Keeping it Simple

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has told you, O man, what is good;  and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:1-8

We tend to make things complicated that should be simple.  The Jews had over 600 rules to explain exactly how to follow God’s commandments.  I’m no different.  When I take on a task, I like to pin down the exact expectations, so I can be sure to measure up.  God doesn’t seem to work that way.  He made each of us unique and special. He knows our talents and gifts, our weaknesses and flaws.  Remember Beth Ann’s post about the talents?  Each servant was commended for using what they had been given, but they didn’t end up with identical results.  The only servant who was denounced, was so fearful, he didn’t do anything with the gift he was given.

So, in the verses above, God’s prophet Micah tells the people, there isn’t a certain number, or a specific type of sacrifice you need to make.  You just need to be fair and kind to others.  Spend time with me, have a humble attitude, and you will learn what you need to know and your efforts will please God.  He is, after all, your Father, who wants love and respect, not blind obedience.

Jesus tried to keep it simple, too.  In the book of Matthew when the Pharisees question him about the requirements of the law he answers:

“…’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And …You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments, depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:37-39

So, if I love God, my heart will be in the right place, and I’ll want to obey.  It’s won’t be a task to be completed perfectly.  It will be a natural consequence of who I am.  I guess the lesson for me here is, spend more time with God, getting to know Him, experiencing His presence, studying His Word, and my obedience, though imperfect, will please Him.  I don’t need to worry about the details.

 

Using our Talents

In my home, over an inner doorway is a plaque.  It’s very plain, not very tall but somewhat long and on that plaque it says:

To Whom Much Is Given Much Is Expected

I’ve had this for several years now and it’s to remind me to be faithful with the talents and gifts that God has given me.

The saying is what I call an “off-quote” (since it’s not exact) of Matthew 25:14-28 more commonly referred to as the Parable of the Talents.  Instead of copying it all here, I’ll give you a synopsis.  A wealthy gentleman was leaving the area and he entrusted three servants with differing amounts of gold, or as the coin was called back in the day, talents.  One received five talents, the second received two talents, and the last servant received one talent.  It doesn’t seem like the servants were given special instructions about what to do with the money they were given, but the first and second servant put the money to work and increased the amounts.  The third didn’t do anything.  When the Master returned he called each servant to account for what they did.  The first two servants had doubled the money and the wealthy Master says to both of them:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The third servant was fearful.  He was afraid to lose the Master’s money so he had hidden it (kept it to himself) so he wouldn’t lose it.  I’m afraid the Master was pretty rough with him:

‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This parable is tucked between two other parables.  The chapter starts with the parable of the Ten Virgins and ends with the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  All of it is an explanation of the Kingdom of God.  It starts with how we need to be ready for the Bridegroom and then moves to what we are to be doing while we wait and the last chapter deals with what happens to the persons that don’t obey the warnings.

I believe this section describes what we are to be doing:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

These are our “talents”.  This is what we are to do.  We need to take what we are given from the Lord and increase it by giving it away to others.

So, I’m ending this blog with a confession.  Do I do this?  No, not the way I think the Lord would have me do.  I have a long way to go but I’m learning to listen to the Master’s voice.  I’m learning to hear it, so when he tells me to use my “talents” I can hear him.  This blog is an example.  I’ve been thinking about this topic ever since the first of the month and the topic of Obedience.  I need to be obedient and write what is on my heart.  That is something He has called me to do.  I am a reluctant writer.  This does not come easy to me, but I feel that anything the Lord calls you to do, isn’t going to be instantly easy.

I know that if I obey and keep doing what the Lord has directed me to do He will increase it.  I’m going to wrap this up with one more quote, this one from Luke 16:10:

 Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

Setting Limits

Martin Luther: “On Secular Authority: How Far Does the Obedience Owed to it Extend?”

Martinluther

Author

Martin Luther

January 1, 1523

So, if a prince or a secular lord commands you to adhere to the papacy, to believe this or that, or to surrender books, then your answer should be: it is not fitting for Lucifer to sit next to God. My good Lord, I owe you obedience with my life and goods. Command me what lie within the limits of your authority, and I will obey. But if you command me to believe, or to surrender my books, I will not obey. For then you [will have] become a tyrant and overreach[ed] yourself, commanding where you have neither right or power. If he then takes away your goods and punishes you for your disobedience, then blessed are you, and you should thank God for counting you worthy to suffer for the sake of his Word. […] But I say to you: if you do not resist him and let him take away your faith or your books, then you will truly have denied God.

Refiner’s Fire

Years ago my sister went on an Emmaus weekend (this is the Methodist version of the 3 day Lutheran Via de Cristo retreat).  This song was the theme for her weekend, and it came to me last night.  It’s a good reminder that sometimes obedience is achieved through the fires of refinement.

“For who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For his is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them lie gold and silver, and they will bring offerings of righteousness to the Lord.”  Malachi 3:3

God’s Servant

“And Mary said, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38

We’ve just started a study of the book of Luke in our weekly Bible study, and right away we have one of the best examples of obedience in the Scripture.  The verse above is Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement(it’s called the annunciation) that she will have a very special infant.  The conception will come about through the action of God’s Holy Spirit, without a human father….but wait, that’s a problem!  Mary is a young, unmarried woman.  What will the neighbors think?  Even worse, what will her parents and her fiancé think?  She’ll be disgraced and that special child branded as illegitimate. She might even be stoned.  How can this be good?

If Mary thought any of these things, it seems to have been for a very fleeting moment, because almost instantly she responds by saying she is God’s servant (some versions say handmaiden) and she will do whatever He commands. I wonder how many of us would be so accepting.  I’m pretty sure I’d be begging God to find some other way to accomplish His purpose.  Some way that didn’t cause me difficulty and humiliation.

Thankfully Mary did not try to take the easy way out.  She trusted God and His plan for her and for everybody else.  Remember in one of my previous posts I talked about how what is for our immediate good is not always for our ultimate good?  Here’s a perfect example.

I need to keep this in mind when things are happening that I don’t understand or don’t like.  God’s ways are not mine.  He has a plan.  I am His servant, just like Mary.

A Quote By John Donne

It’s my English major moment for the month:

“Though so disobedient a servant as I may be afraid to die, yet to so merciful a master as thou I cannot be afraid to come.”

John Donne

John Donne
John Donne was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets.

Walking in Obedience

I am posting this for Becky, a Lutheran lady from St. Paul’s who does not use the computer, but likes to write.  She is one of our adult Sunday School teachers.  I hope you enjoy her thoughts on this month’s topic, obedience.

A Christian is called to obedience and discipleship.  God is to be loved and listened to and obeyed.

“The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love Him with all your heart and soul and might” Deuteronomy 6:4 (the law of love)

Be exclusively devoted to God and learn His commandments and obey them.  Our entire being must be totally committed and obedient–our total being with love–our absolute devotion to God with all we have.  We need to seek the truth.  His word is truth and needs to be known and obeyed.  When we worship, we come together before a loving God to honor Him for His greatness and focus on listening to hear His Holy Word.  We have to be exposed to the Word and open our hearts to transformation through faith and obedience.  Willing obedience is the response of gratitude for the gift of eternal life.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  John 14:15

We respond to God’s promises and commands out of love and gratitude and devotion to Him.  In lifting our hearts to God and being instructed by Him, we express our love for Him.  God commands us to be consistent in our Christian conduct.  What we profess must be revealed in our actions.  Where words and deeds are in harmony, faith and works go hand in hand.

With the perfect obedience of Jesus, we, through faith and love can now in Christ obey God and be saved(Romans 5:19).  Christ’s obedience teaches us obedience through believing in His saving work.  We join with Him and receive the promise of eternal salvation.

“Who in the days of His flesh, Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered.”  Hebrews 5:8

Doing good to others is part of our commitment to God.

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey His commandments.”  1 John 5:2

Our walk of obedience to God gives us a heart guided and nurtured by the Holy Spirit in all areas of our lives to grow in our love for Jesus.  May we each offer ourselves to God in trust and obedience.

 

 

 

Come and See

“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means teacher), ‘where are you staying?’  He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’  So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus.  Jesus looked at him and said, ‘So you are Simon, the son of John?  You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter).”  John 1:38-42

This is a continuation of my last post.  Notice that Jesus doesn’t give them details about where they are going, he just says “Come with me and see.”  They learn from him, and immediately Andrew tells somebody else about Jesus — his brother Simon, who becomes Peter, the rock of the church.

Obedience has results.  Immediate results(they got to know Jesus) and long term results(they introduced Peter, who played a significant role in God’s plan).  I can certainly see the same kind of results in my own life.  I’m a very shy person, but following Jesus has led me to do things I would never have been able to without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  I teach adult Sunday School, I’ve lead retreats and workshops, I am even able to put some details of my personal life and struggles out there for others in this blog!  I’ve been able to use my gifts for God, and I think I’ve encouraged others to do the same.  I’ve been blessed and I hope those around me have been blessed by my obedience, even though it has often been slow and grudging.  Maybe one day, when I die and am judged, I’ll see the really long term results of my obedience and also my disobedience.  I’m sure I’ll be amazed at what obedience has done, and dismayed to see what those times of disobedience led to.

What about you?  Have you been willing to “come and see”?  Are you just beginning the journey?  Or have you been on the road for years?  Bloggers, please write, and readers please comment.  I want to hear your story.

 

 

Following the Lamb of God

“…John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”  John 1:35-37

The verses above were part of our gospel reading and sermon in church yesterday.  John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the lamb of God, and two of John’s disciples immediately leave and follow Him.  Our pastor made the point that the pair had no idea of what following Jesus would mean, or what that path would lead them to: they knew who he was, and so they followed.

I wish I could say I have that kind of trust and obedience. Too often, I am guilty of this kind of thinking:  “Of course, I want to follow you, Jesus, but where are we going?  What is the point of this activity you are calling me to do (or to give up).”  Remember the old ‘I Love Lucy’ shows, and how Lucy would often say, ‘splain it to me, Ricky.’  I want God to ‘splain it to me” before I put my whole heart and energy into it.

Of course, this is wrong.  I should be willing to obey God because of who He is, one step at a time.  If I trust Him, I trust Him to lead me to the end of journey that He has planned for me.  I’m reminded of the hymn, ‘He Leadeth Me.”

Lord, I would clasp Thy Hand in mine, nor ever murmur nor repine

Content whatever lot I see, Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

He leadeth me, He leadeth me, By His own hand He leadeth me;

His faithful follower I would be, For by His Hand He leadeth me.

 

 

 

A Model of Obedience

“Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Philippians 2:3-8

Often we know what God asks of us, we just don’t want to do it.  It may be difficult.  It may cost us something.  We may have to give up something we like, even if it isn’t good for us. It may hurt our ego to admit God’s plans are better than ours.

 When I feel this way, I need to look at Jesus, who in Hebrews is called “the author and perfecter”  of our faith. Jesus was willing to obey God, even when it meant giving up for a time the splendor of His godhead.  He was willing to obey even when it cost Him his human life.  He was willing to obey even when it meant dying the humiliating death of a criminal.  The author of the book of Hebrews tells us:

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  Hebrews 12:4

No matter what obedience to God costs us, it cost Jesus more.  He obeyed out of love for us.  Surely we can obey out of love for God and others.  In the end, obedience to God is for our own good.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12:11