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Scharf: This is living really!
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Last week, I defended my statement that being a church person is really living. But I know how hard our society and our own sinful natures fight against that. I've heard all the arguments against the whole "religious scene." I know it's popular (foolish, but popular) these days to say, "I'm spiritual, just not religious." I've heard so many reasons the "church" world makes life hard. And I know, often the "church" messes up. Often, the real reason for church and religion is pushed to the side, so it does lose its purpose. That doesn't change the fact that this, this religious life, is the only way we can honestly say, "This is living."

So I'm taking another crack at it with this week's column. Maybe you've heard the charge against church and Christianity that paints us as a bunch of Negative Nellys, Debbie Downers, and Moping Moes. What makes it so sad is that many people don't want anything to do with the church because of how they view us Christians: "There are two kinds of people in the world - those who focus on the positive and the Christians who are always condemning and judging, talking about sin and punishment."

What do you say to that one?

I can appreciate the desire for positive thinking. I'd agree that's the way to go. Paul himself told us in Philippians 4 to think about "whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure...lovely...admirable." But let's not miss how he started that list. First and foremost he told us to think about "whatever is true." In order for something to be worth thinking about it, in order for it to be excellent or praiseworthy, first, it must be true.

CS Lewis wrote an analogy of this I'd like to adapt a little for our purposes. He said to imagine that there were 100 people detained and taken to the same building. Fifty were told that they were very important witnesses and that they needed to be sequestered for a very important trial and that they would be put up in a top notch hotel.

The other 50 were arrested and told that they'd be held in this jail until the trial. It was the same building, but the groups had very different reactions. Which group do you think became instantly bitter?

It was the ones who thought they were something special, who were expecting a hotel. They complained about this pitiful hotel with drafty rooms, unpleasant smells, poor accommodations. Whereas the 50 pessimists, seeing the place as a prison, were pleasantly surprised and described enjoying their stay with the spacious rooms, fully furnished, working plumbing: "For a prison, not bad. This is living." And yet it was the same building.

When we foolishly expect this world to be basically good and its people naturally kind, we will undoubtedly wind up heartbroken, asking: "What's wrong with people? Why aren't things working for me? Why does my life stink?"

In order to really live, we need to be real. If we accept the Bible as truth, we know that this is no hotel.

Our world is infected and affected, decaying and dying because of sin - the sin we are born with and the sin we join right in on. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2 - we were "dead in our transgressions and sins."

But, if you've got your Bibles open, scan ahead to verse 8: "It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." It is as simple as that. God gave you a gift. He gave you the life of his son - to save you.

You know, when people confuse church for a bunch of rules, they miss it completely. Church - religion is not about being pressured into doing good. Being religious - coming to faith, is not "That's when I started keeping the rules." It's simply this. God made you alive when you were dead in your sins.

Realize the reality: The pain and problems will come into your life whether you are religious or not.

That's because you're living in a world where death reigns because of sin. But only in Christ do you have the promise of life free from all that. Knowing that - this is living.

God made you alive when you were dead. God saved you from all the death of this world by the death of his son. And he did it for a purpose. He did it so your life could have meaning. This is Ephesians 2:10, following immediately upon the section I just quoted. Look at what we are saved for: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Fed by the grace of God, we get to do the good God had in store for us all the time. Fed by the grace of God, we live with a purpose, the highest purpose - the works of God. God has made you alive. This is living.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at