Being a Biblical Christian, part 2

This is part 2 of my husband’s sermon on living biblically.

George Barna, who is well-known for his work doing surveys about the church was asked how we can know what another person truly believes?  How can asking questions open up something which can be kept hidden?  In his answer, Dr. Barna said that he does not just ask people what they believe, he also questions them about what they do.  The he said this:

“You do what you believe.  If your behavior doesn’t represent your (stated) beliefs, it’s not really a belief.”

Jesus says the same thing.  At the close of the Sermon on the Mount, he speaks of false prophets and how to tell who they are, saying:

“You will recognize them by their fruit…. every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. “

In other words, if you are believer, you will have a living faith, one which presents itself to the world through deeds.  Let’s continue with Paul’s words in the book of Romans:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many parts in one body and all the body’s parts do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another.  However, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly: if prophecy, in proportion to one’s faith; if service, in the act of serving; or the one who teaches, in the act of teaching; or the one who exhorts, in the work of exhortation; the one who gives, with generosity; the one who is in leadership, with diligence; the one who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Romans 12:3-8

Essentially what Paul does here is move everything that is spiritual out to the rest of our lives..There are people whose Christianity is limited pretty much to an hour or so on Sunday;  but our worship isn’t confined to one space, once a week.  Rather, our entire life is worship.

When someone lives a life of faith that is framed by a truly biblical worldview, they will come to understand how it is that God has blessed them in terms of the tasks prepared for them to do which build up His kingdom.  As Carl Olaf Rosenius said:

“Believers are not to use their time and gifts according to their fancy, but these are to be used for the glory of Him who paid such a tremendous price for us.”

Not Volunteers

So you belong to a church and you “volunteer” your services there?  If this is your reasoning, according to my devotional today, you are dead wrong.  You might say this is an example of stinkin’ thinkin’ (see previous posts Stinkin’ Thinkin’ and Even More Stinkin’ Thinkin’).  The church is not our club, and we are not volunteers.  According to the apostle, Peter,

“… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  1 Peter 2:9

The point is, if you are a Christian, you have been called.  God chose you because you have certain gifts and talents that are necessary for the growth and well-being of His body, the church.  Our arm or leg or brain does not “volunteer” to do its job — it does so automatically because that is what is was designed to do.  You fit into God’s plan, and your piece is important.

According the author of my devotional, here are some differences between those who are called and those who volunteer (this is my paraphrase of the information).

  • A volunteer sees his or her service as an obligation they have undertaken.  The called are honored, and eager to be used by God
  • A volunteer will often become offended and quit if corrected.  The called are hungry to learn and grow and will accept godly advice.
  • A volunteer will also complain and sometimes quit if things become hard.  The called accept sacrifice and persevere in order to reach a goal.
  • A volunteer puts in as much effort as they can “afford” or “can fit into their schedule.”  The called give their all.
  • A volunteer avoids situations that require change.  The called are ready to be transformed.
  • A volunteer may be envious or intimidated by the gifts of others.  The called are secure and able to admire and celebrate the abilities others.

Now, we all have different seasons in our lives.  We may be called to do one task when we are young, another when we have small children and something completely different as we age.  We also need to spend time in prayer, allowing God to help us discern our particular calling at any given time. The point is, we are always called and we are always needed.  It’s not a choice.  As Charles Foucauld (1858-1916) said,

“Once I believed there was a God I saw no other course than to serve him.”

For a review of the devotional I’ve been using, you can go to this post:

The Insanity of Sacrifice by Nik Ripken — Book Review

 

Sibling Love (And Rivalry)

The stories about Mary and Martha are among my favorites.  These sisters are portrayed in such a human and realistic way.  Martha is obviously an extrovert who is quick to say exactly what’s on her mind.  Mary listens and ponders (typical introvert).  They also have different talents — Martha quickly takes on the tasks of organizing and serving, while Mary sits with the guests and wants to learn from Jesus.  Of course, the crux of the story, the part we always remember is Martha’s cry:

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”  Luke 10:40

I hear this sort of complaint often in the church, where we are also brothers and sisters.  When we take on a task, we want and expect others to help us.  Of course, that isn’t unreasonable, and we should be willing to do our share of the Lord’s work.  However, often we don’t stop to think about the fact that others may simply be using their gifts in a different way.  The member who doesn’t show up at the Yard Sale may be someone who enjoys taking a meals to shut-ins;  the person who refuses to teach Sunday School may be a whiz at fixing things around the building.  Some may even be involved in Christian activity we don’t know about — caring for a sick relative, or working hard in a community organization or spending hours in prayer.  Of course, you probably also remember how Jesus answered Martha:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;  one thing is needful;  Mary has chosen the good portion which shall not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41

The Bible tells us to use our gifts to build up the church, and to be cheerful givers.  It doesn’t tell us to worry about what others are doing.  Sibling rivalry doesn’t help anyone.  If we focus on our own gifts and calling, we won’t feel aggrieved or envious of others;  we’ll be joyful and fulfilled.  We’ll have chosen the needful thing.

You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

You’ve all heard the familiar adage above.  I’m not sure it’s true, at least in the case of human beings.  Life should be a journey in learning:  learning about God, about ourselves, about others.  I thought I’d talk a bit about what I’ve learned through becoming a Christian blogger.

I’m retired, and I’m not part of the generation that grew up using technology.  I still have a flip phone (much to my granddaughter’s dismay) and I’m not of Facebook or Instagram.  I don’t skype. I don’t text. I prefer books to my kindle.  You get the idea.  If you told me a few years ago that I’d be spending my time writing blog posts, I would have laughed at you!  Then my husband starting blogging, some women at our church said we ladies should have a blog, one of them set it up and voila!  I was suddenly a blog author!

Of course, I do have some interests that drew me to try this “something new.”  I love to write, I love to study, and I love to encourage others.  Blogging seemed to be a way to combine all three of those things.  Along the way, here are some of the things blogging has taught me.

  1. I’ve become more adept at using technology.  I can now copy an image or a video from YouTube or a link.  I can reblog an article.  I started accounts on Linked In and Pinterest (still avoiding Facebook).
  2. I’ve learned to write quickly, and be less of a perfectionist.  In the past, I found it hard to just sit down and write something because there was no deadline.  Now I have a deadline every day, and I have to write and be content to let my article go without agonizing over the “best” wording or examples.
  3. Because we have a theme every month, I have a reason to think deeply and seriously about a particular topic.  I pray about our theme, look up verses, check books out of the library, etc..
  4. I’ve learned more about some of my sisters in Christ, through their posts.  It tickles me no end to observe Beth Ann’s love of music, Michele and Leslie’s passion for study, and to see how Sarah and Kate (both of whom I’ve known since they were small)  have grown up in thoughtfulness and Christian maturity.

I think God is always seeking to surprise and amaze us.  He wants us to learn and grow, to use our talents, to become the people He intended us to be.

What new tricks have you learned this year?

Created to be Creative

The Bible tells us in the Book of Genesis:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;  male and female he created them.”

Since God is the Creator, doesn’t it make sense that humankind, the children He made in His image, would also be creative?  God gave us “dominion” over the world and blessed us with the instructions that we should “be fruitful and multiply.”  This reminds me of the parable of the talents …. the master trusts his servants to be good stewards of what they have been given.  I guess we could take these words superficially and say, well, we’re supposed to populate the earth and work diligently to receive a good return for our labor, but I think God meant for us to go beyond that.

God blessed each one of us with a unique personality and abilities.  Some of us will be artists, writers and craftsmen, but creativity doesn’t stop there.  We can all imagine creative ways to do what we love to do.  There are creative parents, teachers, business owners and cooks.  There are people who get creative about ways to be generous, ways to relate to different cultures, ways to invent useful gadgets.  I think people feel most completely fulfilled when they’re getting creative about the things they find fascinating and enjoyable;  the things God created them to do, to understand or to learn about.

What gets your creative juices going?  What are the talents God gifted you with?  Are you spending your time on them?  If not, why not?  Start now.

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them:  if prophecy in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving;  the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in exhortation;  the one who contributes, in generosity;  the one who leads, with zeal;  the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”  Romans 8:6-8

 

 

 

It’s Ok to Say No

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” 1 Corinthians 12:21

One thing it’s hard for us to learn, and especially for women, I think, is it’s ok to say “no” sometimes.  If you are a people-pleaser, like I am, you want to say “yes” so people will like you.  You don’t want to let people down.  Our culture also tells us we can have it all and do it all:  we can be wives and mothers, CEO’s and caretakers, and creative artists all at the same time.  Frankly, it’s not true, and it can be a set up for failure.

So,  we have to be good stewards of our time as well as our money.  One time to say no, is if we’re ask to do something that is clearly outside of our skill set.  For example, I’m not detail oriented, so if I’m asked to be the church treasurer or organize a big fundraiser, I need to say no.  That is the choice that will work to everyone’s benefit!

There may be seasons in our lives when we’re overwhelmed with responsibilities at home or at work.  When I was a mother of two very young children, I chose to be on the Altar Guild instead of serving on the Church Council.  An hour of alone time setting up communion was just what I needed, and all the time I had to give.  Saying no for a while, doesn’t mean saying no forever.  The time came when I went back to “active duty.”

Another important thing to remember about saying no, is it gives somebody else a chance to say yes.  There may be another member of the body who has just the right combination of talents to do the work you can’t.  Others will never get a chance to stretch and grow if you think you have to do it all.

Finally, when you take on a challenging task  that stretches you (and you should do this at times), pick something that matches your abilities, and ask for help if you need it.  We are all one body and we’re meant to work together to accomplish God’s work.

Free Gifts

“But the free gift is not like the trespass.  For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” Romans 5:15

A couple of things that happened recently made me think about the idea of “free gifts.”

The first was a story someone read at a Christmas party I attended.  It was about a little rabbit who was feeling very alone on Christmas Eve.  He had no family and the only things he had to recommend him were his ability to hop and his warm, furry coat, neither of which seemed very important.  However, in the course of the story, this bunny learned that these two attributes were gifts –free gifts, and they became very important when the time to use them was right.

The second was a conversation I had with an acquaintance.  We were talking about church, and this fellow told me that he was a Christian and regular church-goer, but sometimes he became angry and frustrated with his congregation.  “They” always seemed to be hounding him — to give more, to do more.  “I’m already doing my part,”  he said.  “I don’t need to hear that message over and over.  Now those people who only come at Christmas and Easter, they’re the ones who need to hear that stuff!”

Here’s the chain reaction these two things started in my mind.  I thought about all the “free gifts” that are mine through God’s action in my life.  Wonderful things like salvation and eternal life.  Then there are the more tangible “free gifts” I get just for being part of St. Paul’s:  encouragement, friendship, sympathy–not to mention some extra love and attention when I need it!

There are also the “free gifts” God has given me in my own unique set of abilities and talents.  Like the bunny, I often don’t think they are much, but at the right time and place God uses them.  I realized that because of all these “free girts” God had given me, I wanted my gifts to Him to be free, too.

That’s not easy.  I often give my gifts at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.  I give because someone asked me to or because I think I ought to;  I take a job because I feel guilty or am afraid nobody else will do it.  When that happens, I don’t feel good about giving.

A free gift requires a different focus.  It means taking the initiative to think about what I would like to do, and how my gifts fit in.  It means examining each request for my time, talents or contributions honestly to decide if the gift is within my ability to fulfill freely (without strings).  This doesn’t mean I never stretch and go beyond my comfort zone.  It means sometimes saying no without guilt when it’s not something I can do well.  Most of all, it means remembering all the “free gifts” God has given me, and how I should use them to the best of my ability (remember Beth Ann’s post about the parable of the faithful servants).

If I can give my gifts feely,  I won’t feel guilty (because I’m giving what I can) and I won’t feel angry(it doesn’t matter what others give, I’m giving what I want to anyway) and I will be thankful.  The gift of grace with abound.

I’d like to blog about this more and hear from others.  What are your gifts?  How can you use them?  Do you offer them freely to God?  Do they carry a sweet aroma that reminds others of Christ?

 

 

Using our Talents

In my home, over an inner doorway is a plaque.  It’s very plain, not very tall but somewhat long and on that plaque it says:

To Whom Much Is Given Much Is Expected

I’ve had this for several years now and it’s to remind me to be faithful with the talents and gifts that God has given me.

The saying is what I call an “off-quote” (since it’s not exact) of Matthew 25:14-28 more commonly referred to as the Parable of the Talents.  Instead of copying it all here, I’ll give you a synopsis.  A wealthy gentleman was leaving the area and he entrusted three servants with differing amounts of gold, or as the coin was called back in the day, talents.  One received five talents, the second received two talents, and the last servant received one talent.  It doesn’t seem like the servants were given special instructions about what to do with the money they were given, but the first and second servant put the money to work and increased the amounts.  The third didn’t do anything.  When the Master returned he called each servant to account for what they did.  The first two servants had doubled the money and the wealthy Master says to both of them:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The third servant was fearful.  He was afraid to lose the Master’s money so he had hidden it (kept it to himself) so he wouldn’t lose it.  I’m afraid the Master was pretty rough with him:

‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

This parable is tucked between two other parables.  The chapter starts with the parable of the Ten Virgins and ends with the parable of the Sheep and the Goats.  All of it is an explanation of the Kingdom of God.  It starts with how we need to be ready for the Bridegroom and then moves to what we are to be doing while we wait and the last chapter deals with what happens to the persons that don’t obey the warnings.

I believe this section describes what we are to be doing:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

These are our “talents”.  This is what we are to do.  We need to take what we are given from the Lord and increase it by giving it away to others.

So, I’m ending this blog with a confession.  Do I do this?  No, not the way I think the Lord would have me do.  I have a long way to go but I’m learning to listen to the Master’s voice.  I’m learning to hear it, so when he tells me to use my “talents” I can hear him.  This blog is an example.  I’ve been thinking about this topic ever since the first of the month and the topic of Obedience.  I need to be obedient and write what is on my heart.  That is something He has called me to do.  I am a reluctant writer.  This does not come easy to me, but I feel that anything the Lord calls you to do, isn’t going to be instantly easy.

I know that if I obey and keep doing what the Lord has directed me to do He will increase it.  I’m going to wrap this up with one more quote, this one from Luke 16:10:

 Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.