The Reluctant Servant

Most people know the story of Jonah. This is a guy who did not want to go to Nineveh and preach and ended up in the belly of the whale.

The Bible doesn’t tell us why Jonah had it out for Nineveh. He must not have liked the city because when God told him to go there and proclaim His anger, Jonah turns tail and runs. Really? Who would, after getting specific instructions like that, try to run from God. But then, don’t all of us at one time or another? Think about that for a while.

Anyway, God sends a storm to rock the boat he’s on and the people on the boat don’t want to throw him overboard, but in the end they have no choice. Even then they pray to God to forgive them for “killing” Jonah:

Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. Jonah 1:13-16

So even though Jonah was running from God, God still changed men’s lives despite Jonah.

Jonah changes his mind while sitting in the whale and get’s spit up on land. I always wondered about this. I mean, wouldn’t Jonah smell? Wouldn’t he look really bad after being in the belly of the whale? Just a thought. So Jonah goes to Nineveh and does what God wants him to do and, of course, Nineveh listens and repents.

What does Jonah do? He gets angry!! He starts ranting at God because God forgives this evil city that repented. He goes out and sits in the sun because he’s angry and wants to die. God sends a plant to cover Jonah and Jonah got happy. Then God kills the plant and Jonah got angry again. God asks Jonah if he has a right to be angry, because God caused the plant to grow and God caused the plant to die.

I think this lesson from Jonah is a good one for us. We may be reluctant to do God’s will and be his servants. We are called to be servants in all we do. Trying to run is not an option since, as we see in this example, Jonah was brought back to do the work he was meant to do.  Jonah was angry about it, but what good did that do?  God is sovereign.  God will do what He will do.  We are called to obey, and that is hard.  I don’t care what some people say, being a Christian and trying to obey the will of God is hard, but the rewards (or blessings) are wonderful.

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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.

Personal Repentance

I know this isn’t our new theme, but it seems God isn’t done with the old one yet, at least where I am concerned.  During last month’s reflections on repentance, some of the posts mentioned that true repentance means turning around, doing something different, returning to God.  It’s not enough to just say “I’m sorry” and then keep behaving in the same way.

At St. Paul’s our leaders have been praying about how we need to repent, individually and corporately.  Here’s one thing God has impressed upon my mind:  a pastor in India, Pastor Duiggi, and his ministries.  We’ve met this man.  He actually visited our church, twice I believe, years ago.  Since then my husband and I have received periodic emails from him, telling us about the things he is doing and asking for our prayers and support.  He runs an orphanage, supports a Women’s Ministry and is now associated with the Lutheran School of Theology in India. Sad to say, I have done nothing.

Why?  Well, I could come up with any number of excuses.  I’ve been busy with many things (like Martha), things that seemed closer to home and more pressing;  he’s not affiliated with our particular Lutheran denomination (the AFLC);  our church is small, not wealthy, and truth to tell I’ve been more worried about whether the church can afford to pay its Pastor (my husband) then suggesting we support a mission in India.  All of these reasons are wrong and just plain sinful.  This is not easy for me to even think, much less say out loud.

So I’m going to repent.  I’m going to start talking to our church about Pastor Duiggi, beginning with our Sunday School class.  I’m going to model the behavior I’d like to see in others.  I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world.

Fanning the Flame #15 –Getting Good

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already obtained. Philippians 3:12-16

A book I read recently stated  that “getting good” at any complicated task takes about 10,000 hours of practice.  Now this author wasn’t speaking about the living the Christian life, but I imagine it still applies.  So if you want to “get good” at being a Christian, simply sitting in the pew won’t cut it.  At the rate of one hour per week, “getting good” will take approximately 192 years!  In case you haven’t noticed, none of us have that long!  To really mature as a Christian, we need to put in the hours –hours of prayer, Bible study, service and more.

This is exactly what the Fanning the Flame process is teaching us.  As a team, we are learning to be more disciplined in our prayer life;  to discover and use our spiritual gifts;  to repent of our sins;  to remember God’s promises;  to study His Word;  to fellowship with one another, and so on.  Hopefully, as we mature in our faith, we will influence others within the congregation to do the same.  We’ll be stronger, better witnesses.

Will we ever achieve complete sanctification?  Lutherans don’t think so.  However, like Paul, we need to press on and do what is in our power to become worthy followers of the gift we have already been given.  Christ died for our sins so that we could be reconciled with God and live with Him in eternity.  Is it enough to plunk ourselves down in the sanctuary once a week, sing a few hymns and drop a few dollars in the offering plate?  Is this a show of true gratitude, or is it just a pious habit we’ve developed over the years?  We can’t stand still in the life of faith, we have to practice.  We have to get good.

 

 

R.C. Sproul on Repentance

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R. C. Sproul was not a Lutheran, but this sounds quite a bit like Martin Luther’s First Thesis, doesn’t it?
Confession should be a daily activity for the Christian, whose entire pilgrimage is characterized by the spirit of repentance. —R.C. Sproul

Searched and Known #3

 As sinners our natural response to biblical instructions is to say “no”.  It is our default position if you will.  God tells us how to behave, and we say no.  God says that our thoughts are to be about Him and our goal is to be His glory.  And we say no.  God says we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  And we say no.  We must repent of that behavior.  We must repent of those thoughts.  We must repent of those emotional responses.  And we must repent of those times when we say “yes” but live no.

 Repentance is a necessary part of the Christian life.  When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the town church in Wittenberg he wrote this, “When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  And true repentance has to be more than simply saying some words on Sunday morning.  It must be heartfelt and life changing.

 True repentance is a willingness to let God change us in any way He so chooses—no limits and no exceptions.  And maybe that’s why we resist so hard.  It’s scary, isn’t it?  It’s scary to think that God would take me and make me something other than I am when I’m perfectly comfortable this way.  Most of you know the difficulties Joan and I have been going through with our home.  It is not easy to be constantly moving about from one place to another—sleeping here, eating there.  Wondering when we’ll be able to return to our place and get back that sense of normal life.  Believe me, we’re so looking forward to that day.

 That day will come fairly soon and things Joan and Terry will return to normal.  But when you and I repent of our sins, truly and completely, when we let God change us, there will be no going back.  There will be a new normal and a new level of comfort.  Things which we have long clutched to our chests will no longer be there for us.   Instead we will be Kingdom people—which is what we are meant to be.  Mark tells us that when Jesus began His earthly ministry He went into Galilee preaching Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And citizens of the Kingdom are different.

 But friends, what a great day that will be for us because we do indeed bear a burden when we sin.  We know what our sin is and it weighs us down, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves.  But that burden will be lifted when you truly repent and allow God to do as He wills with you.  Instead of the yoke of sin we will bear the yoke of Christ, and it is light and easy.  Instead of the dimness of our natural vision we will see with a new light, the light of Christ Himself.  Instead of the confusion which so often rules our lives, we will have complete clarity, because it is God’s clarity, His gracious giving of His wisdom to the people of His calling. 

Searched and Known #2

Don’t we often behave as if God doesn’t know what we’re doing, hear what we’re saying, know what we’re thinking?  We go right along in our lives sinning away thinking that God isn’t paying attention.  We think we’re going to get away with something with God because the guy who lives next door or the spouse who sleeps next to you doesn’t know about it.  Yet the psalmist here tells us that God has searched us and known us—and that means in every single moment of our lives, from conception to death.

 God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  And that means we who are His chosen people must examine ourselves and repent of our sins before Him.  Christ has paid the price for our sins, He has borne our punishment, He has done all that is necessary for our salvation, but I’m not talking about salvation, I’m talking about being in a right relationship with God during this life.  Sin separates us from God even when we are saved.  It puts a barrier up between Him and us that keeps us from fully enjoying the grace He shows to us.  Repentance is about restoring a proper relationship with God after we have come to faith in Christ and believed in His atoning work.

 I suspect most of us have had difficulties with relationships in our lives.  We want to have a close relationship with someone, but there is always something that stands in the way.  Quite often that something has to do with a refusal to address differences and what seems an inability on someone’s part to repent of that feeling.  Central to all sin is the ego of man.  We want to be first and best, or at least we want people to think we are first and best.  It’s hard to go to someone and admit that you’re a failure or that you’ve not been the person that you should have been.  That failure builds walls that separate and isolate us.

 Surprisingly, we often have exactly the same problem in our relationship with God as we do in our relationships with other people.  We don’t like admitting we are what we are—failures.  Certainly we make a confession in all of our worship services, but even then we can hold back a bit, we can’t not bring all of our sins to mind, we can even hope God will be completely satisfied by that once a week statement.  But that isn’t really true.  God wants you to be honest with yourself about what you have done and to truly repent of that so that you can experience true freedom in your life.