Tag Archives: The Lutheran Ambassador

A Flawed Leader part 2

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Like everything else about David, his love for God was big.  It became the central and defining relationship of his life, from the moment Samuel anointed him and “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” (1 Samuel 16:13)  After that, God’s will became part of his decision-making process.  The Bible records many times when David “inquired of the Lord” before taking action.  When things looked bleak, David turned to God and “strengthened himself in the Lord.”  When he succeeded, he humbly gave credit to God, saying, “who am I God, and what is my house that you have brought me this far?” (II Samuel 7:18)  When rebuked by Nathan, God’s prophet, he quickly admits, “I have sinned against the Lord”(12:13).  He begs God to spare the life of his child, but when the child dies, he accepts God’s authority without bitterness.  In fact, he immediately “went into the house of the Lord and worshipped.” (12:20)

As a dying man, David’s last thoughts are about the house he wanted to build for God.  He assembles his officials, seasoned warriors and army commanders, stewards and sons and commends the building of the temple to his son, Solomon.  He tells the people to “observe and seek out all the commandments of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and leave it as an inheritance to your children after you forever.”  He advises Solomon to “know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought: (1 Chronicles 28:9).  The best advice he could impart to those he was leaving was to know, obey and serve God.

David’s history depicts a man who walked and talked with God throughout his life.  To David, God was not a distant authority to be appeased or obeyed out of fear.  God was his rock, his deliverer, the satisfier of his soul.  Read through the Psalms to get an idea of David’s enduring and personal attachment to God.  More than 70 Psalms indicate in their superscriptions that David wrote them.  Many mention specific occasions in his life:  for example, “when he fled from Absalom”  or “when the Philistines seized him in Gaza.”  Others were written as a cry for mercy, or guidance;  they expressed joy and despair.  They recall his days as a shepherd and a king.

David’s leadership and his relationship with God were not perfect, because David was not perfect;  but he had the saving faith “the ancients were commended for” in Hebrews 11.  With confidence in God’s grace he could say, “The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear?(Psalm 27)  Like Abraham before him, David “believed the Lord and (God) counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

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A Flawed Leader

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This article was originally published in the October 2009 issue of The Lutheran Ambassador.  I believe that David’s story can give all Christians hope and point us to the most important component of Christian leadership. 

When you think about David what comes image comes into your mind first?  The young shepherd whose faith in God empowered him to face the giant Goliath with only a slingshot?  The King who was so unselfconscious he danced with joy before the Lord?  The sensitive poet and musician who composed many of the Psalms still used in our worship services today?  With God’s help, David was a leader who did great things.  He was a saint.

But David also had a dark side.  He lusted after another man’s wife and took her in adultery.  When she became pregnant, he tried to trick her husband into believing the child was his own.  When it became apparent that his deceit wasn’t going to work, David had him killed.  God punished David by taking the life of the son who resulted from his adulterous liaison.  David did some terrible things.  He was a sinner.

David seemed to do everything in a big way.  He was a fierce soldier–“Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands (1 Samuel 18:7)–and a charismatic king who united the Jewish nation, brought the ark to Jerusalem and built a palace there.  His magnetic personality attracted both men and women.  Brought to King Saul’s service as a young man, David quickly became a favorite who could calm the King’s terrible moods with his music.  Saul’s son Jonathan loved David with a friendship that was “more wonderful than that of women” (II Samuel 1:26), and Saul’s daughter Michal also loved David and became his wife.  In all David had at least eight wives and 14 children, but his family life was far from successful.  The jealousies that arose between these children of different mothers resulted in so much dysfunction that one brother raped his half-sister, was then killed by another brother who subsequently led a rebellion against his father, David, and was killed himself.

How did this man, a liar, fornicator and murderer, a man who could control armies but not his own children, come to be considered by God, “a man after my heart, who will obey my will (Acts 15:22)?  Why was his family chosen to be the human branch of Christ’s family tree?  David’s story reminds me of a nursery rhyme I learned when I was small about the little girl with the curl down the middle of her forehead:  when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid.  Some of David’s sins were truly horrid.  So why does God hold him up as an example, we should follow?

The reason is simple:  God does not keep score.  The most saintly among us are still sinners and we still need a savior.  David’s good works did not earn him special credit with God and his sins did not preclude him from being Gods’ man.  That slate was wiped clean by Christ’s sacrifice.  It wasn’t anything David did that made God call him “a man after my own heart.”  It must have been something else.  I think the something else was his steadfast and life-long relationship with God.

To be continued tomorrow …..

Gifts for the Church

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In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul tells us that each person has at least  one spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:7), and that every gift is valuable and equally important to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:21-30). 

 In our humanness we may find this hard to accept.  I have always admired (and if the truth be told, sometimes envied) those who have one spiritual gift that stands out and defines their Christian journey of sanctification and service.  These people are the long distance runners of the church.  Folks like the church musicians who sing on the choir or play the organ for a lifetime; the dedicated teachers who serve in the Sunday School for years and years, praying for and inspiring their students; or the talented workers who can paint, build or fix almost anything around the church building.

 I guess I’m more of a sprinter.  In my years as a Christian and active church member I’ve done all sorts of jobs, big and small.  I’ve served on the church council and cooked soup for Lenten dinners; I’ve led Sunday School classes for children and retreats for adults; I’ve been an altar guild member and a newsletter editor.   I do a task for a while and then my gift cluster or my life circumstances seem to morph and change and I feel compelled to move onto something else.  Yet there is a part of me that wants to find my one true vocation and stick to it.

 Recently I was bemoaning this to my husband.  “Why can’t I find that special gift that God wants me to use?” I asked.  Terry thought about that for a while and finally said, “Honey, maybe you should think of yourself as a utility player.”  Not being a big sports fan, I had to look into what a utility player is.  Here’s what I found out.   Utility players are seldom stars, but they are competent at a number of things.  They can fill into different areas as needed and do just fine.  Utility players may not be well known to the fans, but they can be extremely valuable to the coach.  They help keep the team going, especially when a key player is injured or unable to play. 

 Since then, I’ve felt better about my role.  Saint Paul was right; we need long distance runners but we also need sprinters.    We need amazing batters and pitchers and we need competent utility players.  A free and living congregation needs us all.

“But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?”  1 Cor. 12: 1

Originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador.

The Prayer of Confession

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“Create in me a clean heart, O God” Psalm 51:10

Some people enjoy cleaning, but I am not one of them. Although I like the way my home looks after a thorough cleaning, doing the work that goes into keeping it that way is a different story. Often I rush through my house doing a quick “lick and promise” neatening.  This makes things look better superficially, but true cleaning is hard work, when done properly.  It involves moving furniture to see what’s accumulated underneath, climbing on stepladders to reach cobwebs and getting down on my hands and knees to examine and scrub all the corners and crevices.  The worst part is, no matter how often or how strenuously I clean, dust and dirt soon creep back.  Within a week, it’s time to start over.  Keeping my house clean is an ongoing task that requires continuous attention.

 Cleaning up my soul, or confession, is no different. Each week I confess my failings during worship services. Sometimes, however, I do this without real reflection or repentance.  Once I start looking, I see sins I had completely forgotten or never noticed before. I see the bad things I do over and over again no matter how hard I try to change. Sometimes a sin is so ingrained I despair of ever entirely removing the stain it has left on my life. Others are buried so deeply I have trouble bringing myself to admit to them. I sigh at the stacks of “stuff” I have been carrying around, things I must sort through and examine closely in order to eliminate the garbage.  Such stuff includes a critical attitude, lack of trust, selfish desires or plain old laziness (just as a start!)  It’s a painful and unpleasant process, one that requires discipline and humility.  Worse yet, my confession is never complete because I can’t stop sinning!  Like Paul, in the book of Romans, I mourn, “…I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep doing.”

 Thankfully, when it comes to my sinful nature, I do not need to rely on my own efforts.  The psalmist cries out to God, “create in me a clean heart” because he realizes his  helplessness. I am helpless, too. I can never clean up enough to make myself right in the eyes of God.  A clean heart is His handiwork, accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ and revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. The absolution I hear after confession each week does not just mean I am forgiven for the wrongs I remember and committed recently, it is an announcement that ALL my sins, past and present, known and unknown, have already been erased by the suffering and death of Jesus.

 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24-25.

This was originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador, the monthly magazine of the Association of Free Lutheran Church.

Joan’s Journey part 3

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I thought my life was fine and wouldn’t change much until we retired.  I loved my church and could not imagine leaving it.  Looking back, I see that I loved my church so much I made it into an idol.  I would never have said we were perfect, but I was proud of my congregation and my place in it, and I did think we were really special.  And I had my own version of the prosperity gospel.  I didn’t expect God to make me rich, but I thought He would give me peaceful, harmonious relationships at church and at home.  Didn’t God owe me that … after all the work I put in being a good Christian?

 That is not the attitude God wants in His servants and I see that now. Eventually my self-satisfied life began to dissolve.(Here comes the death and rebirth part). Our oldest daughter hit adolescence and had a lot of problems. We tried all sorts of things, including counseling, but nothing seemed to work.  Years later Beth was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and by then we had all been through a great deal of pain.

At the same time things were going wrong at church.  Some friends were angry at the Pastor and the situation kept escalating.  Eventually they left. I was in anguish seeing the congregation I poured my life into torn apart.  To top it off, Terry decided he was called to the ministry.  I didn’t mind him being a pastor, because that would just be Terry’s job.  However I didn’t want to move to St. Louis and become the primary breadwinner so that he could go to seminary.  I told him this was just too much to ask, with one child in college and one with mental health issues.  He could move, but I would not.

 Terry thankfully, agreed we should stay together, and said if God wanted him to be a pastor He would make it happen.  And He did.  Terry found a Lutheran denomination that offered seminary courses via distance learning.  He kept his job and began the process.  When he came to the point where this denomination would have required him to go on a one year internship, he found another Lutheran group that agreed to ordain him immediately.  So Terry had his wish, or rather God’s wish.  Now what?

 The denomination that ordained him did not have an open pulpit, so Terry decided he would have to start a mission congregation, a daunting prospect. We knew from experience how much effort that took.  Then a friend asked Terry if he would fill in at his church. They were between pastors. We came to St. Paul’s where something clicked for us, and I believe, for the congregation very quickly.  They were small but lively and not afraid to keep the church running on their own.  They appreciated Terry’s gift for teaching and preaching.  They encouraged me, too, and allowed me to participate in the way I saw myself:  an active layperson, not just the Pastor’s wife.

 Terry and I have now been at St. Paul’s for more than ten years.  The church joined the AFLC and Terry is on their clergy roll.  I’ve written articles for the Lutheran Ambassador and a Bible study for the national women’s group.  I serve at church in many ways.  Since retiring, I am a part time caregiver for my granddaughter, Katelyn, and my mother with dementia. Now I’ve become a blogger! Many of these are things I would never have imagined doing.  Life with God is a continual surprise.  I’m humbler now and don’t pretend to know what my future holds.  John Wesley once said,                                                  

When I was young I was sure of everything.  In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before.  At present, I am hardly sure of anything except what God has revealed to me.”

I don’t know what my future holds, but I know God has a plan and that He will continue to work it out in my life.