Friday, January 06, 2012

A Mindful Life

Jesus said: "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:34-36).

Jesus says that we're to live "mindful lives." Grateful for the free gifts of forgiveness and new life that belong to all who turn from sin and give their lives to Him, we're to be mindful of ways in which we can fulfill what Jesus calls the greatest commandment: to love God completely and to love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).

Mindfulness of others--of God and of other people--doesn't come naturally to us. The Bible says that from imperfect parents and imperfect ancestors, we inherit an inborn impulse to think of ourselves first (Psalm 51:5).

But self-absorbed living, Jesus says, is a trap. It prevents us from having the life only the Creator of life can give. And it prevents us from fulfilling the most joyful part of being human, being able to share the life God gives in Christ with others (1 John 1:4).

We spend much of our lives trying to gain, earn, beg, or steal the things we think will give us life. But only Christ can do that (John 14:6; John 6:68).

One step toward a mindful life is to ask that God will free us from the common human addiction to living for ourselves (or for our family, country, or cause) and to replace it with a dependence on Christ alone (Luke 10:41-42). Jesus sets us free to become our true selves, who we were created to be by the master designer, God.

When we're living mindfully, here's some of what happens:
  • We see Christ in those in need and try to serve them as though we were serving Christ Himself (Matthew 25:31-46).
  • We prepare to share the hope we have with others (1 Peter 3:15-16).
  • We resist the temptation to sin, which is really a temptation to dehumanize ourselves or others and dishonor God and ourselves (Matthew 6:13).
  • We get over ourselves and forgive others as God forgives us (Luke 11:4).
Turn to Christ each day and ask Him, "Lord, help me to lead a mindful life. Help me to be alert to the possibilities this day presents for me to live in the freedom from self You want to give to me. Amen."

[This was inspired by yesterday's readings for Read the Bible in a Year here at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio.]

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Audio of Yesterday Morning's 'Read the Bible in a Year' Discussion

We're reading the Bible together in a year at Saint Matthew. Each week since last March, when we began, we've been discussing the week's readings from the Scriptures. Yesterday, we discussed readings from Mark, chapter 13 through Luke, chapter 18.

I hope that you find it helpful.

"You walk three miles a day in your house? Isn't that boring?"

Nah! Check it out.

Frankly, I don't take a walk just to take a walk, but to stay fit for living the life I almost lost when I had my widow-maker heart attack back in June, 2010.

I walk to push aside health limitations that would otherwise cling to me, for the same reason that I repent for my sins each day, setting aside sins, guilt, and discord that would otherwise destroy me, so that I can, as the book of Hebrews puts it, "run with perseverance the race that is set before [me], looking to Jesus the Pioneer and Perfecter of [my] faith, Who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and [for our sake's] has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2).

When I was being formed in my mother's womb, God miraculously installed an extra artery in my heart which, fifty-seven years later, took some of the blood that could not be pumped as it ordinarily would have been, so that I could take these added days to this life for a purpose: To share the message that God so loves every human being that He gave His only Son Jesus so that all who believe in Him will not perish, lost to God forever in hell, but have eternal life with God.

It would be ungrateful for me not to use my own unique life and gifts to do anything other than lift Jesus up.

That's why I run the race God has set before me. Well, right now, I walk it...but I walk it real fast!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

From Someone Who's 'Dumber Than Dirt'

The biggest regrets of my life are all associated with those times when I have impulsively decided to do what I wanted to do, rather than taking the time to seek the wisdom of God in the Bible and through prayer in Jesus' Name.

Fifty-eight years on Planet Earth have taught me that I'm not "all that" and that the mere passage of years doesn't make a person wise. Only the God we know and follow in Jesus Christ can give us wisdom. That's why I love Proverbs 9:10 in the Old Testament:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Though my use of God's wisdom has often been limited by my own egotistical resistance to taking instruction from anyone or anything besides my intelligence, knowledge, common sense, or emotional impulses, I've learned that God is not stingy about giving us His wisdom if we're humble enough to ask for it.

We may not always like the guidance that God gives to us, but it will always set us on the right path. I can't say that about the "wisdom" I might derive from myself or other people.

So, seek God's wisdom. Dig into God's Word, the Bible. Lift up prayers for counsel to God through prayer in Jesus' Name. Ask God to send Christian counselors to you as you make decisions. And ask God to give you the faith to walk in the paths He marks out for you.

James writes in the New Testament:
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, Who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. (James 1:5)
My wife and I often say that, in so many ways in life, we are "dumber than dirt." But we've found, often against our own wills or initial judgments, that God is a lot wiser than we are and that when we submit to Him, He helps us to make wise decisions.

Check out these thoughts on getting wisdom from God in today's post at Our Daily Bread. Be sure to read Proverbs 2:1-9, on which it's based, first.

Monday, January 02, 2012

When Someone is Hard to Love

The words of Jesus on which this Our Daily Bread post is based are really hard to put into practice! In fact, we can only do it in the power of God's Holy Spirit. Many of you know that one of the prayers I pray when needing to deal with people who have hurt me, but knowing that Jesus commands that I love this neighbor as much as I love myself, is: "Lord, in spite of how I feel, love this person through me." It seems to work. And often I find, without noticing that it's happened, God brings me to the point of actually loving that person.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

"Am I Saved?"

[This was prepared to be shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio this morning.]

Galatians 4:4-7
Let’s pretend that you’re an average, normal Lutheran walking through a crowded mall.

You’re minding your own business, not bothering anybody else--because, after all, you are an average, normal Lutheran--when a young man walks up to you and with urgency in his voice, asks, “Are you saved?”

Now, as an average, normal Lutheran, you’re thrown off by this sudden violation of your personal space. (After all, you’re still trying to get used to the pastor who hugs everybody during the Sharing of the Peace!) All you hear at first is the word, “saved” and naturally, as an average, normal Lutheran who likes to save a buck, you assume that this guy is bragging about a bargain that saved him a lot of money.

But the young man's message and manner don’t quite compute. So you respond to his question by saying, “Huh?” The young man repeats himself, “Are you saved?” “Oh,” you think to yourself, “one of those Christians!”

By now, you are practiced at fending off such unwanted discussions of God, salvation, sin, and being born anew. So, you say, softly, so that nobody else can hear, “Why, yes, I am saved.” The young man, pleased with your answer and concerned that he might soon be stopped by security, looks over his shoulder, then scans the mall for his next victim.

Let me say at the outset that by that little vignette, I mean no disrespect either for the interviewer or the interviewee. The young man is right to want to share his faith in Christ with others. Jesus has commanded—and not just suggested that—all Christians to make disciples.

On the other hand, the average, normal Lutheran is right to feel that making disciples ought to happen more in the course of conversations between two willing participants—sort of like Philip telling Nathanael in the Gospel of John to come and see Jesus for himself—than in a flash of religious verbiage among strangers.

Nonetheless, as our average, normal Lutheran finds a bench to wait for his wife while she hits the After-Christmas Sale at Bath and Body Works, he can’t help thinking of the young man’s question: “Are you saved?” “Am I saved?” he asks himself.

Actually, this is a question I get a lot from Lutherans. “I don’t know what to say when people ask me that question,” they’ll say. “Am I saved?”

Our second lesson for this Sunday in which we celebrate the power of Jesus’ Name may help you to feel a little more comfortable in addressing that question.

Before digging into the lesson though, we should note that both Jesus and the Bible teach that there are people who will not be saved and that there are things from which we all need to be saved.

According to Jesus, there are people—maybe people you and I know—who will go to hell. In one of Jesus’ parables, which we looked at this past week as part of reading the Bible together in a year, Jesus tells about a wedding banquet filled with people who gain entry into the party by wearing special wedding robes issued by a king. One man crashes the party without such a robe. The king has him thrown out, Jesus says, into the “outer darkness, where there [is] weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The point of Jesus’ story is clear: Those who seek to gain entrance into eternity with God while remaining naked in their sins, unclothed by the forgiveness of sin that belongs only to those who repent for sin and believe in Christ, will ticket themselves for separation from God, for hell.

Hell is real. But life with God is also real. And because both heaven and hell are real, this business of salvation has life-and-death importance for every single human being!

Now, pull out the Celebrate insert, please, and turn to our second lesson for today, Galatians 4:4-7.

The church in Galatia was started by the first-century evangelist Paul in about 49AD. Galatia was a prosperous region in what is today Turkey. The church’s members were Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. They had received the good news of new life for all who believe in Jesus Christ through Paul’s ministry. It had come as great, life-changing news to them.

But since Paul had left them, a group of people known as Judaizers had come along to confuse them about their faith. They told the Galatians that it wasn’t enough to believe in Jesus. If they really wanted salvation, the Judaizers said, they also had to submit to Old Testament ritual law. The men had to be circumcised. Everybody had to conform to Jewish dietary laws. They needed to make sacrifices for their sins. All of these things and more, they claimed, were the conditions for salvation.

Some of the folks in the church at Galatia bought into all this nonsense. They allowed themselves to turn what God had given as a free gift—new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus Christ—into a legal transaction.

Others, intimidated by the Judaizers in the way our avergage, normal Lutheran was in his encounter with the young man at the mall, were rocked back on their heels and wondered, “Am I saved?”

Paul responds to this question and to the decision of some to turn their backs on Christ to take up the notion that they could save themselves by doing the right things. “You foolish Galatians!” he says at one point. “Who has bewitched you?”

He goes on to say that all who simply trust in Jesus Christ become descendants of Abraham, the founder of God’s Jewish people. Abraham himself was saved, Paul points out, not because of any good works he had done, but simply because he believed in the promises of God, promises that pointed to the sending of God’s Son for the salvation of all people.

Paul talks about the coming of the Son in verses 4 and 5, the opening of our lesson. Take a look at those verses, please: “…when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem [that is, to buy them back from slavery to sin and death] those who were under the law, so that they might receive adoption as children.”

When God decided that the time was right, He sent His Son. But, as we remember at Christmas, Jesus didn’t come in the full majesty of His deity. Nor did He arrive with the paraphernalia of the world's tinhorn kings and dictators. He came as a man to share our lives, our deaths, and our condemnation for sin.

The Bible tells us that Jesus, after His death, even experienced life in hell, where “He made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.” Jesus shared the condemnation that belongs to human beings when they refuse His outstretched hand of mercy, who decide that they don’t need God and don’t need to worry about the question, “Am I saved?”

To be "saved" is to be adopted as God’s children. This is an important point! Jesus once told some of His fellow Jews who refused to believe in Him that, because of their failure to trust in Him, they were children of their father, the devil. Imperfect ourselves, we are nonetheless saved by the blood of Jesus, our Savior! We are adopted into the family of God as a gift of God to all with faith in Christ.

Verse 6 says: “And because you are children [of God], God has sent the Spirit of His Son [this is another way of talking about the Holy Spirit] into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

People sometimes ask me, “How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit?”

One way to confirm that you have the Holy Spirit is to ask yourself, “Do I believe in Jesus Christ?” If your answer is, “Yes,” you know that the Holy Spirit is operating in your life because, as the New Testament tells us elsewhere, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit."

You can also know you have the Holy Spirit when you’re able to call God, “Abba!” “Abba” is the term Jesus used for “our Father in heaven” when He taught us the Lord’s Prayer. In Jesus’ everyday language of Aramaic, “Abba” was the term that little children used for their fathers, a term that connoted all the trust a child has in her or his daddy. When you trustingly and submissively pray to your Father in heaven, your own spirit is confirming that God’s Holy Spirit lives within you and that you are a child of God through faith in Christ.

Besides, we have the promise of the Bible, in the words of Peter at the first Pentecost, among other places, that all who are baptized in Jesus’ Name have forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like a second-class Christian because you don’t have the same spiritual gifts that they claim as some achievement on their parts! If you humbly pray to God, your Father, you have the Holy Spirit. And He will bring You comfort, hope, guidance, and the assurance of God’s love for you, no matter what happens in your life.

Paul underscores this in verse 7 of our lesson: “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul writes in another passage: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

In neither of these passages are there any ifs, ands, or buts. If you believe in the Jesus revealed in life and on the pages of Scripture—who was born of a virgin, suffered death on the cross for our sins, raised from the dead by God the Father, who offers new life to all who turn from their sins and believe in Him—you can rest assured that you have been saved. You are a child of God!

Now folks, that’s such an incredible thing that, while we may not like the method of the young man in the mall of our little scenario, we should be able to understand why he wants to share the good news of salvation for all who believe in Jesus with others, don't you think?

Confident that we have been saved through Christ, may 2012 be a year in which we average, normal Lutherans join the apostles Peter and John, who, when facing persecution told those who threatened them with punishment if they ever again spoke in the Name of Jesus, “we cannot keep from speaking about” Jesus, the One Whose Name is above all names, the One Who has saved us.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are saved. That's good news. Amen!