, and beauty that exist in this life for which there is no explanation; and, as C. S. Lewis said, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” You will note that Lewis is not referring to certainty, only to the probability of certainty. This side of heaven we won’t know all of God’s truth.

We can’t have absolute certainty of God’s whole truth, but we know life is about choices and God has given us the free will to make those choices. We can choose to believe in God or not. Pascal offered up a wager: If we believe in him and at our death we find out he didn’t exist, we have lost nothing by believing. If, however, we don’t believe he exists, and we find out at our death that he does exist, we lose everything. So then, what have we got to lose by believing?

Nonetheless atheists reject a belief in God. Lewis said that atheism is too simple because it doesn’t believe in anything. Those who reject a belief in God have told me they aren’t interested in answering questions they are in the realm of the supernatural and they consider themselves to be naturalists. They don’t believe these questions can be answered through reason, their primary source of knowledge. They say that Christians have what they believe is God’s revelation, but they don’t. Faith, they say, is our primary source of knowledge.  I agree with them; I tell them I understand exactly where they’re coming from because I would side with them if God hadn’t enabled me to have that faith in him and his Word. They cannot understand my position. They believe, as Mark Twain once said, that faith is believing in something you know ain’t true.

Pascal once said there are three kinds of people: those who are seeking to know God; those who believe they’ve found him, but have the wrong idea about him; and those who have found the God of the Bible, whom theologian Francis Schaeffer called “The God who is there.” We know the answers to the big questions because God has revealed them to us. It brings us contentment to know the truth.

Unbelievers tell me they are content with their unbelief. When I press them further, they say they are spiritual and admit to a nagging feeling that there is something out there, something external to us, something that may even care about us, but they are not willing to pursue the thought. They are determined to stifle the truth of his existence; but ignoring him won’t make him go away. Only in relating to the God who is there will we be at peace in this life, and have hope for the next.

 

We’ll Leave the Light on for You

The Motel Six motto indicates their motels expect guests to show up to stay in one of their rooms for the night. This motto also seems to particularly apply to our health care system in America. Hospitals expect most of us, at one time or another, to check in and take a bed. They render a service unlike any other service because our health is our most important concern and we do not place a dollar limit on what we have to pay to maintain it. Hospitals, doctors, and big pharma, build their business plans around this reality. They over charge what they charge because they can.

What can we consumers of health care do about this conspiracy of greed? Two of my Facebook intellectuals have researched this issue and combined their thoughts to  come up with a list of actions that could be implemented to stifle the greed and make our health care system more affordable for us.

Joel Hirsch, a retired health insurance exec, would like to see a public option designed to: 1. Provide a choice for every American so that no one would be without coverage. 2. Provide pricing that aligns with Medicare reimbursement rates to contain the profit component in medical services. 3. Put pressure on “for profit insurers” to contain their pricing. 4. Require insurers to comply with ACA plan provisions as a condition of maintaining their license to do business and being allowed to cross state lines to sell their product.

Larry Butler, a retired CFO and university professor, posted his own list to add to Joel’s. Butler suggested we get corporate money out of politics by preventing lobbying of our Congressmen. Medical education should be paid off through public service. A public option should be offered on ACA exchanges. As with the tobacco industry, advertising for pharmaceuticals should be prohibited on TV and the internet. Reform patent law extensions for drugs. Effect limitations for all drugs developed with Federal money. Permit the importation of drugs from other countries. Prohibit inflated billing practices.  Both Butler and Hirsch concluded in saying their lists were by no means complete, but, if their suggestions were initiated, health care provider costs to the consumer would be substantially reduced.

If only this post could be read by Paul Ryan and the boys in Congress who have been elected to represent us and not represent the special interests groups like the health care lobby (the second most powerful lobby in Washington), the plan to replace Obamacare would work the way our health care system is supposed to work in America. Capitalism works best with team play and we need to force our health care providers to develop the attitude the Swedes have; health care providers in Sweden focus more on providing the service than on how much money they can confiscate from the patient. See my previous blog on Swedish health care.

The responsibility of providing affordable health care for all Americans is in the hands of the providers. If they don’t take those steps recommended by Butler and Hirsch and police themselves, our government will have to step in and do it for them. We can’t just continue on down the road to poverty, suffering and death for those who require health care. Socialized medicine isn’t the best answer but, when compared to the status quo, it would be the lesser of two evils.

Sweden’s Health Care System

In his book, Mistreated: Why We Think we’re Getting Good Health Care…And Why We’re Usually Wrong, Dr. Robert Pearl begins by telling us something most Americans know: Our health care system is broken. He tells us it’s fragmented, inefficient, unsustainably expensive, and, when compared to the success rates of other developed countries, is woefully deficient in doing its job.

As someone once said, “The business of America is business,” and we know our capitalistic system encourages the greed resulting in double-digit increases in the cost of health care over the past several years. Hospital administers receive huge salaries for filling those beds and charging unconscionable fees for services. I have written before about “the three little pigs” of higher education, entertainment, and health care who charge as much as they can for their services because they can. Health care is the worst offender because it often is not an option, and it is virtually unaffected by our free market economy. In fact, as Dr. Greg Feinsinger states in his newspaper column, “it’s virtually impossible to figure out what a hospital service is going to charge before the service is rendered;” and there’s no price competition among hospitals. Where I live on the western slope in Colorado, the hospital in Glenwood Springs charges twice what the Grand Junction hospital charges for a colonoscopy.  Let the buyer beware.

Dr. Pearl thinks highly of the Swedish health care system. He applauds their focus on team play. He tells us that “physicians and hospital administrators view health care as a public service, not a private business.” Of course, this attitude is to be expected because Sweden’s health care system, like most systems in Europe, is socialized.  He concludes by saying we need to be more like Sweden.

I’m not advocating socialized health care. There are some distinct disadvantages like long waits for treatment, mediocre quality of care, lack of medical research, etc. but you can’t argue with the statistics: Sweden ranks third in the world in patient outcomes. So then, as our Congress deliberates on a health care plan to replace Obamacare, I would recommend our legislators consider what a country like Sweden has done to achieve such an impressive track  record and incorporate what is working in their system into a plan administered by a private enterprise system; that would be the ideal for America. Private enterprise is in our history and in our blood.

Can this be done? I don’t know; but, I do know Congress had better get it right this time. Based on recent surveys, the majority of Americans aren’t ready for socialized medicine…yet. But the caution flag is up. If our legislators fail this time around to come up with a plan that meets the major objectives of any successful health care system, we will be forced into accepting the default: socialized medicine. Ideally the replacement plan would have bi-partisan approval, but this may be impossible because Democrats want socialized medicine and Obamacare was designed to morph into a single-payer system. This is why they don’t want to replace it.

Nonetheless, it’s time now for one more shot at coming up with a truly American plan that combines private enterprise (with its exposure to our free markets) with the improved efficiency of the Swedish system to come up with a plan that doesn’t put our government in charge of health care; we need a system that stifles the greed of the providers and encourages people to take responsibility for their own health care; we need a system that makes health care providers compete, and create better patient outcomes for a lower cost. Makes sense to me. Now we’ll see if it makes sense to the folks we hired to get it right this time around.

 

Celebrate Adversity

Suffering is every human being’s lot in life. One of my agnostic friends once said, “Life’s a beating and then you die!” Suffering, in and of itself, appears to be meaningless. But we Christians know there is a reason for our suffering; we suffer because of our inborn sin and we are all sinners.

But if God is supposed to be omniscient and merciful, why does He allow suffering? Atheistic philosophers tell us that it is our responsibility to give suffering its meaning by how we react to it. Christians believe it is God who gives our suffering meaning, and we learn its meaning by how we react to it. This is why C. S. Lewis, in his classic book Mere Christianity, concluded that our suffering is necessary.

But that doesn’t make sense, does it? Lewis tells us that God gets our attention through our suffering. He said that our suffering seems so unnecessary because “we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He (God) means to make of us.” When we confront our suffering with courage, we give our lives meaning and significance in associating with Christ’s suffering on our behalf. As the old sports saying goes, “No pain, no gain.”

Lewis provided a parable to explain what he meant. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of, throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Our suffering is significant in another way too. It creates empathy for others who are suffering. Our human nature is such that we are naturally self-absorbed and insensitive to the suffering in others. When Christ said the merciful are blessed, he was emphasizing the importance of showing mercy towards those who suffer. We are to “be merciful, even as our father is merciful” (Luke6:36).

This is why we should celebrate our adversity when it inevitably arrives in our life. It’s a difficult challenge, but it sure beats self pity.

How Did Christianity Succeed?

Historian Will Durant in his book Caesar and Christ, speculated that the reason Christianity succeeded was that “All in all, no more attractive religion has ever been presented to mankind. It offered itself without restriction to all individuals, classes, and nations; it was not limited to one people, like Judaism, nor to the freemen of one state, like the official cults of Greece and Rome. By making all men heirs of Christ’s victory over death, Christianity announced the basic equality of men, and made transiently trivial all differences of earthly degree. To the miserable, maimed, bereaved, disheartened, and humiliated it brought the new virtue of compassion, and an ennobling dignity; it game them the inspiring figure, story and ethic of Christ; it brightened their lives with the hope of the coming Kingdom, and of endless happiness beyond the grave. To even the greatest sinners it promised forgiveness, and then full acceptance into the community of the saved. To minds harassed with the insoluble problems of origin and destiny, evil and suffering, it brought a system of divinely revealed doctrine in which the simplest soul could find mental rest. To men and women imprisoned in the prose of poverty and toil it brought the poetry of the sacraments and the Mass, a ritual that made every major event of life a vital scene in the moving drama of God and man. Into the moral vacuum of a dying paganism, into the coldness of Stoicism and the corruption of Epicureanism, into a world sick of brutality, cruelty, oppression and sexual chaos, into a pacified empire that seemed no longer to need the masculine virtues or the gods of war, it brought a new morality of brotherhood, kindliness, decency, and peace.”

Durant was not a Christian and believed he was being objective when he concluded that Christianity is “molded to men’s wants, and that’s why it succeeded; and indeed, its detractors claim that Christianity was molded by men to address their wants, relief from suffering, poverty, brutality, cruelty, oppression and an ethical code that directed them in how to live a contented life. What’s not to like about Christianity? But then, why do so many people in the world oppose it?

Christianity is opposed because it has another side to it, a side that would prove to us this religion could only have been molded by God.  I say this because God knows our needs, our need to re-establish our broken relationship with him that occurred when Adam and Eve first disobeyed him in the Garden of Eden. We are all sinners and have a need to be saved. Christianity is the only religion centered on God.

How can I make this claim? In one of his articles in his book “God In the Dock,” apologist C. S. Lewis stated, “At first Christianity is welcome to all who have no special reason for opposing it; at this stage he who is not against it is for it. What men notice is its difference from those aspects of the World which they already dislike. But late on, as the real meaning of the Christian claim becomes apparent, its demand for total surrender, the sheer chasm between Nature and Supernature, men are increasingly ‘offended.’ Dislike, terror, and finally hatred succeed: none who will not give it what it asks (and it asks all) can endure it: all who are not with it are against it.”

The opposition to Christian we see now in a post-Christian America is not just indicated by our diminishing church membership; it is apparent in the opposition to Christianity’s absolute moral code. The opposition believes our moral code is evolving with the times. It is relative to the current morays of our culture. Behavior that is against God’s will and used to be merely tolerated is now promoted as acceptable. Abortion is viewed as a woman’s available option to an unwanted pregnancy, homosexuality is viewed as an alternative life style, living together without marriage is an acceptable relationship, etc. The atheistic religion of secular humanism has been successfully offered up as a substitute for Christianity and now purports a membership of over a billion souls worldwide.  Like the pagans of old, secular humanists are offended by Christianity, and hasten to herald its demise; but a religion molded by man comes up short when compared to the only religion molded by God. Christianity is what both Durant and Lewis described, and it is thus the only religion that successfully addresses mankind’s wants and needs. Our Creator would have it no other way.

Uses of the Law

In one of his songs, poet/songwriter Kris Kristofferson wondered “who those lawmen were protecting when they nailed the Savior to the cross.” In the chorus he gave his answer:  “The law is for the protection of the people; rules and rules and any fool can see we don’t need no ‘riddle-speaking’ prophet scarin’ decent folks like you and me.”

Kristofferson, of course, was referring to the pharisees using Jewish law to condemn Christ for blasphemy against God in the alleged interest of protecting the people from heresy.  Ironically, they had the roles reversed; it wasn’t they who were protecting the people through the law, it was Christ’s objective to make people aware of God’s moral law and its purpose in our lives. He wanted the law to be written on our hearts and minds for three reasons.

According to the Bible, God’s law actually serves three functions. 1. God’s law does protect the people; it protects us from ourselves; it keeps us from being as bad as we are inclined to be towards each other. 2. It makes us aware of how often we violate God’s moral law as expressed in the Ten Commandments. It reveals our sin to us. 3. Lastly, it acts as a guide on how we are to please God; it gives us direction on how we are to walk in holiness.

In Tabletalk magazine, Dr. R. C. Sproul summarizes in saying, “It (the Law) is God’s good gift to equip us for pleasing Him in all that we think, do, say, love, and believe.”