We’re looking for ways to connect Sunday school with the rest of the week, home/family, etc. So I’ve started a project that will be take-home based on the CPH lesson each week. I’ll probably do it through the rest of … Continue reading →
“How horrible it will be for you, scribes and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed graves that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead people’s bones and every kind of impurity. So on the outside you look as though you have God’s approval, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27, 28, GWV)
Next time you come to worship, look around the room. Which of those people do you know of that are struggling with pornography addiction or have struggling marriages? Which abuse their spouses or are complete slaves to money? You don’t know, do you? But then again, do they know about your sins?
We tend to cover up our sins, especially around other Christians. We don’t want them to see those things that we are not particularly proud of. But Christianity is at its core all about confessing sins and receiving forgiveness. Instead, we point to all kinds of things like familiarity with hymns, familiarity with Bible trivia, participation in church activities or meetings, having a name on a membership roster, or God’s Big Attendance Book. And we measure ourselves against other people instead of comparing our lives to that of Jesus, as if we’re good Christians as long as we jump through more hoops than average.
If we say, “We aren’t sinful” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong. (1 John 1:8, 9, GWV)
The expression is “dead orthodoxy”. It means having all of your teachings right, but not actually living the faith. Too often, we emphasize truth without actually living the truth, and for fear of offending anyone, we don’t confront sin, so it can never be confessed and forgiven. Or we point to the actions but give little credence to the internal working of the Holy Spirit to produce faith, because we can’t see it in others.
So what’s the difference between faith in action and faith in actions? Consider this statement: “Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.” Agreeing to the truth of a series of principles isn’t faith. Satan believes that truth even more than we do. And “being good” out of a sense of duty isn’t faith. That’s the same self-righteousness that Jesus’ enemies were famous for. Saving faith is coming to terms with the fact that Jesus died for you because you needed Him to. Faith holds tightly to God’s forgiveness and works to purge sinful and loveless actions and attitudes like you’d spit out a hamburger when you see the maggots in the meat. And true faith is never selfish. It finds serving others irresistible, like smiling when seeing a baby laugh, and faith gets frustrated not with the amount of sacrificial love that others need from us, but our limitations in not being able to do more.
“So how do I get that kind of faith that finds joy in self-sacrifice?” You can’t will yourself to enjoy it any more than I can decide to like eating beef tongue. Only the Holy Spirit can change your heart, but He does so through His Word. Get involved in a Bible class, and if none available work with your schedule, put one together with your friends or family or just you and your spouse. If that’s not an option for you, spend some personal time with God each day. Get a Bible in an easy-to-read translation (check with me for suggestions if you’re not sure), and start with John or Romans. I suggest following these steps:
- Read a section (from one heading to the next).
- Ask, “What is God telling me here?”
- Ask, “Because of this, what sin do I need to get out of my life?”
- Admit that sin to God and know that Jesus died to forgive that sin, so God forgives you.
- Thank God for His love, and ask for opportunities to live that change in your life.
- Repeat these steps as much as you can.
God, give everyone who reads this new life with an insatiable hunger for Your love, not only to be filled with it, but that it overflow into the lives of others, that those others see the change and say, “You’re different. What happened?”
Focus on a Cavalier Baritone player at Drum Corps International World Finals. Taken on August 7, 2004 in Denver. –C.lettinga 19:15, 15 August 2006 (UTC)c.lettinga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you go to a football game with our family, you might hear one of my kids say, “Get off the field! Bring on the band!” They’re not much into sports, but they love music, and in the fall, you’ll often find us at local marching band competitions.
A few years ago, my oldest daughter spent a summer playing for the Colt Cadets drum corps. It was a grueling summer that pushed her like I’ve never seen. Middle and high school students travelled around the country in packed busses, slept on gym floors in schools without air conditioning, and spent almost every waking moment running around football fields in formation so fast that I’d be out of breath, but somehow they had enough breath left to fill stadiums with brass music, competing against college music majors.
The whole summer, they played the same set of songs, but no two shows were the same, because each time they had their task just about perfect, the directors changed the routine to make it more difficult, pushing them to complete tasks they never thought possible, and as they grew in skill and athleticism, they also grew in confidence and maturity.
Why is it that a youth drum corps can demand more of people than a church whose God calls us to love with every fiber of our being? Both are voluntary. What’s the difference?
The difference is perceived value. Those kids wanted to improve their skill and be better than when they started. They believed that such improvement was possible and worth the effort. And seeing the initial growth, they expected that they would continue to grow and improve. Here’s a sampling of what you need to make that work:
1. They knew they weren’t experts. This can be tough to admit. As a pastor, in my training and coaching over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about what I didn’t know and what I needed to change. It was hard to accept that I’ve been doing things wrong or poorly for my entire ministry up to this point, especially difficult when it was something I considered one of my strengths. What about your spiritual maturity? If you’re not Jesus, admit that you have room for growth and may be wrong about your approach to spirituality.
2. They wanted to improve. Because we know we’ll never be perfect like Jesus on this side of heaven, we can easily say, “No point trying.” But while those kids knew they wouldn’t be the best in the world, they knew they’d be better. I imagine some of you don’t believe you can ever experience such change in your spiritual life. God says otherwise: “Rain and snow come down from the sky. They do not go back again until they water the earth. They make it sprout and grow so that it produces seed for farmers and food for people to eat. My word, which comes from my mouth, is like the rain and snow. It will not come back to me without results. It will accomplish whatever I want and achieve whatever I send it to do.” (Isaiah 55:10, 11, GWV) A disciple of Jesus Christ can no more grow without regular time spent with eyes or ears applied to the Scriptures than a trumpeter can grow without mouth to a trumpet mouthpiece.
3. They knew it would take discipline. Notice the word “disciple” in “discipline”? As Lutherans, we get so hung up on God’s grace and salvation apart from works, that we forget that, once we have been saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), that spiritual exercise is necessary to make us stronger so we’re more aware of God’s love for us and the opportunity to love those around us.
“Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.” (Php 3:17-21, NLT)
And that leads to the final component:
4. They had hands-on guidance to help them train. Imagine the drum corps leaders telling the kids to each practice at home or on a local football field, and they’d never practice together until the performance. Can you hear the brass clanging as trumpets and trombones crash into each other? We so often think that we can figure this all out on our own, since we have the Biblical example, but there’s no substitute for discipleship in groups. If you’re not meeting regularly with other Christians around God’s Word, you’re like a one-person football team. Get involved with one or start one. By this fall, we hope to have many more opportunities, but don’t wait until then anymore than you’d wait a few months to eat because you knew you were going to a good restaurant for your birthday.
You need to grow. You can grow. It takes work and help. It’s worth the effort. I have yet to meet someone who experienced spiritual growth and regretted it. The only regrets I’ve ever heard were, “Why did I wait so long?”
I’m proud to be a pastor of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and believe our teachings are true, because they’re all Biblical, but I’m not so arrogant as to think we do everything right. One of the ways we’ve failed is to define being a disciple of Jesus Christ as memorizing Luther’s Small Catechism (and a little Scripture and maybe a few hymns, but mostly the catechism) and attending worship regularly. Most of the emphasis is on gaining knowledge, but if knowledge alone defined being Jesus’ disciple, the devil would be the greatest disciple ever, since he knows the Bible well enough to twist it to deceive us. And if wisdom alone were enough, Solomon would have never fallen into idolatry so deeply. Discipleship isn’t a seminary degree.
But then, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? What do we have to do? How is our relationship with God different from that of the apostles? How could Paul and so many Christians not only in the early church, but still today, face torture and even death and thank God for the opportunity even as they looked into the mouth of a hungry lion or live imprisoned in a shipping carton with barely enough opening to allow breathing that serves as their entire home, including dining room and bathroom? What does it take to have the kind of faith that can endure such things and still look forward to the rest of the day? Imagine one of the highlights of your week being when you write out your tithe check, because you’re so excited about the blessings God has given you and can’t wait to see how He’s going to use your offering to change lives! What if, having the ball of faith, you knew where to run with it?
First, a few disclaimers: You can’t do anything to be saved. Jesus already did everything necessary by dying on the cross, rising again, and sending the Holy Spirit to give you faith. Second, you can’t will yourself to have more faith. That comes by hearing and reading the Word of God. But what does God’s Word say about this?
So get rid of all immoral behavior and all the wicked things you do. Humbly accept the word that God has placed in you. This word can save you. Do what God’s word says. Don’t merely listen to it, or you will fool yourselves. If someone listens to God’s word but doesn’t do what it says, he is like a person who looks at his face in a mirror, studies his features, goes away, and immediately forgets what he looks like. However, the person who continues to study God’s perfect teachings that make people free and who remains committed to them will be blessed. People like that don’t merely listen and forget; they actually do what God’s teachings say. If a person thinks that he is religious but can’t control his tongue, he is fooling himself. That person’s religion is worthless. Pure, unstained religion, according to God our Father, is to take care of orphans and widows when they suffer and to remain uncorrupted by this world. (James 1:21-27, GWV)
What Lutheran pastors are afraid to tell you is that yes, because God has set us free from sin, He doesn’t want us to go back to it. He expects that the Holy Spirit will turn our hearts to Him so we actually grow in faith. Growth is noticeable and measurable, like babies who progress from milk to pureed food to porterhouse steaks. In spiritual terms, such growth occurs in the heart as we trust God more and more, which leads to choices made out of trust instead of fear.
While we’re working on a full-blown discipleship system that surpasses anything else in effectiveness, the most important part of discipleship is being in God’s Word, so you can get a start by just committing to read the Bible. To get started, let me suggest that you set aside 10 minutes more per day than you do now. Go to bed 15 minutes later with Bible in hand or on your phone (Check out youversion.com for the best free digital Bible). Read it over breakfast or lunch. Get a free audio Bible from audiotreasure.com, and listen during your commute, pausing to think about what God is speaking into your life. Follow these easy steps suggested by Martin Luther:
- Read a passage (sentence or paragraph) and answer, “What did I learn from this?”
- Based on what I learned, what sin do I need to repent of?
- Confess that sin to God and thank Him for forgiving you.
- Figure out what you need to change in your life to avoid that sin in the future and ask God to help you commit to that change.
If you want to go all in on this, get a friend or two to meet with you every week to follow this process together. (You can do this with your spouse, but having friends of the same sex will allow you to be more candid if there’s sin in your heart that would hurt your spouse to hear about.)
Imagine how different your life would be just by following these four steps. Since the Bible covers every aspect of our lives, this personal study will bring God into every corner and help you see not only His influence and love, but the direction He has for you.
Now imagine how our community would change if every member of Shepherd of the Ridge began this discipline. As our perspective changed, thus changing our lives, that change would flow through the community. But don’t just think about it. Do what it says.
Image via Wikipedia
They will come, and you will see them. They will ask questions like, “Where do I pay?” and they won’t know where to sit. They’ll scout the place out before bringing their kids. They’ll look around constantly to make sure they’re doing what everyone else is doing. They’ll check what you’re wearing to figure out whether they’re overdressed or underdressed. And they’ll be terrified. But they’ll also find themselves in awe and wonder of a God who can love them, a Supreme Being greater than the universe that wants to be in a relationship with them, and a pure and just God Who at the same time forgives all sin.
They’re the unchurched, but they won’t come unless they have a compelling reason to. And they have lots of compelling reasons not to. Now, you may be tempted to think, “But they just should!” But that makes church sound like Metamucil: It’s not pleasant, but it’ll clear the bad stuff out of you!
Missional living is about showing people that faith defines who you are instead of being something you do. And it’s more than being nice: it’s living sacrificially. “These things that I once considered valuable, I now consider worthless for Christ. It’s far more than that! I consider everything else worthless because I’m much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. It’s because of him that I think of everything as worthless. I threw it all away in order to gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8, GWV) Some pastors call it, “Living the Six,” or living out your faith the other six days of the week like you do Sunday morning. And what happens when we do that?
In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, GWV)
As Christians, we live in such a way that it will lead people to praise God. Think about that as you plan your day, your week, your life. “How can I live that people will be so amazed by the love I show that it will move them to praise God for me?” That’s a tall order, isn’t it? Yet that’s the kind of life Jesus calls us, His disciples, to live. He calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. What does that look like? St. Paul spells it out for us in a familiar passage often read at weddings (then forgotten before the reception!).
Read this passage, and think about your spouse. (If you’re not married, think about a family member or good friend.)
I may speak in the languages of humans and of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am a loud gong or a clashing cymbal. I may have the gift to speak what God has revealed, and I may understand all mysteries and have all knowledge. I may even have enough faith to move mountains. But if I don’t have love, I am nothing. I may even give away all that I have and give up my body to be burned. But if I don’t have love, none of these things will help me. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t jealous. It doesn’t sing its own praises. It isn’t arrogant. It isn’t rude. It doesn’t think about itself. It isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep track of wrongs. It isn’t happy when injustice is done, but it is happy with the truth. Love never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. (1 Corinthians 13:1-7, GWV)
How greatly have you failed in this kind of love?
Now read it again, but think about the people in our community who don’t know Jesus. Seriously, read it again. Have you been loving to your community? No? Jesus forgives you. He didn’t just come to model that love, but to live that love and die that love for you as well as for those who don’t even know that.
But read it one more time, and as you read each sentence, pray, “God, show me how to love that way, the way You loved me.” Memorize it. Tape it to your car’s dashboard. Attach it to your computer monitor or your TV or bathroom mirror. Set it on your dinner table. Paste it in an email and send it to email@example.com so it keeps getting sent back to you every day. And read it, praying again and again that God show you how to live that kind of love.
When we read about Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, we don’t bat an eye, because our feet, at worst, have sweaty lint on them. To get an idea of the kind of life Jesus was demonstrating, contemplate volunteering (i.e. no paycheck) to change adult diapers in the local Alzheimer’s unit. Every day. Third shift.
If God hasn’t called you into charitable elderly care, in what ways is He calling you to live like that? Because when you do, people who don’t know Jesus will come to know you. And they will wonder what makes you tick, why you’d live your life in a way that may seem admirable, but just doesn’t make sense. And when they hear about Jesus, they’ll realize that the Almighty God did exactly that for them, all the way to the cross and back. And they’ll change their Sunday morning plans.
Image by jimforest via Flickr
On Maundy Thursday, Lutherans love to get to the Last Supper, where Jesus began the practice of giving us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins through bread and wine. But because we’re so anxious to get to …Continue reading →
Image by bemky via Flickr
A little boy was scared during a thunderstorm. His Mom said to him, “Don’t be scared, God will keep you safe.”
“But Mom!” the little boy cried, “Right now I need a God with skin on!”
At Christmas, when celebrating the coming of Christ into the flesh, into a physical human body, we celebrate that Christ is literally God with skin on. With that skin, He was not only able to touch people tenderly and hug them, He was also able to suffer and bleed in our place for our forgiveness.
And while we still get His touch in Holy Communion, our world still needs a “God with skin on.” St. Paul says that we, the church, are the body of Christ. Even though Jesus has retained His human body forever, He has called us to be “God with skin on” to the world, specifically our own community. (It’s hard to physically touch someone on the other side of the world, no matter how many of their Facebook statuses we like.)
This is a huge honor. When people need Jesus, the Savior of the world, He has sent you to meet that need.
But isn’t that asking too much? Jesus is God. He’s the Creator of the universe, and He sustains all things in His hands. During His three years of ministry, He showed a kind of compassion the world rarely sees but so needs.
So how can we be God to our community? God is holy and perfect and pure! We have trouble going more than a few minutes without a sinful thought or action, and Jesus didn’t have a full-time job and a family!
Yes, Jesus was able to feed thousands like a human soup kitchen, but when the recipients only focused on their stomachs, Jesus went away. Like the child in the story, God has called you to be the ears of Christ that listen to a hurting friend. He has called you to be the shoulder of Christ to bear the burdens of your coworkers. He has called you to be the hands of Christ that help a friend (or an enemy!) in need. And He has called you to be the mouth of Christ that speaks His Word of comfort, forgiveness, and acceptance. And He’s so sure that He can work through you, He brings people into your life for that specific purpose.
Keep an eye open for them. When they need a hand, even a nail-scarred one, reach out with the hand of Christ, and lift them up.
Image via Wikipedia
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
When things don’t seem to go our way, whether in our jobs, our family, our finances, or our church, it’s easy to get discouraged. We try to get ahead, and so often, as we try to move forward, we find ourselves on a conveyor belt pulling us back. It’s all we can do just to remain stationary, and when we manage just to keep up, we can feel pretty good about ourselves.
In his book, Direct Hit, Paul Borden says, “Being content with an impotent, declining congregation that is ignored by the community is evil.”
Those are strong words, but they’re true. Right here in North Ridgeville, 20,000 people don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior, and many of those who do treat Him more like a casual acquaintance instead of the lover of our souls He really is. God has placed us here to reach out to them with His love to foster new and renewed relationships with Christ Himself and with His bride, the church.
But if we’re doing the best we can and still not moving forward, how do we change that? The answer is simple: get off the conveyor belt.
Have you ever, while driving, seen a bird in front of your car, and when trying to get away from the car, it flies straight ahead instead of going up or to the side? I just want to yell, “You’re a bird! You have wings! Go up!”
We’re the church! We have the Holy Spirit! Go up!
How do we do that? First of all, pray. Pray some more. Pray for God’s direction, for clarity of vision so we can see the path that lies before us. Pray for faith to walk down that path. No, pray for faith to run down that path. When God parted the sea for Israel to escape Egypt, it took faith to walk between those two walls of water, knowing at any moment, the wind could stop, and the walls would crash down on them. But really, that couldn’t happen. They were being held up by God, and God would never destroy His people as they walked by faith. Pray for the assurance that He will lay His path before us as well. And when He lays that path before us, pray that God give us swiftness and sureness of foot, that we move forward boldly, but all the while remain on His path, not our own.
Last night during Confirmation Class, our class was talking about Holy Baptism and sponsors, and I mentioned that I personally pray for my godsons every day. One of the students said, “That’s because you’re a pastor.”
I get that a lot.
In my later year…