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.”