Saints and Sinners

“No great saint lived without errors.”

Martin Luther

You can’t be a student of the Bible without realizing the truth of this quote.  Think back at some of the people we consider heroes of the Bible.  Abraham lied and told the Pharaoh Sarah was his sister.  Jacob was a deceiver;  David committed adultery and murder; Joseph boasted; Martha was self righteous; Peter denied Christ.  I’m not sure where we got the idea that “saint” meant “perfect.”

As Martha said in her post at the beginning of the month, we don’t have to live up to some impossibly high standard of Christian behavior to be a saint;  as believers, we are all saints — and we are all sinners.  In fact, the Lutheran definition of saint is just this :  forgiven sinner.  Our sainthood does not depend upon our works, it is completely and simply God’s grace.  In fact, Martin Luther is quoted as saying “sin boldly” — although he doesn’t mean we should be proud of our sinful status, or seek to sin more.  Here is the original quote in a letter he wrote to Philip Melanchthon:

“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

In other words, our relationship with Christ is the crucial element:  we are saved saints because of His mercy and sacrifice, not our behavior.  And all God’s children said:  thanks be to God!

 

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What are the Spiritual Gifts?

This probably should have been one of my first posts, so I apologize, while reminding my friends and all readers that I have never been a linear thinker.  If you would like to know exactly what the spiritual gifts are, and where they are listed in the Bible, this will help you out.  You can look up the passages and do more research on your own if you’re so inclined.

It might be worthwhile to note (and I did mention this is a previous post) that most Lutherans believe that certain gifts have “ceased.”  Since we have the complete Holy Scriptures, we no longer need prophecy, miracles, healing, tongues and interpretation of tongues.  These gifts were given in order to speak forth or authenticate God’s Word and his messengers.

Romans 12

  1. Encouragement

  2. Giving

  3. Leadership

  4. Mercy

  5. Prophecy

  6. Service

  7. Teaching

1 Corinthians 12

  1. Administration

  2. Discernment

  3. Healing

  4. Interpretation of Tongues

  5. Tongues

  6. Prophecy

  7. Wisdom

  8. Apostle

  9. Faith

  10. Helps

  11. Knowledge

  12. Miracles

  13. Teaching

Ephesians 4

  1. Apostle

  2. Pastor

  3. Teaching

  4. Evangelism

  5. Prophecy

1 Peter 4

  1. Serving

  2. Teaching

 

The World, The Flesh and … oh yes, THE DEVIL

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:8

In our environment, we are constantly barraged with sinful desires promoted by our culture, and our own unholy thoughts and deeds.  However, these aren’t the only enemies — the verse above from 1 Peter tells us that we are under spiritual attack from another source–the devil.  It’s unfashionable to believe in Satan these days;  admit it in a group and you may find yourself the but of jokes and snide remarks.  Unfortunately ignoring an unpleasant reality doesn’t make it go away. In fact, the devil is quite happy to have you disbelieve in his existence — it makes you an easier target because your guard is down!

Right now I’m convinced that our Fanning the Flame team is under demonic attack.  The roof of my life has (almost literally fallen in)!  Others are under stress due to relationships, financial problems, work issues, and grief.  Of course, these sorts of things happen every day, but why are so many happening to members of the same small group all at once?  Probably not a coincidence.

It’s simple.  The devil wants to distract us from the good work we are trying to do for St. Paul’s.  As my husband is fond of saying, he doesn’t need to bother with unbelievers — he already has them in his clutches.  The kind of pressure many of us are undergoing makes us irritable and quick to anger.  It disrupts our unity. It makes us anxious.  It causes us to feel disappointed, doubting and even depressed.  It encourages us to dwell on the negative.

There is, of course a Scriptural defense which is detailed in Ephesians 6:10-18:

Finally, be strong in the LORD and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the LORD’s people.

The team is preparing for an event called “Armourbearer Sunday.”  I’m not sure what it’s about, but I have a suspicion it may help us deal with the powers of darkness around us.  Stay tuned for more in September …..

 

 

Who Follows You?

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives ,when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 1 Peter 3:1-2

Maybe you think you are not a leader.  You are not usually the one in charge of a project;  you have never been the president of an organization;  you prefer to work behind the scenes.  However, according to the Via de Cristo talk on leaders, we are all leaders because we all influence somebody.  The people we influence most are those within our own family.

The verses above, from 1 Peter, give us a picture of how this might be done.  It sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?  Lead by submission?  How could that work?  I like to think of the Biblical concept of “submission” as putting another person first. Submission isn’t being a door mat, accepting abuse, or losing every disagreement.  It is about caring for someone deeply enough to put their needs ahead of your own.  The Bible actually tells us to do this, not just with our spouse, but with others in our family, our congregation and even the world. This kind of behavior often makes people sit up and take notice.  It earns their trust.  It makes them willing to listen to what you have to say.  It can make them want to emulate you out of gratitude and respect.

Did you know what the biggest factor in determining whether a child continues to attend to church when they grow up is?   It’s whether their father attended church.  Do you know the most frequently cited influence on a person’s faith life?  The answer is “my mother.”  Do you know why most people attend a church for the first time?  Because a friend invited them. Make no mistake, people are watching you every day–the people at work, your spouse, your children, your friends, your neighbors, even the cashier at the grocery store.  Do you use your influence for good?  Do they see a life of “purity and reverence?”  You are somebody’s leader;  think about that responsibility and take it seriously.

T.E.A.M.

“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!

 

Your Calling

“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?

The Laity–A Royal Priesthood

“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.