Happy New Year!!!!!
No, I’m not confused. We have arrived once again at the season of Advent. The season of Advent is for us Christians, the first month of the Christian year. It is very similar to the Israelites. God delivered them from bondage in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Regarding this Passover Exodus experience, “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, this month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year (Exodus 12:1-2).” Christians mark time differently from the world.
We Christians live in the world, but we are called by God to live distinct and different from the world. Here is one such Biblical admonition from the Apostle Peter. “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires that war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:11-12).” Here is another from the Apostle Paul. “Do everything without complaining or arguing; so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…(Philippians 2:14-15).” These exhortations will serve us well in the busy Advent season.
This Advent, like every Advent, we focus on the coming of the Messiah. As we prepare to celebrate the Messiah’s birth, his first advent(coming/arrival), I want you to realize something. The season of Advent gives us a long-range view of our Lord. Think of Advent’s Christmas preparations as if you were looking through a telescope. You can see Christmas in the forefront of your view, but the focus is in the distance. The distance is his second coming. During this Advent, look through Christmas to Jesus second coming as King and Judge and re-Creator. You will be blessed.
ONE PERSON, PART 2
Jesus calls his followers to make disciples. All of us who confess the faith outlined in the Apostles Creed are called by Jesus to make disciples. And Jesus promises that he will be with us always. The Holy Spirit of Jesus is with us and in us, empowering, enabling and creating opportunities for us to partner with him in his mission of making disciples. The most common way for God’s people to participate in this mission of making disciples is through relationships, through friendships, “one person at a time.”
Last month I wrote about the importance of taking time with people, one person at a time. I wrote about a friend (Mike) here in town who died suddenly. What I didn’t tell you is – he called me, “Pastor.” He is not a member of OSLC, yet he called me pastor. (This is not an uncommon occurrence.) Even though he was interested in coming to worship at OSLC, he struggled to make his way back into the halls of a church. This struggle was mainly fueled by a wrong conclusion he held. His wrong perspective was – thinking/feeling he needed to get himself cleaned up a bit more before coming. Nevertheless, he perceived me as his pastor. This was a correct conclusion he held. He was a disciple in the making. He is now, a disciple perfected.
My dear partners in the gospel, please continue your “one person at a time” endeavors. Take time for people. Take time to befriend those who need the saving power of Jesus in their lives. Your friendship is the bridge on which the gospel travels. Don’t worry if you don’t know how this disciple making business works. Don’t worry if you are unsure how your friendships can “make disciples.” You can lean on me. That’s what I’m here for. I will encourage, coach, equip, pray for, and help you in your disciple BEING and your disciple MAKING efforts. Let’s get together and see where God takes us.
I’ve lived in Audubon for a year and four months now. One thing that struck me from the very beginning and still impresses me is this: People take time for one another. People will stop what they are doing and visit when running in to one another.
I’m learning these days the importance of taking time for one person. This is the way of Jesus. Jesus taught the masses. But He also took time to give an individual his undivided attention. In Mark 10, we learn of a blind man calling out for His attention. Others tried to shush him. But Jesus made his way through the crowd and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” And in Luke 15, we learn that even the angels rejoice, not just over masses of people, but over one person.
Are you taking time for people, one person at a time? It could be the last time you see him or her. That happened to me last week; maybe you as well. I made a friend in town. I saw him last week, crossing the street towards his house. I stopped my motorcycle turned off the engine. We chatted for a bit. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. “Give me thirty seconds, I’ll be right back.” He came back with a big hard cover book in hand, smiling. “Here is that Steven King book we were talking about the other day.” “Thank you,” I said. “I’ll get it back to you when I’m done.” But I won’t be getting it back to him. He died suddenly after that encounter.
Take time for people. It very well could have eternal consequences.
“I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” – Jesus.
Bringing the Father Glory; What does it mean to glorify someone, to bring someone glory? It means – to cause someone to have glorious greatness in the eyes of another. When a producer makes a movie about a superhero, the intention is typically to cause the superhero to have glorious greatness in the eyes of the viewers/fans. I remember going to see one of the “Rocky” movies in the theater with my cousins. We were so pumped up. On our way out of the movie we were whooping and hollering and punching and pushing and jumping onto each other. Rocky had achieved glorious greatness in our eyes. We were electrified with energy, elation and enthusiasm. The producer and director and actors all succeeded. They brought Rocky Balboa glory.
In the above quotation, Jesus claims to have accomplished for The Father, the same thing the producer of the “Rocky” movie did for Rocky Balboa. Just a few sentences later Jesus claims that his disciples did the same thing for him. They caused Jesus to have glorious greatness in the eyes of others. How did they do that? They brought Jesus glory by following him. By their words and actions, they demonstrated a singular, primary, life ambition – to be an ardent student, an obedient servant, and devoted follower of Jesus. People took note of them. More importantly, they took note of Jesus. “Who is this Jesus?” they asked. “What kind of person must he be to warrant this sort of allegiance from those guys?”
Jesus prayed for you who believe in him, that you also would bring him glory. And his desire is to live in you in such a way that he brings glory to himself through you. How can you bring him glory? Pray to the Holy Spirit, to work in you, causing you to become an ardent student, an obedient servant, a devoted follower of Jesus. People will take note. More importantly they will take note of this Jesus you follow.
In this article I placed four phrases in italics. They are either direct quotations or paraphrases of the things Jesus was saying. Read John 17 and see if you can identify these four.
PEACE, Pastor Dan
“Wanting to justify himself he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor’?” – LUKE 10:29
A friend of mine is taking good care of his aging and slowly declining father. My friend’s mom died about six years ago. Part of his caretaking strategy has been to move in with his dad. It is often apparent that this has been a wise, useful, and necessary strategy. However, it is not always smooth or easy. There are times when they butt heads. Occasionally, my friend’s work requires him to travel. This provides a needed release valve for them both. But my friend carries with him the stress and guilt of wondering what dilemmas may arise while he is gone.
Dad has enough resources to hire some at-home help, or even for assisted living or nursing home care. My friend could certainly focus more ardently upon his own career if he encouraged Dad in this direction. However, his moral compass keeps him pointed in the same direction he is already going. Even if he were inclined to pressure Dad towards these alternatives, I do not believe he would win that argument.
When things are difficult I remind him, “you will never go wrong making Dad a priority.” By way of a terse warning, the Bible tells us this fact rather plainly: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1Timothy 5:8).”
Choices and decisions are presented to us daily. Prioritizing is always necessary. When you are given a choice between your list or a person, remember my friend. Intentionally make people a priority. You will never go wrong making people a priority. If you do this, God is faithful and trustworthy. He will make clear what items on your list are truly necessary and provide every resource needed to accomplish what truly needs doing. “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).” And by the way, my friend’s career…..he is thrilled with all the doors of opportunity God is opening right in front of him, right where he is.
The Body-Soul Connection
Martha’s brother had been dead and in the tomb four days. When Jesus arrived, there was much commotion. When the emotional dust and conversation cleared Jesus said, “take me to him….roll the stone away (despite objections regarding the foul odor spilling from the unsealed tomb) ….Lazarus come out…..unbind him from the burial cloths.” It was an exceedingly amazing day for everyone. Many people, then and since, have wondered where did his soul go while his body was in the tomb? What did he experience? These questions seek to explore and understand the mystery of the body-soul connection. We know the body-soul connection is severed upon death (to the criminal crucified next to him: “today you will be with me in paradise” -Jesus). But just exactly how the body-soul connection works while we are alive, remains mysterious. We do know the body-soul connection is unified. What effects the one, likewise the other, but not always in the same way. A Christian persecuted physically can experience a diminishing strength of body, yet simultaneously experience strength and clarity of soul. At other times, a bitterness of soul can accelerate and exacerbate diminishing physical health.
If Jesus explained what happened with Lazarus’ soul those four days, we do not have a record of it. There is no clarity on that front regarding the body-soul inner workings. But we can learn about this great mystery. We can learn through observation, personal experience, and the Holy Scriptures. Later this year we will examine this more closely in a series of messages. We’ll uncover what God reveals in his Word regarding the body and soul during life and after death. In the meantime, an observation: Last week, my wife and I led a Vespers worship time at the Friendship Home. Earlier I had a delightful conversation with several residents asking about where they ate dinner, with whom, what time – small talk. Initially, I directed these questions at a particular resident. She smiled contentedly and was completely unphased answering, “I don’t know,” to all three questions. Then, during worship, I asked the attendees for prayer requests. This same resident said I should pray for God to, “sort everything out.” I asked for clarification. She said I should pray for Jesus to return soon and sort out the mess of this world. What great fascination! On the one hand, her physical, (bodily) cognitive functioning is diminished. On the other hand, her soulish, cognitive functioning is crystal clear. Here is clear evidence Jesus statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. he who believes in me will live, even though he dies;” is absolute truth. What a profound and exciting mystery!
The Top 10 Struggles
In April we began a sermon series titled, “The Top 10 Struggles of Your Life.” In giving us the Ten Commandments, God blesses us by exposing the sinful attitudes of human hearts. The resulting struggles dominate our lives. Left to our own devices we are powerless to overcome them. Our only hope is to rely on God’s own power to overcome these struggles.
The first commandment: “You shall have no other God’s before me.” Translation: Your struggle with God. Will you trust God enough to let him be the boss of you? Ask yourself, “what do I really mean or intend when I pray in The Lord’s Prayer – ‘Thy will be done’?”
The second commandment: “You shall not make for your self an idol…you shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Translation: Your struggle with worship. Worship means to bend the knee, bow down before, prostrate oneself. We struggle between worshipping created things (ourselves, nature, hobbies, work, children) and worshipping the creator. What are you worshipping? Are you doing your own thing and calling it worship? Or are you worshipping God as he has decreed? Read Isaiah 58:1-11 and think over your everyday week to week experiences. This analysis will help clarify what and how you are worshipping.
The Third commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.” Translation: Your struggle with religion, religious observances, ritual, ceremony, man-made rules. A simple definition of religion is, a set of beliefs and corresponding behaviors. The struggle is not between going to worship and not going to worship. The struggle is what we worship, and how we worship. We violate this command when we attach God’s name to religion. The danger here is using religion to cover up our own sinfulness, use religion to gain power and influence and using religion to build our ego, feel good about ourselves. True religion is to care for the neediest of the needy and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Read James 1:26-27, Is your religion producing the desired Biblical outcome?
The fourth commandment: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Translation: Your struggle with time. Did the seven-day week derive culturally or did it come straight from God? Taken together, history, archeology and biology indicate the seven-day week came from God. Look up Ecclesiastes 3 in your Bible. The first verse indicates there is plenty of time for us to do everything needful. However, we struggle with feeling like there is never enough time. We constantly battle to find a balance between the things we want to do and the things we should do. But if we are willing to ask God what is needful, God will show us what we need to do. There is enough time to do everything we need to do. True joy, peace, contentment, courage and gumption will be ours when our need-to-do’s and our want-to-do’s are the same thing. Will you trust God enough to let him tell you straight from the Bible what you need to do one day out of seven? If so, look up Leviticus 23:3. Keep asking him what you need to do on the other six as well. You will be blessed.
The fifth Commandment: Honor your father and mother.” Translation: Your struggle with authority. We struggle with authority for two reasons. 1) We don’t like being measured, assessed, judged. Authority and judgment are inseparable. 2) We love our sin. See John 3:19-21. If we will submit to authority (come into the light) we will be empowered to love what God loves and hate what God hates. Read Matthew 28:18-20. Which elements of Jesus’ words make submitting to God’s authority structures an appealing concept?
We’ll review the remaining five commandments next month. Meanwhile, peace to you as you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus,
WHY DOESN’T GOD JUST DO SOMETHING? READ JOSHUA CHAPTER ONE
He did! He made you! And just like Joshua was given a task of leading, and advancing the Kingdom of God, so he has given you the same task: to lead and to advance the Kingdom of God. Joshua is a general. You may not be. However, there is a chain of command. From the general down to the private, all are called to lead and simultaneously submit to authority. Leadership always goes hand in hand with submission to authority. Imagine the chaos, the inefficiency, the lack of progress, the counterproductivity when the chain of command is not followed. Even the lowest ranking soldier leads by example as he dutifully carries out his assignments and takes his part in advancing the cause of the King’s Kingdom. 400yrs slavery. 40yrs wilderness. Charge!
Joshua: What is in a name? Joshua’s given name was Hoshea. Hoshea means, salvation. Moses changed his name from Hoshea to Joshua, Numbers 13:16. Joshua means, Yahweh Saves (the LORD) saves. Joshua is the name given by Joseph and Mary to our Lord. Translating Joshua into Greek and from Greek to English we get, Jesus. Jesus is the 2nd Joshua. See Matthew 1:21.
The book of Joshua is the story of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world at a time when national and political entities were viewed as the creation of the gods and proof of their power. In the following verses you see the second Joshua doing the same thing. Look up Matthew 22:18-19. Mat. 2:1. Mark 1:14-15
Joshua is chosen by God to lead (1:5) What about you? Is the calling and promise for Joshua in particular or could it be about any believer?
Psalm 139:13-16 – Is that about the author in particular, or people in general?
Jeremiah 1:4-5 – What part of this is true, or could be said of you? What part is not applicable?
Acts 9:15 – “My chosen instrument.” Specific or general?
Ephesians 1:4 Who is this about? How does that inform the answer to the above questions? The following principles necessary for Joshua are very much applicable for you as well.
Joshua 1:5 RELY ON God for your future (His plans) Proverbs 16:9
Joshua 1:7 & 9 ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE without being terrified. God will be with you and before you.
vv. 6-9 what is at the center of being strong, courageous, successful, strong and courageous? Is the promise in verse 9 specific to Joshua? See Matthew 28:20; Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:23, 1 John 3:1-3
Joshua: 1:18 What do you find remarkable about this verse? Be mindful of the same pattern in your life.
What is TRUTH?
-Pastor Dan Beattie, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. – John 18:38
Is there such a thing as absolute truth? If there is, does anyone actually possess it? People also ask, “Whose truth?” And add, “What’s true for you is not for me.” The existence of absolute truth, the nature of absolute truth or the ability to know absolute truth are very old questions and remain very relevant questions.
Whether any human creature possesses the truth depends on how truth is defined. If you think truth is a set of individual conclusions determined after careful study or life experience; or if you think truth is a set of self-evident, noble principles or ideals, then no. No one actually possesses the truth. Claiming to have absolute truth is arrogant. It’s like claiming to understand the world from outside the world. Take, for instance, the world’s many claims of life after death and how to get to “that other place.”
People can go to the internet, bookstores, television, etc. to learn about God and spirituality and arriving at “that other place.” People have a plethora of churches or spiritualties to try on for size. However, if church “A” claims to have the truth, and churches “B” and “C” down the street also claim to have the truth but simply teach it differently, and perhaps a book or another philosophy says something different yet, how can they all be right? They can’t. Therefore, many people determine truth is relative.
But truth is not relative. There is such a thing as absolute truth. Truth is a person. That person revealed to us the very heart of God. That person gave us access to the mind of God and to eternal life. That person is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus made the boldest claim, “I am the Truth…” (John 14:6; see also Revelation 19:11). Jesus also said to his followers, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will lead you into the whole truth” (John 16:13). Absolute truth is found in God alone. Only God can look at the world from the outside. God’s Spirit – and God’s Spirit only – can convince us of His absolute truth, and even then only insofar as our finite minds can grasp His infinite truth.
Jesus opened the way of eternal life to us through His life, death and resurrection. He initiated a personal relationship with His human creatures. To know Jesus is to have eternal life, and if you receive Jesus as Lord, then you have absolute Truth. The closer one grows in friendship with Jesus, the more one begins to see the world from outside – from God’s perspective. Seek Truth. It’s more than just “out there.” It’s near you.
VICTORY – READ: Matthew 26:40-41.
So, Jesus is moments away from being arrested. He wants his friends to sit near him and keep watch. In other words, just be there and make sure he is “going to be ok.” He goes off to the side to pray. He knows that brutality and death await him. He has begun to feel the weight of mankind’s hate, grief, regret, misspent ambitions, self-centered living, violence of word and deed, rebellion, disobedience, hard heartedness, resentment, bitterness, basically everything ungodly, unkind and wicked. He has begun to experience it as his own – piled on guilt. He is personally going to have to answer for it all.
Do you remember the sinking feeling of being called to the principal’s office or having the principal call home or being told to wait in your room till your Dad gets home, or just having anyone tell you, “We need to talk?” Well multiply that sinking feeling a million times and you might start scratching the surface of what it was like for Jesus when he asked his friends to sit near and keep watch over him. It bears repeating. Jesus bore our guilt, shame, grief, sorrows as if they were his own. When he finished praying, he came back to them sleeping. “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” he says.
This tells me two things. 1) Jesus knows the good I want to do. He recognizes it and approves. 2) Jesus knows that my body (which includes my will) is weak. He knows the first because he is God and sees right into my soul. He knows the second because he became a man like me. “But I’m only human,” is not an excuse for lack of victory, a lack of doing the good I desire. When you and I see that our soul desires to do good, to make an improvement in our behavior and character, this is a good thing. The problem is the good not being accomplished, the improvement failing to happen.
You can have victory. Do not settle for making excuses and saying, “well Jesus understands, he became a human being like me.” No! The solution is to cry out to God. Beg him to make your body/will stronger. How badly do you want to stay awake? How badly do you want victory? READ Romans 7:15-25. There you will see the formula for victory. Do not give up. Keep going to Jesus in prayer until you have victory. Bring others alongside yourself if you are failing to reach victory. When you gain the victory, God will give you rest and joy. You will grow closer as friends. Then when the time is right, he will bring you through another growth-spurt and you will need to cry out again. This is how we are made fit and ready for life in the age to come, life in the Kingdom of God when Jesus brings it in all its fullness and glory. READ Romans 8:37-39.
PEACE – Pastor Dan
Wise Men Follow His Star (a Lenten Lesson)
Matthew 2:1-2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”
We spent some time in worship the Sunday after Christmas, thinking about the wise men. Even so, the wise men also have a lesson for the season of Lent. Their example teaches us to take God seriously. How serious were the magi about worshipping the King of the Jews? They did not just admire the star or study it. They did not just send up a quick prayer of thanksgiving for the arrival of the king. They followed the star. They bowed before King Jesus. They brought King Jesus gifts. They lived the command found in Romans 12. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.” King Herod told the magi to report back to him once they found the one born King of the Jews (in order to execute him). So, what risks did the magi take when they disobeyed King Herod, not reporting back and returning home by another route? How serious were the magi about worshiping the King of the Jews? VERY SERIOUS, obviously.
Here is another question to consider. When did the magi worship Jesus? It was not only when they bowed before him at Mary and Joseph’s house. They began worshipping Jesus the moment they set their plans in motion to go and worship him. Their going was worship. Their action was a response to God’s initiative. God always takes initiative in our life with him. He initiates, we respond. Any action we take in response to God is an act of worship. Here is a final question for you with the magi in mind. What act of worship is the Holy Spirit calling upon you to do – that if you did this act of worship, it would be obvious you are taking God seriously?
The season of Lent begins this year with Ash Wednesday, February 17th. Lent is a season for taking God seriously. It is a season for recommitting to spiritual disciplines (acts of worship) – prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need. Plan on attending Ash Wednesday worship the evening of February 17th, and we will kick off the season of Lent by challenging ourselves to take God, and our friendship with him more seriously.
PEACE, Pastor Dan.
LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
My parents have an admirable New Year’s Eve tradition. They spend parts of the evening talking over the past year – highs and lows, successes and failures, accomplishments and never-got-around-to-its. Then they make a list of plans for the coming year. Perhaps you have a similar tradition or go the New Year’s Resolutions route.
What drives these reflections and ambitions? Perhaps it’s the desire in all of us to have “a good life.” This begs the question, “what constitutes a good life?” It’s hard to agree what constitutes a good life, even when trying to agree within ourselves. This is evidenced by our annual life-reviews and resolutions for “a better year.”
So here is where I give the pitch about putting your trust in God, believing in Jesus and everything will be wonderful, and life will be good. Right? Actually, you might think twice about becoming a serious follower of Jesus, because your life could become quite troublesome. Here’s how……
Jesus was a tremendous threat to the established order in the ancient Roman Empire. So much so they executed him. Like Jesus, serious followers of Jesus are also a threat (in varying degrees) to the current world order. This means certain trouble for the follower.
There are evil spiritual forces in the world, continuously seeking to destroy God’s good creation, especially humans. Becoming a serious follower of Jesus is like walking in the woods as an antlered deer. You become a target for the devil and his forces, and hunting season is year-round. That’s trouble. In fact, Jesus promised his followers that in this world they will have trouble (John 16:33). Too bad for the Roman order, not even crucifixion could stop Jesus. He overcame every trouble – opposition, misunderstanding, a divided family, hatred, betrayal, jealousy, temptation to quit or retaliate, even death.
A truly good life is not void of trouble and escaping trouble or attempting to eliminate sources of trouble is empty living. A good life is overcoming trouble with grace, peace, strength, fortitude, courage, hope, forgiveness and love. But who can do that with consistency? Jesus did! He walked this path with perfection, validated and vindicated by his resurrection. Jesus leads his followers on this same path. He forgives the follower’s failings and gives power to overcome trouble, even death.
Following Jesus is the gift of “a good life.” Jesus gives his followers the greatest adventure imaginable – guidance and comfort through all troubles of this world and power to overcome with strength and encouragement. If you want a good life, resolve this year to learn what it means to follow Jesus – the only person who ever succeeded in living the truly good life.
Happy New Year, Our Saviour’s. Happy New Year, Audubon. May God bless our Church and our community with His presence, our homes with His peace, and our lives with His goodness.
The official tag line for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church was adopted at some point in our congregation’s history. It sets out a compelling vision and calls for devoted discipleship. The tag line reads, “Knowing Jesus! Growing in Jesus! Serving Jesus!” There is a command in the Bible which impacts all three ambitions simultaneously. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Friendship, getting to know fellow disciples is key to fulfilling this command. And to that end, we are given a strategy in the very next verse. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). As we get to know one another, and learn to love one another deeply, and practice hospitality, the Holy Spirit will manifest the life of Jesus in us and in our midst. In this way we simultaneously get on with knowing Jesus, growing in Jesus and serving Jesus. I encourage you to think on these things and grow in friendship with one another.
I also am very much interested in getting to know more of you and in this way fall in step with the tag line of this congregation and the directives of God’s Word. Here are two ways you can help me in this endeavor: Let me know if you’d like to spend time together, and we will figure a way to make that happen. Don’t let a thought of how busy you think I might be cause you any hesitation. Here is how to reach me: 712-217-1008, email@example.com. Secondly, If someone comes to your mind and you have the thought, “I think so and so could benefit from a phone call or visit from Pastor Dan,” let me know. Pass on the name(s) to me! So far in my first seven months both strategies have proven very fruitful.
May you and I be blessed this Christmas season with the gift of friendship.
Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples. He then commanded them to teach their disciples to obey everything he (Jesus) commanded. See Matthew 28:19-20. So, if you want to be a disciple, or already consider yourself one, you need to learn and obey the commands. What then did Jesus command? Here is your November Challenge: Find out! Pick one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John). Have a pencil or pen or highlighter in hand, mark or number every command Jesus speaks. Or, keep a notebook or sheet of paper handy and write a list, adding to it each time you come across a command from Jesus. I am very curious to learn how many commands you identify, if any of them surprise you, and which one(s) present a challenge for greater obedience. Let me know what you are uncovering in your search.
Here is Jesus’ Summary Command to consider as you embark on this quest. “This is my command: Love each other” – Jesus (John 15:17). Above all, remember this: “love” is a verb. It is an action word. It is not a feeling word. He did not say, “be in-love with each other.” “Love each other” is an order to be carried out. But how? What does that look like? What are we supposed to do? This is where the list from your own November study will help. Hey, I bet if you made a list of Jesus’ commands, all sorts of ideas for carrying out the command to love each other will start coming to mind, (if you let the Holy Spirit take control).
Here is what God is teaching me lately about His command to love each other: listen. Really listen to people! The “doing” part of loving someone is often accomplished by just listening – focused, interested, active listening. There is great spiritual power let loose by real listening. Outcomes I’ve experienced from simply listening to others in the last two weeks include: a man decided to not end his life, a non-Lutheran, new-to-Audubon couple asked if I would perform their wedding, a person trusted enough to ask for a house exorcism, and a grown man I had met for only ten minutes while out walking cried in my presence. When I explained to that man I was going to pray for the exact opposite “thing” he wanted, the man agreed and was at peace. So, November challenge – make the list and listen.
What do you fear?
I have never seen so many people so fear filled in all my life. It makes me wonder what would happen if everyone feared God as much as many people fear a virus or the undesired outcome of an election. Think of how drastically altered our personal and communal lives have become over the last six months. Now wonder what sort of social, personal, communal, political changes would occur if there were a drastic, across the board increase in the fear of God.
Listen to what God’s word says to Israel, and to us gentiles who have become believers in the God of Israel through Jesus the Messiah – “And now, O Israel, what does YHWH (the LORD) your God ask of you but to fear YHWH your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe YHWH’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
Here is my challenge to each of you, as one who according to Hebrews 13:17, “must give an account” for the watch kept over you: Read Deuteronomy 10:12-13 out loud, each day, for one month. Try to memorize it so it may come to mind as the Spirit prompts. When you read it, ask God to show you where you are missing the mark or coming up short of what He asks of you. Then listen. Ask God to strengthen you in that area.
If you are not sure about the meaning of the phrase, “to fear the LORD your God,” think about it like this: To fear God means wanting to never do or say anything, or behave in such a way, as to cause God to want to leave you. The Israelites experienced God departing and were scattered among the nations. But not without the promise of being brought back to the land of Israel after God put a new spirit in them, a spirit that feared, walked, loved, served and observed.
If you find yourself struggling with fearfulness of any kind this month, let that become a moment of reflection. Recall Deuteronomy 10:12-13, and ask yourself, “What do I fear most?” If any of this strikes a chord and you want to chat further, don’t hesitate. Let’s get together.
The Providence of God or Just a Coincidence?
Do you believe in coincidences? I hope you do not. I know we all tend to blurt out, “Wow, what a coincidence!” Should we? No, we should not. The word is inconsistent with faith in the Lord Jesus. I’ll explain why, beginning with an example.
Last week, I needed some help with a project. I asked a few people for names of people in the community who might be able to help me. The first person I contacted was eager to help. We met to talk over the project. In our conversation I learned he had a recent conversation about wanting to do the very thing I was asking him to do. Then he concluded, “God works in mysterious ways.” That, my friends, is a faith statement as much as an observation. And, the outcome was a benefit to both of us. Was this a coincidence, or providence?
Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, coincidence. Coincidence: “the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection” (emphasis mine).
Here is the Merriam-Webster definition of the word, providence. Providence: “divine guidance or care.”
When people are committed to living lives that glorify and enjoy God, there is no such thing as events happening by accident. There is only Divine GUIDANCE and CARE. God directs our steps. God cares for us and about us. God blesses our lives with meaning and purpose – His meaning, His purpose. When people are committed to advancing God’s Kingdom, living as disciples and making disciples, there is no such thing as events seeming to have some connection. Things are connected. People are connected. God is guiding. God is caring. God is making the connections. Providence is enjoying life under God’s divine guidance and care. Coincidence is life happening at random.
As a disciple of Jesus, work at removing the word, coincidence, from your vocabulary. Instead, enjoy more of God guiding you and caring for you and others. Also, with these things in mind, reflect on the following Bible verse. “God has arranged the parts of the body, (disciples in the congregation) every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18). What thoughts come to mind? I am curious to know.
THE SHARED SOLITUDE
I had a wonderful day in July riding my motorcycle to Indianola and back on unfamiliar roads across some of Iowa’s beautiful countryside. I went down several gravel and dirt roads on my return trip. On those roads I did not come across another vehicle. The beauty of the scenery was enhanced by the solitude. It is hard to explain the satisfaction of being by oneself exploring new roads on a motorcycle. But if one motorcyclist meets up with another and they chat about the highways and byways there is a shared sense of knowing and understanding this satisfaction even if there are not words adequate to describe it.
It is quite similar for true Christian believers. It is also hard to explain the satisfaction of knowing God and joining Him in a work he is doing in someone’s life. The experience of knowing the presence of God as King over the heart is unique to every disciple. And even though it is a great satisfaction, that satisfaction is hard to explain. Yet when one disciple meets up with another and they begin to chat about God leading them on highways and byways of life there is shared sense of knowing and understanding this satisfaction of being God’s servant even when words are inadequate to describe it.
Here is an experiment: For the next month, start out your day praying this simple prayer. “Lord Jesus, how may I serve you today, my Lord and King?” Then expect an answer. A thought may come to your mind right away, (especially if you combine reading the Bible with this prayer). Or a situation may arise much later in the day, and you will ‘just know’ you are supposed to say or do a certain thing. Then look for chance meetings with fellow disciples. Enjoy the sense of knowing and understanding each other even if the words to describe your unique experience serving the Lord are hard to come by.
KEEP IN STEP
My Grandfather was a WWII B24 Bomber pilot. He flew 35 bombing missions over Germany helping to defeat the Nazis. Even though his plane took frequent damage, he did not lose a single member of his crew. Confident in their cause and in defiance of the enemy, with mockery at the danger, he and his crew named their plane, Patches. At his funeral, a large turn-out from the American Legion paid him tribute with full military honors. They made a large half square around the grave site, colors (flags) rifles, “taps” on the trumpet, flag folders. It was so impressive to watch them keep in step with the commander and his orders. Likewise, it would have been impressive to watch my grandfather’s crew “keep in step” with his orders and with one another as they executed their missions.
You and I have the premier commander at our side. We have orders and missions to be executed, each one of us daily and all of us at OSLC as a unit. Our greatest privilege, joy and challenge in life is to recognize his ever presence, hear his commands, draw strength from his leadership and execute his orders. Orders from our Commander come in all sizes. For example, “stop long enough to acknowledge this toddler’s “hello” with locked eyes, a return reply, a smile and genuine warmth.” Or, “Get involved with sex-trafficking rescue operations.” It takes training and discipline and desire to recognize His presence and hear his orders. And it takes obedience. The more often you obey his prompting commands the easier it is to recognize (hear) the next. With practice we become an elite and impressive fighting force advancing the Kingdom of God. So, fellow soldier, “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Our Commander is with us, leading the missions.
Wow am I ever tired, just plain beat. It’s been a constant river of activity these past five weeks. However, with the help from friends in Norwalk and friends in Audubon, we have gotten moved. Now the time has come to start enjoying our new environment. So far the greatest enjoyment has been the many conversations I’ve been having. Some of these conversations have been impromptu, others planned, but all of them have taken on spontaneous lives of their own. Many times an additional party joins the conversation (this is otherwise known as prayer). All of these conversations bring an energy into me! This energy overcomes and displaces my tiredness instantaneously and with lasting impact. In fact, just writing about conversations has energized me. Now, instead of feeling, “tired, just plain beat,” I feel alert, enthusiastic and the anticipation of good times as this day and week and month unfold. So, DO NOT hesitate to give me a phone call or stop over to visit. Never think, “oh, I don’t want to bother him, he is probably very busy.” Your conversations are like fuel in my gas tank. There are times I am running on fumes. At those times, I’ll be grateful for a conversation energy boost! Proverbs 27:17 sums up these thoughts “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Hooray for human sharpening!
Hello Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church family,
Getting started with you in this last week of April gives me a chance to share a thought or two in this May newsletter. So, that is pretty neat, I think. Here goes:
Thought #1. “Whoa! Whoa! Whooooa, Big Fella!” I’ve heard something like that watching old westerns on T.V.
A seasoned cowboy yells it as he grabs hold of the reigns on a runaway horse. At times, these first few days of being Our Saviour’s new pastor has felt like I’m on one of those runaway horses, and I’m wanting to holler, “Whoa! Big Fella! Whoa!”
Thought #2: God is so cool! Every day I pray, “Lord, please order my steps today.” And, each day I see ways he grants my request. A couple of examples; A few days ago I was in Pam’s office asking for Frank’s phone number. As I came out, guess who was just leaving the church building-yup, it was Frank! I ran after him and we talked. God was ordering my steps. Fun! Today, I needed to talk to Kyle, so I sent him a text message in the morning asking him to call at his convenience. He called a couple hours later. He said something like, “I’m heading over to the field to plant…I could stop by the church building on my way…see you in about 10 minutes.” I told him I was on the square walking to the post office, and 10 minutes ought to be good timing. Inside the post office, it seemed to take a bit longer than I expected, but when I was walking back east almost to City Hall, guess who drove by and honked at me from his truck. Yep, Kyle. God was ordering my steps. Fun!
Thoughts #3: I am riding a runaway horse, but the Lord Jesus himself is playing the role of the horse. And rather than have me saying, “Whoa! Big Fella! Whoa!” he wants me to just enjoy the ride. He wants you to do the same. By his grace, I am enjoying the ride. You can learn to do the same. Start by praying, “God, please order my steps today.”