You’re Not a Bystander

A sermon I heard recently included a short anecdote. The church was having a Christmas play. One little girl went home and in excitement told her parents that she was given a part to play. She couldn’t remember the name of the person she was to portray, but she knew it started with the letter “B”. The family wracked their brains trying to figure out what role their daughter was to play. Finally, on the evening of the performance, as they perused the bulletin, they realized that she was simply a “bystander.”

The point of the sermon was this: none of us are bystanders in the Christmas story. Why? Because the story is still going on. The Bible is one long divine drama, and each one of us is important. We may not be a star, but we have a role to play. Our part could be to support or serve in a quiet capacity. Our gift might be encouragement or mercy. We may not touch millions of lives, but we will touch some. And each one is loved by God.

In the book of Ephesians, we read:

““For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

Isn’t that an amazing thought? Before we were even born, God was arranging our character, our environment and our abilities. He had plans for us, and those plans did not include simply standing by. We are to get involved, to get our hands dirty, to serve others and play our part. We may never be recognized with awards or fame, but we’ll receive something even better. We’ll feel God’s pleasure and when the time is right, we’ll hear these words:

“‘Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “Matthew 25:23

For more about using your gifts see these posts:

A Quote about a Favorite Topic — Spiritual Gifts

What are the Spiritual Gifts?

Serving God with Your Gifts

A Man with a Message

A recent sermon at our church was based on this gospel reading:

“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no on greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist was the last prophet, and it had been 400 years since a prophet (probably Malachi) had spoken to Israel. No wonder people were lining up to hear him! He was a man with a message, and that message was simple: Repent! The kingdom of God is at hand! It wasn’t a gospel message, because it wasn’t good news. It was a warning, a call to change before it was too late.

John came to prepare the way for Jesus, and a new covenant. He probably didn’t understand what that meant. Like others of that time and place, he might have been expecting Jesus to defeat the Romans, to turn Israel into a world power. We just don’t know. What we do know is that John couldn’t keep quiet. He was the sort of person who would obey God and speak the truth, no matter what it cost. In the end, it cost him his life, but he continued to be faithful to his call.

What a good example to contemplate during Advent. We know much more about the truth than John did. We have the New Testament, and the church to instruct us. He saw a glimpse of what was coming, but we have the full story.

Have you told this story to anyone recently? If not, why not? The best time to do it is now.

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” 1 Corinthians 6:2

For more about John the Baptist, see these posts:

The Kingdom of God

I Must Decrease

Following the Lamb of God

A Quote by Erma Bombeck

I came across this quote in a book I’ve been reading about the writing life. It reminds me of the parable of the talents in the book of Matthew. The point is to be truly committed to using your God-given gifts to the best of your ability. The reward will be to hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:23

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, I used everything you gave me.”

Erma Bombeck

For more about our gifts and talents see these posts:

Spiritual Gifts from the Holy Spirit

What are the Spiritual Gifts?

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Blest Are They

This hymn was used recently in a worship service I attended. It was written by David Haas (b. 1958), one of the most prominent Catholic composers since the mid-1980s. I found this song to be musically engaging, biblical (it is based on the Beatitudes in Matthew, Chapter 5) and easy to sing. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did!

For more hymns see these posts:

Living For Jesus

By Faith

A Favorite New Song

The Kingdom of God

Recently I’ve been learning, through my different studies, about the kingdom of God. It’s one of those concepts that can be a bit difficult to grasp, and different Christian denominations may view it from a variety of perspectives. For Lutherans, the Kingdom of God is one of those “now” but “not yet” concepts. In other words, the Kingdom of God on earth has commenced — but we will not enjoy it completely until later — when Christ comes again.

Jesus and John the Baptist both proclaimed:

“Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Matt. 3:2; Matt. 4:17

Jesus Himself inaugurated the Kingdom when he read the prophetic words of Isaiah at the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

In case they still didn’t get it, He added:

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21

The signs of the Kingdom and the Messiah were obvious. The time was NOW! It still is. Stay tuned for more later ….

For other posts about the Kingdom of God see:

You Don’t Have to Wait for Gods’ Love!

Seek The Kingdom

The Kingdom is Here

Wise Investments

I recently read about a study which set out to determine what Americans spend the most time thinking about. You may be surprised (or not) to learn that for 25%, the topic that occupies the mind most frequently is money. Worldly wisdom teaches us that the more money we accumulate, the more secure we will be. Naturally money (and the 2nd most fascinating topic–work) is where we invest our time, talent and treasure. The Bible tells a different story is some of the parables.

Remember the rich farmer in the 12th chapter of Luke? His farm produced some much grain that he decided to build more barns for storing it. He was going to make merry for years on his profit. Unfortunately, he died before he got to enjoy his riches. He was not wise, but foolish.

Later in the same chapter, we read the story of the servants who spent their time keeping the home of the master ready for his arrival. Nobody was there to keep them from getting drunk, fighting, or simply loafing about. They chose wisely by spending their time being faithful.

In Matthew, Chapter 13, we find the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value. In both cases, a man sells all that he has to gain these things, which Jesus likens to the kingdom of heaven. What a wise investment!

The message is clear. Make a wise choice. Invest in the things that are eternal–the things of God.

“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 6:19-21

For more posts about the parables see:

Looking for Lost Lambs

Birds of the Air by S.E.M. Ishida

Using our Talents

2=1

If you follow my blog, you may already know that I am fascinated by the brain. I’m currently reading a book called “The Grieving Brain” which describes what we know about how the brain functions during loss–particularly the loss of a person with whom we have been very close, like a spouse.

I think it’s a well-accepted scientific fact that humans are social creatures. Even as infants, we form strong attachments to those who love and care for us. If we turn to the book of Genesis, we read:

“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'” Genesis 2:18

One researcher mentioned in the book describes the degree of closeness in human relationship through the use of two circles. At the beginning of the range, the circles barely touch, by the end the circles practically overlap. In this case, two circles have become virtually one. This, again, is exactly what we find described in Genesis.

“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

Small wonder that with this level of closeness, the loss of a partner causes pain that can be described as an amputation. The brain continues, on an unconscious level, to believe the loved one is alive, and simply out of sight (of course, as Christians, we believe that this is not only how we feel, it is most certainly true!).

The author goes on to say that:

“The brain’s ability to create and maintain bonds is magnificent. Certain hormones are released during specific activities like sex or giving birth or nursing.”

also:

“Our brain is doing everything in its power to keep us united with the ones we love. These powerful tools include hormones, neural connections, and genetics …”

Isn’t it wonderful and amazing? The Bible and science tell the same story. Two are meant to become one. Our brain fights against loss — and that would include divorce. We are intended to be together for life — and beyond.

 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate. “Matthew 19:6

For more about marriage see these posts:

In Marriage Relationships #2

Marriage: A School for Forgiveness

Give Thanks for Marriage

Can’t We Do More?

The AFLC is not really a Synod, we are an association. The congregation is considered the right form of the Kingdom of God on earth–nothing decided at the Annual Conference is binding on individual congregations. One of the reasons the AFLC exists is because, as a group of congregations, we can accomplish things that could not be done individually.  The support of missionaries is one of those things. There are AFLC missionaries in Brazil, Paraguay, Mexico, and Uganda.  There are also several missionaries on loan to other organizations such as Wycliffe, working to translate the Bible into other languages.  One of the highlights of the Annual Conference is the report from World Missions about these folks and what they have been doing. If you would like more information, you can visit:  https://www.aflcworldmissions.org/.

As I was arranging a display of the missionary families for one of the bulletin boards at our church, I came across this quote by William Carey (missionary to India in the late 1700’s):

“Is not the commission of our Lord still binding upon us?  Can we not do more than we are doing?”

The commission of course, is from Matthew 28:19-20

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This really convicted me. I know that I, as an individual, could certainly do more. I think my congregation could do more.  Everyone reading this post, can probably do more to support these people who are sacrificing to spread the Word of God. We can pray– not just once, but regularly. We can send notes of encouragement. We can donate funds or needed supplies.

So, my thought for the day is this: what can you do to support someone else in their service for our Lord?

For more about missionaries and evangelism see these posts:

Becoming Elisabeth Elliot by Ellen Vaughn–Book Review

The Heart of Evangelism by Jerram Barrs–Book Review

resuscitating evangelism by Jordan Easley and Ernest Easley–Book Review

50 Years and Counting

Last month my husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. It’s a milestone reached by only about 5% of couples. To attain it, you must marry fairly young, and then survive both death and divorce. If you do, you earn the luxury of looking back on many memories and lots of challenges you’ve navigated together. You’ll learn to lean on God a lot. Staying together isn’t always easy, but in the long run, there is a sense of accomplishment.

This month I’ve found myself reading, ironically, a memoir entitled Heartbreak written by science journalist Florence Williams. In it, she records her experience of divorce after a long marriage (25 years). During the three years after the breakup of her marriage, she traveled across the U.S. and also to England and Croatia to meet with researchers, therapists and others in order to understand the effects of losing a mate. Guess what? The consensus is divorce is bad for your health. It wreaks havoc on brains and bodies. Among the documented effects are poor sleep, increased anxiety, and a weakened immune system. Many people show symptoms similar to PTSD. It can even affect your heart (yes, really!) and cause early death. Of course, these same symptoms may surface upon the death of a mate, but data about the health effects of being single, widowed or divorced, show that the effects of divorce are the most damaging. One health study calls it, “a costly life event.”

On the other hand, scores of studies show that married people live longer, have fewer instances of cancer, strokes and heart attacks, and are less likely to become depressed or overweight.

As Christians, we should not be surprised. After all, in the book of Genesis God says:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18

Adam, when presented with Eve, calls her:

“…bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh…” Genesis 2:23

In marriage, according to the Bible, we become “one flesh.” No wonder divorce feels like an amputation — it is!

I know there are reasons that our sinful nature sometimes makes divorce the only option. Addiction or abuse spring to mind. Still, if we know what’s good for us, we should do what we can to stay together.

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6

For more posts about marriage see:

The Marriage Challenge – A Book Review

In Marriage Relationships

Give Thanks for Marriage

Wake Up!

There’s a lot of hype these days around the word “woke”, which has come to mean
alert to injustice and discrimination in society, especially racism. Another kind of wake-up call has been evident in my spiritual life lately.

A few weeks ago my husband’s sermon was based on the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew chapter 25). If you recall, all ten took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. He took so long to arrive that five of them fell asleep. By the time they woke up, it was too late to go out and purchase oil for their lamps, and they missed the wedding feast.

The following week, we worshipped at a different Lutheran church. Both the Sunday School lesson and the sermon that week centered around Matthew 24, a section that discusses the second coming of Jesus (this wasn’t planned, it just happened). We’re told to stay alert and ready because nobody will be able to predict when this will happen. Finally, my reunion group friend, told me this verse came up in the community Bible study she attends:

“(Behold I am coming like a thief) Blessed is the one who says awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed>’ Revelation 16:15

I guess you can see the theme that is developing. Advent is a time of waiting for our Savior to come. He came once, and He’s coming again. We need to anticipate that coming all year, every year, not just for a few weeks before Christmas. If we’re not “woke” to the magnitude of our sin, to our need to repent and live in a way worthy of our King, we’re not going to be ready to meet Him when the time comes.

So, if you’re already awake, stay that way. If you’re not, wake up! It’s not too late, but it might be soon.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.” Matthew 24:45-46

For more about being ready see:

Perhaps Today

The End of All Things

Get Ready to Get Dirty