What Then Shall We Do?

“And the crowds asked him (John the Baptist), ‘What then shall we do?  And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none and whoever has food is to do likewise.  Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.  Soldiers then asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’  And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats for false accusation, and be content with your wages.'”  Luke 3:10-14

 

This was part of the gospel reading in church this past Sunday, and the passage on which the sermon was based.  John the Baptist has just finished rebuking the people for their sins and lack of repentance, and their response is “What shall we do?”

You may remember that we discussed repentance a few months back, and I believe more than one of the Lutheran ladies mentioned that the literal meaning of this word is ‘to turn around’ or ‘go in another direction.’  John the Baptist is telling the crowd that they must turn around and do something different–they must serve others.

He doesn’t tell them to change their occupations or do anything drastic about their circumstances;  they just need to go about their lives in a way that is helpful and fair to others.  Soldiers are not to intimidate;  tax collectors are not to cheat;  everyone who has plenty must share with those who are in need;  everyone is to be content with what they have.

Seems pretty simple, right?  However, we’re still not doing it!  How often do we abuse our authority over others?  How often do we take a little more than we’re entitled to?  How often do we envy that person with the bigger house, nicer car, or glamorous vacations?  How willing are we to give our extra coat or extra cash to the homeless man on the corner?

If you’re anything like me, you don’t always do what you should.  We’re still a brood of vipers and we still need to repent and try every single day to do a little better at being a servant.  It doesn’t come naturally.

Thankfully John also preached some good news.  He said:

“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”  Luke 3:16

Advent is a time of waiting and a time of repentance.  A time to reflect upon the servanthood of Christ and to try to become better servants ourselves.  Use this special season wisely.  Serve others.

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Who Do You Serve?

Let’s be honest, ladies, we all serve somebody.  So who do you serve?  I suspect the answer for most of us is “myself.”  That’s not only our sinful inclination, it’s what our world tells us to do.  “Look out for number one.”  “Follow your bliss.”  “Do what feels right for you.”  Our culture bombards us with messages like this every day.  Let’s label it with its’ true name –SELFISHNESS.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this sin every day.  Here are a few examples:

My husband forgets to pick up the something I needed on his way home from work.  My default response?  How could he!  I do so many things for him, and he can’t remember this one thing for ME?

My daughter calls and asks me to go to the Dollar Store and pick up something for her class (she is a preschool teacher). She lost track of time and didn’t get to it last night.  REALLY?  What makes this MY responsibility?  I have my own plans for the morning.

Somebody from church calls.  We’re selling  cobblers at the local Peach Festival and need somebody to work at the stand.  OH NO!  I’m an introvert and I’M JUST NOT COMFORTABLE around a crowd of strangers.  Don’t ask me to do that.

My friend is totally uninterested in the new project in which I’m so involved.  She’s MY friend,why isn’t she being more supportive of ME?

Anyway, you get the idea.  My first response is to think of myself, what I want, and what seems most comfortable and convenient for me.  Here’s what Jesus says about that:

“He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Luke 10:27

That means our priorities should go like this:

  1. God
  2. Others
  3. Me

This doesn’t mean we can never say no.  Sometimes we must say no;  sometimes it is better for the other person if we say no;  sometimes we need to say no because something is definitely out of our skill set. It also doesn’t mean we don’t hold folks accountable or express our feelings — but we need to do this in a gentle, respectful way, not in anger.  It does mean that as God’s servants, we can’t allow a selfish mindset to control our actions.  Following our own impulses (i.e. serving ourselves) will lead to conflict and broken relationships.  Serving God and doing His will leads to peace with God and others. So who do you want to serve?

 

 

 

Two Favorite Saints

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made  She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!’

‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered.  ‘you are worried and upset by many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.'”  Luke 10:38-41

Mary and Martha are probably my favorite biblical saints.  Why?  Well, in these two short paragraphs, their personalities shine forth so clearly.  Martha, the busy extrovert, Mary the quiet and studious introvert.  They are completely real in their interactions with Jesus–neither one is trying to put on a show of behaving the way one “ought” to in order to impress.  That must be because Jesus was completely accepting of them.  He didn’t try to put them in their place as women.  He didn’t tell Mary to get back to the kitchen, and he didn’t rebuke Martha for bothering him with household concerns.  He was their Lord, but also their friend.

I can identify with both of these sisters.  In personality, I’m most like Mary.  I’m much more likely to be found reading, studying or listening than bustling about.  Sometimes this makes me feel guilty because others (like Martha) may think I’m “lazy.”  However, I can be like Martha sometimes, too.  I let myself get carried away with what seems most pressing in the moment, and neglect the things that are really important.  How many times have I prayed with a distracted mind, or rushed away from worship, anxious to get on with the chores waiting at home?  How many times have I complained because I thought another member wasn’t doing their fair share of God’s work?  Yes, I can be just like Martha.

These two saints give us a realistic picture of life with Christ.  We can be ourselves with Him.  We can say the things we really think, not just mouth pious prayers.  He’ll listen and be gentle.  He’ll point us in the right direction.  He’ll look at us with love.  What a relief!

Now I want to hear from our authors and readers … who are your favorite saints of the Bible?

 

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.

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.