“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”1 Timothy 1:15
Paul was well-known for his missionary works and held a position of respect in the early church. In spite of this, he never forgot that he was also a sinner. Admitting our sin requires humility. I was reminded of this on a recent Sunday when we sang this hymn. Written by Irish poet William McComb (1793-1873) it expresses the wonder of a Savior who was willing to die for us in spite of our sins. Listen with a humble heart.
The hymn, “Go to Dark Gethsemane” turns a spotlight on the last hours of Christ’s passion. We see Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, the judgement hall and the cross. Finally we witness His resurrection. Each verse ends with the phrase “learn from” which encourages us to imitate Him and apply His lessons to our own lives. Can you do this?
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It uses images to represent reality, but these images should not be taken literally.
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.
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.
“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.”
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
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: