Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Ready for a history lesson? I’ll try to make it brief. 😉 This coming Sunday we will thank God for our roots—both our Lutheran heritage (Reformation) and our congregation’s history (65th Anniversary). For many people, October 31st is a day to dress up in costumes and travel from door to door asking for candy. In some traditions, it is even required that kids tell a joke before receiving candy! For many Christians, especially those of the Lutheran tradition, it is Reformation Day. On this day we celebrate God’s work through his servant, Martin Luther, to preserve the message of the gospel as the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ through faith alone. It is a day to celebrate the re-discovery of the Gospel, the identity of our church.
On October 31st, 1517, tradition holds that a young monk, Martin Luther, nailed 95 theses or disputes on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, the location of the University at which he taught. The theses were written against the teachings of indulgences, purgatory, and other beliefs and practices of the church that were inconsistent with the clear teaching of the Bible. Luther had concerns and he wanted to address them. He saw that the church had become distracted by non-biblical things. It was time to return to the Word.
“And they will know we are Christian by our love, by our love…”
This is the hymn we sang in church this past Sunday. It is a favorite of many. But what if we sang this song, “And they will know we are Christians by our social media feed…” Would this be true of you? Would you loudly and proudly sing this refrain also, or would you sheepishly slink back into the pew? In the highlight reels of your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, is your faith and devotion to God obvious? Whether it be blatant or subtle, such modern-day outlets provide an easy platform to “…always give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) No doubt, a quick glance through anyone's social media accounts will tell you all sorts of things about them—whether you want to know them or not. Their favorite football team. Their political preferences. The organizations they support. Their most recent Wordle score. How they spend their weekends. Probably even where some of their favorite places are to eat. We have no problem, and often given no second thought, to posting our personal opinions on current events and a whole slew of other items. But can you do me a favor? Imagine a world where we, followers of Jesus, spoke as freely and bravely about our faith and the Gospel of Jesus as we do about politics and sports. How awesome would that be?!
Sadly, there is often a big disconnect. We go through the motions of church on Sunday mornings, but our hearts are still bitter and untrusting. We are combative and cynical in how we deal with others that don't agree with us. Intentionally or not, we display that we are angrier and more disgusted in the world than we are steadfast and trusting in the God who reigns and rules over it. The prophet Isaiah warned about this, and it was then quoted by Jesus Himself, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” (NLT Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8) Throughout history, the people of God have become so entrenched and distracted by worldly things that they no longer look to the Creator, they no longer mimic His heart of mercy and compassion. Far too often, we do the Christian thing--occasionally and when it is convenient--but we lack consistency. We lambaste all the foolish stances and opinions of others. We stand on our secular soap boxes over a whole variety of topics, but we keep silent about the eternal truth which truly matters. We shut up and do nothing about the mission our God invites us into, to seek and save lost souls for Him. This has ailed the church for years. Looking deeper into our own social media diaries will provide a humbling diagnostic. Are your posts filled with love or vitriol? Kindness or contempt? Sympathy or sarcasm? Do you offer compassionate words of unity or polarizing words of division? Are the memes and images you share going to sow discord or bring people together? Do they seek to build people up, or tear down all those that disagree with you?
This is the conversation I had yesterday morning with a former member and friend of mine. He is a great, insightful man with solid integrity. His concern stemmed out of seeing so many of his “church friends” act in very un-Christlike ways. I echo those concerns—especially when so many in my feed are former or current church members. To be sure, we’ve all been guilty of this. I’m sure if we scroll back through our history and past memories, we will find posts that would embarrass us if Jesus now stood by our side. Our feeds are far from flattering. We know full well that we have shared and sent things that our Savior would never retweet. This is true of me. I’m guilty. I’ve taken my mind off godly things to obsess over worldly things and ridicule or demonize people. Thank you, Jesus, for the patience and mercy you show to me. Thanks be to God, there is grace for every time we misstep and every time we fail to accurately represent the Jesus we follow.
But this is also a relevant time to recall the impact our witness can have—good or bad. Let us be love-bringing, walking-billboards for our God. Let us be different than the unbelievers or the non-church goers in our midst. Especially during this yearly time of election cycles, it is a helpful reminder to stand out and be better than the mud-slinger commentators around us. Let the world know you are Christians by your love, whether that be in-person or on-line!
“The Christians needs to walk in peace, so no matter what happens they will be able to bear witness to a watching world.” (Henry Blackaby)
“A Christian who doesn’t give good witness is a contradiction in terms.” (Adrian Rogers)
“The greatest way to witness is through the life you live. Let the radiance of your Christian life be such that it will make others ask questions about the beauty of your faith.” (Billy Graham)
The Israeli settlement of Netzarim in the heart of the Gaza Strip was a point of much conflict with militant Palestinians for several years. The conflict was so great that the settlement was evacuated in 2005. Those who lived in Netzarim did so at great personal risk because they felt it was an important part of keeping their land free. A schoolteacher, Shlomit Ziv, who lived in Netzarim in 2001 said, “I don’t live where it’s comfortable; I live where it’s important to live.”
These are powerful words. Consider the application to our lives as Christians when it comes to serving others and giving a bold witness to the Jesus we follow. What would happen if Christians quit worrying about being comfortable and started doing what was important to God? What would happen if we started to see our homes and neighborhoods as important places to live for the sake of our Lord’s mission—leading lost souls to Him? Thanks be to God we don’t live in a country where we must regularly worry about militant takedowns and fleeing our homes. That being said, the people around us, and our own lives as well, are constantly under assault by many worldly distractions and expectations.
It is an unfortunate truth that people are often self-centered and form habits that serve themselves, sometimes even at the cost of others. This is due to our sinful nature that convinces us that serving ourselves is what is best and will make us happiest. However, as Christians, we are called to live differently, not like the rest of the world. This past Sunday, we heard these red-letter words of Jesus, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Instead of looking to serve ourselves, we should look to serve Jesus Christ foremost. And how do we do that? By serving others with no strings attached, by shining the gospel light of Jesus into the hurting hearts and broken lives of those around us. Jesus is the perfect example of service towards others. He came to the world and rather than be served by others, He himself served others with kindness and humility. From healing those who were sick or possessed and washing the disciple’s feet to dying a gruesome death on the cross, Jesus shows us what real love and the heart of a servant truly looks like.
There’s a good book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. He makes an important distinction between true service—as shown by Jesus—and ‘self-service’. He writes: “Self-service is about choosing who and when we will serve. (Often with much consideration to how it might be repaid or how it could benefit us later down the road.) It’s about serving to make ourselves feel better. But true service means putting yourself out, not for personal glory. In God’s eyes all people are worth serving. It means acting wherever and whenever it is needed.” Seeing a need and getting to work; putting faith into action. The Bible uses these kinds of phrases 58 times: “Love one another.” “Care for one another.” “Pray for one another.” “Encourage one another.” “Help one another.” “Counsel one another.” “Support one another.” And on and on the list goes. It is the mutual ministry of every believer in the family of God to every other believer in the family of God. That’s the way God meant for it to be. We are to be difference-makers. The late American evangelist, D. L. Moody wrote the following words next to Isaiah 6:8 in his Bible: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.” This was a reflection of Isaiah’s call into ministry--“Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” May our church be filled with eager, faithful, and willing servants… here we are Lord, send us! Use us!
“Jesus is calling us to put ourselves last and not first. We serve because we want to be more like Jesus.” RLC
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” (M. Gandhi)
As you likely know, if you've been reading through these posts over the past several months, I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to coach my son’s baseball team and my daughter’s softball team. While coaching baseball or softball, you are inevitably going to watch a few mishaps. This is especially true when you are coaching young children who are just learning how to play the game; but it is also true when you are watching the professionals play. Even the best of players will have an error. Even the most impressive hitters will strike out. However, what is most important when such miscues happen is how quickly the player moves on. They can’t sit and sulk after a swing-and-a-miss. They can’t beat themselves up over a botched play. They have to move on. They must turn the page. Quickly. They must leave the miscues in the past so they can focus on the next pitch or the next play. And they certainly cannot allow themselves to be defined by their misfortune.
That truth about baseball is the truth about life: Errors are part of the rigorous truth of being human. But they do not define or distort who we are as baptized children of God. This is the heart of our Red Letter theme for the week—forgiveness. We all know that we are bound to make a mistake from time-to-time. This is the reality of sin. We all fall short of the glory of God—no matter how many seasons we’ve been in the league. Errors are part of life. No one can follow the rules perfectly. So, the question then becomes how do we respond when people – when we – commit errors? We cherish the incredible promises of scripture—that we have a God who is “faithful and just, and promises to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) God tells us that we are not defined by our sins, but by His grace. We are not defined by our failures, but by His faithfulness. We are not defined by our errors, but by His redeeming love. No dropped shoulders or hanging heads—our posture is one of thanksgiving and praise. We can wipe off the dirt and the shame or embarrassment of our mistakes and move on—because we are loved and treasured by our God. This is a great quote from our Red Letter reading, “THERE IS NO SIN TOO BIG THAT GOD DID NOT DIE FOR ON THE CROSS.” What wonderful words those are! Jesus died on the cross for ALL our sins! Not just some. He didn’t die for just the “little” sins. Or, for that matter, the BIG sins. He died for ALL of them! Every fielding error. Every dropped flyball. Every overthrow. Every strikeout.
“No matter what I do on the baseball field, no matter how hard I try to be a good player, or a good husband, or a good father… I can never do enough. I can never be perfect in this world. But God is there to tell me that it’s not what you do, it is whom you believe in, and I believe in Him who loves me.” (Mark Teixeira, former Yankee first baseman)
“Every time I pray, I ask for forgiveness. I’m a sinner. I sin every single day. But I do know that God loves me. I do know that God forgives me. It helps me in life because there’s nothing anyone can do to me that I can’t forgive them for.” (Mark Teixeira, former Yankee first baseman)
“Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.” (Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals)
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
Pastor Steve Vera