Filing

I hate filing.  It’s boring and I can always find an excuse for doing something more “important.”  So for quite some time, rather than filing my sermons neatly in appropriate folders I’ve just been dropping them in a drawer, rendering them fairly useless if I want to look up something that I may have already said–or just about anything else for that matter.  So I’ve hired my granddaughter to put my files in order.

This got me thinking about what else I may be failing to keep in order.  Is my spiritual life organized and in the process of deepening?  Are my prayers as full as they ought to be?  Is the rest of my labor at church focused or is it just a hodgepodge like my files were?  Am I being the type of pastor God wants me to be to the people here at St. Paul’s or am I failing to be that which I should be just because I’m too lazy to do what needs doing?

My wife and I are going on vacation next week and I want to spend some time pondering how I can be a better servant, a better pastor, a better subject of the King of kings.

Now I suspect many who read this are just as likely as I am to avoid unpleasant tasks.  No one wants to do boring things and no one, especially, wants to do hard things.  But putting them off just makes more trouble down the road, and there won’t always be someone like my granddaughter to pick up the slack.  So here are a few questions for you to ask yourself this week:

+How go things with your soul?  Is your life a good reflection            of the life of a follower of Jesus?                                                            +What work for God and His people have you been putting              off?                                                                                                                  +Are you simply drifting in your spiritual life, showing up on            Sunday for church but not doing to much else?                              +Are you praying for anything other than your self and your          immediate loved ones?

There are a lot of other questions you could ask, but you get the idea.

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Coming Home

Last week my wife and I were at our national conference in Minneapolis.  It was a good conference, a chance to catch up on what is going on in the AFLC at large, and an opportunity to touch base with old friends and make a few new ones.  We drive to the conferences because flying became such a hassle–long lines, TSA searches, 3 inches of leg room–that the time savings isn’t worth it to me anymore.

Unfortunately, driving has its own issues.  We got a flat tire going around Chicago which I managed to keep inflated by stopping frequently on the way to South Bend.  That’s when I had to stop and buy a new tire.

Right now you’re probably asking, So what?  We all have problems every day.  And that is most certainly true.  But sometimes those problems seem to have a cause that isn’t necessarily random acts of irritation–and my flat tire might be one of those.

Sven Oftedal, one of the founders of the Lutheran Free Church wrote that our annual conference is “the great powerhouse of the LFC.”  In other words, the conference is where those who attend get recharged and ready to go for another year.  It does have that effect on me quite often.  So I’m driving back to Maryland thinking about all we could do here at St. Paul’s and the possibilities ahead of us and suddenly those thoughts are driven out of my head by this irritation.  It is possible that Satan did that, for our enemy hates the Church and any thoughts of making it better.  It’s also possible that the problem was satanic in origin but simply another event in life.  I don’t know.

But what I do know is that for a short time, I took my eye off the ball and stuffed all the good things from the conference into the back drawer of my mind and focused on the bad thing in front of me.

I think we do that all the time and it is not good for us.  Yes, of course we have to solve our problems and deal with the irritating things in life.  But too often we let those things take over and create grumpiness.  Too often we lose sight of the big picture and focus on the little smudge in the corner.  It would be far better for us to look at all we have and all we are and all that God is doing around us and save our mental energy for the things of eternal importance.

My wife read something really cool last week as we were driving.  Someone wrote, if you woke up tomorrow and all you had were those things you thanked God for today–what would you have?  Think about that a bit.

Motivation

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? (please don’t say the alarm clock, you know what I mean).  Seriously, why bother to get up and face this world we live in?  Well, I think there are some pretty good reasons.

First, we get up because God exists.  Simple as that sounds, it’s profoundly true.  If God didn’t exist, neither would we.  But for any agnostics out there, if God didn’t exist there would be no reason to get up and go out into a world which would so very often give us pain.  If God didn’t exist, why would we want to go through all the terrible things that happen in our lives, knowing that we were just animated carbon on our way to being inanimate carbon and that ultimately there was no meaning to life?  If I didn’t believe in God I would have killed myself long ago.

Second, we get up because God has given us a new day.  It’s unfortunate that we so seldom recognize that important fact.  God, who holds all existence in the palm of His hand, who wills everything’s existence, has chosen to give us another day here on the 3rd planet from a minor star in a corner of the universe (okay, so the universe doesn’t have corners–you still know what I mean)  We are here today because God wants us to be here.  And with the new day come new opportunities to do the work He prepared for us before the beginning of time.

Third, we get up in the morning because we have sure and certain hope in our future and we have that hope because Jesus Christ died upon the Cross, enduring the punishment we deserve for the sin that clings so stubbornly to us, and He rose from the dead on the 3rd day that death might be forever defeated for His chosen people.

Finally, we get up in the morning because we just might meet someone today who needs to hear the Gospel and that there might be joy in heaven.

Go in peace and serve the Lord.

As One Approved

I am working now to refocus my ministry.  I’m doing a number of things to help me in that–rereading my ordination vows, reading books on pastoral theology, focusing my prayer life on this effort and reading what Scripture has to say about the work of those called to pastoral ministry.  Paul’s second letter to Timothy is of particular importance in understanding what a pastor’s role is to be.  It was most likely Paul’s last writing and in it he encourages his protege Timothy and all the others who have followed him in ministry.

There’s a lot in the short letter but I want to write today about an encouragement that isn’t meant just for pastors, but for everyone who serves in ministry in the Church–in other words to every Christian.  It’s the 15th verse of the second chapter.  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of truth.”

Paul wrote elsewhere that he was not ashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16).  And his encouragement to Timothy and to us also carries this message.  Don’t be ashamed of being a Christian in a pagan world.  The Gospel is the only true good news in this present darkness and we are called to witness to it everywhere we go.  Sometimes this will be uncomfortable, for us and could lead to difficult situations in our lives.  Indeed Paul writes a bit later in 2nd Timothy that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” But that doesn’t change the charge Christ has given to all His elect people.

Another aspect of this charge not to be ashamed relates to what we will experience on the Day of Judgment.   On the day of the Lord’s return everyone will be judged–even those who are destined for salvation.  We will see and know all that we have thought, said or done that is contrary to God’s will.  We will know in a extraordinarily powerful way just how great our Lord’s atoning sacrifice was for us, how much we deserved eternal separation from the Holy God.  I am sure that shame will fill our consciousness as we look back on our sins.  But Paul tells us that one thing that should not cause us shame is the work we do in handling the Word of Truth.

I read recently that only 17% of self identified Christians in this country actually live out a Biblical worldview.  The influence of our secular culture seeps into our lives and teaches us to deny the plain teachings of Scripture about so many things.  Everything from divorce–a violation of the 6th Commandment–to the common desire of Americans for more and more material things–violating the 9th and 10th Commandments–to even qualified approval of abortion–violating the 5th Commandment–to whatever else you want to list–all such opinions represent a failure to rightly handle the Word of Truth and will cause us shame on the last day.

If the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God it is our responsibility as His witnesses in the world to proclaim what it teaches, even though it’s teaching is an offense to the world.  Just because the world around us doesn’t live a Christian life–that is no reason why Christians ought not live as true followers of the eternal Word–Jesus Christ our Lord.

Reflections On An Illness

I have just gotten over an attack of diverticulitis.  I won’t go into the details but it’s not pleasant.  Indeed, it’s quite unpleasant.  Even after being on antibiotics for 10 days my energy level was still pretty low and I couldn’t work a full day for almost two weeks.

Now I’m sharing this with you because I want to talk about another illness that affects me–and you too, whoever you are.  That illness is sin.  Yes, nasty old sin, that condition that has been handed down over the generations like some sort of genetic deposit.  I have blue eyes.  My father had blue eyes.  My grandfather had blue eyes.  I’m a sinner, my father was a sinner, my grandfather was a sinner.

Now it’s not fashionable to talk about sin these days.  People don’t like being told that there’s something inherently wrong with them.  They want words of encouragement.  They want to be told how very special they are, how God wants them to be all they can be and so He is busy up in heaven making all good things just for them.  Everybody wants to have the dessert without having to eat the Brussels sprouts.  But there’s no getting around it and no avoiding it–all of us who are human are sinners who cannot and will not stop sinning.  I can have what appear to be brown eyes by wearing colored contacts, but my eyes will still be blue.  In the same way, I can appear to the world like the quintessential “good person” but I’m still going to be a poor miserable sinner, unwelcome in the presence of God, no matter what the guy next door might think.

I’m not at all sure I would have gotten over the diverticulitis had I not gone to the doctor and received the correct treatment.  Had I just tried to ignore it, I could very well have died.  To defeat the genetic disease called sin I must seek the proper treatment too.  That means I must meet Jesus Christ at the Cross on Calvary.  I must receive the gift of faith through the work of the Holy Spirit and when I receive that divine medicine, then and only then can my deadly sin be defeated and then and only then can I look forward to eternal life in the presence of God.

Diseases can do all sorts of bad things to our bodies.  But only sin can truly condemn us to eternal death.  And there’s a cure for that–Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for me and for you.

Marketing God’s Word

I suppose you could say that this is kind of a rant.  I frequently receive catalogs from a major seller of Christian books and Bibles. Over the years I’ve bought quite a few things from them and I appreciate their work.  But the latest catalog sort of set my teeth on edge–and it wasn’t about the number of Amish romance books on display–although I may rant about those sometime soon.  No this rant is about the Bibles they’re selling.

The Bible is the Bible and while there are competing translations–ESV, NKJ, NASB, NRSV, etc.–there shouldn’t be much else separating them.  The Word is the Word, after all.  But you can never underestimate the ability of marketers to differentiate their product from their competitors product.  With the Bible we not only find study Bibles with notes by people of differing theological positions, we also find Bibles prepared especially for children, teens, women, men, people in recovery, people who like horses (really I can’t make this stuff up), and just about every other subgroup of Americans you can find.

I’ve begun to find all of this really irritating.  The focus of Bible readers should be on the Word of God proclaimed therein–not on anything else.  If you like horses and want to read about them–read Black Beauty. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God’s nature and His salvific work through Christ’s substitutionary atonement for our sins at Calvary.  It is to bring people to faith in Christ.  Every time we add something alien to that task to the pages of Scripture we diminish that purpose and obscure the Word.

Unfortunately the Church today is far too willing to accept the marketing of trinkets and trash in the name of living a Christian life, when what is really needed is not a mimicking of the culture around us but a turning toward the unadorned Word.  Had God wanted additions to His Word, I dare say He would have had the writers of Scripture add them in the original autographs.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The ancient Romans worshiped many so-called gods, one of whom was called Janus.  He was the god of time in their pantheon and was generally pictured as having two faces, one which looked toward the past and one looking toward the future.  As we approach the new year we are in what I guess we could call Janus time, looking at the year now ending and the year ahead.

There’s often not much going on at this time of the year so our newspapers are filled with articles about things they told us already.  You know what I mean–who died this year?, who failed this year?, who succeeded this year?, who–well, who whatever.  I frankly find those articles rather boring and seldom bother to read them.  Neither do I pay too much attention to what some ink-stained wretch is projecting for the next twelve months because their speculations are probably going to be wrong.

But when we turn to look at the things of true and lasting importance, the things divine, well then I encourage people to be Janus-like in their lives.

Look back at what God has done for the world in the Scriptures He inspired.  Oh, there is so much meaning there, there is so much Truth there, there is so much Life there–you could never go wrong or waste your time with the past recorded in those 66 books.

Look back too at your own life.  Look for the times when God has blessed you, sustained you, protected you, loved you.  If you’re clear headed you’ll see there are so many times when you needed Him and He was there for you, just as He promised–even unto the end of the age.

But I encourage you to look forward also–forward to what God will be doing with you and through you in the time ahead.  The seeds of your future faith life have already been planted and they are moving even as this is written.

Finally, look forward to the Day of the Lord–the Day when Jesus will come again with myriads upon myriads of angels and His glory will be visible to everyone so that on that Day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

The past and the future are filled with God and there are few things more pleasant to contemplate on a cold December day.