An Audience of One

Somewhere recently (sorry, I couldn’t find the citation, even on google) I read that when a pastor preaches, he should imagine he has an audience of one.  In other words, he should not aim to please his congregation, the visitors to his website or the world at large — his only purpose should be to please God.  I’m sure many of them have this in mind, because I have heard more than one minister start his sermon with this verse:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14

It occurs to me that this advice is sound for all of us, not only pastors.  We should all be living our lives this way– and not just the words that come our of our mouth, but our behavior.  Too often we’re people pleasers.  We don’t want to offend.  We don’t want to make others angry or stir up controversy.  We don’t want to sound judgemental.  We try to be “politically correct.”  We worry about whether our friends on Facebook or our twitter followers will desert us.  We want to fit in.  We want others to like us.  We want to be admired in the workplace.  We allow these feelings to influence us, and that may mean we keep quiet when we should speak up.  We tone down the Gospel.  We do or say things we know to be wrong to avoid looking prudish. We want our worldly audience to think well of us.

I’m not advocating beating others over the head with the Bible or behaving in ways that imply we’re better than they are (we’re not–we just know we’re bad!)  We can speak the truth in love, gently and respectfully, but once we know the truth we must be willing to speak it and live it.  Play to your audience.  He’s the only One who counts.

“So whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

 

Difficult Questions

I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems to me that the further I travel along the Christian path, the more difficult the questions I have to ask myself become.  In a previous blog, I wrote about the diaries of Dorothy Day–Duty of Delight (the Diaries of Dorothy Day) edited by Robert Ellsberg –Book Review.  I found myself convicted by her statement that we love God only as much as that person we like the least.  How much is that if I am truly honest?

Currently I’m reading a book by Dr. Derwin L. Gray entitled, The Good Life.  (You’ll be seeing a review of it shortly).  It focuses on the beatitudes.  Here are some questions he poses in his section on mercy:

  • Who is your greatest enemy?
  • Who has hurt you the most?
  • How do you feel about those who are on the opposite end of the political spectrum from your position?
  • What people group of a different ethnicity or socioeconomic status do you hold ill will toward?

And then of course, the big question — if God loved me and offered me forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy when I was His enemy, How can I not do likewise?  Consider these verses from the book of Romans:

“For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.”  Romans 5:10

Is this easy?  Of course not.  It’s not easy to put aside fear of those who are different, to forgive the person who hurt you, to show mercy to someone who harmed you.  But going to the cross wasn’t easy for Jesus, either.  However, that’s exactly what we’re called to do.  To love others, not just in word, but in deed.  Not necessarily the warm, fuzzy feeling of love that comes and goes, but the charitable love that is patient, compassionate and thinks the best of others. (Charity = Love)

Sounds good, but how do we do this in practical terms? The Bible tells us to pray for our enemies — so pray.  Not just for enemies in general, but that particular person you feel unable to tolerate.  Pray not that they will change, but that things will go well for them.  We’re also called to do good to those who harm us.  In other words, get to know them, and let them know you.  Their perspective may change, and so may yours.

Well, I’ve talked long enough and now I’d like to hear from some of you, readers and authors.  What are the difficult questions you’re struggling with?

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Trial — A Quote by Martin Luther

“This is the most dangerous trial of all, when there is no trial and every thing goes well; for then a man is tempted to forget God, to become too bold and to misuse times of prosperity.” 

Martin Luther

For more quotes by Martin Luther see these posts:

Martin Luther on Death and a New Beginning

A Thought From Martin Luther

Bear One Another’s Burdens by Martin Luther

 

Before We Forget edited by Nathan Millican & Jonathon Woodyard–Book Review

This book is a series of brief essays written by pastors about the challenges of shepherding a congregation.  One of the editors calls it “an exercise in the discipline of confession.”  Remembrance is also highlighted as a key spiritual practice.

“We want to remind ourselves of God’s work in our lives as He has conformed us into the image of Jesus and molded us into (hopefully) more faithful followers and more careful and helpful shepherds.”

Topics discussed include:

  • Insecurity
  • Pride
  • Taking the Pastorate for granted
  • Character
  • Sexual purity
  • Patience
  • Reconciliation
  • Suffering

Each theme has one chapter written by a young pastor, and one by an older pastor.  If you are not in ministry yourself, you should still read this book for a better understanding of the problems pastors encounter. The ministry is not easy;  it requires the ability to properly order priorities, persevere in the face of difficult circumstances and lead others while also acknowledging your own sins and shortcomings.

 

The topics covered are relevant to all church leaders, and in fact every Christian.  I especially liked the chapters on patience and reconciliation (which probably needs I need to work on these things!)

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  Very interesting and readable.

If you would like to purchase this book follow the link below:

https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/before-we-forget-P005815461

The Lutheran Ladies received a free copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR part 255.

 

 

 

Send Me

“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for us?’  Then I said, ‘Here I am, send me.'” Isaiah 6:8

My husband and I watched a show on television recently.  One of the main characters, a detective, had a post-it note on the dash of her car with this verse from Isaiah.  When she was asked about it, she said, that was how she viewed her job.  When things were a mess and bad things happened, God sent her in to help. Wow!  Wouldn’t it be great if we all looked at our lives this way?

Martin Luther would certainly approve, because he believed that every Christian had a vocation — not just priests and nuns.  Here’s what he had to say:

“Every occupation has its own honor before God.  Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling.  In our daily work no matter how important or mundane, we serve God by serving the neighbor and we also participate in God’s on-going providence for the human race.”

Think of it this way — we’re all on a mission from God, called to spread His love and His Gospel in the place where we’re been planted.   We can influence our environment in a good way or a bad way.  We can think of our work as boring and unimportant, or as a way to help and serve others.  When I worked at a hospital, buying inventory items, my boss had a sign placed in our warehouse that read:  “The supplies that go through these doors save lives.”  That helped me to understand that even if I was not a doctor or nurse, the work I did contributed to healing others. So did the work of every receiving clerk or warehouse employee.

Of course, there is also the work of simply being kind, respecting others, praying for our fellow workers, helping one another and so on.  Our occupation should not be unconnected from our spiritual life — it should be a place where we live out what we learn in church and Bible study every week.

You’ve been called.  Have you answered?

For more on Christian vocation see these posts:

What’s Your Vocation?

The Mission of the Layperson

Stewardship of Our Life

 

 

Name That Lutheran!

Can you name this famous Lutheran from the clues below?

  • 19th century American Lutheran pastor and theologian
  • Trained at Gettysburg Seminary
  • Opposed the American Lutheranism movement which sought to alter the Augsburg Confessions, removing items such as Baptismal Regeneration and the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar in order to bring Lutheranism in line with non-Lutheran Protestants
  • Was supported in his beliefs by his colleagues William Passavant and Blaine Schmucker
  • Served churches in Martinsburg and Shepherdstown, W. Va.
  • Edited a Lutheran newspaper
  • Was the first professor of systematic theology at the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia
  • Taught at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Was active in forming the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church which consisted of churches who deemed the General Synod insufficiently “Lutheran” and “confessional”
  • Served as President of the General Council for a decade

Unless you’re a Lutheran church history buff, you probably didn’t know that these statements refer to Charles Porterfield Krauth.  In fact, you probably have never heard of him! (I hadn’t).  However, if you’re interested in learning more about Krauth and his time, you can join in a zoom discussion offered by Shepherd University and  hosted by my husband, Pastor Terry Culler.  It’s free and you can email freelutherans@myactv.net if you would like to receive an invitation.  It will be held on July 14th at 10:30AM.  Hope to see some readers there!

New Month – No Theme

Wow. It is hard to believe that July is already here. This year has been a pretty topsy turvy one, hasn’t it? As we go through what seems to be an insurmountable task ahead – the renegotiation of what our normal is – keep in mind the one constant – the one thing we can count on to be never changing, always there – GOD.

Who knows what this month will bring? But God is here by our side to help us along the way.

God Loves You And So Do I

Michele

When Things are Unclear–Trust God

My devotional reading this morning included this verse from Psalm 56:

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;  I shall not be afraid.  What can flesh do to me?”  Psalm 56:4

The superscription tells us that it was written by David when the Philistines seized him in Gath– most assuredly a scary and uncomfortable situation!  Although Samuel had anointed him as king, his future looked uncertain at best.

Most of us will never be captured by enemy soldiers but we still go through tough and confusing times.  Friends disappoint us;  our dream job becomes stressful;  the kids act up;  our financial situation deteriorates;  our health fails.  It’s hard to remember that God is at work in those difficult things, as well as the good ones.  Like David, we may not understand, but we can trust.  We can refuse to fear, because God is with us.

 

Anthony W. Thorold, an Anglican bishop during the Victorian period sums it up well in this quote:

“Do not fear circumstances.  They cannot hurt us if we hold fast to God and use them as the voices and ministries of His will.  Trust Him about everyone and everything, for all times and all needs, earth and heaven, friends and children, the conquest of sin, the growth of holiness, the cross that chafes, the grace that stirs.”

The bottom line — when things aren’t clear, trust the One who knows and controls all things.  You are in His hands. If things look like they’re falling apart, He’s still holding them together.  Your future is clear to Him.

For more on trusting God, see these posts:

Trusting Your Leader

“Even unto death”

I Will Give You Rest

 

The Great Farmapalooza by Jill Roman Lord — Book Review

What’s a farmapalooza?  Well, according to author Jill Roman Lord, it is a host of animals making a joyful noise unto the Lord!  This sturdy 8″x8″ board book is filled with colorful illustrations depicting common farm animals, along with the sounds they make.  There are 11 flaps which toddlers will love to open in order to discover the animal hidden inside.  Each animal is grateful to God for both what they have and what they are.

This book will certainly appeal to young children,  and can be easily used by parents as a tool to teach the names of animals, the sounds they make, and the concept of thanking God for everyday blessings.

My only concern is the size and weight of the book.  Some children will find it a bit heavy and unwieldly.  It will probably be best used sitting on the parents lap with some help turning pages.

VERDICT:  4 STARS.  Nothing unusual, but attractive and fun.

If you would like to purchase this book follow the link below:

https://www.lifeway.com/en/product/the-great-farmapalooza-P005824877

The Lutheran Ladies received a free copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR part 255.

For other books for children see these posts:

Great and Small Prayers for Babies — Book Review

GraceFull by Dorena Williamson — Book Review

The Silent Noisy Night by Jill Roman Lord — Book Review

The Quiet Crazy Easter Day by Jill Roman Lord–Book Review

 

 

When God Says Wait by Elizabeth Laing Thompson–Book Review

When we pray there are times we quickly get a clear “yes” or “no.” THE THING we are asking for appears, or the door definitely closes.  Yes, THE GUY proposed — or no,  THE JOB went to another candidate.  However, sometimes the answer is murky:  the desired thing doesn’t happen right away, but there’s still a possibility for the future.  That puts us in a “waiting” mode.

Ms. Thompson uses biblical stories to illustrate different kinds of waiting and how they might be handled. You’ll get a closer look at the lives of Miriam, Naomi, Ruth, Sarah, Hannah, Jacob, David and more. Along the way, you’ll hear Elizabeth’s own story which includes her “babywait” and her wait to become a published author.  Waiting usually isn’t pleasant (at least not for us anxious types) but during these times we can learn to trust God and grow in Christian maturity.  As the author points out, there are only two things we can control about waiting:  how we wait and who we become along the way.  We can also wait with others because guess what?  Everyone is waiting for something!

Each chapter closes with some “waiting room” activities which include journal and prayer prompts and suggested Bible reading for further study.

I did have pretty big theological issues with some Ms. Thompson’s interpretation of Biblical events.  For example, I don’t believe that God changes His mind.  God is omniscient — he knows what we’ll say and what He’ll do already.  Although God may “seem” to change His mind (and yes, you can point to Scriptural examples), He is doing this to make a point or teach us something.

In spite of this, I found the book to be an easy, thoughtful and helpful read.  It would be a good choice to read and discuss with a small group of friends.  If you’re seeking CLARITY (our monthly theme) you might check it out.

VERDICT: FOUR STARS.  It would be 5 except for the theological issues.

For more about this book, go to this post:

Trying to Read God’s Mind