Keeping the Right Focus

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

I’ve been taking a prediabetes class through the local senior center since May.  This involves setting goals, establishing disciplines (exercise, calorie counting) and sticking to them.  Often it’s tedious, but it pays off.  So far I’ve lost eleven pounds and now have a healthier diet and fitness routine.  It’s been especially hard to maintain during the last three weeks while I’ve been living out of suitcases and running back and forth between two homes (neither of them mine).  Still, I’ve managed to keep up.  I’m hoping at my next class I’ll find I’m still on track.

This reminds me that spiritual discipline is especially necessary when the environment becomes chaotic.  I haven’t done so well on this front.  My husband and I had made a resolution to pray together in the mornings and afternoons — and it hasn’t been happening.  I skipped a church committee meeting this week and my personal prayer life hasn’t been what it should. I’ve allowed myself to occasionally wallow in self pity.  My environment is definitely influencing me more than I am influencing my environment.

This week I’m going to fix my eyes on Jesus.  I’m going to focus on my spiritual routines and not use temporary problems as an excuse to neglect the most needful things.  That kind of discipline will lead to more lasting results than a reduction in my blood sugar levels.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:18)

Advertisements

Christians Know

There is a long list of things I’m not. I’m not patient, kind, loving, wonderful, special, talented . . . well you get the idea. You might say, ‘Oh, your being too hard on yourself.’ or, ‘That isn’t true, I’ve met you are a indeed kind and patient.’ Yes, that may be true-sometimes. Still, I know that I am not those things one hundred percent of the time. I will occasionally slip and say something less than kind. Maybe justifying it as a joke. Even if I manage not to say it out loud, my thoughts betray me. Even if I bite my tongue when someone puts me down or they act obnoxiously, my outward appearance might not match my spirit. If I curse my enemy inwardly is it not the same as an outward lashing?

Matthew 5:28

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Therefore, it is as it is with laws. Either I follow the letter of the law or the spirit of the law. And most of the time I fail miserably at following both. If you aren’t a christian, I honestly have no idea how one deals with the crushing knowledge the we fail as human beings at some level constantly. I can only come to the conclusion that some really don’t know. That they go about life believing that they are as close to perfection as possible. Maybe, but for my part I have not yet met such a person. In fact if you watch the news at all the world seems to be full of the opposite.

All that said, here is my not so secret-secret for dealing with the knowledge that I am so completely and utterly flawed. I’ve read a book. And it say this:

 2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

The Laity– Free and Living

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

I’ve spent my adult years in Lutheran denominations with a congregational polity – first the Missouri Synod, now the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches).  What does this mean?  Well, it means that the congregation, and therefore, the laity have a crucial role to play.  They own their church building; they call their pastor; higher church officials cannot dictate how they must organize or conduct the congregation’s business.

According to the AFLC:

“Each local congregation should be free and living, subject only to the Word and Spirit of God.”

The Association is not a Synod and does not have the authority to bind the conscience of the local congregation to particular positions. They do not assess local congregations in order to obtain funding. The purpose of the Association is to do the tasks together that cannot be done by one congregation alone:  send missionaries, publish Lutheran materials, support mission congregations, educate pastors, and so on.  For each purpose, separate corporations have been formed, and every corporation must have more lay members than pastors.

To be a member of the AFLC, the congregation simply agrees that they accept the Augsburg Confession, The Small Catechism and the inerrancy of Scripture.  When our congregation voted to join the Association, we had a visit from Pastor Bob Lee, who was then the President.  Many questions were raised, such as:

Can women be Elders?

Can we hire a youth leader who is not a Lutheran?

Can lay people take communion to shut-ins?

The answer to virtually every question was, “It’s up to you.”  This was a surprise to many.

Of course, with this freedom comes responsibility.  The laity must be well grounded in Scripture in order to make appropriate decisions.  They must prayerfully consider issues facing their congregation and be willing to make personal sacrifices when necessary.  A congregational mindset fosters the understanding that the congregation is not just something we join like a club; it is who we are as the people of God.

Sometimes we don’t question the way we’re organized or do things, but we should.  The framework we use affects our view of ourselves, the Church, and what it means to be a Christian.  It comes back to the question I raised in an earlier post.  Do you want to be an adult Christian, taking personal responsibility for growing in your knowledge of Christ and in service to others?  Are you part of the “priesthood of all believers” or just a consumer of Christian services?

I’m not saying other ways of organizing are wrong.  God can use all sorts of tools to grow His church; but being part of a congregational church body has worked for me.  It’s my framework and within it, I’ve learned to thrive.  Readers and authors, do you have a different experience/opinion?  I’d like to hear more.

Time to Confess

“Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Corinthians 9:7

I hate to admit it, but I’m not a cheerful giver.  I always want to hang on to things and people tightly.  Now this can be good — it makes me loyal and persevering in relationships, for example;  but when it comes to being generous, it’s a bad thing.  I could make excuses and tell you I have an anxious personality, so I get worried that I may not be able to take care of myself if I give away too much.  Or I could explain that my grandparents grew up during the depression and they taught me to be excessively frugal and worried about money.  None of this gets me off the hook, however.  God wants me to give cheerfully to others, and often I don’t.

What do I do about this?  Well, as with other spiritual disciplines (and giving is a spiritual discipline), I start where I am, and try to grow.  When I’m asked to give financially, I give an amount I am comfortable with, and then I give some more.  When I’m asked to give of my time ( and I find my problems with this often come about because I don’t want to disrupt my plans or routine), I remind myself that I’m retired now, and my plans can usually be postponed or changed without causing a problem.  I also have the advantage of having a generous, godly husband and two daughters with the gift of mercy.  When it comes to matters of giving, I try to let one of them take the lead and I follow their example.

Has it worked?  Well, I still don’t always give cheerfully.  I’m seldom spontaneously generous.  It will never be my gift.  But I have grown.  I’m not where I ought to be, but I’m not where I used to be, either.  As our author, Michele says, I’m a work in progress, both saint and sinner.

I’m open to other suggestions.  Readers and authors, how do you practice generosity?  Have you grown in this discipline?

Image result for saint and sinner image and ok with it

 

A Big Responsibility

Before I retired, I worked for a hospital.  I remember at one of our training meetings, our employer stressed that we, every one of us was the face of Frederick Memorial Hospital to the community.  If we were kind, caring, and helpful, that was how others would see the hospital.  On the other hand if we were rude, careless or disinterested, our workplace would be perceived in a very different way.  Once a person develops a negative opinion about you, it’s very hard to win back their approval.

Reading Leslie’s post yesterday, I realized that being one with Christ carries a big responsibility.  We, the church, the body of Christ, represent Him to the world.  That means, as my husband (a Pastor) keeps telling us, there must be something different about us.  Our actions and attitude must mirror the One we follow.  Otherwise, many will think … what’s the big deal?  Why should I give up my time and money to be part of the church?  Those people are just the same as everyone else.

In the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians we learn something about how we are supposed to convey the presence of Christ to the world:

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  …For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men as sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”  2 Corinthians: 2:14, 17

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual”  1 Corinthians 2:12-13

If we are one with Christ, our words and actions will become more and more like His.  We will be noticeably different because we have His mind and His Spirit within us.  We are His ambassadors, entrusted with sharing His good news with the world.  Are you up for this responsibility?

 

Remembering God’s Grace

I actually wrote this years ago as part of a devotional given out to participants on a Via de Cristo retreat weekend.  It seems appropriate to share this month.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”  2 Corinthians 4:8-10

You’ve all seen the bumper sticker reminding us that bad things happen in our lives, things we can’t control and don’t expect.  I may not approve of the language, but I’m not immune to the feelings behind the sentiment.  It seems only too true.  Bad things happen to good people.  Bad things happen to me.  And I don’t like it.  It doesn’t seem fair.  There are days when I feel like Elijah, sitting under his broom tree, begging God to take his life.  I’ve had enough of this life, too.  I want to give up.  I can’t see through the dark curtain of despair the world has cast around me.

But recently I spotted a car sporting a Christian alternative to that worldly message of doom and gloom.  It read simply, “Grace Happens.”  That was a moment close to Christ for me, a powerful reminder that in the midst of disease, death, divorce, discouragement and all the other unpleasant facts of life, God is there.  His grace happens to me over and over.  It happened on my Via de Cristo weekend.  It happens every time I gather with my wonderful church family.  It happens when I feel the love of my husband and children.  It happens on the job when the Holy Spirit prompts me to encourage someone through my Christian beliefs.

Life hasn’t changed.  It was difficult for Elijah, confronting the prophets of Baal;  it was difficult for Jesus, facing death on the cross;  it’s hard for me, too.  But grace happens.  It happened then and it’s happening now.  I need to remember that.

Image result for images of grace happens

Worth Waiting For

“So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This has been a favorite passage of mine for a long time.  It’s easy to become depressed as we age.  We lose our parents;  our children don’t seem to need us anymore;  we can’t do the things we used to do physically, and even our mental faculties aren’t as sharp as they used to be.  Paul reminds us in this letter to the Corinthian church that these things are only outer and temporary–they’re not what really counts.

What really matters is our relationship with God.  As we worship, study, pray and fellowship with other Christians, that inner nature grows stronger.  It doesn’t depend upon health, or a great job, or material possessions or other people.  God loves us as we are, and meets us where we are.  He is the one person in our life who will never change and never leave us.

Paul tells us that all the painful and frustrating losses are really just growing pains.  They are preparing us to let go of this world and ready ourselves for the next.  That new life with God will be so glorious, we won’t even miss all those fleeting things that seem so important right now.  Listen to this description of the things that will last forever:

“Behold the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with then as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Isn’t eternal life with God worth waiting for?