Growing Up, Part 5

Learning about my spiritual gifts helped a lot, but I wasn’t grown up yet. 1 Peter 4:10 tells us:

Each one of you has received a special grace, so like good stewards responsible for all these different graces from God, put yourselves at the service of others.”

I began to seek out ways to use the talents God had given me. This sometimes meant taking a risk, but as a Christian friend once told me, “if you’re going to try something new, do it at church. If you fail, they’ll still love you!” One of the first things I did after taking the spiritual gifts class was start to write Vacation Bible School programs for our church. That was a big risk, because in addition to the skills I had, it required some of the ones I didn’t — crafts and organization. But you know what? I found other people to help me with those. That’s one of the wonderful things I’ve learned about being part of a church family, there are many people who will encourage you and help you when you step out and try to do the things God calls you to do.

Growing up as a Christian has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Who would have guessed 40+ years ago that a shy introvert like me could do things like … lead a retreat? start a Bible study group for women? Stand up in front of a group and give a talk?

 “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26b

For more about following God’s calling see:

What’s Your Vocation?

Your Calling

Your Dream. God’s Plan. by Tiffany Smiling — Book Review

1 Peter Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

This must be a favorite chapter of mine, because a number of phrases stand out and I have written about them before. For example, “a gentle and quiet spirit” 1 Peter 3:4 (A Gentle and Quiet Spirit), “with gentleness and respect” 1 Peter 3:16 (With Gentleness and Respect) and “seek peace and pursue it” 1 Peter 3:11 (Pursue Peace). Peter is chock-full of good advice! This time, I’ll pick something different — “the hidden person of the heart.” In any number of places, Scripture tells us that God does not judge us because of the way we look, or even our behavior, but by the true motivation and intentions in our heart. When God chose David, He told Samuel:

” The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

And Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying,

““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27

What does this tell me? First of all, God sees everything. I may fool those around me by a lot of good deeds or holy-seeming behavior, but I can’t fool Him. Secondly, that I need to cultivate that “hidden person” deep inside. Changing what I do is important, but changing how I think is critical. In fact, if I change the way I think, I probably won’t have to worry so much about what I do!

This isn’t easy. When my reunion group friend and I review our behavior, we often admit that we’re more likely to be guilty of doing good things with a poor attitude than doing bad things. What’s the answer? I find it in prayer– praying to love those people who annoy me; praying to accept my duty with a cheerful heart; praying to give others the benefit of the doubt … just praying continually. I can change my behavior, but only God can change my heart.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” Romans 12:2

For more about transformation see:

Rebirth and Transformation

This Is Your Brain on Faith

Learning to Count It All Joy

Strangers in a Strange Land

I’ve started a lectio divina reading of 1 Peter. If that’s unfamiliar to you, it means reading a chapter or a short portion of the Scripture daily in a slow, meditative way, letting yourself see what phrase or verse stands out. Maybe because the theme this month deals with walking and traveling, what stood out for me in the first chapter is this:

“… live your life as strangers here in reverent fear.” 1 Peter 1:17 (NIV)

In the English Standard version, it’s stated this way:

“Conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile.” 1 Peter 1:17(ESV)

What does it mean to live as a stranger or an exile?

The first thing that comes to my mind is, as a stranger, you aren’t too attached to the things around you. You don’t want to accumulate too much, because you won’t be here forever. Who wants a bunch of junk you just have to pack up and move, or leave behind? That is certainly a scriptural theme, as we are told in Matthew:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-24

That brings another thought to mind: as strangers we are always yearning to get home. We’re not entirely comfortable in this place — maybe we don’t speak the same language, or wear the same clothes, or eat the same food. We just don’t blend in. In fact, as Christians, we don’t want to blend in. We need to remember who we are and to whom we belong (that’s the reverent fear part).

So today, after my reading, I’m asking myself:

*How important to me are my “things”? After all, they are only temporary.

*Can the people I meet everyday tell I am a Christian? Or do I look and behave exact like everyone else? If so, I’m fooling myself about the depth of my faith.

*Am I looking forward to “the life of the world to come’? Or am I really devoted to the here and now?

*Am I “afraid” of the right things? Do I have a reverent fear of God and a desire to be holy, or am I really just afraid to die?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

I can walk with Jesus or walk with the world. I can’t do both.

For more about conforming to the world see these posts:

Pilgrim or Tourist?

Am I Habituating?

Do You Have a Saintly Worldview?

Do Unto Others

The great commandment of the Bible is to love. We are to love others as much, maybe even more than we love ourselves. Jesus Himself said:

“… in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

What does this mean in practice? Well, giving others the benefit of the doubt — do you want to be judged according to your worst day or behavior? It means trying to understand different points of view. Don’t you hate it when an acquaintance refuses to even listen to the reasoning behind your ideas? It means being compassionate and slow to become angry. I mess up plenty of times and need forgiveness, not censure, don’t you?

Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, FRS (13 December 1815 – 18 July 1881), and English Anglcan priest and church historian puts it this way:

“Love one another in spite of your differences, in spite of your faults. Love one another, and make the best of one another, as He loved us, who for the sake of saving what was good in the human soul, forgot, forgave, put out of sight what was bad–who saw and loved what was good even in the publican Zacheus, even in the penitent Magdalen, even in the expiring malefactor, even in the heretical Samaritan, even in the Pharisee Nicodemus, even in the heathen soldier, even in the outcast Canaanite. It is very easy to fix our attention only on the weak points of those around us, to magnify them, to irritate them, to aggravate them; and by so doing, we can make the burden of life unendurable, and can destroy our own and others’ happiness and usefulness wherever we go. But this was not the love wherewith Christ loved us; this is not the new love wherewith we are to love one another.”

When we love in this way, we are blessed, and we become a blessing to others.

 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing “1 Peter 3:8-10

For more on this topic see:

Little Children, Love One Another

Charity = Love

By Our Love

R. C. Sproul on God’s Word

Do you study God’s Word, the Bible? God chose to communicate with us through words, and we won’t grow in our faith if we never bother to read them R C Sproul addresses the question of why we don’t study the Word of God this way:

“Here then, is the real problem of our negligence. We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy.” – Knowing Scripture, 1977

I’m sure, like me, you find the time to study the things that are really important to you. Sports fans memorize statistics about their favorite teams and players, employees take courses so they can advance their careers, teenagers (and many others) comb the internet to find out what’s going on in the life of that special celebrity. We all have our passions, but these things are all temporary. Make sure you also study the only subject that’s permanent. In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35

So, don’t be lazy. Study the Word.

For more about R. C. Sproul see:

The Holiness of God–R.C. Sproul–Book Review

Flee to the Scripture– A Quote by R.C. Sproul

A Quote From R.C. Sproul

Seven-Mile Miracle by Steven Furtick–Book Review

In this book, author Steven Furtick examines the seven last statements (or “words’) of Jesus from the cross in light of the spiritual journey of every believer. He boils each one down to its’ essential meaning:

*Forgiveness –“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

*Salvation–“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

*Relationship–“Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

*Abandonment–“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

*Distress–“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

*Triumph–“It is finished.” John 19:30

*Reunion–“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God Through the Last Words of Jesus by [Steven Furtick]

Each section includes questions for journaling or group discussion. At the end there is a forty-day reading guide with Scripture selections on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This was an easy read would be a good pick to use as a spiritual exercise during the season of Lent. Since the author is not Lutheran, there were some theological statements I disagreed with, mainly around the issue of “making a decision” to choose Christ. As Lutherans, we believe Christ chooses us.

VERDICT: 3 Stars due to the theological issues.

For more about the death and resurrection of Christ see:

Martin Luther on the Resurrection

Martin Luther on God’s Victory Over Death

The Resurrection is Now

Watch Your Words

Handley C. G. Moule (23 December 1841 – 8 May 1920) was an evangelical Anglican theologian, writer, poet, and Bishop of Durham from 1901 to 1920. This quote was part of my daily devotional reading:

“Take the last transient swell of petty impatience, or of unkind criticism; things which to the unawakened conscience look so small, to the awakened conscience so large. There is not one that need have taken place. Had I been walking that moment with God, abiding that moment in Christ, drawing that moment on the sanctifying Spirit’s power, I should not have lost temper, I should not have thought unkindly–not only should I not have looked impatient, or indulged in needless severity of words. The occasion for the very feeling would have been as if it were not, because neutralized in Jesus Christ. And if that might have been true for the last five minutes, why should it not be true for the next five, for the present minute? ‘I can do all things,’ I have resources for all circumstances, ‘in Him that strengtheneth me.'”

This writer is spot-on. We tend to think that sins of the tongue are not very important, but words can hurt and have long-lasting effects. I bet every one of us can remember cruel words that were spoken to us years ago. So think before you speak, so that your words will help, not harm.

“…. rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing, I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

For more about the tongue see these posts:

Hold Your Tongue!

Live at Peace/Tame Your Tongue

Do Not Be Rash With Your Mouth

Come Here!

As I read through the book of Mark prayerfully, what stands out in chapter 3 is the simple command — Come here!  Jesus sees a man with a withered hand in the synagogue.  The Pharisees were watching — would he heal this man “illegally” on the Sabbath?  Maybe they planted this man there, for that express purpose, who knows?  In any case, Jesus doesn’t hesitate.  He tells the man to come, stretch out his hand and be restored to health.  He reprimands the Pharisees, letting them know that this sort of thing is exactly what the Sabbath is for — to do good, to save lives.  

Jesus continues throughout the gospel to tell people to come, and not just for physical health.  Coming will bring health to our souls as well.  In Matthew He says,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28a

And in John:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

So, why are we (I should say I), so reluctant to come?  We try to solve our problems on our own;  we think we can satisfy our longings with the things we can achieve or purchase;  we take on burdens that are not meant to be ours.  In other words, we make ourselves into gods, and that doesn’t work out well for us.  We’re not in control of the world, He is.

The invitation is still out there.  We don’t have to save ourselves.  We just have to come to the One who already did the work.  He will save us;  He will heal us:  He will feed us;  He will satisfy our souls.  Lay your burdens down and follow His command:  “Come here!”

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘come.’ And let the one who is thirsty, come;  let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”  Revelation 22:17

Whose Slave Are You?

Many people don’t like the idea of being a slave or a servant, even if God is their master.  They may not say it, but they have their own agenda.  God is okay if He stays in His own space — preferably Sunday mornings. They will serve Him one day a week, but the rest of the time they’re on our own.  Face it, we all behave this way sometimes.  However, the bible tells us that God demands our full surrender:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Matt. 6:24a

My husband and I recently watched a film called The Irishman.  It is the true story of Frank Sheeran, who became a hit man for the mob.  He became so inured to this life, that by the end, he killed a man who had been his good friend (Jimmy Hoffa).  When he was old and in a nursing home, he confessed to a priest, who asked him how he felt about the crimes he had committed.  “I don’t feel anything,”  he said.  His heart had become hard.  He was a slave, not to God, but to sin.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” Romans 6:6

When we surrender our lives to God, we free ourselves from a slavery that leads only to death.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans :22-23

So chose which course you want to take — the one that leads to death, or the one that promises life?  Whose slave do you want to be?

 

Grade Yourself #3

I’ve been thinking a lot this month about grading yourself honestly on how you are doing spiritually — is it possible (see Grade Yourself)  and who/what should you compare yourself to in assigning a grade (see  Grade Yourself #2 ).  I concluded with input from a friend, that each of us should be “graded” against ourselves.  How have we matured in our relationship with God, our good works, our understanding of Scripture over the past weeks, months or years.

Recently I did another spiritual exercise that had to do with imagining my own death.  How would I want to be remembered?  What would I expect to be said in my eulogy.    What are my life goals and have I met them?  This too, is a kind of “grading” or evaluating.  Of course, it is my faith and not my works that save me, but will I feel at all  worthy to hear these words?

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!'”  Matthew 25:23

I thought hard about this.  Looking back on my life, trying to grade myself, I would consider three things.  The first is my life verse(actually it’s two verses):

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

Second is my personal mission statement What’s My Mission?:

“”To keep in mind that I am a pilgrim on a journey to draw closer to God’;  to recognize and respect this pilgrim quality in others and use my God given talents, insights, and resources to encourage them;  to enjoy the life, friends, family and work with which I have been blessed and to be a peaceful and harmonious influence in all of these places.”

Finally, my core values (L. A. T. C. H. On To Your Core Values):

  • Learning
  • Attentiveness
  • Teamwork
  • Creativity
  • Honesty

These are the things I would use to “grade” my life–this is what I would use to see if I had worked toward being the kind of servant God created me to be.

If you haven’t done any exercises like these, I would encourage you to do so.  Knowing what you’re aiming for will help you persevere.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”