It’s About Time

This was originally published in our denomination’s magazine, The Lutheran Ambassador

To God, “one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.”  (2 Peter 3:8).  While God exists outside of time, we humans do not.  In fact, I have spent a great deal of my life thinking about time, and I bet you have, too.

As a child, and even a teenager, I felt that I had “all the time in the world.”  When I grew up, married, had children and a career, there weren’t “enough hours in the day” to finish all the tasks that needed to be done.  Eventually the children grew up, my parents grew old, jobs changed and “time marched on.”  A few years ago I turned 65, an age at which I am, at least according to government standards, officially old.  Suddenly I realize that “time is short.”

I find myself wondering, “What things do I most want to do or accomplish in the time I have left?  Time has become a limited and precious commodity and I must decide how to “spend” it.

In actuality, the Bible tells me that my time on earth has always been brief —

“Man is like a breath;  his days are like a fleeting shadow”

says the Psalmist (144:4).  This means every one of us, regardless of our age, should have a sense of urgency about time and how to use it.  We must “work the works of Him who sent me while it is day;  night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4).

Scripture give us a number of clear instructions about how to do this.

  • Be Grateful

We have no control over the length of our lives (Luke 2:25), so every day is a gift.  The Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that God “has made everything beautiful in its time”(3:11) and “everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil”(3:13).  This means we should take pleasure in daily life and give thanks to God for the small and large blessings of each day.

  • Be Wise

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  In Proverbs, the wise person is described as one who fears the Lord and shuns evil(14:16), is humble(12:15) and wins souls(11:30)

  • Be Ready

We should be ready to witness:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope you have.” (1 Peter 3:15). We should “be ready to do whatever is good”(Titus 3:1) We should be ready for Christ to come again for “you do not know on what day your Lord will come”(Matthew 24:42)

  • Be Trusting

This is a crucial element in how Christians approach time.  We cannot control time but we know the One who does.  He sent Jesus to save us “at the right time”(Romans 5:6).  Can’t we trust Him with the events of our lives, as well?  As a Christian, I can say along with David, “My times are in your hand.”(Psalm 31:15a).

 

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Faith vs. Hope

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.”  Hebrews 11:1-2

I couldn’t let the month past without blogging on these verses from Hebrews, my favorite book of the Bible.  It’s chock full of inspiring statements and this particular one hangs on my bedroom wall.

My husband, who is a pastor, tells me that when he visits people who are ill or dying, he often hears these words:  “I believe in Jesus, and I hope I am saved.”  This is not quite right, because there is a difference between having faith and having hope (check it out on the website Beth Ann recommended, https://www.differencebetween.com).  Hope is anticipating that something may come to pass;  faith is an assurance that it will.  The author of Hebrews in exactly right:  if we have faith in Christ, we do not merely hope in our salvation we can be sure of it.  It also means we can be assured of many other promises of God, such as:

  • He is working all things out for our good
  • He will never leave us or forsake us
  • He will supply all our needs
  • Nothing can separate us from Him

and more.  Even those before Christ had this kind of faith because trusted in the promises of God even without seeing their fulfillment.

“These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Hebrews 11:13

They were looking forward to something;  we are looking back.  Shouldn’t our faith be even stronger since we have the privilege of knowing our salvation has already been accomplished through Christ’s death on the cross?

Have faith, friends.  You can be sure.

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9

 

Thankful Saints

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:18

We’ve adopted a new routine in our adult Sunday School class.  Each week before we begin the lesson, we try to answer this question:  Where have you seen God at work this week?  Most of the time, we see God at work in the good things that happen to us — someone recovers from illness;  we enjoy a beautiful day;  a friend encourages us;  and so on.   Today I’m reminding myself that God is at work in our difficulties also.

Our lesson last week was the story of Joseph.  Things just seemed to get worse and worse for him.  He’s sold into slavery, accused of rape, cast into prison.  It would be easy to feel that God had forgotten him.  Yet this was far from the truth!  God was at work.  He had a plan to bring good out of all the bad.  We all know that in the end, Joseph is becomes a respected advisor to the Pharoah, and is able to save his family and others from famine because of his God-given ability to interpret dreams.

The verse above tells us that, as saints,  we should give thanks in all circumstances.  God has a plan, and He’s working things out in ways that will ultimately benefit us and others.  We just have to trust Him.  I admit this is hard for me.  I’m sure it’s hard for you as well.  Keep this verse in your heart today as you give thanks.  Thank God for the good things, and also for the bad things He will use to bless you and others in His good time.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.  God loves you and so do I!

 

Living With the Saints

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Let’s face it, the saints aren’t always easy to live with.  If they were, St. Paul would not have to give us the instruction above from the book of Romans. They gossip and brag, complain and criticize (sins of the tongue are so easy to come by).  They can be stubborn, impatient, hypocritical and unreliable.  Some have personalities that just don’t jive with our own– maybe they seem blunt, controlling, demanding or unreasonable.  These things are all part of our “sinner” nature.

Funny, isn’t it, that Paul doesn’t tell us to change them  He also doesn’t tell us to give up and leave the church.  He tells us to be peaceful within ourselves. What does that mean?  Here are some ideas:

  1. Empathize with others as human beings.  You don’t always know what sort of day, or life, another person has been enduring.
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.  Something that offends you may not have been intended in the way you understood it.
  3. Don’t respond in anger.  You’ll probably regret it later.  Take time to cool down before you speak.
  4.  If you are truly upset by something another said or did, go and talk to them privately and nonconfrontationally.  You may be surprised at the results.
  5. Remember that everyone isn’t like you (my husband tells me this all the time!).  We all have different levels of spiritual maturity, different priorities, life experiences and interests.
  6. Remember your own sins.  I know I have my full share of irritating habits, so I should be willing to forgive as I have been forgiven, by other people and by God.
  7. Finally (and I should have put this first), pray.  Don’t ask God to change the person, but pray that they would be blessed, and that you will come to love and understand them.  Then leave them (and your hurt or anger) in God’s hands.

These are some things that have helped me, but I’d like to hear from others.  What are your strategies for living with the saints?

Do You Have a Saintly Worldview?

In the sermon last Sunday, my husband talked about having a Christian worldview.  A study by Barna research revealed some disturbing results.  Only 9% of American adults answered the questions in a way that indicated they hold a biblical worldview– even sadder, only about 1 in 5 of the people who described themselves as “born again” hold such a outlook!

Well, you might be saying, what were those questions?  Maybe they were tricky, or too theological or difficult to understand.  I’m going to post them below.  They look pretty basic to me:

  1. Do absolute moral truths exist?
  2. Does the Bible define absolute truth?
  3. Did Jesus lead a sinless life?
  4. Is God an all powerful, all knowing creator of the universe and is He still active in the world today?
  5. Is salvation a gift that cannot be earned?
  6. Is Satan real?
  7. Do all Christians have a responsibility to share their faith with others?
  8. Is the Bible accurate in all of its’ teachings?

If you answered “no” to some of these questions, the culture may be influencing you more than your Bible.  If you said yes to all these questions, are you living as if you really believed them?  There can still be a gap between our intellectual assent and our actions.   As saints, we’re called to be Christ’s ambassadors, and an ambassador represents a different country than the one in which they live.

“Do not conform any longer 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

As sinners, we’ll often fall down.  Our transformation is incomplete. We say we believe one thing, then behave as if we don’t.  Every day we need to pray:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21

Ask God to give you a saintly worldview and the strength to live in its grace.

 

 

 

Working Together

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many for one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  Romans 12:4-5

It’s exciting and interesting to learn about your own spiritual gifts, but another great benefit of this kind of assessment is you learn about your weaknesses and where you need help.  Our gifts are meant to complement one another.  No one person has every gift, so we must work together to accomplish God’s mission in the world.

One of my gifts (not my highest, but it’s in the mix) is leadership.  Here’s the definition of this gift:

LEADERSHIP: The gift of leadership is the special ability that God gives to

certain members of the Body of Christ to set goals in accordance with God’s purpose for the future and to communicate those goals to others in such a way that they voluntarily and harmoniously work together to accomplish those goals for the glory of God. Contributes: Direction.

A while back when we were giving gag gifts at a congregational luncheon, the group gave me a certificate naming me Joan “I have a great idea” Culler.  This confirms my gift of leadership.  I am the person with a million ideas about what individuals, groups and the entire congregation might do.  However, there’s one small problem.  I don’t have the gift of administration, and that’s a really necessary part of the process, as you can see:

ADMINISTRATION: The gift of administration is the special ability that God

gives to certain members of the Body of Christ to understand clearly the immediate and long-range goals of a particular unit of the Body of Christ and to devise and execute effective and efficient plans for the accomplishment of those goals. Con­tributes: Efficiency.

I can often see the direction or place I want to get to, but all the steps to get there, the many details, the “how” is not easy for me.  I get frustrated and stressed by trying to work through all the details.  It might take me days to get to the plan a good administrator sees in an instant.  As a leader, I do my best work when I have someone with the gift of administration by my side.  This is not true of everyone– some individuals will be blessed with both gifts.  However, it is true of me, so spiritual gift assessment has taught me not only my own gifts, but how to seek out those with the right gifts to work with me.

Is one gift more valuable?  As the apostle Paul would say, by no means!

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 1 Corinthians 12:16-17

All the gifts are important.  All the gifts are given by God.  Each one has its’ part to play.  We need to work together.

 

 

With Sober Judgement

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Romans 12:3

Paul puts this statement right before he talks about the differing gifts in the church, and how they are meant to be used together, to create a body, a unity.  I don’t think that’s an accident.  I believe what Paul is trying to tell us is that we should be aware of our gifts, and not be fearful about using them.  We’re not to become puffed up and proud, but rather realistic, knowing our own gifts, and appreciating the contributions of others as also necessary and valuable.

Now, we might discover our gifts through the normal course of daily life;  but then again, we might not.  Often we become caught up in the expectations and perceptions of others;  we don’t listen to God as carefully as we should.  We get caught up in what seems to be our “duty” and neglect the things that are really most important (shades of Mary and Martha!).  I can do this so easily.  There are so many good things in the church that need doing, how can I choose wisely?

One way is to know your gifts.  This has helped me tremendously, especially when I need to say no.  One author I read recently said, “Do the things that only you can do.”  At the very least, we should be giving those things priority.  I’m trying to apply this to my own life.  What are the things, at home, at church, in the community that I can do best?  What are the things that will probably go undone, if I don’t take up God’s challenge to get them accomplished?

If you haven’t taken a spiritual gifts assessment, I’m going to provide a link so you can do this.  It will help you say yes to the opportunities that are right for you.  The things God wants you to do in the body of Christ.  Think about your gifts with sober judgement.  You can start here:

https://www.lifeway.com/en/articles/women-leadership-spiritual-gifts-growth-service

Then click on Spiritual Gifts Survey to find an assessment of your gifts.