Sunday, January 30, 2011

February 2011: Sexual Purity

This month, several of our youth will be joining a thousand other youth at LoveFest. Young people are bombarded with sexual images and messages everywhere. Not all of them are good. At LoveFest we'll be learning a lot about what God thinks about sex and about sexual purity.

If you watch TV at all, you find that the concept of "sexual purity" is considered to be almost an oddity. People who are committed to "sexual purity" are considered to be "fanatics". Since the 1960's, our society has sought to free our sexual natures from their bondage to rules and shame. Sexual purity became equated with a denial of our sexual nature. The idea of sexual union being only between "a man and a woman within marriage" was considered repressive and new ways of sexual union became acceptable.

What is sad is that sexual purity, as God sees it, is far from repressive. Sexual purity is not the denial of our sexual natures, but rather it recognizes that we were created as sexual beings. We were created man and woman. We were commanded to be fruitful and multiply. As man and woman, our biological natures complement each other. However, sexual purity also recognizes that, as created beings, we must express that sexuality in the ways that our Creator designed us to do.

According to "This We Believe--Selected Topics of Faith and Practice in the LCMS" God created mankind as sexual. Sexual union in marriage was for enjoyment as well as procreation. Sexual expression of love is to be in marriage and between one man and one woman. Sex is only between a man and a woman. Sex outside of marriage is forbidden. God's will for His people is to remain sexually pure throughout life.

Sexual purity is not a call to be a prude. It is not a call to give up fun or to be a boring person. Sexual purity enhances the value of the sexual union. It is not a call to repress one's sexuality but rather it is to uplift marriage as sacred. Its purpose is not to belittle our sexuality but rather to exalt sexuality in marriage.

For those who are not currently in a marriage relationship, I think it is important to know that they do not "lose out". Their sexuality is not being repressed. It is important to realize that our sexuality is more than just sexual intercourse. Single people are still sexual beings and continue to express their sexuality (i.e. their maleness and femaleness) in a myriad of ways. While it may not culminate in marriage, it is still a part of their daily lives.

Though we are sexual beings, it is also important to know that we are not defined by that sexuality. Many people have tried to excuse sinful behavior by saying, "This is the way I am. I can't help it." In fact, it is dangerous to let our human desires define us. Our human desires have been corrupted by sin. While we are sexual beings, we are more than our maleness or femaleness. We are more than our desires for a man or a for a woman. Where our human desires point us to desire something which God has declared sinful, we are not to express that part of our sexuality. Where our human desires point to godly behavior, we know we have the blessings of God.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 2011: Liturgical Candles

Happy New Year!

Have you ever watched the acolyte lighting the candles during worship? Have you ever noticed that big red candle burning way up in the left side of the chancel (i.e. altar area)? For centuries candles have been a traditional symbol in the church. They are not just for decoration. Light is a symbol of God. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Here is a list of some liturgical candles and their meanings.

Communion Candles and Office Candles

These are the two tall candles sitting on the altar on either side of the crucifix. They are lit during communion services. The other candles are called "office lights". At the beginning of the service, the candles on the right side (facing the altar) are lit first. The candles nearest to the crucifix are lit first. They are extinguished at the end of the service in the opposite order. The imagery is of light springing forth from the altar and returning to the altar at the end of the service.

Eternal Candle

The Eternal Candle is the big red candle hanging high up on the left side of the chancel. The Eternal Candle is always lit. The new candle should be lit from the flame of the old. I've always thought of it as a symbol of the eternal presence of God. However, historically, this was the one candle burning in the church to welcome anyone who desired to receive communion on non-Sundays. (7-Eleven is not the only one open 24/7).

Advent Candles

These are the candles in the Advent Wreath hanging high on the right side of the chancel. There are five candles: three purple or blue, one rose and one white. A candle is lit for each Sunday service in Advent.
Purple or blue? Advent has blue themes. One theme is penitential. As we await the coming of Christ, we are sorry for our sinfulness. This is symbolized by the purple candles. However, a second theme is "rejoicing that the King is coming." This is symbolized by the blue candles for royalty.
The rose candle is lit on the third Sunday symbolizing "joy."
The white Christ candle, in the center of the wreath, is lit on Christmas.

Candlelight Christmas "Hand Candles"

These are the candles the congregation carries at the end of our Christmas Eve service. The light from the Paschal candle is gradually spread hand to hand, throughout the congregation, symbolizing the spread of Christ's love and the Gospel.

Christ Candle, aka Paschal Candle (not the same at the Advent Christ Candle)

This is the tall (3 foot) candle standing by itself on the left side of the altar (i.e. facing the altar). It is a symbol of our Lord's resurrection and His visible presence here on Earth. The candle is lit early Easter morning and is lit every Sunday until Ascension. The candle is marked with a cross, the current year, as well as an Alpha and Omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet). These are symbols that Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. In the center and at each end of the cross, wax nails are affixed to symbolize the five wounds of Christ.
At the end of the Good Friday Service, the Paschal Candle leaves the sanctuary. This symbolizes the death of Christ. Jesus is the light of the world. When Jesus dies, the light of the world is gone.

Baptism Candle

This is the candle we give to children being baptized. It is a symbol of the light of Christ which is now in their lives. The candle should be lit every year on the anniversary of their baptism.

Unity Candles

This is a relatively new tradition for weddings. It consists of three candles,one white candle between two tapers. At the beginning of the service the two tapers are lit, signifying the separate lives of the couple. During the service the flame of the tapers are combined and used to light the center candle. Then the tapers are blown out. This symbolizes two lives becoming one.