It’s Not too Late …. Yet

“And rend your heart and not your garments.
Now return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and compassionate,
Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness
And relenting of evil.” Joel 2:13

There is a response in our weekly Lenten services that is based on this verse from the book of Joel. Lent is to be a time of examination, reflection, and discipline. It’s not unusual for any of us to drift away from these things, as the world is always with us, and always a distraction. Here Joel reminds us that what God requires is (once again) an open heart. True piety is not about an outward appearance of holy behavior — it’s about a change in the way we think, believe and act.

It also tells us, that it is not too late to repent and change. God will not reject us for our failures if we willingly repent and turn away from evil. Think of the loving Father in the parable of the prodigal son — God is waiting to welcome us back.

However, there is another parable in the book of Matthew. It speaks of the wise and foolish virgins and being ready for the Bridegroom. Those who were foolish slept during the time of waiting, and didn’t have oil for their lamps. Afterwards, they were not admitted to the feast. At some point it will be too late. As the parable warns,

““Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Matthew 25:13

We do not know when we will die, and we don’t know when Christ will come again. I pray that each of us will use our time wisely, particularly during this season of Lent. The best time to return to God is NOW.

For more posts about an open heart see:

A Heart Open to Joy

An Open Heart

Open Your Heart to True Piety

A heart strangely warmed

John Wesley

Wesley was a godly theologian, born in England, who lived a life of good works and holiness. However, for a long time he lived haunted by the ghost of his own good works. Wesley needed to know the grace of the Lord Jesus.
One day, returning from a missionary trip to the United States, totally frustrated with the failure, he said “I went to America to evangelize the indigenous, but who will convert me?”. On the ship, Wesley witnessed a great storm and felt distressed, afraid to die. It was when he saw a group of Moravians on the boat, singing content and assurance, that his crisis began. Great was the contrast between them. Wesley, on the one hand, fearful of death. The Moravians, on the other hand, quiet and steady.
Wesley spent some time trying to understand the grace of God in works, but it was only in 1738, listening to an old commentary by Luther mentioned in a sermon, that he could be freed from the demands of the law. Wesley felt his heart warm and in that moment he understood that he was saved by the grace of God, not by works. He said “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This experience totally changed his life, and he became a great and fervent missionary.

May the Holy Spirit, our comforter, warm more hearts today and in the future, opening our eyes to the work of Christ on the cross. And may this Christ, our Mediator and Intercessor, have mercy on us in the face of our works, of which even the best are like filthy snares. May God the Father, our creator, see us holy through the lens of the Lamb’s blood. Amen.

The Lamb Cake Story

Every family has its own stories. My daughter sent me this picture today because it reminded her of one of ours. Years ago, when the children were small, I was working and couldn’t attend Vacation Bible School at our church, so I asked the director if there was some other way I could help. The theme for that year was “Jesus, Our Shepherd, so she asked me to make a lamb cake. She even had the cake pan to lend me. Now, as I’ve said previously, crafts and art are not my talent (A Tip for Pastors) but I agreed. How hard could it be?

As you’ve probably surmised, my cake turned out looking a lot like the one on the bottom of the image. In fact, my cake would not even stand up! (thankfully, the kind VBS teachers assumed I did that on purpose, so it would be easier to cut– lol) And I actually ended up making three cakes, trying to “perfect” my technique — or at least come up with a cake wouldn’t be a complete embarrassment. And in the process I became pretty grouchy with my husband and children

The moral of this story (which I often tell) is this — know your gifts. We’re not all the same. Of course, we can all sometimes do things that stretch us and help us grow beyond our comfort zones. For example, I like to write, and that has led me to speak in front of groups so I could share something I have written (not easy for a quiet introvert). But there are some things we probably shouldn’t do. The lamb cake was one for me.

For more about spiritual gifts see:

Let Your Spiritual Gifts S–T–R–E–T–C–H You

The Gift of Mercy

The Spiritual Gift of Wisdom

What is Apocalyptic Literature?

I’ve recently posted about the book of Revelation, as it is the topic of the Bible study I am currently attending. It seems as if every week, my husband (the pastor and teacher) has to tell us –this isn’t describing an actual event — it is simply a symbol. Remember, this is apocalyptic literature. So today I asked him, what are the characteristics of this genre? Here’s what he told me.

  1. Apocalyptic literature is highly stylized. In other words, if follows a certain pattern that would have been easily recognized by people of that time. It was not limited to the Bible.
  2. It uses images to represent reality, but these images should not be taken literally.
  3. Although the works are described as prophetic, in the case of Revelation, the prophecies are meant to describe events that will occur over and over during the course of history. It is not meant to predict specific things that will happen right before the end of time.
  4. This type of literature was often used to criticize or attack a situation or person when to do so openly would have been dangerous. For example, the book of Revelation can be seen as an attack on the Roman Empire.

It’s also important to remember as you read the book of Revelation is that it is not chronological. Writers like John were more concerned with placing themes or topics together, so the events are parallel rather than consecutive.

For more posts about Revelation see:

The Trouble with Churches ….

More about the book of Revelation

What is the White Stone?

A Heart Open to Joy

“The heart overflows with gladness, and leaps and dances for the joy it has found in God. In this experience the Holy Spirit is active, and has taught us in the flash of a moment the deep secret of joy. You will have as much joy and laughter in life as you have faith in God.”

Martin Luther

For more posts about joy see:

The Surprising Power of Joy by Roland Morton — Book Review

Joy and Laughing

A Tip for Pastors

Recently my pastor husband retired, and we began attending a new church. He set up a lunch date with the pastor to see how he and I might be helpful. Terry (my husband) mentioned that I was interested in spiritual gifts and had the training and materials to assess others. The pastor with whom he was meeting said they had done a gifts program already and didn’t need that kind of assistance, but maybe I would like to join the mission stitchers.

When I tell this story to anyone who knows me well, they laugh. Why? Well, because I am terrible at anything that involves crafts or artistic talent. I’m sure the mission stitchers is a wonderful ministry, but it isn’t for me. Later by perusing the newsletter, I was able to introduce myself to the person who was reorganizing their church library, and I’ve been helping her (because I do love books!).

So, what’s my point? Pastors PLEASE–when someone offers to help, find a way for them to do that. Begin by asking some questions. What do you enjoy doing? What have you done in the past? Have you done a spiritual gifts assessment, and if so, what are some of your gifts? If you don’t get an immediate sense of where this person fits it, tell them you will think about it and get back to them. Then follow up! Trying to quickly pop a round peg in a square hole could result in failure for both the person and the congregation.

Fortunately for me, I once had a pastor who was very good at spotting interests and talents, and encouraging his parishioners to serve in ways that suited them well. Sometimes his suggestions were challenging — but they never made me laugh. I’m also self-motivated and self-aware enough to look for my own opportunities, but not everyone is. It’s actually the duty of all who are mature Christians (not just the pastor) to seek out and encourage the gifts of others. The church is a body, and we need all of the parts doing the job God equipped them to do.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” 1 Corinthians. 12:4

For more posts about spiritual gifts see:

Spiritual Gifts from the Holy Spirit

What are the Spiritual Gifts?

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Who is this Man?

Continuing our study of the book of Revelation, our class came to the description of four horseback riders in Chapter Six. The first is described this way:

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse. Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” Rev 6:2

There’s some debate and mystery about who this rider is. My husband, who is teaching the class, believes this rider to be Christ. The crown and His depiction as a conqueror fit with this assumption. In addition, later in the book (Rev. 19:11), Christ does ride to victory on a white horse.

Some scholars think differently. The white horse is followed by three other horses of different colors, each representing a judgement being visited upon the earth. The red horse is warfare; the black is famine; the pale horse is death. Because these all relate to destruction, some think the white horse is not Christ, but the symbol of an anti-Christ. However, my husband is not persuaded — after all, doesn’t trouble and persecution always follow where Christ leads?

This is another case (like the white stone —What is the White Stone?) when we just can’t be sure. However, we can be sure that God is directing history and these four horses are a foreshadowing of the final judgement still to come.

For more about the book of Revelation see these posts:

The Trouble with Churches ….

More about the book of Revelation


The Tongue, Again

Looking back over my posts, I notice that I have often written about the tongue — maybe because the sins of the tongue are so numerous, and so easy to commit. We’ve been studying the book of James in the Sunday School class I’ve been attending, and so the subject has come up yet again. In chapter three we read:

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10

This text tells us that we can use our tongue with for good or for evil. We need to be intentional about what we say because words can edify or they can destroy. This quote from my morning devotional reading emphasizes this principle.

“If it be lawful and expedient to speak, speak those things that may edify. An evil custom and neglect of our own good often makes us set no watch before our mouth. Yet devout discourses of spiritual things further our spiritual growth, especially when persons of one mind and spirit are gathered together in God.” From Of the Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis

So, choose your words carefully, and surround yourself with those who do the same. The life you build up may be your own!

For more posts about the tongue see:

Hold Your Tongue!

Live at Peace/Tame Your Tongue

Zip It by Karen Ehman–Book Review

An Open Door

Before you start to read, you may want to turn to Chapter 4 of the book of Revelation, so that you can take a look at the verses I refer to. These explanations are from the weekday Bible Study I attend.

The fourth chapter of Revelation gives us a glimpse of heaven. John, in his vision, sees a door standing open. Inside there is a throne with someone sitting on it. Now, be aware, this is symbolic language. Is God actually sitting on a throne somewhere? No. This is simply a physical representation of spiritual reality. This image lets us know that God is in charge, and His plan is unfolding according to His Will.

The twenty-four other thrones with twenty-four elders should also not be taken literally. Most likely because there were twelve tribes in Israel, and twelve apostles, these elders represent those who have been redeemed in both the Old and New Testaments. All are worshipping God. The “seven spirits of God” is another name for the Holy Spirit, seen symbolically in the seven lamps.

The “four living creatures” represent the attributes of God:

  1. The Lion = might and strength
  2. The Ox = faithfulness
  3. The Man = intelligence
  4. The Eagle = Sovereignty

The point of the entire chapter can be summed up in this verse:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Rev. 4:11

Reading this chapter without understanding may invoke fear, but that is not John’s intent. Revelation was written to comfort and sustain us through trial and tribulation. It is an attempt to describe what is basically indescribable in human terms. However, we can be sure that whatever is going on, God is in control. He is all-powerful, and He deserves our worship.

For more about heaven see these posts:

A Glimpse of Heaven

Walking Toward Heaven

The Hope of Heaven

What are your Intentions?

We had an interesting discussion in our Sunday School class recently. One member said it seems that Lutherans often emphasize justification (the fact that Jesus died for our sins and thereby restored our relationship with God) and minimize sanctification (the ongoing process of becoming more Christlike). That’s probably true. We want to be sure people are aware that their good works don’t earn them God’s favor and are not necessary for salvation. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. After all, the Bible tells us that:

“… we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

The good works we do will benefit us and others. It pleases God when we seek to do His Will — and isn’t that what the Christian life is about? If we repent, and yet make no plan to amend our behavior, is our repentance genuine? Here’s a quote from my devotional reading that addresses that question.

“This doctrine (the intention to please God) does not suppose that we have no need of divine grace or that it is in our power to make ourselves perfect. It only supposes that through the lack of sincere intention to please God in all our activities we fall into irregularities of life that by the ordinary means of grace we should have the power to avoid; and that we have not that perfection of which our present state of grace makes us capable because we do not so much intend to have it.” From a Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law

In other words, if we’re honest, we often repent without any real desire to do better in the future. We know we are sinners (and that’s good) and since we can’t change that, we don’t even try. So, next time you examine your life and confess, take the second step — ask God to help you make a plan to avoid that sin next time. Intend to change. God will be pleased.

For more posts about good works see:

Good and Bad Fruit

Luther on Good works

Study to Do Good