Fanning the Flame #12

As I reviewed my Via de Cristo talk on Environment, I began to see what our Fanning the Flame project is really all about.  Our team has been called together to change our environment, and just as we are told in the talk, that change must start with us.

First and foremost, we are learning to be more prayerful people; to rely upon God and look for His leading.  We are discovering our spiritual gifts and how we can use them to help others, in our church and in our community.  We are being taught how to become better planners and to work with a goal in mind – the goal of bringing Christ into the lives of those around us.

None of this is easy.  It means changing old habits and stepping out of our comfort zones.  There are not many of us; most of us are not young; all of us have other responsibilities.  It is a daunting responsibility.  However, we have one big thing going for us, and that is the most important thing of all.  As long as we are seeking to God’s will, He is on our side.

As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:31b-32:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

And as the angel told Mary,

“For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Luke 1:37

I ask our readers to continue in prayer for us, and our church.  May we follow God’s leading and be molded in accordance with His will for us.

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In the Direction of the Cross

“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  Luke 9:51

Right now we Lutherans are in the midst of Lent, a time when we remember Christ’s journey to the cross.  It’s apparent that Jesus knew exactly where his trip to Jerusalem would take him, because in the same chapter he tells his disciples:

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Luke 9:22

Yet, He was determined.  Why?  He knew it was His Father’s will, and He knew His sacrifice was necessary to save us from our sins, once and for all.  The suffering, the rejection, the pain was insignificant in light of the benefit to the world.  It’s embarrassing to think of how I often I am annoyed at the prospect of sacrificing for somebody else, even when all I am sacrificing is my own convenience or time!  This is not Christ-like, and not what is expected of us as true followers:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  Luke 9:23

Lent is a time to ponder the way of the cross.  The way Christ took and the way we’re called to walk as well.

A Continual Feast

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.  Proverbs 15:15

This verse made me think about the things that oppress me.  That would include sin, worry, fear, loneliness.   According to Scripture, God has released me from these things.  Here are some of the verses that are important to remember when I am depressed about my sin, my future and my present problems.  (Note in some translations, be cheerful is translated as “take heart.”)

“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying ‘Take heart;  it is I.  Do not be afraid.”  Matthew 14:27

Here Jesus is speaking to the disciples who are terrified because a storm is threatening to swamp their boat.  He reassures them:  you’re not alone;  you don’t have to fear.  I’m with you, and I am in control.  God is in control of our circumstances as well.  He’s always with us.  We can be cheerful!

“And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son;  your sins are forgiven.'” Matthew 9:2

Jesus heals the paralytic but even better than that He forgives his sins.  He has already forgiven our sins, as well, through His sacrifice and death.  We can be cheerful!

Because of all these things God has already done, we can have a continual feast.  Our hearts can be at rest;  we can celebrate with others; we can share the good news, as well as good food.  We can nourish those around us physically and spiritually.  There’s plenty of cheer to spread around.  There’s no excuse to miss this feast, although some try to beg off because they are too busy attending to worldly cares. (see the Parable of the Great Banquet in Chapter 14 of Luke).

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“And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.  For I tell you, none of these men who were invited shall taste of my banquet.”  Luke 14:23-24

The feast is ready.  You’re invited.  You’ll be fed and forgiven, nourished and nurtured.  Don’t stay our in the cold.  Don’t be oppressed or alone.  Jesus is waiting for you at His banquet.  It’s a continual feast.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

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Have you ever noticed that in many of our commonly used table prayers, we invite Jesus to come and sit at the table with us?  These are prayers we’ve heard from youth, and we recite them by rote, from memory, not really thinking about what we’re saying.  Maybe we should remember to stop and pay attention.  If Christ were our guest, how would we behave?  Wouldn’t we be honored and grateful?  Would we sit up straighter? Mind our manners? Would we watch out language (and maybe even our thoughts)?  Wouldn’t our attention be on Jesus, instead of the cooking?  Would we think about our behavior that day and whether our actions had been worthy of our Lord?  Maybe we’d have some things to apologize for.

Especially in this season of Thanksgiving, let’s make sure our words match our behavior.  Let’s think about WHO we’re inviting and behave as if we mean what we say.  Jesus is not only a guest at our dinner table, He’s the real Host.  He’s given us everything we have, and is present with us constantly.  He doesn’t leave us or forsake us, but sometimes we forget Him.

Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  Luke 7:36

Jesus didn’t mind eating with Pharisees or sinners.  He’ll sit at your table, too.

The Greatest Bible Study

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32

This has always been one of my favorite passages of scripture, titled in my Bible, “On the Road to Emmaus.”  Two followers of Jesus meet him on the way to a village called Emmaus, shortly after the crucifixion. They do not recognize him and tell him how their teacher was crucified, and that some of the women in their company claimed that He had risen.  Jesus proceeds to lead them in the greatest Bible study of all time:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27

Finally he reveals himself to them at the evening meal, when he blesses and breaks the bread and gives it to them.  Wouldn’t you love to have an experience like that?  Well, guess what, you can.  We have the very words of Christ, recorded for us in the New Testament gospels;  we have the opportunity to meet with Him in the celebration of communion.  You can meet Him on the road of your own journey.  Ask Him to open your eyes;  do you feel your heart burning?

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Inner Change

Kate’s post yesterday reminded me of some verses our Bible Study group was discussing in the book of Luke yesterday. Jesus makes this statement after a Pharisee criticizes Him for failing to perform the ritual washing before a meal:

“Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.  You fools!…For you tithe mint and rue and every herb and neglect justice and the love of God.” Luke 11:39-42

The Scribes and Pharisees were concerned with outer appearances.  They wanted to look good by following all the religious rules, while inside they were selfish and unchanged.  In another place Jesus calls them whitewashed tombs:  looking good superficially, but spiritually dead.  Their faith was useless to them and to others.

Here’s how the apostle James describes a living faith:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James 1:27

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  We may go to church, tithe, attend Bible Study and serve at every church event, but have we allowed God to change us on the inside?  Do we feel compassion for the least of the least–or do we blame them for their situation?  Do we give sacrificially to the needy?  Or would we rather save our resources for our own benefit?  Do we feel true anguish for souls who are being lost?  Or do we secretly believe they are only getting what they deserve?  Like most people, I struggle with these issues every day.

I’ve been told that the actual meaning of the Greek word for repent is to “turn your guts around.”  That’s a real inner change, not an intellectual exercise or acceptance.  As Kate said, at the gates of heaven, God won’t ask you how good you looked on the outside.  He’ll want to know your heart.

“For the Lord sees not as man sees:  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7

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What God Has Done

“The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away saying ‘Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.’…”Luke 8:38-39

This was part of our Bible study on the book of Luke this week.  After Jesus healed a demon possessed man, he in effect, sent him back to his home to become a missionary.  He didn’t have any extensive instruction or education.  All he had to do was tell others what Jesus had done for him. It reminds me of another similar story in the book of John.  Jesus heals a man who has been blind since birth.  The man is brought to the Pharisees who try to manipulate him into saying that Jesus is a sinner. Exasperated he tells them,

“…One thing I do know;  that though I was blind, now I see.”  John 9:25

As witnesses, all we need to do is tell about our own life and how Jesus has changed it.  We don’t have to be eloquent or persuasive.  We don’t have to worry about the outcome;  that’s up to God.  We just have to state the  facts about God’s action in our life; and it can be as simple as this:  “I was blind and now I see”.