Sunday, January 20, 2019

Make Your Bed

When I was a busy homeschool mom with three young boys, I happened to stumble upon The Fly Lady, a home organizing website.  For months, I followed The Fly Lady, completing the daily tasks -  Get Dressed, Make Your Bed, Clean Your Sink.  

Now there's a popular book called Make Your Bed:  Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe The World.  The book is based on a graduation speech given by Admiral William McRaven.  

And I'm currently reading Liturgy of the Ordinary:  Sacred Practices in Everyday Life.  The second chapter is entitled Making the Bed.   

"Make Your Bed" just seems to be a trendy theme these days.

The Fly Lady emphasizes establishing daily routines, doing the little things, and being consistent.  

Admiral McRaven's book has ten life lessons, including making your bed as a way to start your day with a completed task.

But Liturgy of the Ordinary contends that we're a society that likes to be entertained, likes instant rewards, and likes the new and the novel.  The author points out that there's value in the ordinary, the routine, the mundane.  There's value in making your bed.

I like all three lessons, but I especially relate to and appreciate the last one because it reminds me of the Seventh Commandment.
You shall not steal.
The Seventh Commandment incorporates good stewardship, including time management.

And I confess - I'm lazy, and I like being amused and entertained, doing something different, something instantly rewarding.  Simply put - I'm not a good steward of my time.  I don't like to make my bed or do those "little" chores.

I get caught up in the ways of the world, including how I spend my time.
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  1 John 2:16
And I often think that the "right type" of busyness creates worth.  I resent the mundane.

I don't make my bed.  I end up wasting time, seeking entertainment or significance.

And I'm convicted again, this time by the First Commandment.
You shall have no other gods.
I forget that my life and my worth depend on God's Word, on Jesus.  He is my peace that surpasses all understanding.  

Viewed from that mindset, making the bed, doing the mundane, simply serving others - those  tasks take on a whole new importance and perspective.  

My prayer is:
Help me to focus on those things that need to be done to love and serve others.  Help me to spend time in prayer and in reading Your Word.  Satisfy my soul with You, each day, in all I do.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

God's Gifts - Baptism and Faith

When I was 9, I started attending Versailles Baptist Church.  I didn't like the worship services, but I loved the Sunday School classes.  We were always studying the Bible, especially the New Testament.

A few years later, I was baptized at that church.  Interestingly, my Baptism was the first Baptism I'd seen there.  I wasn't even aware of what was going to happen or the significance of it. 

Growing up in a Baptist church, I read the Bible through the lens of the Baptist perspective.  A person heard the gospel, decided to believe it, and then was Baptized.  In my mind, infant Baptism was crazy.  I didn't even know there was such a thing.

Years later, when I read Luther's Small Catechism with the verses about Baptism, I was stunned.  How did I, as a Baptist who read the Bible a lot, just read over those verses and not take in the words?
Baptism, which corresponds to this [waters of Noah's flood], now saves you...1 Peter 3:21
Let the children come to Me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Mark 10:14
Repent and be baptized...for the forgiveness of your sins...Acts 2:38
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.  Mark 16:16
One Lord, one faith, one baptism.  Ephesians 4:5
Those verses, and many others, completely changed how I view Baptism.

I recently read an article that addresses why Baptist churches insist that people, who were baptized as infants, be baptized again before joining that church.
...a true or valid baptism requires a right understanding of the gospel by the baptizee and a right proclamation of the gospel by the baptizer.
And from another article about children and their faith: 
In every case, a church ought to be careful, weeding through words to attempt to discern the motivation behind a profession of faith―in other words, its credibility.
Now think about this...

First, the Baptist position sets the church and church leaders up as the judge of people's hearts.  In other words, a person needs to be "worthy" of Baptism before receiving it.

Second, the Baptist position tells a person that his own profession of Faith, his own Baptism, even a Baptism in a Baptist church, that Baptism may be lacking because the baptized person didn't truly believe or rightly understand.

Wow.  Instead of Faith being a gift of God, outside of myself, Faith becomes a thing that I need to conjure up, to make sure I have, and have it in the right way.  And that's crazy.  

But my God isn't a god of confusion; He doesn't leave me hanging and wondering about my salvation.  He's a God of love.  His love is sure and true.  His Word is sure and true.  

My Faith isn't of me; it's not for me to "decide" to believe.  I could never be "sure" of any of my own beliefs, if my beliefs were good enough or right enough.  But Faith is a work of God in me, coming from outside of me.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved...Ephesians 2:4–5
That's the difference.  God gives me my Faith; and He gives it and sustains it through His Word, through Baptism, and through the Lord's Supper.  He's a God who keeps giving.  And salvation is all from Him and by Him.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Stealing Packages - The Glitter Bomb

Have you seen this video: Package Thief vs Glitter Bomb Trap?  

A man has a package delivered to his house, and it's stolen from his porch.  Then he spends 6 months engineering the ultimate revenge box so he can "repay" people who steal other people's packages.

The Glitter Bomb Trap is ingeni0us.  The box looks like a shipped package, but includes a GPS, a glitter bomb, "fart" spray, and cameras.  And all the parts are programmed to activate when the package is stolen, so the thief gets what's coming to him.

My first thought was, "This is really cool.  Thieves should be punished."

But God's wouldn't let me be comfortable with that thought. 
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay...if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:19-21
So I tried to think of a package that would make a thief feel guilty, and at the same time, would touch the thief's heart and show real love and real forgiveness.  That package, the package that could overcome evil with good, would be an engineering marvel.

Why do people steal?  The simplest reason is - people are longing for satisfaction, and that box might contain something that satisfies them in this life, if even for a moment.

But God's Word tells me that, the things of this life, they never fully satisfy.  
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.  Ecclesiastes 1:8
And the answer - the perfect package that can overcome evil with good - it's God's Word.

God's Word first comes to me as God's Law, and it convicts me of my sin.

I'm the one who's never satisfied.  I'm the guilty one who steals the package, and I deserve the glitter, the "fart" spray, eternal damnation.

I'm also the guilty one, who seeks vengeance when my "package" is stolen. 

And that perfect package containing God's Law, it also contains the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, His death, His resurrection, His forgiveness and love...for me.

I don't need to hold onto the package; people don't need to steal it.  It's there for free, in abundance.

I pray to remember that.  I pray to remember that for myself, when I'm not satisfied with things in this life and am looking for fulfillment in things of this world.  And, I pray to remember to give that gospel to others, others who are hurting, who hurt me, and are looking for something. 
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.           Romans 8:1-4

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Saving the Universe

When they were younger, my sons loved playing with Legos; these days, they enjoy watching the Avenger movies.  So when I saw that Lego sells Avenger's Infinity War Toys, I bought a few sets as gifts.  

One of the sets includes a minifigure of Thanos, a complicated and intriguing antihero.  In his twisted mind, Thanos believes that by destroying half of all life, he'll return balance to the universe and save it.

I love characters with depth, and Thanos is an environmentalist on steroids.  He fascinates me.

And just like the world in the movie, our world isn't right.   We're always looking for a solution or a hero to make things better, to win the day, to undo what sin has done.

But, at the end of the day, all the stories, all the heroes, all the "saving the universe" - they all point to the greatest story ever told, the greatest hero who ever lived, the only hero who matters - Jesus.

Sometimes, the comparisons and contrasts to Jesus are so obvious that I think the author must have been inspired by the Bible's savior.  

For instance, Thanos sees himself as the savior of humanity, but he's actually an anti-savior who "shows mercy" by killing lots of people. 

But Jesus...

Jesus came into this suffering world as a baby in a manger.  He lived among us, working as a carpenter, teaching people, feeding them, healing them. 
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15
And Jesus's solution to our suffering, to sin, to death, to Satan...Jesus offered Himself up; He died for us and rose again to give us new life.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:4–5
Of course, all the "stories" we love to read and watch - they're just stories.  But Jesus is our God, and He's history; He's real.  He really lived, really died, rose again and ascended.

In many ways, but especially by the testimony of witnesses and by the Spirit Who lives within us, we Christians know this to be so.   
And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.  Acts 5:32
That's our hope.  It's a hope that's sure and true. 
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  John 3:16–17

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Pay it Forward?

This is the scenario - a customer at a fast-food drive-thru pays for his own order and also pays for the order of the customer behind him.  Then a chain reaction occurs, and each person in line pays for the next customer's order.

Or, someone receives an unexpected monetary gift and responds, "I'll pay it forward," meaning he'll show a similar kindness to another person.  

This whole concept bothers me.

The "chain reaction" pay-it-forwards - well, they're pointless.  Only the person who initiates the event actually gives and pays for someone else's order.  

Those in line who follow the trend - Everyone who participates just "breaks-even" by buying another person's order and also receiving his own order for free.

Whatever happened to just saying, "Thank-you; that's really generous of you?"  

We're a society that can't accept gifts; we don't want to be in anyone's debt.  So we respond with, "I'll pay it forward."  Or we give the person a gift in return for his generosity.

In the end, an act of generosity becomes a burden for the one receiving the gift.  That person now feels a responsibility to do something in return. 

Is there a gospel lesson here?  Of course...

You see, Jesus is the only One who can and truly did "Pay it Forward."  On the cross, in His death and resurrection, He paid it forward for our sins...and backward for the sins of Adam and all those born after him.  

It's a gift.  We can't "pay it forward" to another person; we can't repay Him in any way.  The only thing we can do is receive it!  

That's the gospel message.  Forgiveness, righteousness, salvation, life - they're all a gift, given freely to us by our Lord.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?...For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.                 Romans 8:35, 38-39
Jesus's gift isn't meant to be a burden, but freedom.  It's done; it's finished.

But sometimes, we have trouble believing.  We might even try to do something to earn favor with God, or prove something to Him, to ourselves, or to others.  We can get caught up in our own performance.

Even then, He loves us.  He doesn't leave us in our pride or our works.  His love comes to us, convicts us of sins, and turns us to the cross again.

And, in our turning and knowing His love, He enables us to start loving others.  While we can't reenact His sacrifice for them, we can give them our love, our forgiveness; we can be generous to them and allow them to be generous to us.   
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Romans 12:10
So, instead of "paying it forward" just say, "Thank-you."  And love one another, knowing that Jesus died and rose again for you and loves you.
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  Luke 2:10-11

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Has American Christianity Failed?

I'm reading Has American Christianity Failed? by Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller.  

In this book, Pastor Wolfmueller points out that American Christianity burdens us with teachings on how to live and be good Christians, while it should be comforting us and teaching us to know God's gifts and God's goodness.

As an example - American Christianity describes repentance as a person committing a sin and then resolving to stop sinning.  But Pastor Wolfmueller clarifies, "Repentance is what happens to us when the Law and Gospel do their work on us."  It's not an act we do.
God exalted [Jesus] at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.       Acts 5:31
Repentance is a gift from Jesus.  In repentance, the law convicts us and we're sorry and afraid; then the gospel comforts us.  

This book is abundant in substance and the topics it covers.  Looking thru my notes, I think this passage is a good summary:
Faith brings freedom.  The Christian life is a life of freedom:  freedom from the dominion of the devil; freedom from slavery to sin; freedom from the bondage of self-love; freedom from the fear of death, from the fear of judgment, from the fear of God's wrath.
Because of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, we're free.  

We're free to love and to do good works.  We're free from focusing on our own need to matter and to succeed.

And any "Christianity" that doesn't include the "freedom that faith brings" as revealed by God's Word, that "Christianity" fails. 
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  2 Corinthians 3:17
Martin Luther said:
On the cross, the very heart of God is shown.  We know who He is because of what He does.  We know that "God is love" because we know that Jesus has died.
Jesus has died and set us free.
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  John 8:36
Read the book - it'll change how you view your Christian life.  Everything is a gift.  And the "gospel truth" will give you freedom in Christ to lose yourself in loving others. 

I'll end with this quote:
The Scriptures comfort us poor miserable sinners with the joy that Christ has died and risen for our salvation.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Do We Count Babies?

Each week at church, once our service begins, the ushers count how many people are in attendance.  Sometimes the ushers make guesses beforehand, to see who comes closest to the total.

Last week, one of the ushers asked, "Do we count babies?"

I responded, "Do you mean unborn babies?!!"  

He laughed.  But you see..."to win" the counting game, an usher has been known to count an unborn baby. 

But he was talking about "born" babies, and he felt that babies shouldn't be included.  He said babies were present but not participating in the service.

I began my answer with the fact that we baptize babies, and we believe that God gives them faith in baptism.
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children.  Acts 2:38–39
Then I said that babies do have faith and knowledge.  Babies have awareness; they're not just present with us.  They know and trust.  They especially know and prefer their parents.  

Finally, I said that babies could most certainly hear the worship service, and I reminded him that John the Baptist, while still in his mother's womb, leapt when he heard Mary's voice.  
For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Luke 1:44
At that point, he grinned and said, "So we should count the unborn babies!"

During this Advent season, we're reminded that Jesus came in human flesh, in the weakness of a baby, a baby that many people would overlook and not count. 

But Jesus is the baby who counted and still counts.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  He's the One whom the shepherds and wise men looked at with awe and reverence.  He's the One who saved and continues to save His people from their sins.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil...Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.   Hebrews 2:14, 17
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  John 1:29–30