“One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty deeds.” Psalm 145:4
I’m writing this on Sunday, and we had a baptism at our church. As a part of the service, the parents, the sponsors and the congregation make promises. We are all charged with seeing that this child is brought up with good Christian instruction and examples. We are to pray for him or her. Here is the reasoning:
“We believe that God gives the gift of faith in baptism, but that this gift will be lost unless the child is taught the Word of God, upheld by prayer and given a Christian example to follow. This is first the responsibility of you parents, then of the sponsors, and the entire congregation. May we remain faithful in this responsibility and privilege.”
Do you get it? This is task belongs to the laity of the church. We are the ones who are to see that the faith is passed on through the generations. I wonder how seriously we take this promise. Too often, babies are baptized because it’s a kind of social or family ritual. We don’t see them again (or not very often) and we just forget about those important promises we made before God, no less. I’m as guilty as anyone, but lately I’ve been thinking about how to do a better job. Here are some of my thoughts:
- We could start a cradle roll program. (This involves purchasing packets with Christian information to be sent to families with young children periodically)
- We can certainly add newly baptized children to our personal and corporate prayers. In fact, we committed to do this by our participation in the baptismal service.
- We can stay in touch with the parents if they do not attend regularly, inviting them to events, and offering babysitting services if that is needed.
Our church is almost 200 years old, and it is humbling to think about the generations who have passed on the message of the faith to their own children and others in this place. Here’s what they had to say in the original Declaration of Principles:
” We take Heaven and Earth as our witnesses of our attachment to Evangelical Christianity and that its extension is our most ardent desire; that it is our wish that the doctrine of Christ’s atonement may be proclaimed to destitute souls here in this place; that we expect our children and our children’s children never to forsake their church, but to be true to it.”
We are links in a chain, a chain that goes back not only 200 years at St. Paul’s, but all the way back to the disciples who walked with Christ. We can’t let His message stop with us. It’s our duty, as lay people in the church to pass it on. We need to take that duty seriously. What are some ways your congregation has found to do this? I would like to hear more ideas.
I reviewed this book earlier this week, and although it doesn’t specifically apply to our month’s theme, Laity, the author does have some important things to say about what he calls “engaging with others.” To be successful as laypeople we must be able to get along and work well with one another. In any congregation there are differences: differences in background, education, ability, understanding and more. Sometimes these differences lead to conflict. When that happens, Gregory Spencer points to the 4th Chapter of Ephesians for a guide to “reframing” our outlook. Maybe you’ll find it helpful.
“An extended biblical passage that addresses “engaging with others” is Ephesians 4. Paul reminds his readers of what makes for a strong community. Overall we maintain unity by living peacefully (3) and fulfilling our various roles and callings (4-13). We do this by putting off the old self and putting on the new self (22-34, some obvious reframing here), feeding certain character qualities–humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love(2) industriousness (28), compassion and forgiveness(32) –and by starving sensual indulgence (17-19), extended anger, bitterness, brawling, slander and malice(31). I’m particularly taken with the admonitions to speak the truth in love (15,25) and to talk for the sake of building others up (29).”
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10
You’ve probably heard this before: T.E.A.M = Together everyone accomplishes more. It’s true in the church as well as in business. The laity of the church, along with the Pastor are a team. Often the Bible speaks of the church as a “body.” We have different gifts and different functions. We do our best work when all the parts are working together. If one body part isn’t doing its’ job, the whole body suffers.
I’ve had some of my best life experiences working with others in the church. Years ago, I wrote original Vacation Bible School programs for my church. It wasn’t a solo effort. I did the curriculum, but my sister, who is artistically creative, suggested crafts; a member who loved to sing chose and led the music; a preschool teacher gave us suggestions about which things would work well with different age groups; a great organizer became the director. We did this for about five years, and when I see one of those ladies today they often mention what fun we had pulling it all together! I could never have done it all on my own.
This blog is another example. Although my blogging friends tease me about being the obsessive blogger, Michele was the driving force in getting the blog set up and going; Paula made it pretty and added some features we didn’t know how to do; Beth Ann started me thinking about posting songs and music … and so on. It is a true group effort and I just love it when God mixes with us in a way that creates something none of us imagined we could do.
The best thing about T.E.A.M efforts? As Peter says in the quote above, they are a way to pass God’s grace on to others. Isn’t that what the church is all about? So, my advice is, dream big, and then find some others who will dream along with you. Pray, work, and let God use you in amazing ways.
He loves you and so do I!
This contemporary song was written by John B. Foley, professor of Liturgy at St. Louis University. It is often used on Lutheran Via de Cristo weekends and beautifully expresses the ideal of unity in the Body of Christ, His Church.
This was a new book I picked up at my local library recently. It’s probably not for everybody, but I really enjoyed it. Subtitled How Words Transform Our Faith, the author deals with language and how the way we use it affects how we view ourselves, our relationships with others, and even our faith. For example, if you had a difficult childhood, do you choose to “frame” it with the language of bitterness or forgiveness? When you “frame” our relationship with God, do you choose words of love and gratitude, or judgement and failure? When you look back over your life story do you choose words of grace, or condemnation?
“We choose our frames, and then we live in them. They form the structure of our lives, the “home” we carry around, which includes the “windows” through which we see the world. Though words are not everything, the words we choose matter. We can be transformed by them. They affect our work and play, our faithful and unbelieving choices, our virtues and our vices.”
I’m a word person, and so I like to think words make a difference. Words are the way we think and the way we tell our stories. Calling an experience “disastrous” we make us think about it in a different way than labeling it “challenging.” As believers, we can choose to “reframe” situations by putting on the mind of Christ, seeing ourselves and others as imperfect and broken, but children of a God who loves and values them. We can choose to “reframe” our memories by believing that God was in control and working things for our good, even when it didn’t seem that way at the time.
This book is both thoughtful and thought provoking. It ends with some “reframing exercises and discussion questions. I would recommend it as a great read for a small group or book club.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1
I hear quite a few people speak about their church as if they are merely consumers, making a choice about what is best for them. They belong to a church for reasons like these:
- I love the Pastor
- It has a great youth program for my kids
- The music is fantastic
- My friends go there
I’ve also heard people reject a church because:
- I don’t feel uplifted
- I’m not being fed spiritually
- I don’t like someone who is a member
- I prefer a different kind of music
Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with loving your Pastor, the music, the programs or the people in your church. There is something wrong with making a choice that’s all about you. I personally believe that the lay people of the congregation are called to be there every bit as much as the Pastor. We’re part of the body of Christ. We all have gifts and talents to build up the body. We’re all needed. We are to be worthy of that calling.
That means our choice of a congregation should be based, in great part, on where God is calling us to serve. It means once we have accepted our call, we need to be humble and bear with others even when we don’t agree with them. It means we don’t change congregations just because we liked the old Pastor better; we don’t get mad and leave in a snit. We settle in, we become family and we work together.
“Look careful then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 4:15-17
You’ve been called. Are you blooming where you are planted? Are you walking in a worthy manner? Are you God’s servant in the place He has placed you? Or are you just a religious consumer?
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. ” 1 Peter 2:9
In medieval times, everyone regarded the monks and nuns, with their religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as the truly religious ones. Lay people were simply out of the running. Martin Luther thought this was wrong and the verse from 1 Peter bears reinforces this. Luther maintained that the milkmaid or carpenter was called to serve others in a practical way, and if their work was done to the glory of God, it was as holy as the prayers of the priests. As with so much of the Christian life, it’s all a matter of attitude.
There’s an old story you may have heard that goes something like this:
“A man came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home.”
”A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.”
”A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, “I…am building a cathedral!”
As lay people, we have all kinds of work. We can choose to see it as service to others, and an opportunity to witness; or we can whine and complain that it’s not very enjoyable. We can work for the glory of God, or we can work for a paycheck that’s never quite enough. In our daily lives we meet all kinds of people. We can see this as an opportunity to serve and witness, or be annoyed because we’re surrounded by those who don’t meet our standards of behavior.
Which mason are you most like? Do you need to adjust your attitude? You’re part of a royal priesthood. Remember what you’re building and who you’re really working for.
I’ve published this program before, but in case you are a newer reader, or have forgotten, Concordia Publishing offers a Summer Reading program for Lutherans of all ages. The program started on May 26th and is over on August 5th. Go to this link:
Then join in the challenge with reading lists for adults, teens, and younger children that feature the newest Christian fiction releases, Lutheran theology and history, Bible literacy books, music, and more. You can register your whole household. You receive 100 points per book on the CPH reading list and 50 points for any book not on the list. Each child receives a congratulations kit with a free book and other items when they accumulated 1000 points. Each participants with 1000 points is also entered in a drawing to win additional prizes.
There are free brochures and posters you can download and print to inspire worthwhile reading at your church this summer. Who knows, you may begin the healthy habit of reading like a Lutheran!
“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
We lay people need to pray for our Pastor and for each other. I have found, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that in praying for someone my feelings about them transform. Often God reveals something that shows me I have been misjudging or misunderstanding them. Prayer is an important ministry of the laity; we are never too old, too young, too ill, or too ignorant to pray. It is such a simple gift we can give others, and one we often neglect.
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” Romans 12:13
Jen Schmidt doesn’t just practice hospitality, she pursues it! She defines hospitality as “freely giving of ourselves, while granting others the freedom to be themselves.” and offers many creative solutions to our usual excuses for failing to welcome others.
The best advice she has is, “just do it!” Hospitality is not about having the perfect home or the perfect menu; it’s simply about welcoming others in and making them comfortable. It’s not about you at all– it’s about others. Her hospitality is radical; it goes far beyond the usual dinner or potluck. In her book, she discusses hospitality on the go (spread a blanket at the ball game and invite someone to sit with you), everyday moments (invite the people you just met at Chick-fil-A to visit you), adoption (make a stranger part of your family) and more.
Throughout the book, the author has interspersed “Dear Jen” letters she has received with questions about hospitality and her answers. There are also a number of short essays by some of her family members. Each chapter is followed by an “Elevate the Ordinary” list of ideas about everything from entertaining on a budget to creating a family mission statement.
I especially enjoyed a chapter about a time in her life when everything seemed to be going wrong. Her family was struggling financially and there were several deaths in the family. Jen says:
“I was forced to choose. Declare His promises or disappear into my doubt. Avoid doing life in community and the vulnerability that comes along with it, or wrestle my spirit to find ways to bring Him glory in the midst of it. I needed to stay committed to opening my life up to others–actively loving God and loving my neighbor–even when I didn’t feel like it. Even when I couldn’t afford it.”
If you, like me, do not have the gift of hospitality, read this book. You’ll be inspired and learn many suggestions for hosting and welcoming. Some of them are sure to work for you. You may also enjoy visiting Jen’s blog, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam.
Verdict: I give this book 5 stars. For purchasing information go to the link below: