Heart Health

I’ve been thinking lately about our union with Christ (we’ve been doing a study on this topic at our church). How is it possible to be one with Christ, and still have so much sin in our lives? How can we be a new person, and still have so many characteristics of the old one? As I pondered this paradox, here’s the analogy that came to me: it’s like a heart transplant. Although this is a modern medical advance, the Bible actually talks about it way back in the Old Testament book of Ezekial:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekial 36:26

In this section, the prophet was telling the people of Israel that despite their sin, God has plans to cleanse and restore them. The ultimate plan, of course, was the coming of the Messiah, Jesus who died for our sins and reconciled us with God. And yes, we are now united with Him. Why aren’t we perfect?

Well, here’s what I think. If you have a heart transplant, I’m sure you wake up feeling very different. Once you’ve recovered from the surgery, you have more energy and strength. You probably feel like a new person! However, this new heart requires some changes in your routines. You probably need to take anti-rejection medications; you need to exercise and eat healthy foods. You may have some bad habits to eliminate. You’re willing to do these things because you never, ever, want to go back to feeling the way you felt before–weak and sick. You will probably find it easier to stick to these new routines if you join a support group — some others with heart issues, who are also learning to live differently.

God gives us a new heart through our union with His Son. We are immediately different, but we still need to do some work. We need the Sacraments (good medicine). We need worship, prayer and Bible study (exercise). We need to refrain from sinful behavior. We need the rest of the body (our support group), the church, to keep us going in the right direction.

Remember friends, you’ve had major surgery. It’s changed you. Someone died and that gave you a chance to live. So stick with the program (God’s program) in order to enjoy the new life you’ve received!

For more about the process of sanctification see these posts:

Is Union with Christ a Process?

Trust God’s Process

Clothed in Christ

Is Union with Christ a Process?

This month I’m discussing our union with Christ, and I’m also studying this with a group at our church. It’s a concept that’s hard to grasp, at least for me. Today I asked my husband (a pastor), is union with Christ a process? According to him, the answer is yes and no.

In our baptism we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. That is an accomplished fact. However, union with Christ doesn’t mean we are Christ. We still retain our individual traits and unfortunately, our individual sinful nature. That there is always a conflict — the new person who is “in Christ” and the old nature we inherited from Adam. As the Apostle Paul bemoaned:

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:22-25

Union with Christ cannot be separated from our sanctification, and that is a process. Some Christian denominations believe it is possible to reach complete sanctification during this earthly life. Most do not. Like Paul, we’ll struggle every day to overcome our sinful nature. However, as people who are “in Christ” the victory is already ours. We have already been released from the penalty of sin, and in time, in our glorified bodies, we’ll be released from the presence of sin. Until then, we rest in His power over sin. Amen. Lord, let it be so.

For more about sanctification see:

Trust God’s Process

Keep in Step with the Spirit

Deeper by Dane C. Orland — Book Review

Teaching By Example

I recently wrote this article for the AFLC magazine, The Ambassador. It appeared in the January issue.

Years ago when my children were youngster, I read quite a few books about parenting, where I found all sorts of helpful advice. Here’s one insight I’ve never forgotten: children learn in three ways–by example, by example, and by example. Of course, that’s an oversimplification, but it draws attention to an important truth–our core values, our traditions, even our behavior, are more often “caught” than “taught.”

How do we do this? Of course, regularly going to church, Sunday school and Bible study are important. We need to learn the basics of the faith so that we understand what we believe and why. But this kind of knowledge is not enough. Polling expert George Barna reports that only 20 percent of those who attend evangelical Protestant churches have a biblical worldview. In other words, sitting in the pew doesn’t make you a practicing Christian any more than sitting in the garage makes you a car. The Bible warns that our faith is more than just intellectual assent to a set of doctrines. True faith results in Christian action.

The Apostle John wrote,

“Dear children, let us not love one another with words or speech, but in actions and in truth.”(1 John 3:18, emphasis mine)

And James echoed:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith, but has not deeds? (James 2:14, emphasis mine)

As Lutherans, we know that we are not saved by our works, but these verses make it clear that Christian behavior will be evident in the life of a believer. What I’m describing here is the process of sanctification, and it is a process. It doesn’t happen automatically when we are baptized, or join a church, or complete confirmation classes. It’s a lifelong commitment to being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ. If we mode this, our children will notice and remember it for the rest of their lives.

To be continued ….

For more on sanctification see these posts:

Trust God’s Process

Keep in Step with the Spirit

Everyday Faithfulness by Glenna Marshall — Book Review

Deeper by Dane C. Orland — Book Review

Subtitled, “Real Change for Real Sinners”, this book is about the process of sanctification. At first, I found it a bit simplistic — but that is actually the author’s point. We all need to go back to the basics in order to grow. Real, positive growth happens when we go deeper and deeper into the basics that we may have known for years.

The first step, if we’re growing in Christ, is to know what Christ is like. Then we need to despair — despair of being able to save ourselves on our own. We have to see and admit the sin that is always with us. When we collapse into the love of Christ, we are united with Him. We’re transformed, and our future is no longer bound up in the sinful Adam –we’re a new creation in Christ. All of this is the necessary foundation that leads to the dynamics by which believers change. We have been acquitted, or justified and are now reconciled with God.

The author then turns toward the question of how we practically, absorb the truth of our salvation into our daily lives. He focuses on two tools which he considers most important — the Bible and prayer. Our relationship with Christ must be nurtured and fed.

So, yes, this is a book about basics, and the most basic instruction is this — Look to Christ. We need to reminded, and to follow His teachings and example every day.

VERDICT: 5 STARS.

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CPR 255.

For more book reviews see these posts:

Pure In Heart by J. Garrett Kell–Book Review

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger–Book Review

Every Which Way to Pray by Joyce Meyer–Book Review

James Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:20-22

The phrase that stood out for me in my lectio divina reading of the second chapter of James was: “his faith was made complete by what he did.” When we come to belief in Christ, it’s the beginning of a process — the process of sanctification. In many places in the New Testament, we are told that our faith will transform us. For example:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Our faith is not a simple philosophical assent — it’s meant to take over our way of thinking, and also our way of behaving. Here’s a comparison for you. A while back, I took a “Prevent Diabetes” class at the local Senior Center. One of the participants came to every class. She learned about counting calories, portion control and exercise. She believed what she was taught — but she never put what she learned into practice. At the end of the year, she had made no progress toward her goal of lowering her blood sugar count. Simply sitting in class week after week didn’t get her the results she wanted. She didn’t really get with the program.

God has a program too, and it’s very simple:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.(and) … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Mark 12:30-31

The emotion of love is not complete until we follow it up with loving deeds. So, make sure your faith and actions work together. You’ll be pleased with the results, and so will your Father in heaven.

What is a Church?

,My husband, who is our pastor, wrote this article for a recent church newsletter, and I thought it was worthy of sharing.

What is a church, or specifically a congregation? Have you ever thought seriously about this?

Well, the first thing we say, of course, is that it is a gathering of the people of God in a certain place. People may gather at schools or work places or gyms, or ball games, but none of these places can be a congregation because they lack the one defining requirement, the people gathered there must be people who follow Jesus.

Now we have to admit that not all people who have their names on the roll of a congregation are people of God. As the Lord points out in the parable of the wheat and the tares, some are not who they seem to be. They are not really part of the true congregation. At least, not yet.

As the people of God gathered together, a true living congregation seeks always to grow in grace and faith in the Messiah. I don’t care how big your gathering or what the name plate on the door says, a living congregation must be a spiritually growing congregation. No one achieves full sanctification in this life, but those who truly confess Jesus as their Lord strive to attain that goal.

A living congregation has living Christians at the core. And living Christians are those who grow in their faith lives through ever increasing understanding of what it means to confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord.

Congregations where there is no faith growth or signs of life are dead gatherings and the Holy Spirit is not at work among them.

Dead gatherings might survive for a time, but they will eventually fail, for if the Lord doesn’t bless those who call on His name there is no hope.

So the question for St. Paul’s, and for all congregations is this — will you be living or will you be dead?

I Can Do Better

This was the daily quote in my devotional reading recently:

“Do not try only to abstain from sin, but strive, by God’s grace, to gain the opposite grace.  If thou wouldest not slip back into sin, thou must stretch forward to Christ and His holiness.  It is a dull, heavy, dreary, toilsome way, just to avoid sin.  Thou wouldest not simply not be impatient;  thou wouldest long to be like thy Lord, who was meek and lowly of heart.  Thou wouldest not only not openly murmur;  thou wouldest surely long, like the beloved Apostle, to rest on Jesus’ breast, and will what He wills.”

Edward B. Pusey

I realized this is what I have been talking about with my reunion group friend. I have shared that I can usually refrain from “outward” sins.  In other words, I do a pretty good job of avoiding sinful behavior.  However, I still struggle with things like a poor attitude, lack of gratitude for the good things God has given me, or uncharitable thoughts.  The author of this quote has it exactly right:  I need to pray to not only to do what is right, but to really want to do it.  I need to do good not just because it is my duty, but because it brings me joy to please God.

This reminds me of the famous love verses from 1 Corinthians, chapter 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[ but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I obey God without love for Him and for others in my heart, it’s meaningless.  I’m like the Pharisees in the Bible, and Jesus called them “white-washed tombs.”  In other words, they looked good, but were dead inside.  I must develop the qualities of a truly loving disciple.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  1 Corinthians 4-7

This certainly isn’t easy, and I can’t do it on my own.  I need the help of the Holy Spirit.  I’m praying for that.  Will you join me?

For more quotes by E. B. Pusey see:

Advice From E. B. Pusey

Victorious Faith

Being More Than Conquerers

 

My Hope for the Future

It will soon be January, and at the beginning of a new year, we often think of making some “new year resolutions.”  What do I want to accomplish this year?  How do I want to change?  What could I do better?

Recently my reunion group friend and I have been discussing the examination of conscience (for more information see Examination of Conscience).  We both agree that our biggest problem is not doing sinful things, but doing good things with a poor attitude.  We can do our Christian duty while grumbling, becoming impatient or feeling aggrieved.  I’ve been praying to improve, and this quote from my daily devotional describes well the way I hope to behave with the help of the Holy Spirit.

“That is what our sacrifice of ourselves should be –‘full of life.’  Not desponding, morbid, morose;  not gloomy, chilly, forbidding;  not languid, indolent, inactive;  but full of life, and warmth, and energy;  cheerful and making others cheerful;  gay, and making others gay;  happy and making others happy;  contented and making others contented;  doing good and making others do good, by our lively vivid vitality,–filling every corner of the circle in which we move, with the fresh life-blood of a warm, genial, kindly Christian heart.  Doubtless this requires a sacrifice;  it requires us to give up our own comfort, our own ease, our own firesides, our dear solitude, or own favorite absorbing pursuits, our shyness, our reserve, our pride, our selfishness.”

Arthur P. Stanley 

Philippians Chapter 3 –What Stands Out

This is the third in my series of lectio divina meditations on Philippians.  What stood out for me in this chapter is:

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”  Philippians 3:12

The “this” the apostle Paul is speaking of, is his attempt to imitate Christ, his master.  He wants to:

“… know him and the power of his resurrection …. share his sufferings …. (and become) like him in his death ….” Philippians 3:10

In other words, Paul is describing the process that Lutherans call sanctification.

Like Paul, I am far from completing this process.  I’m still pressing on, and will be until the day of my death.  Some days, I’m all too aware of my failures and shortfalls.  Strangely, this doesn’t make me feel hopeless, but hopeful.  After all, in the end, I do not have:

“…. a righteousness of my own that comes from the law; but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”Philippians 3:9

The race is already won, but running gives my life meaning.  I want to imitate Jesus who saved me.  I want to meet Him and hear these words:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’” Matthew 25:21

I want to persevere.  It’s my “one thing” — for more about this see: Bulls Eye!

For more on the book of Philippians visit these posts:

The Theme of Joy in Philippians

Philippians Chapter 1 — What Stands Out

Philippians Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

 

Lovingkindness by William R. Miller–Book Review

What is lovingkindness?  The term was first used by Myles Coverdale in 1535 as a translation for the Hebrew word “hesed” as used in the Scripture.  According to the author, there are closely related concepts from Baha’i, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, and so he does not address it as specifically Christian.  I also take issue with his view of human nature, as he believes:

“… our fundamental, natural, intended, and mature nature– is lovingkindness.”

Lovingkindness may be our intended nature, and as we progress in sanctification, it will become more apparent in us;  however, original sin prevents it from being our fundamental nature.

That being said, the book does contain information that is helpful in cultivating lovingkindness  in our lives.  Miller defines lovingkindness quite simply — to act for the well-being of others.  It can be sacrificial in a heroic way, or found in the many small choices we make every day.  If we practice lovingkindness as a discipline, it will become an integral part of our character.

He lists and discusses these twelve attributes of lovingkindness::

  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Contentment
  • Generosity
  • Hope
  • Affirmation
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Humility
  • Gratitude
  • Helpfullness
  • Willingness to yield

Each quality is covered in a separate chapter, along with practical suggestions about practices you might undertake to increase that virtue in your own life.  At its’ heart lovingkindness are the following characteristics:

  • It is chosen.  It cannot be done grudgingly
  • It is enacted.  It is not just the emotion of sympathy, but compassionate action.
  • It is empathetic, having an interest and understanding of other views, even when they differ from our own..
  • It is selfless.  It cannot be done for personal gain or rewards.
  • It is consistent, a way of living, not an isolated act.

He also discusses some obstacles to lovingkindness:

  • Inattention
  • Fear and anger
  • Privilege

VERDICT:  3 STARS.  I disagree with some of the author’s premises, but he has provided an accurate description of lovingkindness, as well as some helpful suggestions for growing it in our relationships with others..

For more on the topic of kindness see these posts:

Deep Kindness by Houston Kraft–Book Review

Apathy, Sympathy or Empathy?

The War For Kindness by Jamil Zaki — Book Review